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There is a conspiracy theory doing the rounds on the internet that a 7000 year old ostrich eggshell held at the Nubian Museum depicts a drawing of ancient Egyptian pyramids.

Curiosmos

An ostrich egg, dating back around 7,000 years, allegedly depicts the three pyramids at Giza and the Nile River next to them. But how can this be? According to mainstream Egyptologists, the pyramids at Giza date back to around 4,500 years ago. Curiosmos YouTube

So, Does a 7000 year old ostrich eggshell held at the Nubian Museum depict a drawing of ancient Egyptian pyramids? If so, when was the drawing drawn?

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    Is it just the egg that is 7000 years old or is it the drawing on the egg as well?
    – Joe W
    May 15, 2023 at 18:33
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    What do you expect an answer to look like, for and against? The answer, from a skeptical perspective, seems blatantly obvious to me, but how can we prove what a person 7000 years ago was thinking?
    – Oddthinking
    May 15, 2023 at 20:35
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    There were also Nubian pyramids, more numerous though less well known than those in Egypt. These too are much younger than 7000 years.
    – Henry
    May 16, 2023 at 8:27
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    The triangles on the egg clearly prove that Toblerone is 7000 years old... May 16, 2023 at 13:59
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    7,000 years ago some friendly visiting aliens left blueprints for monumental pyramids, written on ostrich eggs. 4,500 years ago some enterprising Egyptians dug up some of these eggs and followed the plans. The Nubian Museum egg is one that they missed. May 16, 2023 at 16:26

4 Answers 4

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The egg comes from a 7000-year-old burial site, so the drawings on it are indeed 7000 years old.

The date of the egg comes from the associated artifacts found in the grave. This is actually the most common method of dating in archaeology. If we know when one type of artifact was made, we can then date all the other artifacts found with it. The egg was found in a grave whose artifacts are about 7000 years old so we know it is that old.

Does A “Mysterious” Ostrich Egg Prove the Pyramids are thousands of years older – NO.

However, the triangles on the egg are abstract. There is simply no evidence that they are meant to represent pyramids.

The argument that the egg proves the pyramids are 7000 years old fails Occam's Razor, because we have administrative records of the pyramids being built 5000 years ago, and the pyramids themselves have been carbon dated. It's far more likely that the triangles simply represent something else.

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  • Comments about whether carbon dating applies to pyramids, Occam's Razor and Dark Matter have been moved to chat; please do not continue those discussions here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Skeptics Meta, or in Skeptics Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Oddthinking
    May 19, 2023 at 18:35
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For what it's worth, Naqada I-II cultures depicted mountains as triangles on their art, often accompanied by animals of some kind. The number varied.

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source.

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source.

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source.

One might guess that the more stylized / purely geometric patterns were perhaps related

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source

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source.

One might venture a guess that ancient Egyptians were thus "obsessed" with that shape long before they built any pyramids, just like the animal figures in their Pantheon could be related to earlier Naqada cultures; see first source for a discussion on that.


Almost every source I've read on the Naqada art says the triangles are mountains. OTOH, there is some informed speculation in one book that some of the earliest dynastic tombs might have used a sand mound (in fact, more than one):

A feature observed at Djet’s tomb was a brick retaining wall that seems to have enclosed a mound of loose sand. This mound was entirely subterranean. It is possible that an additional similar mound would have formed the superstructure of the tomb, and probable that other tombs at Umm el-Qaab would have had similar features now destroyed (Dreyer 1990).

Furthermore, there's speculation that some of the predynastic tombs might have used an earth mound as cover:

In 1894 [Koptos Petrie] started work at the site of Naqada, where he was finally to find the evidence he so desired of Egyptian culture before the pyramid age. Naqada turned out to contain an immense cemetery, in which Petrie and his team cleared over 2,000 graves in just over three months [...]. The dead had been placed in graves covered over originally with brushwood and low mounds of earth that had collapsed onto the burials, many of which had been robbed in antiquity.

So yeah, it's also possible they might have been depicting their own contemporary grave designs as well.

Interestingly enough, the Naqada II graves of the elites were surrounded with large pits full of animal bones, neatly segregated by category: dogs, goats, bulls, boobons, and even an elephant is found at the HK6 cemetery site in Hierakonpolis/Nekhen. (In fact the list/variety of animals buried there is a bit longer than given in that book.)


