The Great Pyramid is the biggest and oldest of the three pyramids that stand on the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt. It is believed to have been built around 4,500 years ago.
Over the years, various archaeological teams have explored the pyramid, reaching what is known as the Queen’s Chamber. Those archaeological digs found, hidden behind a false wall, a narrow shaft that climbed at a 40-degree angle up into the pyramid.
But those explorations had resulted in damage to the shaft – and no one had explored where the shaft led.
In 2010, Rob Richardson, Professor of Robotics at Leeds and a small group of colleagues had accepted a challenge thrown down by Hong Kong dentist and inventor Dr. Tze Chuen Ng to design and build a robot that could reach the end of the shaft and find what, if anything, was there.
To solve one of the big mysteries in Egyptian archaeology, the team has developed a robot that has successfully navigated one of the narrow shafts of the Great Pyramid.
Scientists took almost five years to develop the robot.
Professor Richardson, part of the Robotics at Leeds research group, said: “This design was certainly challenging. The robot had to be extremely lightweight – and in the end, we got it down to 5kg. Because it was so light, it did not require a lot of power – in the end, the challenges started to become opportunities. We developed a system that moved the robot very gently through the passageway.”
The robot had traveled along a shaft that is just 20 cm by 20 cm, a smaller cross-section than a sheet of A4 paper, and maneuver along its 60-meter length. The challenge was to survey and film what was inside – and crucially, not cause any damage. Because of the meticulous design, the robot was able to navigate the shaft and record exclusive footage of the inside.
The film reveals intricate colored markings on the floor of a small, hidden chamber.
The robot’s camera also revealed a second blocking stone that they could not get past. Now, what lies beyond that second stone, at the end of the shaft- becomes a mysterious question.
Professor Richardson said: “No one knows the purpose of the shaft: there has been speculation that it could be an air vent or perhaps access to a burial tomb.”
“About 50 meters along the shaft – several meters before what we think is the end, there is a stone put in place to block further access. We do not know what that stone is blocking access to. We were able to get a camera past the stone – it revealed a small chamber with intricate symbols painted on the floor.”
“Given the artwork, it is likely the shaft served a bigger purpose than act as an air vent. But what that bigger purpose remained a mystery.”
Professor Richardson commissioned independent filmmaker William Westaway to use the video that had been recorded to make a film about the project.
Mr. Westaway said: “This is a fascinating story: one that sheds light on aspects of ancient civilization but in a twist, reveals how the latest thinking in robotic design and engineering has opened that window on the past.”
The story is featured in a documentary film just released on the Ancient Architects YouTube channel.
Matthew Sibson, who runs the Ancient Architects YouTube channel, said: “I’m thrilled to be releasing the documentary exclusively on YouTube, but the nine hours of raw footage is what excites me as an independent researcher of ancient history.”
The raw footage recorded by the robot can be seen in two parts online: