9 Unsolved Mysteries of Ancient Egypt

Of all the great civilizations of Antiquity, Egypt remains one that is still shrouded in mystery. Even though thousands of passionate intellectuals have dedicated their lives to studying Ancient Egypt, there is still so much that is unknown. If what the experts say is true, then civilized life in Egypt could go as far back as 6000 BCE. Even by the times of Alexander the Great or Julius Caesar, people who are now considered ancient people, Egypt was a civilization that evoked a feeling of deep mystery and intrigue.

1. Disappearance of Queen Nefertiti

 Plaster cast of the bust of Nefertiti in the National Museum of Scotland
 Plaster cast of the bust of Nefertiti in the National Museum of Scotland. Image credit Takashi Images via stock.adobe.com

Queen Nefertiti was one of the most powerful women throughout Ancient Egyptian history. She ruled at perhaps the height of Egyptian power during the 18th Dynasty from 1370 BCE to 1330 BCE. Her husband Pharaoh Akhenaten, was father to none other than King Tutankhamun (aka King Tut).

A surprising amount is known about Queen Nefertiti thanks to a series of outstanding archaeological finds from the early 20th century. In 1912 a near-perfect bust of Nefertiti was found and she quickly became one of the most famous icons of Egyptian history. Despite her elevated status, they never found her final resting place. Never finding her tomb has raised many questions among skeptics about how important she might have been at the time but all of this is pure speculation.

2. Death of King Tut

Funeral mask of the Pharoah Tutankhamun
The famous death mask of King Tut.

The stepson of Queen Nefertiti, King Tutankhamun, better known as King Tut is perhaps Egypt’s most famous ruler of all. King Tut was by no means the most powerful or long-lasting king Egypt had, but he is famous thanks to the discovery of his tomb in 1922.  Up until that point, the tomb of King Tut was one of the most well-preserved found. The images of his sarcophagus remain the face of Egyptology. King Tut ruled Egypt from a young age and his time as leader did not last long.

King Tut faced many health problems and died young, at the age of 19. It is not known how he died exactly, and this has only left the experts to guess what might have ended his life. An extensive study of his skeleton revealed that he died with a fractured skull and broken knee. Whether this is a sign of a violent death at the hands of a political opponent or just a tragic accident, no one can be sure.

3. The Mysterious Land of Punt

Egyptian soldiers in the expedition to the Land of Punt at the Temple of Hatshepsut, Luxor, Egypt.
A painting depicting Egyptian soldiers traveling to the Land of Punt.

The Ancient Egyptians came into contact with many foreign cultural groups throughout their history, but none remain as mysterious and shadowy as the people of Punt. There are dozens of written records about the area they call Punt, but few clear details on where it might have been. Punt is often depicted as a powerful African kingdom that existed alongside the Egyptians somewhere in the south. The Egyptians clearly respected and even venerated this kingdom, so far as to call it “God’s Land.”

The people who lived in Punt did not keep any known records of themselves. All that is known about Punt comes from the Egyptians themselves. The best evidence available that might reveal the true location of Punt is a few mummified baboons found in an ancient tomb in Egypt. Scientists have traced the origins of these baboons to what is modern-day Ethiopia.

4. Labyrinth of Giza

Descent into ancient Egyptian pyramid. Ancient catacombs.
A tunnel entrance into one of the pyramids at Giza.

As amazing as the Great Pyramids of Egypt are, some experts believe there was much more to the surrounding area than just the pyramids themselves. There is a decent amount of archeological and historical evidence that would suggest there was once a vast labyrinth that stretched out near the pyramids. 

The Greek historian and geographer Herodotus mentioned a massive labyrinth by the pyramids in the 4th century BCE when he visited Egypt. In modern times, no such labyrinth is visible, and many believe his writings to be either a lie or done so out of confusion. However, in 2008 a structure buried under mountains of sand near the Great Pyramids was detected by geo-radar scans. They discovered a massive stone foundation that measured nearly 1,000 feet across. There has been no attempt to dig down and uncover this mysterious structure, but that could soon change in the future. 

5. Destroyed Pyramid of Djedefre

Abu Rawash Pyramid, rubble remains
Pyramid of Djedefre remains.

An example of some of the many pyramids that exist in the area that was once a part of Ancient Egypt. 

The Great Pyramids are just a few of the hundreds of pyramids built during the long and storied history of Ancient Egypt. None of the other pyramids could measure up to the ones in Giza in terms of size and scale, but each was notable and impressive nonetheless. While most of the pyramids that dot the Egyptian landscape have suffered damage and erosion from the elements over the millennia, one pyramid, in particular, was purposefully destroyed by man.

The Pyramid of Djedefre was supposedly the most stunning pyramid ever built. Some historians even claim that it might have been as large as one of the pyramids found in Giza. As beautiful as it might have been, the Pyramid of Djedefre was destroyed for unknown reasons. Some believe that the Romans used the pyramid’s stone in their own infrastructure projects, while others think there might have been a revolt by the Egyptian people against Djedfre, and they ruined his monument out of spite. No one knows for sure.

6. The Unknown Queen

The 5th Dynasty Mastaba of Ptahshepses at Abu Sir, Egypt
Abu Sir, Egypt, the site where the tomb of the Uknown Queen was discovered.

In 2015, archeologists were able to uncover a tomb of an unknown woman laid to rest sometime during the Old Kingdom, some 4,500 years ago. The hieroglyphics on her sarcophagus describe her as both the “mother” and “wife” of the king.

A deeper look reveals that she might have been one of the most important female figures of Ancient Egypt, but outside of the discovery of the tomb, it is a total mystery. Key details like her name or who she was married to, are still a guessing game. The leading researchers, in this case, think that she could have been the mother of King Mekahur and wife to King Neferefre. But this is still unsubstantiated.

7. Hidden Chamber at Giza

View of the Pyramids of Giza. In Cairo, Egypt
View of the Pyramids of Giza.

As famous as the Great Pyramids are, there is still much that humans do not know about them. Large areas of the pyramids have been extensively explored and studied, but some areas of the pyramids remain untouched by modern archeologists and scientists.

In 2017, researchers scanned the largest pyramid, Khufu, and their findings were nothing short of amazing. In addition to the three chambers discovered in previous years, there was a much larger hidden chamber sitting at the bottom of the pyramid. The chamber has no pathways or known entrances to it. How or why the Egyptians would have made this addition to the pyramid is still a total and complete mystery. What lies inside this chamber and what its purpose was will likely remain unknown.

8. The Great Sphinx 

The Great Sphinx in Egypt with blue skies
The Great Sphinx may be older than initially thought.

In the shadow of the Great Pyramids of Giza lies the Great Sphinx. This massive stone structure measures an astounding 240 feet long and 66 feet high. The origins of the Sphinx are completely unknown. It was once reasonable thought that the Egyptians built the Sphinx, like the pyramids, but that might not be the case.

Water erosion at the base of the statue dates the Sphinx to around 7000 BCE. This would suggest that either Ancient Egypt is much older than initially believed or that a previous civilization just as advanced constructed the Sphinx. Why or who built the Sphinx has sparked endless theories on its true origin and purpose. Ranging from alien architects to a highly advanced lost civilization, humans might never fully grasp the full story of the Sphinx.

9. The Dendera Light

Detail of the famous hieroglyphic carving at the Temple of Hathor at Dendera in Egypt. Known as the Dendera Lights the ancient, underground carving appears to show large lightbulbs.
Dendera Light Bulb in the Hathor temple at Dendera.

The Dendera Light refers to a puzzling inscription carved into the walls of a temple dedicated to the Egyptian god Hathor. The image appears to depict either the use or instructions on how to create a Crookes tube, an object used as a light bulb in the 19th century.

Skeptics are quick to dismiss these claims as misinterpreted readings of what is a religious ceremony, while others see this as evidence that the Egyptians, along with other ancient people of the era, figured out some primitive form of electricity. Humans might never know the full truth, but it is certain that this particular engraving will remain the focal point of many theories for decades to come.

Ancient Egypt has been a mysterious civilization since the early days of Antiquity. Civilization has existed in that part of the world for such a long time that even the great peoples of Rome and Greece regarded Egypt with reverence and intrigue. As technology improves, and archeologists make further breakthroughs, some of these questions may be answered. However, there is a good chance that the truth surrounding many of the unanswered questions about Ancient Egypt will remain a mystery until the end of time. Something that will only continue to fuel highly entertaining theories for generations to come.

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