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At the end of last year, curatorial assistant Abeer Eladany was browsing items from the collections of the Aberdeen University museum when she came across an item that did not appear to belong.

Ms. Eladany, who is originally from Egypt and had spent a decade working at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, noticed the country’s ancient flag on an unassuming cigar box.

He opened it to find small pieces of wood inside, and after checking it against museum records, he realized that he had stumbled upon a lost artifact from the Great Pyramid of Giza, the centerpiece of an enduring archaeological mystery.

The old cigar box had been hidden in plain sight in the wrong collection. (University of Aberdeen)

Only three objects have been recovered from inside the Great Pyramid: a trio of items known as the “Dixon Relics,” according to the University of Aberdeen.

Two of them, a ball and a hook, are now in the British Museum. But the third object, fragments belonging to a much larger piece of cedar wood, had been missing for more than 70 years, the university added.
“Once I looked at the numbers in our Egyptian records, I knew instantly what it was, and that it had indeed been hidden in plain sight in the wrong collection,” Eladeny said in Press release of the University.

“I am an archaeologist and I have worked in excavations in Egypt, but I never imagined that it would be here in North East Scotland where I would find something so important to the heritage of my own country.”

The Great Pyramid is 139 meters high and was built about 4,500 years ago. It is the largest of the Giza group of pyramids, the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, and a major tourist attraction.

Abeer Eladany with the cigar box and driftwood. (University of Aberdeen)
The pyramid is made up of narrowNarrow tunnels, difficult for people to go through. In the 18th and 19th centuries, archaeologists and researchers used to try to make their way into internal chambers.

To avoid further damaging ancient structures, modern archaeologists now use technology such as robots and remote cameras to explore their interior; in the Great Pyramid, they have only had access to three known chambers so far.

The relics were first discovered in 1872 within the Queen’s Chamber of the pyramid by engineer Waynman Dixon.

He was assisted by his friend James Grant, a graduate of the University of Aberdeen; his discovery of the relics, according to the statement, was widely reported at the time.

Dixon took the ball and the hook, and Grant took the piece of wood, the university said. After Mr. Grant’s death in 1895, his collections were bequeathed to the university and his daughter donated a “five-inch piece of cedar” in 1946.
The pyramids of Giza in Egypt. (Mohamed el-Shahed / CNN / Getty Images)

But because the piece was never properly classified, it remained hidden for decades despite an “extensive search”, until Ms. Eladany accidentally discovered it in the Asia collection.

“The University’s collections are vast, with hundreds of thousands of items, so searching for them has been like finding a needle in a haystack,” he said.

“I couldn’t believe it when I realized what was inside this harmless-looking cigar can.”

There are different theories about the purpose and date of origin of the wood – some researchers think it is part of a larger measuring tool, which they believe could provide clues as to how the towering pyramids were built.

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The radiocarbon dating process has revealed that the fragments are from around 3341-3094 BC, centuries before the construction of the Great Pyramid.

COVID-19 restrictions had delayed the dating of the ‘lost’ cedar fragment, the university said. The largest piece of wood from which it originated, still within the Great Pyramid, was most recently seen by a robotic camera in 1993 and is now unreachable.

This suggests that the relics were original from the construction of the Pyramid, rather than being left behind later by those within the entire Pyramid.

The cigar box with wood fragments had been added to the museum’s Asia collection, but it actually housed the Egyptian relics. (University of Aberdeen)

“It is even older than we had imagined. This may be because the date relates to the age of the wood, perhaps from the center of a long-lived tree,” Neil Curtis, director of museums and special collections at the University of Aberdeen. it said in the statement.

“Alternatively, it could be due to the scarcity of trees in ancient Egypt, which meant that wood was in short supply, treasured and recycled or cared for for many years.”

He added that the discovery could “rekindle interest” in the relics.

“Now scholars will debate its use and whether it was deliberately deposited, as happened later during the New Kingdom, when the pharaohs tried to emphasize continuity with the past by burying antiquities with them.”

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