A pyramid puzzle

A missing piece of wood, one of the three objects collected from the Great Pyramid of Giza by engineer Waynman Dixon in 1872, has been rediscovered in a cigar box in the University of Aberdeen’s museum collection.

Two of the objects Dixon discovered in the Queen’s Chamber of the pyramid – a ball and a hook – are in the collection of the British Museum, but the third, a fragment of cedarwood that some suggest was part of a measuring rule, had been considered lost for more than 70 years. It was donated to the university in 1946 by the daughter of James Grant – a doctor who had explored the pyramid with Dixon – but was never classified.

Recently rediscovered fragments of a piece of wood recovered from the Great Pyramid of Giza. Photo: University of Aberdeen.

At the end of 2019, curatorial assistant Abeer Eladany rediscovered the wood in a cigar box during a review of the museum’s Asia collections. ‘It may be just a small fragment of wood, which is now in several pieces,’ Eladany said, ‘but it is hugely significant given that it is one of only three items ever to be recovered from inside the Great Pyramid.’

The fragment of wood has now been radiocarbon dated to 3341-3049 BC. This is centuries earlier than the date of the Great Pyramid from historical records, which attribute it to the reign of Khufu (2580-2560 BC), but it supports the idea that the so-called ‘Dixon Relics’ were not artefacts left behind by people entering the chambers after the pyramid’s construction.

This difference in dates, Neil Curtis, Head of Museums and Special Collections, suggests, could be because the wood comes from the centre of an old tree, or that it was recycled or reused due to the scarcity of the resource, or perhaps it was an older object deliberately buried to highlight the pharaoh’s connection with the past.