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Robot to Take a Crack at Solving Pyramid Mystery

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The Great Egyptian Pyramids
An Introduction to Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Civilizations

On Monday, September 16, a robot just might make history. And you can watch it on TV.

National Geographic has a robot, used to search the World Trade Center site recently, that it will send down a tiny shaft in Egypt's Great Pyramid in an attempt to solve one of the world's enduring mysteries: What's behind that tiny door?

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built 4,500 years ago. It contains many marvelous things, including a shaft that is too small for people to crawl through.

In 1872, someone discovered, at the end of the shaft, a stone hatch with copper handles. But because the shaft is too small, no one has been able to get near the hatch--until now.

The robot, called Pyramid Rover, is about 5.5 inches wide and 1 foot long. It moves by running wheels over tiny treads (on top and bottom), much like a bulldozer moves.

This robot is equipped with all kinds of equipment, both for viewing and for survival in small places. Archaeologists hope that the robot can walk right up to the hatch, drill a small hole through the 3-foot-thick stone, and insert a tiny camera into the space beyond. It is hoped that whatever is in that secret shaft will be shown.

Some complications exist:

  • The shaft is 200 feet long and at a 40-degree angle.
  • The robot moves at a speed of 5 feet an hour (so you probably won't be seeing its journey from start to finish).
  • The robot is controlled by remote operated by archaeologists in another room. Because the stone inside the pyramid is so thick, communication is by cable, not by radio transmission. If one of the cables hits a snag, the forward progress of the robot could be stalled.

Still, archaeologists are confident that they will be able to see beyond the shaft. Some people think that the riches of the great Khufu, which were never found, are behind the door. Others think that the chamber houses a statue of the great king. Still other people hope to find more clues to how the ancient Egyptians lived and worked, such as papyrus or tools.

And even if they find that nothing is there, they will be satisfied. At least they'll know what's behind the door.

The TV program will be broadcast on the FOX network at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time. Also on the program, archaeologists will open the 4,000-year-old sarcophagus of a common man, the first such non-king sarcophagus ever found. The man is believed to have been an overseer of the pyramid builders' village.

Graphics courtesy of ArtToday

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