Ever since the third grade "Ancient Egypt" unit in school, I've been fascinated by the history of Egypt; the mummies, the hieroglyphics, the pyramids, the Sphinx, and everything else has always held a certain allure for me, and many others. The lives of the ancient Egyptians are still somewhat of a mystery to us, one that archaeologists and researchers keep on chipping away at (pun intended) and always will. Who knows what else will be unearthed in the years to come, and who knows what light will be shed on the lives and culture of ancient Egyptians? It's crazy to think about just how much we don't know.
However, we do know a few things right now after decades upon decades of excavation, scientific tests, and extensive research. A lot of people and a lot of hard work have clued us into some of what was going on back in ancient Egypt, although not all of it was expected. In fact, there were plenty of discoveries that were downright shocking, even to the scientists who were actively looking for the artifacts, remains, fossils, and any other clues that would unlock the mystery of ancient Egypt. Some of these strange findings happened 100 years ago, and some were as recent as this year.
The only certain thing is that Egypt will never run out of surprises for us, nor would we want it to. The following are 15 of those surprises, things that were just a bit shocking to find near the pyramids of Egypt.
15 This Nativity Scene Predates Jesus Christ By 3,000 Years
Even though Christ was born 2,000 years ago, scientists have unearthed a nativity scene from 5,000 years ago. 5,000 years ago, an Egyptian artist painted a scene onto rocks, and this scene depicts the birth of Jesus in a manger in a cave or barn. The scene also includes two adults (the baby is between them and appears to be ascending), some animals, and what's thought to be a star in the East. This rock painting was found in 2005, but the Italian researcher who found it kept it a secret until 2016. Discovered in the Egyptian Sahara Desert, this nativity scene predates any others the world has seen by thousands of years and thus raises questions about other Christian nativity art. Geologist Marco Morelli, who found the cave drawing, said, "The discovery has several implications as it raises new questions on the iconography of one of the more powerful Christian symbols. It could have been interpreted as a normal depiction of a family, with the baby between the parents, but other details make this drawing unique. No doubt it's an intriguing drawing. "We didn't find similar scenes until the early Christian age."
14 40 Million-Year-Old Whale
40 million years ago, things looked quite a bit different on Earth, as you can imagine. The Eocene Epoch was long before the time of the ancient Egyptians or any humans, at all. At this time, the oceans were warm, and there were abundant fish and sea life. This included an early species of whale called the "Basilosaurus." Strangely, this exact whale was found in Wadi al-Hitan, Egypt. It was actually thought to have either been pregnant or had eaten another whale. Shark teeth found nearby suggest that later marine animals may have feasted on the whale's remains. This area of Egypt is called the Valley of Whales because, since its discovery in 1902, 10 fossilized whales have been unearthed there. This may seem odd since typically, Egypt is thought of as a dry, desert climate. This Basilosaurus fossil is the world's only complete skeleton of this creature.
13 24 Alien Black Boxes
One of the strangest (and most recent) discoveries found near the ancient pyramids of Egypt was a set of 24 black boxes. Weighing more than 100 tons each, the solid Aswan granite coffin-shaped boxes were found buried in a hillside cave system 12 miles south of Giza. The precision with which the boxes were cut is so remarkable that even though the reason for them remains unclear, they were obviously built for someone important. Scientists were baffled at how the ancient Egyptians were able to engineer something so precise that would be considered spectacular even today. They were uncovered earlier this year, and after the 30-ton lids were blown off with gunpowder, archaeologists were shocked to find the massive boxes empty. The boxes are about 3,300 years old, and some scientists have gone as far as to say that the boxes were not built by the Egyptians, at all, but by an alien race that left them behind.
12 Oldest Known Human Giant
Archeologists, specifically seeking out information and secrets about the past, expect to find strange things when they excavate the earth. But some things are more unexpected than others, as is the case with Sa-Nakht, who's potentially the oldest known human giant. Sa-Nakht was a pharaoh of ancient Egypt, and after studying his remains, scientists discovered that he would've stood at six feet and 1.6 inches tall. Nowadays, that's much more normal, but during the Third Dynasty, it was literally gigantic. Even though pharaohs and kings were likely to be bigger in general simply because they had more access to food, the skull and bones of Sa-Nakht showed evidence of "exuberant growth" and "clear signs of gigantism." Before Sa-Nakht, Rameses II had been the tallest recorded Egyptian at five feet, nine inches tall, and he lived 1,000 years after Sa-Nakht, who was found to have the oldest known case of this disorder in the world.
