The only known portrait of Khufu (or Cheops), the 4th Dynasty pharaoh who (allegedly) built the Great Pyramid at Giza, is a very tiny ivory figurine only 7 centimeters (3 inches) tall.
It was discovered covered in dried feces in an ancient cesspit next to the temple of Seti at Abydos in Egypt.
We can only assume that, thousands of years ago, some harried novice priest "flushed it away" during routine spring cleaning to clear out old statuary to make room for new items.
We like to think he was a rather awkward young priest who had been given the rather thankless task of ritually blessing and "desanctifying" old statues and burying them with special prayers. He probably had a whole bag of these little figurines from various olden dynasties.
There he is, toiling away at his rituals for these little objects, his stomach growling as the broiling sun hits midday. Another young priest sticks his head through the door and says, "What? You're still not finished? You'll miss lunch! Well, we can't wait, the rest of us are going now, slowpoke!"
So he did the unthinkable and dumped the rest of the little figures down the toilet, muttering hurried incantations and prayers for forgiveness for his sacrilege -- and scampered off to join his fellow novices for lunch. Among the objects was the little ivory figure of Khufu. He no doubt assumed it was insignificant and nobody would know ....
How ironic, then, that it was his sacrilegious act which in fact saved Khufu from the nameless death -- the second death so feared by Egyptians. Every other statue of Khufu vanished. That one tiny figurine, encased in compacted turds, survived to become one of the great treasures of the world ... the only image of him incised with his name.
And the priest? Most likely he cringed at what he had done, would wake up at night even years later, full of guilt and worry for his immortal soul. Surely his KA would refuse him at the hour of his death. His heart would betray him at the judgement. He would die the second death in the jaws of the Devourer ... for he had treated sacred images literally the same as shit!
Imagine the priest's flabbergasted surprise when Anubis led him to the scales and his heart was lighter than the Feather of Truth and the 42 sacred baboons sang his praises and the Divine Khufu himself was there to congratulate him and welcome him (and his overjoyed KA) aboard the king's own personal barque of eternity.
This tiny ivory figurine is symbolic of the course of human history. Imagine how Julius Caesar or Hadrian felt as they toured Egypt and saw all the looted tombs and perhaps stood before the rock-crystal sarcophagus of Alexander (if it hadn't been stolen by their time) and how they must have marveled with increasing dread at how much had been lost to the vicissitudes of time.
Hadrian collected everything he could get his hands on and put it on display at his villa -- treasures from around the world.
But Hadrian knew -- and history shows us -- that many of the "treasures" of our human heritage are in fact only the detritus and left-overs of earlier ages.
Often enough, the truly splendid things were lost precisely because efforts were made to place them in a highly exposed place such as a museum or a great library or a temple vault.
Often enough, the things which survived are the junk which was considered not worth saving and so was dumped into storage rooms somewhere -- or even flushed down the toilet ....