Pyramids of Giza
Gorlitz and Erdmann chipped away samples of the cartouche of pharaoh Khufu to prove an "alternative history" theory Reuters

Two Germans are facing criminal charges for vandalising the Great Pyramid of Giza in an attempt to prove an "alternative history" conspiracy theory.

Dominique Gorlitz and Stefan Erdmann were joined by a filmmaker, who accompanied the pair to document their "discoveries". In April 2013, the two men entered the inner chambers of the pyramid, which is ordinarily restricted to authorised archeologists and Egyptologists.

According to officials, the group smuggled several items from the pyramid, including samples of a cartouche of the pharaoh Khufu known as Cheops. Despite violating strict antiquities laws, the men chipped fragments off the artefact to assist with research for their so-called Cheops Project.

Six Egyptians are also being held in connection with the case, including several guards and inspectors from the Egyptian Antiquities Ministry who allowed the men access to the pyramids.

What is the Cheops Project?

The men claim that academics are concealing the true age and nature of the Great Pyramids. According to Gorlitz and Erdmann, the British pyramid researcher Howard Vyse, who discovered the cartridge of Cheops in the chambers, faked the authenticity of the item in 1837.

Why did they take the cartouche?

The artefact is an ancient red-pigment carving inside the Great Pyramid, which is said to identify who the structure was built for. The men maintain the item is evidence of fraud by Vyse, who was merely an adventurer seeking fame and fortune.

By chipping away segments of the ancient item, Gorlitz and Erdmann hoped to gain access to the pigment and identify how old the cartouche is - and if it really does depict the name of the pharaoh Khufu.

What are the consequences?

In November, Egyptian authorities were outraged that Egypt's famous monument had been defaced. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minister of State for Antiquities, stated the vandals would be hunted down and face severe retribution.

The men, described as "hobbyists" in archeology, have apologised and said they did not mean any harm. However, Ibrahim has reportedly organised a committee to investigate illegal excavations in the pyramids.

Gorlitz is a motivational speaker, while Erdmann is an author who writes about a broad range of conspiracy theories, including Hitler and the Freemasons. Some have hailed the men as heroes online, in what they have maintained is a brave, yet illegal act.