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Ancient Egypt: The Greatest Discoveries You Have Probably Never Heard Of
Wednesday, November 28, 2012 - 7:30pm
Ancient Egypt: The Greatest Discoveries You Have Probably Never Heard Of


Most people are familiar with the tomb of Tutankhamun, the Great Pyramid, the Rosetta Stone, and a handful of other iconic symbols of Egypt’s ancient past. But 200 years of exploration has revealed much more that is likewise well-deserving of broader attention. Archeaologist Dr. Donald P. Ryan took his audience on a slide-illustrated tour of these discoveries that have not received the headlines they merited, ranging from papyri to solar boats, from sarcophagi to funerary treasures, and from a site that would have rivaled the tomb of Tutankhamun to a burial of non-royal mummies in the Valley of the Kings.


Dr. Ryan began by discussing the mystery and hidden treasure that ancient Egypt has evoked in the international popular imagination for more than two centuries. However, despite the allure of the famous Giza Pyramids, many fewer visitors make it to the lost pyramid of Sekhemet, discovered in Sakkara in 1952. Likewise, the Solar Boat of Cheops, or Khufu, garners less attention than its ower's tomb. Unearthed in the vicinity of the Giza pyramids in 1954, the boat was believed to have been used in funeral rites and is beautifully restored and displayed in a museum adjacent to the pyramids. 

In keeping with his personal passion for the Valley of the Kings, Dr. Ryan narrated a number of tomb discoveries in that locale. The Royal Tomb of Tanis yielded an impressive mummy decorated as a falcon. Additional noteworthy tombs include that of Queen Meryetamum, the tomb of the chancellor Meketre, the tomb of Maiherpri, and the tomb of Yura and Thuya. Dr. Ryan kept his audience well entertained with humorous tales of accidental discovery, such as that of a horse’s foot punching through the ground to unearth a new tomb! Likewise, the Greek-era Valley of the Golden Mummies was found when a donkey tripped.

The past twenty years have continued to produce surprises in the Valley of Kings, but there are quite a few tombs that await further investigation. Despite the importance of the queen Hapshepsut, her tomb has never been definitively identified and perhaps still lies undiscovered. One scholar claims that the mummy from tomb #60 is Hapshepsut based on a dental analysis, but the subject remains controversial.

As illustrated by the Rosetta Stone, important discoveries are not limited to mummies and tombs. Dr. Ryan cited the Amarna Tablets, named for the capital established by Akhenaton, as a fascinating window into the diplomatic correspondences of ancient Egypt. The Oxyrhynchus Papyri, jokingly referred to by Ryan as ‘Greek trash,’ provided us with numerous lost works of Plato and the books of the Iliad when they were unearthed between 1896 and 1906 in Fayyum.

Last but not least, Dr. Ryan showed a number of slides of beautiful life-like portraits composed with ancostic, or colored wax. Hundreds of such portraits have been discovered in various sites and a sizable collection graces the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo.

Rapporteur's summary prepared by Sara Swetzoff.


Dr. Donald P. Ryan, Ph.D., is an archaeologist and Faculty Fellow in the Division of Humanities at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. He is best known for his research in Egypt including excavations in the Valley of the Kings where he has discovered lost tombs and controversial mummies. He is the veteran of many expeditions and is the author of numerous scientific and popular articles on archaeological subjects.  His many books include fun “starter” books such as The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ancient Egypt and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Lost Civilizations.  In 2010, his autobiographical book, Beneath the Sands of Egypt—Adventures of an Unconventional Archaeologist described his life, his intriguing explorations, and the remarkable rediscovery of a lost tomb in the Valley of the Kings.  

Further Resources

Digging up dirt on the past: Egyptologist Donald Ryan speaks about rare archeological finds, PSU Vanguard, November 27, 2012

The Theban Mapping Project is based at the American University in Cairo and is primarily dedicated to documenting the archaeological sites of ancient Thebes (modern-day Luxor). Highlights of the sight include interactive atlases of the Valley of the Kings and the Theban Necropolis.

The UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology website hosts an open-access version of its journal.

The International Association of Egyptologists is a good resource for those wishing to pursue degree programs in Egyptology, or scholars already established in the field and wishing to find information about upcoming conferences and calls for papers.


The Northwest Chapter of the American Research Center in Egypt is a private, nonprofit organization that supports research on all aspects of Egyptian history and culture, fosters broader knowledge among the general public, and strengthens American-Egyptian cultural ties.

The Middle East Studies Center at Portland State University promotes understanding of the people, cultures, languages and religions of the Middle East. As a National Resource Center for Middle East Studies under the U.S. Department of Education's Title VI program, the Center serves as a resource on issues pertaining to the Middle East through activities that reach students and scholars, as well as businesses, educators, and the media. The Middle East Studies Center supports academic conferences, workshops, cultural events, lectures, and a resource library. | | 503-725-4074