11 Man Finds Secret Passage to Great Pyramid Under His House
An Arabic news outlet identified an Egyptian citizen only as "Nagy," and he's the man who found a secret passage that led to the Great Pyramid of Giza, and he did so by illegally digging in his backyard! He came across a tunnel that led to the oldest and largest of the three pyramids at Giza. A resident of the El Haraneya village near the Giza Plateau, Nagy dug 33 feet into the ground underneath his house before finding the tunnel, which was made from stone blocks. This corridor has been fabled for decades, and archaeologists had long been searching for it (and had only uncovered small remnants of it) before this man was the one to finally find it. The causeway leads from the Great Pyramid to the Pyramid of Khufu. The Khufu pyramid complex itself is thought to be connected to an undiscovered temple near the Nile River.
10 Mummified Fetus
No matter how long it's been (in this case, since about 644 B.C. to 525 B.C.), finding a deceased baby is sad. The world's youngest mummy was discovered by the British School of Archaeology in 1907 near Giza. The unborn fetus was found in a miniature coffin, and originally, researchers expected to find mummified internal organs inside. However, they instead found a mummified human fetus, which they thought to have been at 16-18 weeks gestation at the time of death, presumably from a miscarriage. A CT scan of the tiny skeleton revealed that it already had five fingers and toes formed on each hand and foot and that its arms were folded across its chest. Julie Dawson, head of conservation at the Fitzwilliam Museum in England said, "The care taken in the preparation of this burial clearly demonstrates the value placed on life, even in the first weeks of its inception."
9 King Tut's Erect -----
Yes, this was actually found. King Tutankhamun, a.k.a. King Tut, was mummified with an erect penis to quash the religious revolution started by his father, or so it's thought. He was buried with no heart and covered in black oils in order to make him appear as the god Osiris. He's probably the most famous mummy there is, and he was mummified while his penis was erect -- at a 90-degree angle, to be specific. This unusual burial style is thought to have something to do with the fact that Tut disagreed with his father's new religion, which included the worship of the sun disc as the one god and the disbanding of priesthoods of all other gods. Tut ruled from the age of 10 until he died at the age of 19 (from sickle-cell anemia), and the entire time, he worked to revert his kingdom back to the practice of worshipping multiple gods. Interestingly, the organ broke off from the rest of the mummy after the discovery of his tomb, and it was missing (and thought to be stolen) until it was later discovered in the sand surrounding his tomb.
8 Jewelry From Outer Space
Truly, Egypt has provided us with so many out-of-this-world artifacts, both literally and figuratively. Some beads were discovered in a 5,000-year-old tomb in 1911. Excavated from an ancient cemetery in the village of el-Gerzeh, nine tube-shaped beads were found and are thought to be the oldest-known artifacts in the world. The beads were made from iron meteorites that fell from space and were crafted into the jewelry pieces about 2,000 years before Egypt's Iron Age. They were made into necklaces that also included gold and gemstones. Thilo Rehren, a professor at UCL Qatar, said, "It's really exciting because we were able to detect sufficient cobalt and germanium in these beads to confirm they're meteoritic." It's also very interesting that this points to the fact that blacksmithing, which must've been utilized to form the tube shapes, was actually around 2,000 years before the Iron Age.
7 47 Baby-Crocodile Mummies
The mummification of animals in ancient Egypt was commonplace, but the discovery of nearly 50 mummified baby crocodiles is still pretty cool. Museum curators in the Netherlands had thought they were unwrapping two adolescent mummified crocodiles, but in fact, it was 47 babies! They were all individually wrapped along with the two larger crocs that had previously been seen on advanced 3-D scans. The crocs were 2,500 years old and were likely a sacrifice to the crocodile god Sobek. They were raised as sacrifices, although other crocodile mummies have been found that are thought to have been worshipped in life as a living incarnation of Sobek.
