HK's great pyramid scheme

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 June, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 June, 2005, 12:00am

Team gets the go-ahead to use a Mars-inspired robot to try to unravel one of ancient Egypt's deepest secrets

A joint expedition to unravel one of the biggest mysteries of ancient Egypt, using technology developed in Hong Kong, has been approved by Cairo's guardian of the pharaohs' treasures.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), gave the go-ahead for Hong Kong inventor Ng Tze-chuen and the University of Singapore to build and operate a robotic rover that it is hoped will solve the puzzle of what lies behind the so-called 'second door' in a shaft of the Great Pyramid at Giza.

'We will contact the University of Singapore soon, and we are going to do it [the investigation] in October,' Dr Hawass told the Sunday Morning Post in an exclusive interview from his Cairo office.

The collaboration will take up where researchers from Boston's famed Massachusett's Institute of Technology, and National Geographic magazine, left off in 2002, in exploring the mysterious shafts at the heart of the Pharaoh Khufu's Great Pyramid.

Also called the Great Pyramid of Cheops ('Khufu' in Greek), it is the oldest of the seven ancient wonders of the world - and the only one still surviving.

Audiences around the world watched on live television in 2002 when a robot crawled 65 metres up a shaft in a room of the pyramid dubbed the 'Queen's Chamber'. When it reached a limestone door adorned by metallic handles, the Pyramid Rover drilled a hole and inserted a fibre-optic camera, to try to determine what was behind the door. But all it found was a second, rougher-hewn door.

This new attempt will try to penetrate the second door and film whatever lies beyond, Dr Hawass said. This attempt will not be televised live, he said.

The Hong Kong-Singapore partnership is the brainchild of Dr Ng, who was asked in 2003 by the SCA's Farouk El-Baz to develop mission-specific designs for the pyramid excavation.

Dr Ng - a dentist whose high-precision tools were used by cosmonauts in the Mir Space Station and were on a robotic probe to Mars - declined to comment on the project. He was awaiting a formal, joint press release.

The project may shed light on the function of the shafts in the Great Pyramid, which have baffled scientists: they are unique among the many monuments left behind by the ancient Egyptians. This will be the third robotic attempt to solve the mysteries behind the shafts. The first was in 1993 by German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink.

Dr Hawass said the shafts might lead to the burial chambers of Pharaoh Khufu, who ordered the building of the biggest pyramid after he became king around 2551 BC. His mortal remains have never been found.

Dr Ng would not speculate on the purpose of the shafts but joked: 'Who knows what we will find? It could be absolutely nothing, or we might find a message from the Martians telling us they built the pyramids.'