- It is one of the seven wonders of the world, but the
precious objects the Great Pyramid was built to shelter for all eternity
- the mummified remains of King Cheops or Khufu - have never been found,
and are presumed to have been stolen by tomb robbers. Now, 4,500 years
after it was completed, this semi-mythical structure may be about to reveal
its greatest secret: the true resting place of the pharaoh.
- Using architectural analysis and ground-penetrating radar,
two amateur French Egyptologists claim to have discovered a previously
unknown corridor inside the pyramid. They believe it leads directly to
Khufu's burial chamber, a room which - if it exists - is unlikely ever
to have been violated, and probably still contains the king's remains.
- But Gilles Dormion, an architect, and Jean-Yves Verd'hurt,
a retired property agent, have so far been refused permission by the Egyptian
Supreme Council of Antiquities to follow up their findings and, they hope,
prove the room's existence.
- "To do so, one would simply have to pass a fibre
optic cable down through existing holes in the stone, to see if there are
portcullis blocks in the corridor below," said Mr Verd'hurt. "Then
it will be necessary to enter the front part of the corridor and penetrate
the room, taking all precautions to ensure that it is not contaminated."
- The portcullis blocks were large granite slabs that the
ancient Egyptians lowered into the corridor leading to the king's funeral
chamber, via a system of cords descending from above, to seal it after
- Until these procedures have been carried out, the two
are at pains to stress that the room has not been discovered. However,
they have been working in the pyramids for 20 years, and their radar analyses
in another pyramid, at Meidum, led in 2000 to the discovery of two previously
- One respected Egyptologist, Jean-Pierre Corteggiani,
of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, was impressed
by their work from the start. What first struck him, he said, was that
the georadar images were collected and interpreted by a non-Egyptologist,
Jean-Pierre Baron, of Safege, a French company that specialises in georadar.
- "This specialist works for a company, one of whose
main projects is to lay out the future TGV [express train] route from Paris
to Strasbourg," said Mr Corteggiani. "If he says it is safe to
lay the rails here, because there is no cavity under the ground here, he'd
better be right. If not, the death toll will be very high."
- Mr Corteggiani was also intrigued by the location of
the proposed room - under the so-called queen's chamber, but further west
- which would place it "at the cross-section of the diagonals and
the absolute heart of the pyramid", a possibly symbolic resting place
- Mr Corteggiani brought Mr Dormion and Mr Verd'hurt's
ideas to the attention of Nicolas Grimal, who holds the chair in Egyptology
at the Collège de France. Mr Grimal was sufficiently impressed to
write in his preface to Mr Dormion's book, La Chambre de Chéops,
which will be published in France on Wednesday, that if the findings are
confirmed, they represent "without doubt, one of the greatest discoveries
- However, when the two present their conclusions to an
international congress of Egyptologists in Grenoble in a week's time, they
are likely to meet with more scepticism.
- "The idea that Khufu's burial chamber is still to
be found in the pyramid I find unbelievable," said Aidan Dodson, an
expert in Egyptian funerary archaeology at the University of Bristol. "Architecturally
there is no reason why there should be a corridor underneath the queen's
room. The burial chamber has always been known."
- The two Frenchmen have come up with a hypothesis that
challenges one of the most popular theories about the Great Pyramid: that
its internal structure was conceived in advance and built as planned.
- The pyramid contains three known chambers: a subterranean
cavity, which was clearly never used, the confusingly named queen's chamber,
which was never intended as a burial chamber for the queen, but possibly
to hold the king's funeral gifts, and higher up, the king's chamber, which
contains an empty granite sarcophagus. This sarcophagus is conventionally
thought to have contained Khufu's mummy.
- But Mr Dormion and Mr Verd'hurt argue that the pyramid
evolved by trial and error, as the architects saw that rooms initially
conceived as burial chambers would not take the weight placed on top of
them, and went back to the drawing-board.
- Above the king's chamber, whose roof is reinforced with
granite beams weighing 50 tonnes each, they built in an ingenious system
of relieving chambers or cavities.
- "The idea was to deflect the weight of the masonry
over the core of the pyramid away from those roofing beams and out to the
sides," said Jeffrey Spencer, deputy keeper of the British Museum's
department of ancient Egypt and Sudan.
- But the granite beams are cracked - faults that Mr Spencer
said had traditionally been put down to earthquake activity long after
the pyramid was completed. Mr Dormion argues instead that "this accident
occurred during the building of the pyramid, in the sight and to the knowledge
of the builders".
- He points to traces of 4,500-year-old plaster in the
cracks - evidence, he believes, of attempts to shore up the roof.
- "At the end of the day," Mr Dormion writes,
"the entire problem of the Great Pyramid can be summed up by this
theory: Khufu had three funeral chambers built for himself. The first remained
unfinished, the second was available and the third cracked. Khufu was therefore
interred in the second."
- Or rather beneath the second, because the queen's chamber
itself was not equipped to receive a dead king - lacking, most notably,
an entrance wide enough to accommodate the stone sarcophagus Khufu ordered
- Whether Mr Dormion is right remains to be seen. Mr Verd'hurt
describes his "absolute frustration" at the Supreme Council of
Antiquities' refusal to authorise further investigations, for which they
have offered him no explanation. No one from the council was prepared to
comment. But the pyramids are a sensitive issue in Egypt, and similar requests
have been refused in the past.