An ancient Egyptian artefact from the Great Pyramids of Giza, long thought lost, has been discovered in a cigar box in Aberdeen.
The fragment of wood, found by chance by a staff member at Aberdeen University in a collection review, is thought to be ‘hugely significant.’
Thought to be used as a measuring ruler in the construction of the pyramids, the precious piece of cedar was originally discovered in 1872, when British engineer Waynman Dixon entered the pyramid’s Queen’s Chamber.
Experts hope the re-discovered artefact could help shed light on the Great Pyramid.
University staff were aware the piece was donated to the university in 1946, but could not pin down its exact location.
But curatorial assistant Abeer Eladany, who was conducting a review of item’s stored in the university’s Asia collection, stumbled upon the ancient wood in a cigar box.
Eladany, who is originally from Egypt and worked in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum for a decade, cross-referenced the fragment with other records.
‘Once I looked into the numbers in our Egypt records I instantly knew what it was, and that it had effectively been hidden in plain sight in the wrong collection,’ said Eladany.
‘I’m an archaeologist and have worked on digs in Egypt but I never imagined it would be here in north-east Scotland that I’d find something so important to the heritage of my own country.
‘It may be just a small fragment of wood, which is now in several pieces, but it is hugely significant given that it is one of only three items ever to be recovered from inside the Great Pyramid.’
One reason the wood is so significant is that it’s one of only three objects ever recovered from inside the great pyramid at Giza.
The other two, a ball and hook, are now stored in the British Museum..
‘The university’s collections are vast – running to hundreds of thousands of items – so looking for it has been like finding a needle in a haystack,’ Abeer added.
‘I couldn’t believe it when I realised what was inside this innocuous-looking cigar tin.’
Dating the fragment, which had been delayed due to Covid restrictions, showed the wood was from between 3341-3094 BC.
Emerging from that time period appears to support the theory that the artefacts discovered by Dixon were used in the original construction of the pyramid, not left behind by later explorers.
Mysteriously, other historical records date the pyramid to a period almost 500 years later than the cedar relics.
‘Finding the missing Dixon Relic was a surprise but the carbon dating has also been quite a revelation. It is even older than we had imagined,’ said Neil Curtis, head of museums and special collections at the University of Aberdeen.
‘This may be because the date relates to the age of the wood, maybe from the centre of a long-lived tree. Alternatively, it could be because of the rarity of trees in ancient Egypt, which meant that wood was scarce, treasured and recycled or cared for over many years.’
He added: ‘It will now be for scholars to debate its use and whether it was deliberately deposited, as happened later during the New Kingdom, when pharaohs tried to emphasise continuity with the past by having antiquities buried with them.’
‘This discovery will certainly reignite interest in the Dixon Relics and how they can shed light on the Great Pyramid.’