Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Riddling of the Pyramids: Peepholes Pique a Protest Frenchman's Boring Irks Some Archaeologists

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Riddling of the Pyramids: Peepholes Pique a Protest Frenchman's Boring Irks Some Archaeologists

Article excerpt

FOR decades, archaeologists have probed for secrets inside the Great Pyramids near Cairo. Using the latest technology, they have searched for unknown chambers, hidden treasures, even the mummy of a pharaoh.

But the use of radar, microgravimeters, and tiny robots in the 4,600-year-old structures continues to spark criticism. This often-vitriolic debate burst open again in recent weeks when a well-known French civil engineer, Jean Kerisel, drilled two holes under the largest and oldest of the three Pyramids, the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.

"I am against anything that will touch the pyramid," says Gamal Mokhtar, former head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Cairo. "The Pyramids are not an experimental mouse. The pyramids are something sacred."

But Bahay Issawi, a geologist and an occasional consultant on the Egyptian monuments, disagrees: "Nobody would object to using sophisticated techniques in the Pyramids on condition that they don't endanger the rocks of the Pyramids. To say nothing should touch them, this is no way to keep the Pyramids and Sphinx intact."

After obtaining approval from Egyptian antiquities officials, Mr. Kerisel drilled two holes 4.5 and 6.5 feet long and 1 inch in diameter under the Cheops Pyramid in May, according to Shawk Nakhla, Egypt's director-general of restoration and conservation of antiquities. The report on Kerisel's findings is expected in coming weeks.

Kerisel proposed to drill into the mother rock under Cheops Pyramid to check on cracks that may be increasing the humidity inside the monument. This humidity is dissolving the limestone rocks and the gypsum mortar that holds them together. The massive structure covers 13 acres and stands 450 feet high.

Kerisel worked three days, Dr. Nakhla says, and took samples of the rocks from the holes.

Peeping down holes with a telescope

But other Egyptologists and archaeologists, opposed to Kerisel's drilling, claim he has a hidden agenda and just wants to find an undiscovered chamber in the Cheops Pyramid and become rich and famous. He worked only three hours, they say, drilled 10-foot-long holes, and then peered down them with a telescope to see if there was a chamber.

"If he would say he's looking for a burial chamber, he wouldn't get any permission ... {to work in the Pyramids} so he has to say he is restoring the Pyramids," says Zahi Hawass, director of the Giza Plateau, the complex that holds the Giza Pyramids, near Cairo.

Dr. Hawass also says Kerisel lacks an adequate knowledge of the great monuments and their history, and that he should have tried his technique first on a less famous pyramid. …

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