In contacting Egyptologists for this story, I could sense a weariness and wariness in their responses. Weariness because claims about hidden chambers in pyramids surface all the time.
The thing to understand, says Lehner, is “the pyramid is more Swiss cheese than cheddar.” That’s only a slight exaggeration, he adds. The inside of the Great Pyramid is filled with stones of irregular sizes, so there are numerous small gaps. In this case, he agrees the void appears to be large enough as to be deliberate, like a construction gap. But many people before have found evidence of a small cavity in the pyramid and gone on to speculate wildly about secret chambers. Lehner said he found ScanPyramids’ characterization of a different anomaly on the pyramid’s north face as a “corridor” to be premature.
The wariness, on the other hand, seems to stem from the project’s origins. Tayoubi, the president and cofounder of the HIP Institute, is also a VP at Dassault Systèmes, a French 3-D-design software company. In 2005, he teamed up to visualize the Great Pyramid construction site with architect Jean-Pierre Houdin, whose idea that the pyramids were built using a series of ramps is not accepted by mainstream archaeologists. (He has since also worked with Der Manuelian now at Harvard to reconstruct the Giza Plateau in 3-D.) Funding for the HIP Institute comes from a number of companies, including: Dassault, Japan’s national broadcasting agency, a watch company, a VR company, and a hotel near Giza.
Hawass, who is also a former Egyptian minister of antiquities, and an outsized, outspoken, and sometimes controversial figure in Egyptology, was blunt—his bluntness perhaps the result of longstanding frustration. “Everybody who comes to the pyramid,” he says, “either they’re looking for fame or they want to make experiments with their equipment and the equipment belongs to a company, and the company can make money.”
In an interview, Tayoubi acknowledged he is no Egyptologist, and he now assiduously avoided speculation on how the pyramid was built. He did want to tout the technologies used in the study, though not by company name. “We love innovation,” he says, “This mission is about better understanding the pyramid, but above all it’s about innovation,” he says. He likened studying the pyramid to space exploration—an endeavor driven by pure wonder that may nevertheless result in practical innovations in fields like muography and robotics. In fact, the ScanPyramids project is already designing its next piece of technology, a robot to explore inside the pyramid.
New technology might one day crack some of the questions about the Great Pyramid. But so much of its appeal may just be how little we know, despite its prominence and endurance. A mystery right in front of us, daring us to solve it.