Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 May 2006
Issue No. 793
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

What's old is new

As archaeological research in Egypt is an ongoing process to enhance understanding of Pharaonic culture, new discoveries are made on a regular basis. Nevine El-Aref tracks the most recent finds in Fayoum and Luxor

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Abu Madi Temple in Fayoum

Fayoum and Luxor are two magnificent Upper Egyptian regions with rich and interesting histories. Last week, as Egyptologists were busy digging across Egypt's various archaeological sites searching for more hidden treasures, the Egyptian mission working at Medinet Madi in Fayoum and the French-Egyptian mission at Karnak Temple in Luxor both came across interesting discoveries.

Archaeologists have discovered a yard at the back of the Medinet Madi Temple structure thought to have been used by ancient Egyptians for administrative work and as a residential area for the temple priests. With it was found a number of related artefacts.

Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Secretary-General Zahi Hawass said this was a very important discovery and claimed it shed more light on how the Pharaohs of the Middle Kingdom built the temples that played such a major role in the people's ordinary lives. "It was not just a religious and divine place to worship the triad gods -- the serpent Renenutet, the crocodile Sobek and the falcon Horus -- but was also a large administrative complex," Hawass said.

The structures found include a large administrative building, a priests' residence and grain storehouses. Within the walls excavators unearthed several gold seals bearing hieroglyphic texts, a large number of Roman ostraca (clay tablets) with black ink texts, a bronze statue of an unidentified woman, and a headless sphinx statue made of limestone. A limestone relief featuring Pharaoh Amenemhat III in a bull form along with the god Renenutet was also found, along with papyri written in Greek and demotic texts.

Hawass believes the papyri are royal and official letters, of which one is a letter sent by the wife of Ptolemy I to the Renenutet temple priest expressing her gratitude for all he effort he had made to fund and support the temple.

A limestone ramp lined with two sphinxes, much like the bull ramp in Luxor, has also been located within the temple walls.

The Medinet Madi Temple is the only Middle Kingdom temple still in existence. It was built by Pharaoh Amenemhat III during the 12th Dynasty, when he shared the throne with his son Amenemhat IV. The oldest parts of the temple are its inner chambers. It houses a small columned hall leading to three shrines which contain statues of the triad deities and the two Pharaohs. After 1960 the area around the temple was a subject of excavations by an Italian team who discovered two separate cities beside the temple, a large Roman town and several early Christian churches. In 1995 a Ptolemaic gate was found to the east of the temple, and on further excavation another temple dedicated to Sobek was discovered beneath the rubble. This second temple was built of mud brick with stone doorways and lintels, and had its axis at right angles to the older temple. Tablets and papyri were also found in the debris, including an important oracular document written in demotic script.

A team from Pisa and Messina universities has recently excavated a vaulted structure on the north side of the new temple, but the remains are poorly preserved. On the north side of the temple court a crocodile nursery was discovered with dozens of eggs in various stages of maturation.

Meanwhile in the area enclosed between Hatshepsut's obelisk and the north shrine of Tuthmosis III in Luxor, French archaeologists from the Centre Franco-Egyptian d'Etude des Temples de Karnak (CFEETK), along with their Egyptian colleagues, have stumbled upon two treasured deposits. The first contains a faience cartouche of Queen Hatshepsut and Pharaoh Tuthmosis II along with a large number of clay vessels, chisels and axes. The second, which was found within the foundation of Tuthmosis III's chapel, held 125 faience cartouches of the Pharaoh and another nine made of gold.

Mansour Borayek, general supervisor of Luxor's monuments, said this was an important discovery that undermined the opinion that Tuthmosis III tried to hide Hatshepsut's obelisk when he succeeded her on the throne. On the contrary, it supports the idea that he helped Hatshepsut to build her obelisk. All the newly-found treasure is now at the Luxor Museum to be restored and placed on display.

The CFEETK team is now continuing excavations, restorations and studies in order to conduct the SCA's secretary-general on his annual inspection tour in late May. CFEETK has been working at the temple since the early 1900s, unearthing the secrets of Karnak Temple as well as re-erecting the fallen obelisk and restoring the collapsing pylons, chapels and shrines.

Karnak Temple is a large open-air museum of ancient Egyptian art. It lies at the northern end of the town of Luxor, and was built for the cult worship of the Theban triad gods: Amun, Mut, and Khonsu. The construction of the Karnak Temple began in the Middle Kingdom and was completed during the New Kingdom some 1,600 years later. Every successive Pharaoh of this era added to the temple, which covers two hectares (five acres) of land. It is a complicated site with four courtyards, 10 pylons, a sacred lake and many buildings. An avenue of sphinxes with curly-horned rams' heads, representing a form of the sun god Amun-Re, leads to the first pylon. Between the sphinxes' paws is a small figure of Ramses II, who defeated the Hittites in Syria at the famous Battle of Qadesh in 1274 BC.

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