The Saqqara Bird: Did the ancient Egyptians know how to fly?

Archaeological discoveries known as Out of Place Artifacts or OOPARTs, which are both controversial and fascinating, can help us better grasp the extent of advanced technology in the ancient world. Undoubtedly, the “Saqqara glider” or “Saqqara Bird” is considered to be one of these discoveries.

The Saqqara Glider – An Out of Place Artifact?
The Saqqara Glider – An Out of Place Artifact? © Image Credit: Dawoud Khalil Messiha (Public Domain)

During the excavation of the Pa-di-Imen tomb in Saqqara, Egypt, in the year 1891, a bird-like artifact made of sycamore wood (a consecrated tree linked to the goddess Hathor and a symbol of immortality) was discovered. This artifact is known as the Saqqara Bird. At the very least, it was created around 200 BC and may currently be found in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It weighs 39.12 grams and has a wingspan of 7.2 inches.

Aside from the beak and eyes, which indicate that the figure is meant to be a hawk — the emblem of the god Horus — what we find puzzling are the tail’s square shape, strange uprightness, and rumored sunken portion that could hold “something.” The wings are open but do not have even the tiniest hint of a curve; they are tapered towards the ends, and they have been snapped inside a groove. And the lack of feet. The artifact also does not have any kind of carvings to represent the feathers of a hypothetical bird.

Saqqara Bird side view
Side view of the glider model of Saqqara-the model resembles a bird but with vertical tail, no legs and straight wings © Image Credit: Dawoudk | Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

It has been hypothesized that the “Bird” may provide evidence that an understanding of the fundamentals of aviation existed many centuries before such are commonly considered to have been discovered for the first time. This hypothesis is perhaps the most intriguing of all the possible explanations.

There is evidence that ancient Egyptians had some knowledge with the technique of sail construction. Since the 5.6-inch long object closely resembles a model airplane, it has led one Egyptologist, Khalil Messiha, and others to speculate that the Ancient Egyptians developed the first aircraft.

Daoud Khalil Masiheh
A personal picture of Professor Dr. Khalil Masiha (1924-1998) taken in 1988. He is an Egyptian doctor, researcher and discoverer of ancient Egyptian and Coptic archeology and complementary medicine. © Image Credit: Daoud Khalil Masiheh (Public Domain)

The model, according to Messiha, who was the first to claim that it did not depict a bird, “represents a diminutive of an original monoplane still present in Saqqara,” he wrote in 1983.