Since another answer pointed out that the egg is from the nearby A-Group culture actually (I took claim in the Q at face value above), it turns out that this culture too liked triangles, for whatever reason, although we have a lot less nice pictures of that:

enter image description here

Painted Eggshell ware SJE 277:49, 332:53B

(SJE stands for "Scandinavian Joint Expedition to Sudanese Nubia".)

That paper also discusses that the A-Group had a combination of Naqada and Sudanese pottery imports. OTOH, the A-Group graves were generally simple pits.

Another one from the Franco-Argentine Archaeological Expedition in Sudan (also found in A-Group dig) alas only shown as a schematic:

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At least the regular triangle patterns were encountered on the seemingly older Neolithic pottery found in Sudan, like this one from the Kadero dig.

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By the way, whether something neolithic with triangles is or isn't a map has been hotly debated on some occasions, such as regarding the Tepe Gawra "Landscape Jar" (discovered in Iraq, should be exposed/located at the Iraq Museum, Baghdad, but there don't seem to be any recent pictures of it)

enter image description here enter image description here

One of twelve decorated panels, this is by far the most complex and unusual. The juxtaposition of animal figures (absent from other panels), parallel lines of triangles (commonly found on pottery representing mountains), and the sinuous herringbone pattern down the middle (interpreted as a river with its tributaries) led one excavator to suggest the panel portrayed a landscape or even a map of a specific area. From Arthur J. Tobler, Excavations at Tepe Gawra: Joint Expedition of the Baghdad School and the University Museum to Mesopotamia, 2 vols. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1950), vol. 2, pI. LXXVIIIb.

The interpretation of the Landscape Jar has already proved controversial. Ten of the twelve painted panels that make up its decoration contain linear and geometric patterns. One of the other two contains what A. J. Tobler concluded was not just a landscape painting but "a kind of map.... probably the oldest map yet discovered."

According to Tobler, the painting shows a hunting scene in a broad valley, the latter flanked by mountains (in- dicated by the two rows of triangles) and containing the tortuous course of a river with its tributaries (figs. 4.15 and 4.16). He also suggested that the artist must have had some real landscape in mind. However, not all agree either with this interpretation or with his interpretation of the ten geometric panels as representations of different types of terrain such as rolling plains, mountains, deserts, and marshes. Beatrice Goff, for instance, considers the scene to be a highly schematized and not uncommon form of decoration that was a means of giving expression to "deep-seated feelings of aggression" rather than a representation or a picture of a familiar landscape.

Anyhow, if the Nubian egg is a map, and the hashing or zigzag on it is a river, then there are certainly some features in the Western Desert that would be suitable mountains, at least as a rough reference point.

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(image source)

Oh, and to make the debate a tad more interesting, it turns out one of the two initial images in this post has also been suggested as a cosmological map.

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The bowl dates from the Amratian period, mid-fourth millennium B.C.

Giedion sees this as portraying in abstract form the course of the sun from east to west, the enclosing primeval ocean, and the two central mountains of East and West, and indeed there is widespread acceptance of such an idea in the interpretation of decorated pottery from the Middle East and sites such as Susa.

And it turns out that a Susa [this way over in Iran] pot (dated 4200BC-3800BC according to the British museum) has... three triangles among other things among its design patterns. But I don't know of mythical interpretation for three (rather than two) triangles. OTOH the number probably doesn't mean anything specific in that case, because there are very similar Susa pots with four triangles.

enter image description here enter image description here

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    Yes, triangles depicting mountains and hills seems quite reasonable. May 16, 2023 at 10:03
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    Could be sand dunes as well.
    – Avery
    May 16, 2023 at 11:13
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The Pyramids at Giza did not look like that.

The "pyramids" on the egg have prominent horizontal lines presumably representing the stepped appearance of the Pyramids at Giza.

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However, the Pyramids at Giza were originally covered in a layer of smooth limestone which was later plundered.

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You could argue the drawing was taken post plunder, or just before the limestone was applied, or that the lines are stylized... but the list of buts starts to pile up, much like a pyramid naturally does.

Pyramids are extremely common.

If they are pyramids, there's no reason to believe they are specifically the Pyramids at Giza. Egyptian pyramids are very popular, dramatic, and fetished, but pyramids (and similar structures like Ziggurats) are extremely common in ancient cultures across the world. A pyramid is one of the simplest mega-structures; it is the shape rocks and dirt will naturally take as you pile them up. It's also one of the simplest to plunder for building materials and be lost.

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Does this prove ancient Nubians traveled to Oregon?!

