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Could Ancient Man Fly?

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Ancient Egyptian plane

Plane-like object found at Saqquara, Egypt that dates back to about 200 BCE.

Models of airplanes thousands of years old... vast works of art that can only be seen from the air... ancient texts that describe aerial battles. Are they proof that ancient civilizations mastered powered flight?

Flight has been the dream of humankind since they watched in awe as birds soared effortlessly through the sky. But, according to accepted history, it wasn't until the 1780s that two Frenchmen achieved lighter-than-air flight when they were lifted into the air in a hot air balloon near Paris. Then powered, heavier-than-air flight became the goal. And although it was theorized that heavier-than-air flight was possible as early as the 13th century, and in the 16th century Leonardo da Vinci designed winged aircraft and a crude kind of helicopter, it wasn't until the Wright brothers made their first successful flights at Kitty Hawk in 1903 that powered flight became a reality.

That's the widely accepted history. Some researchers and a few rogue scientists believe there's evidence to suggest that humans achieved flight earlier in history - much earlier... so early, they say, that the knowledge of this technology has been lost and ancient stories that recount adventures of human flight have been relegated only to myth.

Is it possible that humans developed the technology to fly in early civilizations - or in civilizations that are now lost to history? Let's take a look at what some call the evidence - intriguing artifacts, carvings, inscriptions and legends - that they say point to the true record human of flight.

THE EGYPTIAN AIRPLANE

In 1898, a peculiar six-inch wooden object was found in a tomb at Saqquara, Egypt that dated back to about 200 BCE. The object had a body or fuselage, seven-inch wings that curved downward slightly, a fixed rudder and a tail. It looked very much like a modern airplane or glider. But since airplanes had not yet been invented in 1898 (never mind ancient Egypt), it was labeled as a model of bird and stored away in the basement of the Cairo museum.

The object was rediscovered many years later by Dr. Khalil Messiha, an authority on ancient models. According to Messiha and others who have studied the object, it has characteristics of very advanced aerodynamics, much like modern pusher-gliders that require very little power to stay aloft. The curved wings are today known as reversedihedral wings, which can attain great amounts of lift. A similar design is employed on the supersonic Concorde aircraft.

Was this just a child's toy? Or was it a scale model of an aircraft the Egyptians planned to build... or did build. If they did build a full-scale version of the aircraft, no evidence exists for it. No full-size airplanes have been found in any pharaoh's tomb to fly him to the land of the dead.

THE CARVINGS AT ABYDOS

Although no airplanes or airplane parts have ever been found from the ruins of ancient Egypt, is there corroborating evidence that they constructed aircraft?

Even more controversial than the model airplane are the enigmatic carvings found in the temple of Abydos, Egypt by Dr. Ruth Hover. Hover photographed a wall panel which had been revealed when a newer overlaying panel crumbled and fell off. The older panel beneath contained embossed images that resemble modern aircraft as seen in profile.

One bears a striking resemblance to a modern helicopter, while others could be interpreted as aircraft, hovercraft or even flying saucers. When the photos of these carvings first surfaced, it was assumed that they had been digitally altered to create a sensational hoax. And indeed some of them had been retouched to more clearly show aircraft-like features. But even unaltered photos seemed to show the very modern-looking figures.

Perhaps looks are deceiving, however. The official take from archaeologists is that the strange carvings are palimpsests - the result of two or more overlapping carvings that combine to look like something else. The "aircraft," they say, are merely combinations of overlapping hieroglyphics.

Next page: Ancient space shuttle and aerial battles

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