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Planet Earth

Hi-Tech Archaeology Spots Lost Pyramids From Space, Explores Great Pyramid From Inside

80beatsBy Valerie RossMay 27, 2011 11:43 PM

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Since before the Great Pyramid of Giza was enumerated as a wonder of the world two millennia ago, people have pored over the mysteries of these vast tombs. Now, modern technology is helping researchers glean new insight into the pyramids, revealing them from far above and exploring them from deep within. Satellite images have revealed 17 "lost" pyramids and thousands of ancient tombs and settlements in Egypt, according to a BBC News report. Using a new imaging technique, researchers could pick out the outlines of ancient buildings buried under the surface. Pyramids From Space---How the Heck:

  • The researchers examined hi-res infrared images taken by satellites orbiting at about 435 miles up.

  • Ancient Egyptian building materials, mostly mud bricks, are denser than the soil surrounding them. This density difference shows up on infrared images, exposing the location of shallowly buried structures.

  • The team's test digs have backed up their imaging findings. So far, they've excavated a 3,000-year-old house from the ancient city of Tanis, near today's San el Hagar in the Nile Delta.

What's the Context:

  • Archaeologists have used a variety of remote sensing techniques to get a new view of hidden history, from thermal infrared scanning to find thousand-year-old roads in New Mexico to light-sensing LIDAR to map Maya sites in Central America.

  • Some ancient articles have been stolen or destroyed during the recent revolution in Egypt. Trying to revivify the tourism industry, the Egyptian government recently opened seven more tombs to the public. These new finds are likely to be a huge boon for archaeologists, and may increase public interest, as well.

  • If you want to see the new finds for yourself, the discoveries are the subject of an upcoming BBC One documentary, "Egypt's Lost Cities."

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Composite image of red markings found in the Great Pyramid

Robot Pyramid Explorers---What's the News: A robot has explored further than ever before

into the labyrinthine tunnels of the Great Pyramid at Giza. It has sent back photos of red wall markings that have been hidden from view for 4500 years. The robot's images may also help archaeologists understand the purpose of some mysterious copper door pins, the only known metal component of the pyramid. How the Heck:

  • Egyptologists have long puzzled over two eight-inch square shafts that lead from the Queen's Chamber deep inside the pyramid to vast stone doors: What's the purpose of the shafts, and what, if any, secret chambers do the doors conceal?

  • A team of engineers, collaborating with the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, designed the robot to crawl through the small shafts, and send back images from a flexible snakelike camera that can peer around corners.

  • The robot made its way down one of the shafts, then poked its camera through a hole in one of the doors. The images it took show the walls of a chamber, sealed since the pyramid was built four-and-a-half millennia ago, painted with red markings.

What's the Context:

  • Researchers aren't yet sure what the red symbols mean. Such markings are common at ancient sites in Giza, Egyptologist Peter Der Manuelian told New Scientist. "They are often masons' or work-gangs' marks, denoting numbers, dates or even the names of the gangs." Deciphering these ancient notes could help researchers understand how, and perhaps why, the shafts were built.

  • This isn't the first robot explorer archaeologists have employed to investigate the shafts. In 1993, a robot made it over 200 feet into one of the shafts, providing the first pictures of the copper pins in the door. In 2002, a second robot drilled the hole in the door that the most recent one peered through.

Images: Flickr / girolame; Djedi Team

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