Ancient Egypt. This civilisation, dating back 5,000 years B.C., is shrouded in mysteries and riddles, some of which have not been solved even in our own time. Here are some of the mysteries that keep modern scientists busy.
Do you want a potion to win over your girlfriend? Or a spell to cure a nasty disease? The Ritual Power Handbook, deciphered by two Australian researchers from Macquarle, may be just what you need: this manuscript, consisting of 20 parchment pages bound together, was written some 1,300 years ago in Coptic, the language spoken by Egyptians since the second century AD.
As well as references to Jesus (by this time many in Egypt had already converted to Christianity), to the Egyptian god Seth and to the mysterious Baktioth, "lord of the forty-nine serpent species", it contained 27 formulas for protection against demons and for success in love and daily affairs.
All that was needed was to say a few magic words over two nails and then hammer them into the doorjambs of the victim's house. In this way the "ritual practitioner", that is, the apprentice magician to whom the book belonged, could control the mind of the unfortunate man.
But it is better not to try in real life to put it into practice, the spell. It's still not clear where this manuscript, found in Vienna in an antique dealer's shop, came from and whose it is. Besides, you might spoil someone's door!
Ancient Egypt and the Chamber of Secrets
Every adventure film has such a room. But in our case, the classic secret room hidden behind a bricked-up door really does exist. And it's located...
There are actually two chambers: they are accessed through two openings, one in the west wall and the other in the north wall of the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun, in the Valley of the Kings, at Luxor. The doors have been securely concealed for three thousand years. But Egyptologist Nicholas Reeves guessed they existed when he noticed cracks in the frescoes decorating the burial chamber.
What lies behind them? Why does the temperature on the north wall rise or fall depending on where it is measured?
Only further analysis can tell, but Reeves is convinced that behind the northern door is the tomb of Queen Nefertiti, the mother of Tutankhamun, who died in 1338 BC. Experts believed her to be the true owner of the tomb complex until her son needed his own tomb: the young pharaoh died suddenly at the age of 18. And at the time he did not yet have his own pyramid!
However, in 2018, a study led by Italian Franco Porcelli debunked this hypothesis once and for all.
The mysterious screamer
Who is this Mysterious Screamer? He was found in a secret hiding place in Deir el-Bahri, near the Valley of the Kings, along with 40 other embalmed pharaohs. But unlike the other mummies, he was wrapped in sheepskin inside an unadorned sarcophagus, his mouth open in a cry.
Who was this unknown man? And why did the Egyptians embalm and bury him hastily and carelessly?
There are many hypotheses, but none of them are conclusive. What is known is the face reconstructed by the team of scientists: the face of a 40-year-old man with a long nose, a prominent jaw and a low forehead.
The ancient Egyptian, experts claim, was of high rank, given the personages with whom he was buried. He may have been the Prince of Pentaver, son of Pharaoh Ramses III, punished in the 12th century BC for conspiring against his father to ascend the throne. When they tried to make him commit suicide, he is said to have drunk poison and died with a grimace of pain on his face.
How did the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids?
Surely you all know the great Egyptian pyramid of Cheops on the Giza plain? It was built more than 4,000 years ago and is about 147 metres high (like a 40-storey building): historians say that it took the Egyptians at least 20 years to build such a grandiose structure.
But how did the ancient Egyptians build the pyramids? Without trucks, without cranes, without iron tools, how did they do it?
According to the most popular theories, workers had to use inclined ramps and a wooden machine with a swinging arm driven by ropes and counterweights to lift the blocks and place them precisely.
A different, but no less ingenious method was to lift the 20-80 ton granite blocks used in the pharaoh's chamber up the great stone gallery of the pyramid: according to scientists from the Turin Polytechnic Institute, who reconstructed it in their laboratory, the Egyptians used the so-called 'Spanish winch'.
Thanks to this system of ropes twisted with a wooden stick, which the workers rotated, two men could lift a block weighing several tonnes on their own.
Where was Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, buried?
It is said that before she died, Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, asked a favour of her enemy Octavian, the future Roman emperor who conquered Egypt: she wanted to be buried with her husband, the military leader Mark Antony. She then let herself be bitten by a very poisonous snake. She died in 30 BC.
Apparently, Octavian kept his promise: Cassius Dion, the ancient Latin historian, writes that the two lovers "were embalmed in the same way and buried in the same tomb".
But, where is Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt, buried?
No one knows. Some scholars believe that the sarcophagi are in the queen's palace, but by now the building is under water and it is impossible to verify this. Others, however, continue to study the sources to find out. In 2009, Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, for example, announced that he had found a tomb beneath the temple of the god Osiris, in the ancient city of Taposiris Magna (modern-day Abusir).
Some coins, a carved bust of Cleopatra and a mask that appears to depict Antony prove this, he says. His colleagues are sceptical, however, and after two thousand years the mystery still remains a mystery.