A “hugely significant” artefact believed to be over 5,000 years old and one of only three objects ever recovered from inside Egypt’s Great Pyramid has been found after going missing for more than 70 years – inside a cigar box in a Scottish university.
The discovery was made recently by curatorial assistant Abeer Eladany during a review of items in the University of Aberdeen’s Asia collection, when she found a cigar box which had several wooden fragments.
Ms Eladany cross-referenced it with other records and said once she checked the details in the university’s Egypt records she knew “what it was, and that it had effectively been hidden in plain sight in the wrong collection”.
"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,” said Ms Eladany, who is originally from Egypt and has spent 10 years working in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
The wooden fragment is one of only three items ever to be recovered from inside the Great Pyramid – known as the Dixon Relics after they were found in the pyramid’s Queen’s Chamber by engineer Waynman Dixon in 1872.
In 1946, they were donated to the university by the daughter of James Grant, who studied medicine and went to Egypt in the mid-1860s to help with a cholera outbreak.
There Grant became friends with Dixon and went on to assist him with the exploration of the Great Pyramid where together they discovered the relics.
Ms Eladany said the university's collections run into the hundreds of thousands of items and thus “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."
The wood is believed to have been used during the construction of the pyramid. The other two items - a ball and hook – are in a museum in Britain.
Neil Curtis, the University of Aberdeen’s head of museums and special collections, said carbon dating of the wood has been quite a revelation and noted that “it is even older than we had imagined”.
According to the university, the results of tests on the fragments revealed that the wood can be dated to “somewhere in the period 3341-3094BC – about 500 years earlier than historical records which date the Great Pyramid to the reign of the Pharaoh Khufu in 2580-2560BC.”
The university believes that this supports the idea that – whatever their use – the Dixon Relics were original to the construction of the Great Pyramid and not later artefacts left behind by those exploring the chambers.
“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,” said Mr Curtis.
He added this discovery will certainly “reignite interest in the Dixon Relics and how they can shed light on the Great Pyramid.”
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