We’ve all seen stories of poor schlubs who got lucky by finding unbelievable treasures buried in the basement, or hidden in their walls, or tucked behind attic insulation. In these cases, the treasure has the added bonus of changing the lives of the individual who uncovers it.
Sometimes, though, a secret is uncovered that not only changes the life of the person who found it, but also the lives of everyone who comes into contact with it. In the case of new homeowner Juan Perez, this secret would challenge what we believed about the ancient world…
The New House
It was a normal day in Mexico and Juan was getting himself settled into his new house. There wasn’t anything particularly significant about the house in general or about Juan, both were commonplace, a bit worse for wear, and looking forward to a new purpose in life.
As Juan dug around the new home, he began to take stock of the building’s various eccentricities. It had a root cellar, a few basic rooms, and like most places in his neighborhood, no air conditioning, but it was home and it had been the right place. As Juan began to sift through the previous owner’s belongings, he found something strange…
Juan pulled a small, wooden figure out of the basement. It was shaped like a person, almost like a doll: an old muñeca, maybe? As it turns out, the doll was old, much older, in fact, than Juan had first assumed. Even more curious was the fact that the doll very closely resembled the sarcophagi he’d seen in books.
The doll had strange markings upon it; it wasn’t English or Spanish, or any sort of alphabet he was familiar with. Juan didn’t realize it at first, but the more he looked at the doll, the more he realized how significant his find was. Juan brought it to his friends who also realized that the doll was much more important than he’d previously believed…
The statue was carved from wood and engraved with hieroglyphics, ancient Egyptian symbol writing. It was shaped like a small sarcophagus and reminiscent of the types of humanoid figures found in Egyptian burial chambers. So Juan took the artifact over to the only place that made sense to him: the Egyptian embassy.
Returned to the Embassy
Once it was in the hands of the Egyptian embassy, the mysterious doll was examined by top Egyptologist and leader of the Egyptian Antiquities Repatriation Department, Shabab Abdel-Gawad. It was determined that the doll was, in fact, an ancient Egyptian artifact, but how did it get to Mexico in the first place?
The doll was actually an ushabti, or funerary figurine. These ushabtis were placed in ancient Egyptian tombs amongst the grave goods and was to be used by the deceased pharaohs in the afterlife. It represented a servant who would be called upon to manual labor for the deceased in the afterlife.
Once the statue was studied, it was returned back home to Egypt. There, a group of archeologists analyzed the ushabti to authenticate it. Ever since the boom in archeological interest in Egypt in the early 1900s, many fake artifacts had circulated around the world. Was the Mexican ushabti such a fake?
The conclave of curators at the Egyptian Museum in Tahir eventually came to a decision: the ushabti was indeed authentic and was dated back to the 19th dynasty in 1292 to 1187 BC. They believed that the artifact had been smuggled out of the country some time ago and was being hidden by the house’s old owner because it was illegal.
Yet the ushabti wasn’t the only Egyptian artifact to be found in Mexico. In Toluca, Mexico, another strange trinket was uncovered. This time it was a copper Ankh, an important and recognizable Egyptian symbol. This, however, led to more questions. Were the ushabti and ankh both simply stolen artifacts, or something even more significant in terms of world history…
Egyptians in Mexico
The Ankh had been found in Calixtlahuaca, present day Toluca, in monument number 4. It was a Cross Altar of Tzompantli, an ancient Aztec deity. Considering that Europeans didn’t make it across the sea until long after the end of the last Egyptian empire faded into antiquity, why would an Aztec temple be displaying an Egyptian symbol?
The Ankh has been featured as a symbol in tombs and temples throughout ancient Egypt. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of that culture and represents the afterlife, an important and culturally-significant aspect of ancient Egyptian culture. So how did the ancient Mesoamericans know about it in the first place?
The theory that the humans of the ancient world had ships capable of sailing across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, long before the Age of Exploration, is not a new one. The Vikings made their way across the pond years before the English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese ever did. But since we’ve found no evidence of sailing ships in any other culture, the idea that the Egyptians could find their way across the unforgiving sea in the early days of human history seems impossible.
In fact, many people still believe that thousands of years ago, ancient Egyptian explorers may have traveled across the world’s oceans. Going as far as Australia, North America, and Mexico. Evidence of this theory has been located in recent years all over, but the most conclusive evidence has been around for eons…
The Aztecs and the Egyptians were parallel civilizations in many ways, despite having evolved on opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Both of these cultures built pyramids, used solar symbolism, and believed in some sort of afterlife. The Aztecs, like the Egyptians, prepared their dead in such a way as to prepare them for a journey into the afterlife.
The Pyramids are perhaps the most compelling evidence of this cultural link. The most famous Egyptian pyramids, found at Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, are among the largest manmade structures ever built. Their walls and treasures were adorned with symbols like the ankh and the ushabti. The shape of these buildings may have inspired the Aztecs as well…
Mesoamerican pyramids, while similar, actually have more in common with the ziggurats of ancient Mesopotamia than they do the pyramids of ancient Egypt. The idea of independent invention is often brought up here. It states that humans in different locations and will different culture will eventually find similar ways of doing things.
Yet, even if independent invention is to blame for the similarities in both the Aztec and Egyptian culture, it still doesn’t explain how the objects got to Mexico in the first place. The Ushabti and, more importantly, the Ankh, would have had to be there centuries before the Eastern world visited the New World in the Western Hemisphere. Nevertheless, many still stick to the original explanation…
Abdel-Gawad still believes that the objects were smuggled out of the country. Like many, he doesn’t believe that the ancients were capable or interested in sailing across the Atlantic ocean. Counterfeit and illegally smuggled artifacts are still a huge problem in the world of international trade even today.
Until we find more conclusive evidence of the link between the Aztec and Egyptian cultures, the world may never know where the Mexican ushabti came from. Nevertheless, the Egyptian people are more than happy to have the sacred relic returned home. The artifact is still being studied but will likely be put on display in the coming months.