CAIRO — A team of French scientists searching for hidden, treasure-filled rooms in the Great Pyramid of Cheops suspended work Monday after drilling three holes through an interior wall and finding only sand.
But the French team and the head of the Egyptian organization supervising the work said they believe that the presence of a powder-fine lining of sand between the interior stones of the Great Pyramid supports their theory that secret chambers lie deep within the 4,600-year-old tomb of the Pharaoh Cheops.
"The sand means the ancient Egyptians are protecting something, something very serious and meaningful," said Ahmed Kadry, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Organization.
He said that although the French team failed to find and penetrate the cavities, samples taken from the wall beyond the sand lining indicate that it is made of a fine, soft limestone used by the ancient Egyptians for ornamental carvings on royal tombs.
"We can be sure now that there are cavities, and not just structural or stress cavities but something much more mysterious," he said.
The French mission, headed by Gilles Dormion and Jean-Patrice Goidin, two architects who postulated the existence of secret rooms in the Great Pyramid on the basis of architectural anomalies in the interior stonework, had hoped to bore four holes through the wall of a gallery leading to the so-called Queen's chamber. The plan then was to observe and photograph the interior with an endoscope, an optical instrument developed for viewing the interior of human organs.
However, the work was suspended after five days when, after boring three holes through more than eight feet of hard limestone, the drills hit the fine sand lining.
Jacques Montlucon, an engineer with the French National Electric Company, which is providing technical expertise for the project, said the work was suspended because the drills being used are not suitable to bore through sand.
The existence of hidden chambers in the Great Pyramid has long been suspected, but there was never any real evidence until last May, when the French found what they said appeared to be three spaces, measuring 6 feet by 9 feet, off of the Queen's gallery.
The discovery, which the French said could indicate the presence of hidden storerooms, created a flurry of excitement among Egyptologists, who for the most part have assumed that all the treasures of Cheops were plundered long ago.
Not all the experts share Kadry's conviction that there are secret chambers, but discovery of a sand lining about 10 to 17 inches thick between the great stones is regarded as a puzzling and exciting find in itself.