Originally created 09/18/02

Robot enters Great Pyramid



CAIRO, Egypt -- A tiny robot broadcast live television pictures to the world Tuesday as it crept through an ancient pyramid, solving one puzzle but uncovering a new one.

Researchers said they planned more explorations after their toy train-sized robot - named the Pyramid Rover - took two hours to crawl through a narrow shaft in the Great Pyramid outside Cairo and push its camera through a hole drilled in the wall. The picture revealed still another door.

Zahi Hawass, the director of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, said discovery of the new barrier was a success.

"This is very important," said an excited Hawass as the robot broadcast its first images.

The tiny camera showed a small, uncluttered space backed by a vertical, sheer stone surface Hawass said he believed was another door. Hawass said the next job for researchers was to study the pictures and plan for further inspections, which could take up to 12 months.

Hawass's council, with engineers from the Boston firm iRobot and researchers from National Geographic, spent a year planning for Tuesday's mission.

"I enjoyed the moment of discovery. We were not disappointed ... we were successful in our mission," Tim Kelly, president of National Geographic's television and film division, told The Associated Press after the program.

Fox TV and the National Geographic Channel broadcast the exploration live as the robot inched along the rough, 200-foot shaft toward a limestone door adorned with two brass handles. TV viewers and scientists got a simultaneous look at what was billed as the "Secret Chamber."

From a room inside the pyramid, engineers controlled the robot's movement by cables. The tons of stone all around made the use of radio controls impossible.

Engineers from iRobot, benefitting from the experience of a German team that sent a robot as far as the door in 1993, spent the last six months designing their $250,000 Pyramid Rover.

During the broadcast, Hawass made another find by lifting the lid on a stone sarcophagus found in a tomb built near the Great Pyramid, revealing the intact skeleton apparently of a man dating to the period of the pyramid's construction 4,500 years ago.

The program included reenactment's of the pyramid's building and analysis of other discoveries made on the world famous Giza plateau.

The Great Pyramid, built 4,500 years ago by Khufu, a ruler also known as Cheops, has four narrow shafts. It is the most magnificent of all Egypt's pyramids, made of 2.3 million stone blocks, and has lost little of its original height of 481 feet and width of 756 feet.

For more than a century, archaeologists have been wondering why the shafts were built and what secrets they might hold.

Hawass said the shafts may have played symbolic roles in Khufu's religious philosophy. Khufu proclaimed himself Sun God during his life - pharaohs before him believed they became sun gods only after death - and he may have tried to reflect his ideas in the design of his pyramid.

The shafts - the one the robot ascended Tuesday was just 8 inches square - were not designed for human passage.

Khufu's pyramid has never yielded the treasures usually associated with pharaohs, perhaps because robbers plundered it thousands of years ago.

On the Net:

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