(thanks to loteck for the English correction)
The Giza plateau, on the western edge of Cairo, is the rocky base of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. They are named "great" because out of the approximately 150 pyramids in Egypt, they are the tallest ones, with a height of about 150 meters.
Both are astounding pieces of engineering art, however, the slightly taller one appears to have a more complicated internal design, as this draft shows.
The graves are estimated to be around 4500 years old, when the use of hieroglyphs in graves was not very common. That's why there is still a little uncertainty about who actually built them. However, two sources exist which name the pharaoh of the great pyramid: Cheops in Greek, or Khufu as he seems to be spelled in his age. Herodot, a Greek traveler and historian, visited the Pyramids about 2000 years after they were built. He met with priests of a nearby temple which had, as he wrote, ancient knowledge about the creator, and about the above named Cheops. Also, in 1836, the British Colonel Howard-Vyse found an inscription in the 2nd layer of blocking stone of the roof of the King's chamber, where the famous empty sarcophagus is placed, with hieroglyphs circled by a cartridge spelling out Khufu's name. There has been some doubt whether Howard-Vyse maybe made up the inscription by himself, but it seems to be settled now and the inscription is considered authentic.
Cheops' pyramid has, as mentioned above, a complicated internal structure. Today's entrance leads to a long hall called the Great Gallery, which ascends to the King's chamber. This would normally be the burial place of the pharaoh, since a large, and empty sarcophagus is placed in this room. Two so-called "air shafts" lead from here to the north and south surface of the pyramid.
However, from the beginning of the gallery, a second way leads to a much smaller "Queen's Chamber" (the queen had a smaller pyramid of her own, so the name is incorrect). Two additional shafts start at this room, but do not end at the surface. Until 1993, common scientific opinion was that the shafts end after some meters, possibly because the Queen's chamber was the initial Pharaoh's chamber, but that plans changed during construction.
The interested public was very surprised when Rudolf Gantenbrink, an engineer working within a team of the German Egyptology institute, built a robot named UPUAUT to ascend the 20 x 15 cm small shaft, and found out that the northern shaft continues for approximately 15 meters, changing angle and direction several times. At this point, the robot got stuck. Where the northern shaft ends is still unknown.
The southern shaft ascends in a similar way, ending at a blocking stone with two metal objects on it. The last 2 meters appear to be better polished than before, as if special attention has been paid on this final part.
Details and images of the robot, the shafts, and his discoveries, including a CAD-applet for 3-dimensional drawings (Note: Java and IE required) can be found on Gantenbrinks own great webpage http://www.cheops.org
Gantenbrink himself never claimed it, but the idea of a "door" found in the great pyramid, untouched after all this time, was very seductive to many people. Since then, a discussion arose about if it is indeed a door, and if so, what may lie behind it.
The discovery's aftermath
Unfortunately, after the discovery a fight started between Gantenbrink, the German Egyptology Insitute, and Dr. Zawi Hawass, the chief archeologists and godfather of the Giza plateau. Casus belli was Gantenbrink's impatience of the Egyptian authorities announcing the sensation, and doing it by himself by giving an interview to an English newspaper 2 months after the findings. The Egyptian authorities are very sensitive to matters of their own archaeology sites, and reacted immediately by taking back the concession to the entire German team. The Institute declared that Gantenbrink's action has not been and never would have been permitted, turned his back on him and referred to him only as the "technician" from then on.
However, there seems to be a second problem why Gantenbrink has been denied any chance to continue his exploration with a second, better designed robot: He embarrassed the entire community of Egyptologists. While most of them are digging somewhere in the Egyptian sand for just another cup which belonged to the 2nd daughter of a minister of some unknown pharaoh of the XIIth dynasty, this engineer, who even can't read hieroglyphs, made a discovery which might be equally important to Egyptology as Tutankhamen's tomb.
National Geographic's upcoming show
Since then, nothing has happened. Dr. Hawass made several promises to open the door "soon", and then denied completely that the structure even was a door, and then made new promises of an opening date. The Queen's chamber has been closed for some years now for repairs, which led to the accusation that the Egyptian authorities had opened the door in secret already, and either hid the findings because they'd prove something contrary to Islamic beliefs, or to just sell them on the black market.
Since there are almost no writings from that period, and the structure of the chambers was unknown to Egyptologists' knowledge before, no expert dared to have a theory about them. But since August 2002, a new shaft exploration with a new robot has been officially announced for September 16, authorized by Hawass and financed by National Geographic. More info is provided on this page:
The event will be shown in the UK live on TV, as they promise. Whether it is
available in the US or the rest of Europe is unknown to me.
Open questions, hopefully until September 16
First of all, is it a door? If not, what was the purpose of the shaft? Given the complex structure of the surrounding stones, it appears to be carefully planned from the beginning of the construction of the pyramid. But why all this work? On Gantenbrink's page you'll find some information why it was surely not intended to be an air shaft, and why it seems to be questionable to believe the pre-`93 scientific explanation of it being an escape for the pharaohs' soul (an ancient Egyptian belief).
And if it is indeed a door? What may lay behind it? As long as it is not empty, every little piece in there would be priceless. First, because it would be very likely preserved untouched, while around it a couple of pharaonic dynasties, the Romans, Jesus, the Arabs, the French and the English (to name a few) rose and fell, until Egypt finally became self-ruled again in 1952. It would be an object transported through time from almost the beginning of civilization to today! Second, every piece of organic material could once and for all stop the claims of several people that the pyramids were built a lot longer ago then 4500 years, either by ET, the people of Atlantis, or some other superior but yet undiscovered race. Third, it could give us a little more information about this strange historical person, Khufu, who seemed to be powerful enough to build a mountain of stone that's still superior to everything afterwards. His obvious desire of eternal remembrance was definitely achieved, even though there is nothing left from his own physical appearance on the planet other than one 10cm tall figurine.
So on Monday, September 16, the door might be opened to another millennium.
National Geographic webpage about the event:
Homepage of Dr. Zawi Hawass:
Rudolf Gantenbrink's page:
Draft of the interior of the Cheops pyramid:
...and when researching on google, try "-extraterrestrial" ;)