One could as easily argue this is a depiction of the Three Sisters peaks located in Oregon, USA.

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"But the Pyramids at Giza are closer!" Only in distance, not in time. Point is, this could be any three adjacent hill or mountain peaks.

Or maybe they were a spice merchant.

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Triangles are a very common and natural shape; they could represent any number of things. Or they could be nothing but a doodle.

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    Pyramids are common around the world, but even more common and definitely older are tumuli, or burial mounds. The Wikipedia page claims that there were monumental tumuli in the Eastern Sahara built around the time that egg was decorated.
    – Juhasz
    May 16, 2023 at 21:40
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    The Three Sisters peak in Oregon – or maybe it is Triglav, which appears on the coat of arms of Slovenia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_arms_of_Slovenia). Maybe it was Slovenians who travelled back in time and carved their coat of arms on an ancient eggshell!
    – printf
    May 17, 2023 at 2:07
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    @printf "Does this 7,000 year old Ostrich Egg held at the Nubian museum depict the Three Sisters Peak in Oregon?" would be a separate question.
    – Turbo
    May 17, 2023 at 14:01
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Other answers already discuss whether what we see in the picture is an image of the Giza pyramids. In my answer, I want to address a different aspect of the claim: the claim that the egg is 7000 years old. As I will show below: No. The egg shown in the picture is not 7000 years old, and hence, the claim as stated is wrong (but the egg is still very old).

First of all, the image capture claims that the egg shell is from the Naqada I period, and that the egg is dated to 4400 BC. If this date was true, the egg wouldn't be any older than 6500 years.

However, if the egg was indeed from Naqada I, it's unlikely that it's dated to 4400 BC: Naqada is usually described as an early 4th millenium culture (e.g. in this article, but also on Wikipedia). This means that any date older than ~4000 BC is extremely improbable – the oldest finds associated with Naqada I are about 6000 years old.

But it's doubtful whether the egg shell is really from the Naqada culture. The egg is documented in "The Achæological Survey of Nubia, Report for 1909-1910" (Firth 1915:69) as a find from grave 96 in Cemetery 102:

Firth (1915:69)

Here's the accompanying illustration showing the egg (Firth 1915:Plate 11):

Firth (1915:Plate 11

The problem, however, is that Cemetery 102 is considered to belong to the A-Group culture, not the Naqada culture, e.g. in Gatto (2000) (my emphasis):

Moreover, another large site at Dakka - still unpublished - is probably to be dated from the Early to the Terminal "A-Groups" phases. The 4 Early phase sites are located in the central upper part of the area, around Dakka and include cemeteries 99-102-103 […].

The A-Group culture is a younger culture than Naqada I (from Gatto 2004:64):

Following Hendrickx’s reassessment of the Naqadian chronological sequence (1996), the oldest A-Group evidence was contemporary to phase IC (ca. 3800-3700 BC), while the most recent to phase IIIB-C (ca. 3100-2900 BC).

This means that the ostrich egg is probably not older than 5800 years, which is about 1200 years younger than stated in the claim.

This still precedes the construction of the Giza pyramids by about 1300 years, and the egg is also clearly older than the Pyramid of Djoser, which is dated to about 2650 BC. But of course, given that we know the age of the egg, and given that we know when it was buried and when it was recovered, and given that we know when the first pyramids were built, it's extremely obvious to me that what's depicted on the egg can't be an Egyptian pyramid. But as I said – other answers have addressed that part of the claim already.

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    There's also no guarantee that the egg itself and the drawings on the egg are the same age. Even if the egg were to be dated back to 7000 years old, it's possible the drawings on it were added much later, after the pyramids were built. Pieces of eggshell can survive a long time in the desert... May 18, 2023 at 17:35
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    @DarrelHoffman: The egg was buried with several other objects of mediocre value in a child's grave among hundreds of other graves. It's very unlikely that this was some kind of heirloom carefully handed down from generation to generation – instead, it was probably something like an egg that the kid's father made for her when she got ten. The graves were apparently undisturbed since the burials, which is no surprise given that these were average people, not nobility, and there were no riches to be robbed. It's extremely probable that the egg, the etchings, and the grave are all of the same age.
    – Schmuddi
    May 18, 2023 at 21:05
  • Also, weren't the pyramids originally covered with shiny white limestone? The image is comparing a drawing with what the eroded, blocky pyramids look like now, rather than what gleaming white pyramids would have looked like. May 19, 2023 at 16:07

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