In December 2019, a small fragment of cedar, which had been missing for more than 70 years, was rediscovered within the collections of the University of Aberdeen. The fragment may, at first glance, seem unprepossessing, except for the fact that this small find is one of only three artefacts ever recovered from inside the Great Pyramid in Giza – the other two being a stone ball and a hook.
These three items are collectively known as the Dixon Relics, after the engineer Waynman Dixon who discovered them inside the pyramid’s Queen’s Chamber in 1872. While the ball and hook went to the British Museum, the cedar was donated to the University of Aberdeen in 1946 by the daughter of James Grant, a physician from Methlick, Aberdeenshire, who assisted Dixon with his exploration of the pyramid.
After its donation, the wood’s location was forgotten until Abeer Eladany, a curatorial assistant at the University of Aberdeen, found it while conducting a review of the university’s Asia collection. The wood had been placed in an old cigar tin with the Egyptian flag emblazoned across it, so Abeer, who is originally from Egypt herself, knew at once that this item was unlikely to be Asian in origin.
Commenting on her discovery, Abeer said: ‘Once I looked into the numbers in our Egypt records, I instantly knew what it was, and 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!’
Soon after the discovery was made, a sample of the wood was sent for radiocarbon dating, but due to COVID-19 the analysis was delayed. The results have just recently come in, though, and show that the wood probably dates to 3341-3094 BC – more than 500 years earlier than the presumed date of the Great Pyramid’s construction.
The reason for this discrepancy is not immediately apparent, but it could be that the wood was from the centre of a particularly long-lived tree. Alternatively, as wood was fairly scarce in ancient Egypt, it may have been treasured and reused over many decades. Further analysis will hopefully provide some more clues.