A missing 5000-year-old Egyptian artefact has been found in a cigar box in the Scottish city of Aberdeen.
The artefact, a fragment of wood, was one of three items found inside the Queen’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza in 1872.
Egyptian Curatorial assistant, Abeer Eladany, was reviewing items within the university’s Asia collection when she came across a cigar box marked together with her country’s former flag.
Inside, she discovered several wooden splinters which she then recognised as a fraction of wooden from the Great Pyramid which has been missing for more than a century.
“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. I couldn’t believe it when I realised what was inside this innocuous-looking cigar tin,” she stated.
The wooden fragment is considered one of a trio of items found by engineer Waynman Dixon inside the pyramid’s Queen’s Chamber in 1872.
Known as the ‘Dixon relics’, two of them – a ball and hook – are housed in the British Museum, while some have speculated the lost piece of cedar was a part of a measuring rule which may reveal clues to the pyramid’s building.
It is believed the fragment was bequeathed to the university by Dixon’s friend, James Grant, however, was by no means categorised and regardless of an in-depth search could not be located.
The discovery of the relic has additionally raised new questions, as carbon dating has proven that the wood can be dated to the period 3341-3094BC – some 500 years earlier than historical records which date the Great Pyramid to the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu in 2580-2560BC.
Neil Curtis, head of museums and special collections at the university, mentioned:
“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. 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.
“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.”
The cedar fragment originally belonged to a larger piece of wood, which was most recently seen in a 1993 exploration of the interior of the pyramid by a robotic camera is hidden and now unreachable voids.
“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.”
The University of Aberdeen is a public research university in Aberdeen, Scotland. It is an ancient university founded in 1495, making it Scotland’s third-oldest university and the fifth-oldest in the English-speaking world.
Aberdeen is consistently ranked among the top 200 universities in the world and is ranked within the top 20 universities in the United Kingdom according to The Guardian.