Abstract

The Great Pyramid, or Khufu’s Pyramid, was built on the Giza plateau in Egypt during the fourth dynasty by the pharaoh Khufu (Cheops)1, who reigned from 2509 bc to 2483 bc. Despite being one of the oldest and largest monuments on Earth, there is no consensus about how it was built2,3. To understand its internal structure better, we imaged the pyramid using muons, which are by-products of cosmic rays that are only partially absorbed by stone4,5,6. The resulting cosmic-ray muon radiography allows us to visualize the known and any unknown voids in the pyramid in a non-invasive way. Here we report the discovery of a large void (with a cross-section similar to that of the Grand Gallery and a minimum length of 30 metres) situated above the Grand Gallery. This constitutes the first major inner structure found in the Great Pyramid since the nineteenth century1. The void, named ScanPyramids’ Big Void, was first observed with nuclear emulsion films7,8,9 installed in the Queen’s chamber, then confirmed with scintillator hodoscopes10,11 set up in the same chamber and finally re-confirmed with gas detectors12 outside the pyramid. This large void has therefore been detected with high confidence by three different muon detection technologies and three independent analyses. These results constitute a breakthrough for the understanding of the internal structure of Khufu’s Pyramid. Although there is currently no information about the intended purpose of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world’s archaeological heritage.

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Acknowledgements

This experiment is part of the ScanPyramids project, which is supported by NHK, La Fondation Dassault Systèmes, Suez, IceWatch, le Groupe Dassault, Batscop, Itekube, Parrot, ILP, Kurtzdev, Gen-G and Schneider Electric. Measurement with nuclear emulsions was supported by the JST-SENTAN Program from the Japan Science and Technology Agency and JSPS KAKENHI (grant JP15H04241). The CEA telescopes were funded partly by the Région Ile-de-France and the P2IO LabEx (grant ANR-10-LABX-0038) in the framework ‘Investissements d’Avenir’ (grant ANR-11-IDEX-0003-01) managed by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (France). The detectors were built by the ELVIA company and the CERN Micro-Pattern Gaseous Detector workshop. We thank the members and benefactors of the ScanPyramids project, and in particular: T. Hisaizumi, the members of Cairo University, the members of the F-laboratory in Nagoya University, Y. Doki, the Aïn El Shams University 3D scanning team, the members of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, K. El Enany, M. El Damaty, T. Tawfik, S. Mourad, S. Tageldin, E. Badawy, M. Moussa, T. Yabuki, D. Takama, T. Shibasaki, K. Tsutsumida, K. Mikami, J. Nakao, H. Kurihara, S. Wada, H. Anwar, T. de Tersant, P. Forestier, L. Barthès, M.-P. Aulas, P. Daloz, S. Moignet, V. Raoult-Desprez, S. Sellam, P. Johnson, J.-M. Boursier, T. Alexandre, V. Ferret, T. Collet, H. Andorre, C. Oger-Chevalier, V. Picou, B. Duplat, K. Guilbert, J. Ulrich, D. Ulrich, C. Thouvenin, L. Jamet, A. Kiner, M.-H. Habert, B. Habert, L. Gaudé, F. Schuiten, F. Barati, P. Bourseiller, R. Theet, J.-P. Lutgen, R. Chok, N. Duteil, F. Tran, J.-P. Houdin, L. Kaltenbach, M. Léveillé-Nizerolle, R. Breitner, R. Fontaine, H. Pomeranc, F. Ruffier, G. Bourge, R. Pantanacce, M. Jany, L. Walker, L. Chapus, E. Galal, H. A. Mohalhal, S. M. Elhindawi, J. Lefaucheux, J.-M. Conan, E. M. Elwilly, A. Y. Saad, H. Barrada, E. Priou, S.Parrault, J.-C. Barré, X. Maldague, C. Ibarra Castenado, M. Klein, F. Khodayar, G. Amsellem, M. Sassen, C. Béhar, M. Ezzeldin, E. Van Laere, D. Leglu, B. Biard, N. Godin, P. der Manuelian, L. Gabriel, P. Attar, A. De Sousa, F. Morfoisse, R. Cotentin, C. Delache and G. Perrin.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. F-lab, Nagoya University, Furo-cho, Chikusa-ku, Nagoya, Aichi 464-8602, Japan

    • Kunihiro Morishima
    • , Mitsuaki Kuno
    • , Akira Nishio
    • , Nobuko Kitagawa
    • , Yuta Manabe
    •  & Masaki Moto
  2. High Energy Accelerator Research Organization (KEK), 1-1 oho, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-0801, Japan

    • Fumihiko Takasaki
    • , Hirofumi Fujii
    • , Kotaro Satoh
    • , Hideyo Kodama
    • , Kohei Hayashi
    •  & Shigeru Odaka
  3. Institut de Recherche sur les lois Fondamentales de l’Univers (IRFU), Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives (CEA), Université Paris Saclay, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Sébastien Procureur
    • , David Attié
    • , Simon Bouteille
    • , Denis Calvet
    • , Christopher Filosa
    • , Patrick Magnier
    • , Irakli Mandjavidze
    •  & Marc Riallot
  4. HIP Institute, 50 rue de Rome, 75008 Paris, France

    • Benoit Marini
    • , Vincent Steiger
    • , Nicolas Serikoff
    • , Hany Helal
    •  & Mehdi Tayoubi
  5. Emissive, 71 rue de Provence, 75009 Paris, France.

    • Pierre Gable
    •  & Emmanuel Guerriero
  6. NHK Enterprises, Inc. (NEP), 4-14 Kamiyama-cho, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0047, Japan

    • Yoshikatsu Date
  7. Suave Images, N-2 Maison de Shino, 3-30-8 Kamineguro, Meguro-Ku, Tokyo 153-0051, Japan

    • Makiko Sugiura
  8. Cairo University, 9 Al Gameya, Oula, Giza Governorate, Egypt

    • Yasser Elshayeb
    • , Mustapha Ezzy
    •  & Hany Helal
  9. Ain Shams University, Kasr el-Zaafaran, Abbasiya, Cairo, Egypt

    • Tamer Elnady
  10. Inria, Villers-lès-Nancy F-54600, France

    • Jean-Baptiste Mouret
  11. CNRS, Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy F-54500, France

    • Jean-Baptiste Mouret
  12. Université de Lorraine, Vandœuvre-lès-Nancy F-54500, France

    • Jean-Baptiste Mouret
  13. Dassault Systèmes, 10 Rue Marcel Dassault, 78140 Vélizy-Villacoublay, France

    • Bernard Charlès
    •  & Mehdi Tayoubi

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Contributions

K.M., M.K., A.N., N.K., Y.M. and M.M. performed the experiments and analysed the results for the nuclear emulsion films; F.T., H.F., K.S., H.K., K.H. and S.O. performed the experiments and analysed the results for the scintillator hodoscopes. S.P., D.A., S.B., D.C., C.F., P.M., I.M. and M.R. performed the experiment and analysed the results from the gas detector telescopes. B.M., P.G., E.G., N.S., Y.D. and M.S. created the 3D models used for the muography simulations and the RTMS. B.M. designed and implemented the RTMS and contributed to the analyses. Y.E., T.E., M.E. and V.S. coordinated the different experimental operations in the field (muography, 3D scans).The paper was mainly written by K.M., S.P., F.T., M.T., B.M. and J.-B.M., with contributions from all the other authors. H.H., M.T., B.C., B.M. and Y.E. designed and coordinated the project (ScanPyramids).

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Kunihiro Morishima or Mehdi Tayoubi.

Reviewer Information Nature thanks G. Saracino, L. Thompson and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher's note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

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