The Abydos temple helicopter

(by Thierry)

WARNING: this picture has been touched up most likely! All other pictures, however, are authentic documents.

In February 1998, I was informed of the existence of a Egyptian bas relief considered as an "enigma". Indeed, amongst the hieroglyphs, one can easily distinguished an drawing resembling that of a helicopter. This "news" (almost 2-year old) was published in a French-"speaking" mail-list originally dedicated to UFO, archeology, archeo-astronomy, etc.

The first person to inquire about this "mystery" indeed asked a simple question : what about this bas-relief? Hoax or fact?

Several pictures and movies taken by tourists are available. It is therefore difficult to imagine that all these documents were touched up either directly on the film, or digitized and computerized. The cartouche really exists.

Someone proposed a scheme to rationally explain the presence of a "helicopter" amongst the hieroglyphs. Noticeably, other people have said that the picture does not depict a "chopper" but rather one or two planes, a submarine, and even... an UFO!

To investigate this question in depth and as honestly as possible, I got in touch with some fifty well-known Archeologists and Egyptologists. Indeed, my personal knowledge in this field is limited to that of a scholar (5 years of Latin and scientific studies, including an introduction to Greek Civilization and General History in a college). Furthermore, I never went to Egypt, except using Internet! One of the strengths of the investigator is to be aware of his own limitations. This has to deal both with the respect of the reader and my own self-esteem.

I consequently sent several requests for information to researchers, professors and museum curators (including the Boston Museum curator), via electronic mail, on Friday, March 13th (sic) 1998.

A few hours later came the first replies to my mail. Some of my correspondents did not understand the purpose of my investigations. Some of them were very suspicious and sometimes even quite upset. I cannot blame them for this, though sometimes, renown specialists have a clear tendency to regard themselves as our "Holly Father", and to forget the value of human relationships. I guessed it was the price to pay to learn...

The answers from the specialists

The first mail came from Peter Der Manuelian, from the "Boston Museum of Fine Arts": "What you are looking at is nonsense; hieroglyphs that have been digitally altered by someone." Clear-cut answer! This gentleman did not know this mystery, obviously... Though it is true that the most commonly published picture (see above) had been touched up, the others were not. As stated above, however, the answer and tone from Peter Der Manuelian were understandable...

Next, I got a nice answer from Pr. Barker from the University of Minnesota. He (OR SHE?) suggested me to submit this question to the members of a mail-list "Osiris" : " Dear M. Wathelet, this very same picture was discussed on the "Osiris List" just a few months ago. I assume you know of the list? Its address is: Please write to the list and ask that somebody point you to this topic. I am sure that scholars on that list will be able to aid you better than I can. Sincerely, Professor M. A. R. Barker". Nothing new except that there still are very nice people around...

A short time later, I got a mail from Mike Dyall-Smith from the University of Melbourne : "We dealt with this on the AEL discussion list over a year ago. There is a much more mundane explanation (that is historically interesting in itself). These pictures have gained some notoriety because they have been promoted by  "new-age or ufo buffs ". Egyptologists easily recognize that the apparent strange craft are just  illusions produced by:
a) erosion of the stone surface (look at the damage over that roof area!)
b) a process of re-carving and filling in the stone to replace some of the hieroglyphs. When the filling falls out bits of the old and new glyphs overlap and form 'strange signs'.  The technical term used is 'palimpsest'.
Anyone well versed in egyptological inscriptions would tell you lots of recarving of inscriptions went on in ancient Egypt as ruling kings sought to acquire the work of previous pharaohs, or to discredit them. Regards, Mike Dyall-Smith"

Almost simultaneously, I received a very nice message from Ms. Katherine Griffis-Greenberg, from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (USA). Ms. Griffis-Greenberg is also a member of the American Research Center in Egypt and of the International Association of Egyptologists "Special Studies":

