Ancient Egypt may be long gone, but archaeologists keep finding its treasures.
For more than 3,000 years, one of history’s greatest civilizations flourished along the winding Nile River in northeast Africa. But after Egypt fell under first Greek, then Roman, and finally Muslim control, the ancient civilization’s glories were buried under layers of these different cultures, only to surface again centuries later as archaeologists and historians embraced the study known as Egyptology.
Beginning in the 19th century, bombshell discoveries such as the Rosetta Stone and the lavish tomb of Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings, as well as the excavation of the Pyramids at Giza, opened the doors to a new understanding of ancient Egypt’s mysteries, fueling an explosion of interest—and tourism.
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Many of ancient Egypt’s rulers—known today as pharaohs—built themselves elaborate monuments and tombs, inscribing them with their names and achievements in hieroglyphics. Through painstaking excavations, research and translation, modern scholars have used these written records to trace Egypt’s history and divide it into three distinct periods—known as the Old, Middle and New Kingdoms—with periods of relative instability in between.
With each new tomb or secret underground chamber discovered, Egyptologists began to gain a clearer understanding of the ancient civilization’s fascination with death and the afterlife, including its highly sophisticated mummification practices. Unfortunately, looters got to many tombs centuries before modern archaeologists arrived, robbing them of gold, jewelry and other valuable goods intended to accompany the dead in their journey to the afterlife. Many of the mummies themselves had gone missing as well, making those who were found (like King Tut, Ramses II and Hatshepsut) even more valuable.
Excavations of Egypt’s ancient sites have continued steadily since the early 20th century, with each new discovery offering insight into the intricacies of a civilization that made striking advances in nearly every area of human knowledge, including art, mathematics, agriculture, engineering and written language. Even today, many tombs remain to be excavated, promising yet more amazing finds to come.