Fact check: False claim that ancient Egyptians had electricity

The claim: Ancient Egyptians had modern-day electricity

Ancient Egyptians are credited with many technological advancements, but a widely-circulating Facebook post says they developed something particularly impressive: Electricity.

"Past civilizations had electricity including the Egyptians," the Nov. 16 Facebook post claims. "Archeologists have always wondered why there weren't smoke marks from torches in deep Egyptian tunnels and catacombs."

The post includes three images. The image on the top left shows a modern-day electrical transformer, and the photo on the top right shows the almshouse outside the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey. Beneath those images is one that shows carvings on the walls of the Temple of Hathor in Dendera, Egypt. Red circles have been drawn around aspects of each image to highlight elements of the ancient photos that are similar in appearance to the modern transformer.

But the post's claim is false. Ancient Egyptians did not have modern electricity. Egyptologists say the objects circled in these photos are religious symbols, not evidence of modern-day electric technology.

Modern-day electricity was invented in the late 19th Century, thousands of years after the ancient Egyptian civilization had ended.

Variations of this claim have been circulating online since 2013, when the History Chanel series ''Ancient Aliens'' aired an episode about the same carvings in the Temple of Hathor.

USA TODAY reached out to the social media user who shared the post for comment.

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Objects circled in photos are religious symbols, not modern technology

An episode of the History Channel's ''Ancient Aliens'' popularized the claim that the carvings of the Temple of Hathor prove the ancient Egyptians had electricity.

But Egyptologists say that these carvings simply show religious symbols, not proof of electrical technology.

The relief featured in the post actually depicts the ancient Egyptians' creation myth, according to Rita Lucarelli, an associate professor of Egyptology at the University of California, Berkeley.

“The idea that the scene under discussion represents a light bulb and that ancient Egyptians had electricity does not correspond to what the texts accompanying that and other mythological scenes of creation from Egyptian temples say," Lucarelli told USA TODAY in an email. “The ‘bulb’ is ... the blossom of the lotus flower, and the snake represented in it is the god Hor-sema-tawy – Horus the uniter of the Two Lands – born from the lotus.”

The lotus bulb and snake motifs are repeated throughout the temple.

The poster also circled another object depicted in the relief, comparing its shape to that of an electrical transformer.

But that object is actually a djed pillar, according to Carol Redmount, an archaelogist and professor of Near Eastern Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Djed pillars can be understood to represent the backbone of Osiris, the ancient Egyptian god of the deceased, according to the Brooklyn Museum.

Craig Cantello, manager of the Edison Tech Center, said the similarities between the shapes of objects in the relief and electrical transformers are just that – similarities in shape, not evidence of modern technology.

"The post is wrong, misleading and illogical," Cantello told USA TODAY in an email. "Hieroglyphs might look similar to modern devices, but that doesn't mean that modern devices existed in ancient times."

The top right image in the post depicts the almshouse outside the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The mosque, once a Greek orthodox church and an icon of the Ottoman Empire, is more than 2,000 years old. However, it is not associated with the ancient Egyptians.

The power grid as we know it began with isolated power generation systems across the world starting in the 1870s, according to the Edison Tech Center.

The first documented use of the modern electrical transformer was in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, in 1886, according to the center. Earlier forms of the transformer were used in Europe in the late 1870s.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that ancient Egyptians had modern-day electricity. Archaeologists say the objects circled in the social media posts are ancient religious symbols, not proof of electricity in ancient Egypt. Electricity was developed thousands of years after the ancient Egyptian civilization.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: False claim that Ancient Egyptians had electricity