Mysterious 'Thermal Anomalies' Uncovered in Pyramids

Too soon to say if they may indicate undiscovered secret chambers, experts say.

ByABC News
November 10, 2015, 11:53 AM

— -- While the discovery of "thermal anomalies" at Egypt's Giza pyramids by an international group of scientists and archaeologists is prompting worldwide interest, with speculation that they may indicate undiscovered secret chambers, experts say it's too early to jump to any conclusions.

Teams at the faculty of engineering at Cairo University and at the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute launched a project on Oct. 25 called the #ScanPyramids project with the aim of scanning the largest pyramids of Egypt -- Khufu, Khafre, the Bent and the Red pyramids -- using infrared thermography, for one year.

Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities released a statement on Sunday in which the team "concluded the existence of several thermal anomalies," which could be explained by "presence of voids behind the surface, internal air currents, different materials."

The team observed a particularly impressive anomaly on the eastern side of the Khufu Pyramid, noting that "while temperatures sometimes differ [from] 0.1 to 0.5 degrees [Celsius] between two adjacent stones," this zone has "an area of few blocks having up to 6 degrees gap with neighboring blocks!"

“It’s always interesting to hear new discoveries at Giza, which has a huge significance in the public imagination," Richard Enmarch, senior lecturer in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool told ABC News, adding: "It's such a huge structure -- there is no end to exotic theories behind it."

The pyramid has a base of more than 12 acres and has a mass of 5 million tons.

However, experts like Enmarch warned that the presence of anomalies does not necessarily equate with the existence of secret chambers and could simply be a facet of the pyramid's construction.

“A void could be one reason, but it's not necessarily the most probable. It could also be explained by quality of the stones, whether the stones were cracked and the air flow was able to travel around,” Enmarch said.

All anomalies detected and data collected will now be subject to further treatment and data analysis, Egyptian officials said, and the mission will last at least until the end of 2016.

“There is too little experience of how to interpret anomalies," Professor Richard Bussmann, senior lecturer in Egyptian archaeology at University College London, told ABC News, noting he had not seen a specific map showing where the survey was being conducted.

“Behind any of the stones there may be gaps, rubble, solid mortar, large building stones, or bedrock. Each of these will have rather different capacities for conducting heat,” Professor Kate Spence, senior lecturer in Egyptian archaeology, said in a written statement to ABC News.

“Also, the surviving surface is not flat, and will therefore heat and cool at different rates depending on direct exposure to the sun,” Spence said. “I am therefore unsurprised that thermal differences appear. It's interesting to look at monuments in this way, but I think we'd need rather more evidence before we decide that it's significant!”

"They're only at the very beginning of their work," Enmarch noted, "so, I'm waiting to hear more to get excited."

According to a report on the project, the mission "will focus on four masterpieces of the Fourth Dynasty (2575-2465 BC): on the site of Dahshur, about fifteen kilometers south of Saqqara, the mission will study the South pyramid, called the Bent, and the North pyramid, called the Red, both built by Snefru (2575-2551 BC). On the Giza plateau, about 20 kilometers from Cairo (see map), it will study the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre, built by the son and grand-son of Snefru."