WWhen we think of Egypt, we think of the Great Pyramid of Giza. At 455 feet tall, the tallest of the Giza Pyramids was built by Pharaoh Khufu in the third millennium BC and has been a must-see tourist destination for 2,500 years. The popularity of this ancient tomb is matched only by the perplexity it inspires in its spectators. For hundreds of years, scientists and archaeologists have speculated on the ancient technologies used to build such a large structure. Some even speculated that it was built by aliens. But now, a chance discovery by a conservation assistant at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland may help answer the question “How did they build the pyramids?”
Towards the end of 2019, while curatorial assistant Abeer Eladany was examining items stored in the museum’s Asia collection, she came across an unusually decorated small cigar box. An Egyptian herself, Eladany immediately noticed her country’s old flag on the outside of the box and knew it had nothing to do with the Asia collection. “Once I looked at the numbers in our Egyptian files,” she said in an academic press release, “I immediately knew what it was and that it had indeed been hidden from view. seen by all in the wrong collection. “
Inside the box, Eladany found a 5-inch piece of cedar broken into three pieces. This unpretentious (once intact) piece of wood was one of only three objects – provocatively referred to as the ‘Dixon Relics’ – that were removed from the Queen’s Chamber in the Great Pyramid in the 19th century. The other two (a ball and a hook) are in the British Museum. Over the past 70 years, however, the wooden “relic” has been lost.
Dixon’s relics were taken from the Queen’s Chamber by Waynman Dixon, an engineer who explored the Great Pyramid in 1872. Their “discovery” by Dixon was widely reported by British newspapers. At the time, it was evident that the articles were of great importance: a December 1872 issue of The graphic wrote that “the position in which [the relics] were left shows that they had to be left there while construction was in progress, and at the start of construction. The relics, the article’s optimistic hypothesis, could provide evidence “of the correctness of the many theories formed by Sir Isaac Newton and others as to the weights and measures used by the builders of the pyramids.”
Unfortunately, when the wood was donated to the University of Aberdeen by the family of one of Dixon’s associates, it was never properly classified and disappeared from the archives. “The University’s collections are vast,” Eladany said, “comprising hundreds of thousands of items – so looking for it is like finding a needle in a haystack. I couldn’t believe it when I realized what was inside this innocuous looking cigar box.
Carbon dating of the fragment, which was delayed due to restrictions introduced during the pandemic, reveals that the wood dates to 3341-3094 BC, some 500 years earlier than the Great Pyramid itself. The early date excludes the possibility that the wood was left there by later visitors to the tomb. On the contrary, Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections, said: “It is even older than we imagine. This could be due to the scarcity of trees in ancient Egypt or it could suggest that the wood was cut “in the center of a long-lived tree”. Alternatively, it could have been deliberately put down as a way for the pharaoh to “emphasize continuity with the past by having antiques buried with [him]. “
It is certainly true that the cedar fragments were once part of a larger piece of wood that remains inside the Great Pyramid. This larger wooden piece was captured on camera in 1993, when the interior of the pyramid was explored using a robotic camera. As for what the wood can tell us about the construction of the pyramid, the stock market is getting closer and closer to the truth. We already know that the stones used to build the Great Pyramid were quarried from a nearby quarry and transported across the desert on large sleds. In order to reduce friction and facilitate passage of the blocks, the workers lightly dampened the sand in front of the sleds. The Great Pyramid’s precise alignment to true north led one engineer to suggest that the Egyptians used ropes and stargazing to build their pyramids.
As for the Dixon relics, they may help scientists answer the big question: how was the pyramid itself built? In the 1680s Sir Isaac Newton spent considerable time trying to deduce the unit of measurement used to make the pyramids. His unpublished notes on the subject were recently auctioned off at Sotheby’s. Since Dixon relics have long been touted as construction tools, it’s possible that the wood pieces were once part of a measuring stick or lever system. This of course does not prove Newton’s theory that measurements of the pyramids could help him predict the end of the world.
What is clear is that no matter what Ancient aliens or uninformed Israeli politicians have said: The pyramids were not built by aliens or by the enslaved Israelites mentioned in Exodus. These theories simply reflect the fact that when faced with what is arguably the world’s greatest wonder, it’s hard to imagine how human beings could have built such a thing.
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