Advanced technology proves helpful to elucidate historical wonders

There are still many mysteries involving archaeological sites and cultural assets of the world. Japan’s latest technology can be used to help elucidate these historical wonders.

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has announced the discovery of a new void inside the Great Pyramid of the Pharaoh Khufu near Cairo.

An international team involving researchers from Nagoya University and the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization had been investigating the pyramid since 2015. The existence of another huge void was surmised in 2017 and the latest discovery is expected to further advance the understanding of the pyramid’s internal structure.

The pyramid was built 4,500 years ago, but how it was built and its internal structure are not known in detail. The pyramid of Pharaoh Khufu is approximately 150 meters high, and it had been speculated that there may be unknown voids within.

It is difficult to conduct excavation surveys on pyramids because they are valuable cultural assets. For this reason, Nagoya University researchers have developed a method to explore the internal structure using muons falling from the sky.

Although muons pass through materials well, they are partially blocked in areas of high density. This property can be used to surmise the presence of a large void inside the pyramid by detailed analysis of the direction and number of muons that come flying through.

Using this method, the international team found a corridor-shaped space 2 meters wide and 9 meters deep above the entrance on the north side of the pyramid, and the team inserted a scope to check the interior. It can be said that the efficiency of the new method has been proven.

The team said that there is nothing in the void and its use or role is unknown. Some believe that it functions to disperse the weight of the stones, but it is also believed that there may be a further passageway leading beyond the void blocked by stones. It is hoped the research proceeds and the reason the corridor was built becomes clear.

Using muons to explore is a method suitable for analyzing massive structures. Similar methods have been applied to explore the subsurface of volcanoes and to estimate the distribution of melted fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

With the further development of this technology, the expectations are that it can be applied to inspections of public infrastructure such as tunnels and to geological surveys.

Such academic research helps protect cultural properties and enhances Japan’s reputation in that field. This is a meaningful activity that could be considered part of diplomacy using science and technology.

The Japanese government should support the development of exploration methods using advanced technology. The government should also consider providing broad support for the activities of international teams of researchers in collaboration with other organizations such as the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 12, 2023)