Is the Great Pyramid about to Reveal Its Deepest Secret? Review as the New Millennium Begins, a Tiny Robot Will Open a Tunnel Door Which Could Lead to an Incredible Buried Chamber - and the Most Remarkable Archaeological Find of All Time

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Byline: ROBERT BAUVAL

Deep inside the oldest, largest, tallest and most sacred monument on this planet is a heavily guarded secret, a mystery which has split the archaeological establishment, mystified the greatest minds and intrigued those who know what might, just might, be there.

The monument is the Great Pyramid of Giza, the extraordinary structure whose making and purpose we still struggle to understand. It may seem incredible that, even with modern technology, we still do not know exactly what is inside, and that we have not succeeded in mapping its every chamber, room and tunnel; but, due to its amazing stone bulk and its fantastic construction, we do not.

The pyramid gives up its secrets reluctantly.

Sometimes, as in this case, there are those who are terrified of what may be revealed. But soon, as the millennium turns in a mere eight weeks' time, it seems likely that perhaps the most astonishing discovery ever made on the great plain of Giza will be uncovered.

Deep inside the pyramid, where the blocks of stone are farthest from the burning sun, wrapped in darkness and in the cold stillness of the centuries, there lies a secret passage with a door at its end. I believe that behind this door there is a chamber, hidden so well from prying eyes that it can only contain the most precious of archaeological prizes.

And only yards away, perhaps connected to what is behind the door, and under that most mysterious and inscrutable of monuments, the Great Sphinx, I know there is another as yet unexplored chamber. There, embedded in the rock beneath the Sphinx, could be a room which archaeologists have sought for centuries: the fabulous Hall of Records.

It is, in effect, a great library; the blueprint of a civilisation which predated the pharaohs and whose part in creating their great dynasty has long been hinted at, but never established.

If one or both of these secret chambers are found, it will be the most amazing archaeological triumph of the century, perhaps of the whole millennium.

And soon we will know.

The Egyptians, who have in the past been resistant to the search for the Hall of Records since it may rewrite their ancient history, have relented and finally agreed to begin to turn the spade. The two expeditions - into the pyramid and beneath the Sphinx - are now imminent and will take place as Egypt marks the millennium with a ceremony centred on the Great Pyramid.

On December 31, at the stroke of midnight, a military helicopter will gently hover above the pyramid, as 250,000 people watch from the surrounding sand and rock. The aircraft will then slowly lower a shining golden triangle on to the top of the pyramid.

For thousands of years the capstone which topped the Great Pyramid at Giza has been missing. But, as one millennium ends and another begins, the pyramid will be made complete again, giving a marvellous backdrop for the discoveries which are to come.

As the celebrations go on outside, within the Great Pyramid itself a small robot - equipped with a video camera linked to TV networks around the world - will proceed to lift open the small door thought to lead to the first secret chamber. It has taken long years of argument and persuasion to get to this point. Discovered in 1993 by a German team, the door is tiny, standing at the end of a long, narrow shaft, measuring only about eight inches square. Initially this shaft and three others the Germans were investigating were thought to be for ventilation purposes, but more recently they have been interpreted as passages through which the spirit of the dead Pharaoh would ascend to the stars.

As the Germans' robot crept along the shaft, it sent back video pictures.

But, after a two-week, 70-yard journey, it was suddenly halted. The team could see that the obstacle was a stone door with what appeared to be two metal handles, later shown to be copper. …