Will High-Tech Scanning Solve the Mysteries of the Pyramids?
Meghan Brown posted on October 26, 2015 |
(Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

(Photo courtesy of Arvind Balaraman/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

When engineering meets archaeology, the result is the “ScanPyramids” project.

The large scale scientific mission aims to use innovative surveying techniques to examine several famous Egyptian pyramids.

Engineers and researchers plan to use non-destructive, non-invasive technologies to examine the pyramids, including: radiographic muon detection, infrared thermography, photogrammetry, laser scanning and 3D reconstruction.

The pyramids will be analysed inside and out, to create detailed images and 3D maps of the monuments and the surrounding area.

“Many theories have been proposed, either explaining their construction or their structural anomalies, but we are physicists and engineers, not archaeologists,” stated Hany Helal, head of mission for the Faculty of Engineering of Cairo.  “Our goal is to use techniques that get concrete results. Then the Egyptologists will interpret them.”

Infrared Thermography

Infrared thermography to create a temperature map of the pyramids. (Image courtesy of ScanPyramids.org.)

Infrared thermography to create a temperature map of the pyramids. (Image courtesy of ScanPyramids.org.)

Two infrared thermography missions will establish a thermal map of the pyramids, to reveal differences in density.

One short mission will examine differences in emissivity to verify if the surface of the stones is similar to those within the structure. 

This will verify what changes to surface color and texture were caused by weathering and pollution.

The team is also looking for cold spots on the surface that may indicate interior openings, cavities, rooms or hallways.

The longer modulated thermography mission will use extended exposure to detect subtler variations in temperature that appear or fluctuate over time. The prolonged time will offer thermal imaging several centimeters into the surface to look for evidence of internal cavities.

Muon Detection

Muon detection to determine the interior structure. (Image courtesy of ScanPyramids.org.)

Muon detection to determine the interior structure. (Image courtesy of ScanPyramids.org.)

The mission will use muon radiography to verify and accurately visualize the presence of unknown rooms and corridors within the monuments. 

Every minute, about 10,000 muons hit one square meter of the earth’s surface. 

These unstable particles have a mass 200 times greater than electrons and are included in the cosmic radiation reaching the earth’s surface. 

These particles travel at nearly the speed of light and pass easily through materials like solid rock. 

Detectors placed inside the pyramid will be able to discern the accumulation of muons over time.

The team will be able to create a detailed map of the pyramid’s interior by documenting accumulation differences caused by void areas where muons pass freely, and denser areas that absorb or deflect the particles.

Photogrammetry and Laser Imaging

Photogrammetry and laser imaging will be used to create a 3D map of the pyramids and surrounding area. (Image courtesy of ScanPyramids.org.)

Photogrammetry and laser imaging will be used to create a 3D map of the pyramids and surrounding area. (Image courtesy of ScanPyramids.org.)

Parallel to the exploration missions is a photogrammetry campaign. This project will use two sets of drones, both equipped with laser scanners.

The first set of drones are built with airplane-style wings. They will fly over the area and obtain imagery to reconstruct 3D models of the pyramids’ environment. The laser scans will be able to capture detail as fine as 5cm. 

This will enable the team to create a precise position map of all the monuments, slopes and any traces of ancient ramps or construction paths.

The second set of drones are built like helicopters with hover capabilities. Hovering will allow the drones to take images from within several meters of the monuments and track their grades. 

This will provide geometric and construction information such as alignment and assembly of the stone blocks and possibly texture or traces of tool marks.  

The hope is that this will reveal clues about how the pyramids were constructed.

These 3D models will be made available to researchers and the public in open data by the French Heritage, Innovation and Preservation (HIP) institute, a non-profit involved in the project whose mandate is the study, preservation and transmission of cultural heritage through the use of technology.

One interesting potential application of these 3D photogrammetry models, once publicly available, could be to make them accessible through virtual reality technology such as the Oculus Rift. This could enable both researchers and the public to explore the location without the need for travel.

The Sites Under Examination

Engineers and researchers from the Faculty of Engineering of Cairo University, Université Laval of Quebec and Nagoya University of Japan are taking part in the ScanPyramids project.

The ScanPyramids project will focus on four masterpieces of the Fourth Dynasty (2575-2465 BC).

On the site of Dahshur, about fifteen kilometers south of Saqqara, the mission will study the South pyramid, called the Bent and the North pyramid, called the Red, both built by the pharaoh Snefru (2575–2551 BC), founder of ancient Egypt’s Fourth Dynasty, also known as “the Age of the Pyramids.”

On the Giza plateau, about twenty kilometers from Cairo, the mission will study the pyramids of the pharaohs Khufu and Khafra, built by the son and grand-son of Snefru.

Will the mysteries of the pyramids be solved with high-tech imaging, scanning and engineering know-how? Even if the mysteries remain unsolved, the data gathered through this project will nevertheless be significant.

The ScanPyramids project is set to begin November 2015.

For more information or to follow along with the project, visit www.scanpyramids.org.

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