":..., I am afraid that you have been subjected to the famous "Abydos helicopter" mania, here. There is a simple explanation to what you are seeing, at least, as we see it in Egyptology. There is no mystery here; it's just a _palimpsest_ (though without the use of that term, and which is defined as "... A manuscript, typically of papyrus or parchment, that has been written on more than once, with the earlier writing incompletely erased and often legible" AHED). It was decided in antiquity to replace the five-fold royal titulary of Seti I with that of his son and successor, Ramesses II. In the photos, we clearly see "Who repulses the Nine Bows," which figures in some of the Two-Ladies names of Seti I, replaced by "Who protects Egypt and overthrows the foreign countries," a Two-Ladies name of Ramesses II. With some of the plaster that once covered Seti I's titulary now fallen away, certain of the superimposed signs do indeed look like a submarine, etc., but it's just a coincidence.
What is happening in the photographs is quite clear; just consult Juergen von Beckerath, Handbuch der aegyptischen Koenigsnamen, Muenchner aegyptologische Studien 20, pages 235 and 237.
This issue comes up from time to time on such academic e-mail lists as the Ancient Near East (ANE) List and so on, so we're all pretty familiar with it. Regards. Katherine Griffis-Greenberg"
Member, American Research Center in Egypt
International Association of Egyptologists
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Special Studies

Here we go! We now had more data on the mystery: accurate and solid explanations, including references! Thanks to Ms. Katherine Griffis-Greenberg, all we had to do was to ask. To did so, however, we had to admit that we (at the UFOCOM) knew very little. Any reasonable scientist would have acted in the same way, and avowed the limits - so human- of his knowledge!

As a matter of fact, thousands of persons saw the pictures of the hieroglyphs with the legend : "E.Ts. came to Egypt!" or also "Evidence for the existence of an Atlantis civilization"

In this respect, when you examine a hypothesis, it is always better to retain only solid justifications and arguments, and to analyze all open possibilities in the light of "factual data" and not in the shade of one's own beliefs! Knowledge has to be learnt: it seldom "comes from nowhere". Be resolute, but be honest! Do not over-esteem yourself! As a French saying tells: in the land of the blinds, the one-eye people ruled.

Regarding this paper, one can wonder what my goals are? To eliminate all mysteries of ancient Egypt? To act as a debunker or to play the authoritative self-made specialist? None of the above is the truth. I only wanted to show that, if I disagree with the idiocies propagated by a few people, I may propose strong alternative explanations to account for the existence and " meaning " of this eye-catching hieroglyph of the Abydos temple. Period. I may have been considered as an illuminated by a few Egyptologists because the question I ask seems very naive. This does not matter (by the way, here I have to say Hi to one researcher in Saclay)... As I wrote above, I understand their feelings. Similarly, if some "nonofficial researchers" call me a debunker, it merely results from the fact that they did not pay attention, or understand, or honestly evaluate the above presented data...

The "Abydos mystery" was not a mystery. This had to be told.

Thierry, March 14, 1998.




Should other pertinent comments be received, they will appear below under their original format. If this topic is of interest to you, please do not hesitate to bookmark these pages. I would take advantage of this to warmly thank all the persons, from around the world, who took some of their time to answer, most often in a very nice and very friendly way. Thanks to all of you who have been so "gentle" and helpful.

The strange hieroglyphs are the result of a recutting of the texts - the original signs were covered in plaster, and new ones cut into the surface. This plaster has now fallen out, leaving images that look rather like modern items!

Local guides make up all kinds of mysteries about them, but there is a very simple explanation!

Aidan Dodson
University of Bristol

If you take a look at the second image, that gives the context of the "mystery text", you will notice that the text is written in sunken relief (signs are carved in the stone). If you compare that to the first image (the detail), you will see that it is in raised relief (signs are lying on the stone). In the first image, the stone looks more like copper or bronze then like stone.

Compare in the first image the sign that looks like a helicopter to the corresponding sign in the second image. You will see that they are not completely the same. The sign in the second image shows three hills and doesn't look like a helicopter. The three sets of three strokes in the second image are not entirely alike to the first image either.

The second image allows us to identify the text as part of the titulary of Ramesses II and can be translated as "The one of the Two Ladies, who surpresses the nine foreign countries".

Conclusion: the first image has been tampered with. It is a hoax, a fake, a fraud. The person who created this fake didn't even take the time to cover his tracks and left some very obvious traces of his "work".

Kind regards,

Jacques Kinnaer.

