Letter: Buried treasure in Cleopatra's foundations

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Sir: 'Cleopatra's Needle' holds more secrets than those mentioned in your article (6 December) and Gordon Notley's letter (10 December). The following articles were deposited in the pedestal of the obelisk when it was erected in 1878:

A scale model of the obelisk 2ft 10ins high, in bronze; a piece of granite from the obelisk itself; a complete set of British moneys and a rupee; a standard foot and a standard pound; a 2ft rule; a standard gauge to the thousandth part of an inch; a portrait of Queen Victoria; a history of the transport of the obelisk from Alexandria to London, with plans, printed on vellum; Dr Birch's translation on parchment of the inscriptions on the obelisk; copies of the Bible in several languages; a translation of St John's Gospel, chapter III, verse 16, printed in 215 languages; the Pentateuch in Hebrew; the Book of Genesis in Arabic; a copy of the London Directory; a copy of Whitaker's Almanack; a copy of Bradshaw's Railway Guide; a map of London; copies of the current daily and weekly illustrated newspapers; a Tangye hydraulic jack and specimens of wire ropes and cables used in raising the obelisk; a shilling razor made by Mappin; a box of cigars; a number of tobacco pipes; an Alexandra feeding-bottle; a collection of toys; a box of hairpins and other articles used by women when making their toilet; and photographs of 12 pretty Englishwomen. (From Cleopatra's Needles and Other Egyptian Obelisks by Sir EA Wallis Budge, 1926)

This practice of placing objects in the foundations of buildings was quite common at one time. It originates in the ancient 'builders' rites' superstition, when various items - even living creatures - were placed in the base of buildings to propitiate the gods.

The London obelisk has nothing to do with Cleopatra. It was erected at Heliopolis in about 1500 BC by the pharaoh Thothmes III and is dedicated to him. There are other 'Cleopatra's Needles' in Paris, Rome and New York.

Yours sincerely,


Surbiton, Surrey