6 Book of Spells
For all of you Halloween and witch lovers out there, this one should be of interest to you. A 1,300-year-old spell book of sorts was found in the late 1970s in Upper Egypt. It dates back to the 7th or 8th century and is written in the Coptic language. Not all of it has been deciphered yet, but the parts that have include love spells, exorcisms, invocations, natural cures, prescriptions, and more. It's thought to have been written by the worshippers of Seth, the third son of Adam and Eve. Researchers call the book a "codex." A codex is a type of book, an ancient manuscript that, in this case, is parchment paper bound together. Typically, it's an official list of medicines, chemicals, etc. The researchers called this spell book the Egyptian Handbook of Ritual Power.
5 Lost Underwater City
Since Egypt is in the desert, an underwater city isn't the first thing you would think would be found there. But it was. The ancient Egyptian city of Heracleion, also known as "Thonis," was found near the Canopic Mouth of the Nile River. This city was originally built on adjoining islands in the Nile Delta, and it was said to have been visited by some of ancient history's most famous people, such as Helen of Troy. Scholars weren't sure if the cities of Heracleion and Thonis were one and the same until it was discovered in 1999. Franck Goddio, a French underwater archaeologist, made the discovery as part of the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology. According to frankgoddio.com, "The objects recovered from the excavations illustrate the city's beauty and glory, the magnificence of their grand temples, and the abundance of historic evidence: colossal statues, inscriptions and architectural elements, jewelry and coins, ritual objects, and ceramics -- a civilization frozen in time."
4 Beer Brewer to the Gods
We know that the ancient Egyptians liked to have a good time by evidence of something called the "Festival of Drunkenness" that they held. So, it's not a surprise to learn that they had their very own "brewer to the gods" 3,000 years ago. The tomb of an ancient beer brewer dates back to the Ramesside period and was discovered by Japanese archaeologists while working on the nearby tomb of King Tut's grandfather, Amenhotep III. This tomb belongs to the chief "maker of beer for gods of the dead," who brewed beers such as the 3,200-year-old barley beer the archaeologists found evidence of. Professor Poo Mun Chou is a leading Egyptologist at Hong Kong's Chinese University, and he said of the discovery, "Alcohol in ancient Egypt was very important -- not just in terms of daily consumption but also as an offering to deities. Beer, in particular, was very important. Beer during the New Kingdom period was probably one-fifth or even one-tenth the price of wine, making it a very popular drink for people of all social strata."
3 Six New Prehistoric Bat Species
Six new prehistoric bat species dating back to the Eocene Epoch (which was 56 million to 34 million years ago) were discovered in Egypt in 2008. Near Cairo, the species were found by experts analyzing 33 fossils that had been dug up over a period of decades. University of Michigan geologist Gregg F. Gunnell said of the discovery, "They are all pretty primitive members of modern groups, which is a little bit odd. Generally, in [this period in the fossil record], you tend to [find] archaic bats but nothing very modern... but these animals are all members of living families. In a sense, Africa is sort of a crucible for the evolution of modern bats." Whereas previous speculation has put the origin of the bat in the Northern Hemisphere, the discovery of these new bat species is compelling evidence that they may have actually originated in Africa. This photo is a reconstruction of Witwatia schlosseri.
2 Secret City Beneath Pyramids
The ancient city of Memphis (which is modern-day Giza) is a network of subterranean passageways, shafts, caves, and caverns under the Great Pyramids of Giza. The labyrinth is made up of as many as 1,500 rooms and was discovered in 2008. At first, Egyptian authorities tried to deny its existence, but over a year later, the country's leading Egyptologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass, admitted that an excavation team was working on the underworld beneath Giza. By design, the passageways and tunnels were meant to be hidden, and many speculate that there's far more to them than has been found (or reported). Using various imaging techniques, there have also been two cavities discovered inside the Great Pyramid where solid walls are supposed to be -- but aren't.
1 The Abydos and Solar Boats
The Abydos Boats were a fleet of ships used to carry the pharaohs to the afterlife. They were discovered in the sands of Egypt and are believed to have been built around 3,000 B.C. 14 vessels have been uncovered, and they range in size from 59-79 feet in length, six to 10 feet in width, and about two feet deep. They could carry up to 30 rowers each. These boats are thought to be the earliest surviving examples of "built boats." Many solar boats have also been discovered. Solar boats are ritual vessels used to reunite the deceased king with the sun god Ra and carry them to the heavens. Some of these ships have shown signs of being in the water, however, so they could've also been used as funerary barges.
Sources: livescience.com, nbcnews.com, nationalgeographic.com