The Ancient Egypt Site:

Don't waste your time and (please) mine with such stupidities !

Nicolas Grimal


I have gone to your website, which is quite good.  I am surprised that no one gave you the "palimpsest" explanation before mine.

However, in the translation of MY letter, I think we need to clear up one term, and it is MY fault (I think) for not making it clearer... In the term  "...the Nine Bows..." This does NOT refer to "salute"  (as in "Neufs Saluts"), but "bows" as in archery....sort of "l'arc du tir l'arc"  (I am using a translation program here, so I hope this becomes clear...;\   )   The "Nine Bows" refers to the _nine traditional enemies of Egypt_, so an alternate (though not literal) translation of the phrase is:

"Who repulses the Nine [Enemies of Egypt]," I am sorry for the confusion, which I suppose will often occur when two
languages are concerned.

Again, warmest regards --

Katherine Griffis-Greenberg

Member, American Research Center in Egypt, International Association of Egyptologists
University of Alabama at Birmingham
Special Studies

Thank you for your request.

My primitive computer cannot 'open' your graphics so I cannot help you.  However, in your message you say that a hieroglyph at the Temple of Abydos looks like a helicopter.  In my opinion, it is a mistake to approach scholars with a conclusion like that.  If it looks like a helicopter to you, where are the jet fighters?  You might be more successful in eliciting an answer if you ask:  Look, I found an unusual hieroglyph.  Can you help me decipher it?

Perhaps if you know the location of this hieroglyph in Abydos, I can find it on photographs or books.  You are welcome to E-mail me its location.

Daniel M. Kolos and Benben Books deal with both academic Egyptology and certain fringe research which promises to
challenge current thoughts.

Benben Books

Unfortunately I cannot see your glyphs but I know them (have seen them atAbydos), but I will let others take care of this, people who have time. They are cut over glyphs, if I recall correctly, nothing of the UFO. 

Susan Tower Hollis
Center Director/Associate Dean 
Central New York Center, SUNY ESC

Dear Mr.,
What appears to be a "helicopter" is actually an example of two groups of hieroglyphs carved one on top of the other.  The words psd.t "the ennead of nine" and X3s.wt "foreign countries" seems to have been carved one of top of the other.  Clearly the artist / craftsman changed the hieroglyphs (perhaps from the change of kings Sety I to Ramesses II).  The actual "helicopter" seems to be a portion of the psd.t sign and the X3s.t sign on top of each other with portions erased.

Hope this helps.

Eugene Cruz-Uribe
Associate Dean
College of Social and Behavioral Sciences
Northern Arizona University

Dear Sir,
Thank you for your letter.  My only advice regarding the "strange" hieroglyphs at Abydos temple is that:
1) the Egyptians did not have helicopters, floppy disks or any of the other ridiculous suggestions -- and if they did, why is Abydos the ONLY place where they are supposedly represented?  NO archaeological evidence has been found to support the existence of any of these items in ancient Egypt.  This includes evidence of helicopters, computers, etc. in tomb
2) Moreover, the idiots who wrote that piece do not read Egyptian or understand the manner in which the language was written.
3) The date ascribed to the "temple of Ramses II" in the internet piece is totally incorrect.  Ramses II lived about 1200 BC, not "5,000 years ago"
4) The temple of Ramses II at Abydos is in ruins and not all that much remains of its inscriptions; the small number of extant inscriptions includes a list of subject cities in Asia, etc.

Anonymous, on request.


I did not receive any "examples" of the supposed strange hieroglyphs appended to your inquiry.  I can assure you that the Abydos temple has been intensely studied, copied and published and no unusual hieroglyphs are known, only unlearned interpretations perhaps misconstrue what is being shown.

Barbara Lesko
Brown University

I am very sorry, but there is no helicopter or whatever in Seti I's temple at Abydos! As I said then, I can say again: it is a perfectly clear case of an ancient correction of a text which may now to a non-Egyptologist look like a helicopter. It is very common in tombs and temples that the original hieroglyphs were changed and then the first text covered by some kind of paste which has now disappeared so we can see part of the first text below the newer one.

Tine Bagh
Carsten Niebuhr Institute
University of Copenhagen

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