Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 April 2007
Issue No. 839
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Fruitful is the find

Pumice from Santorini Volcano, which erupted in the Mediterranean Sea in 1500 BC, have been found at an ancient Egyptian military site in Qantara East, North Sinai. Nevine El-Aref explains the significance

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The fortified city of Qantara East (Sharq) in North Sinai is often hailed by historians as Egypt's eastern gateway to the Delta. Its chequered history is a reminder of several military clashes, from Pharaonic times to the early 1970s.

Due to its immense strategic importance as a vital commercial and military stopover between Egypt and Asia, Qantara East became the starting point of the famous Horus military road, which operated from ancient Egyptian times until the Ottoman period.

It has also played a major role in Egyptian- Israeli wars over the years. In peace time, the city was an important trading post and in the Graeco- Roman period it became one of Egypt's busiest ports, second only to Alexandria.

But this week, it seems that Qantara East has also become an extremely fruitful geological site highlighting and confirming archaeological evidence written on ancient Egyptian reliefs and papyri.

After 10 years of digging in Horus road, where remains of several military forts, granaries, dormitory and temples were found, Egyptian archeologists of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) came upon 20 pumice stones or solidified lava inside a pit at Tel Habuwa from Santorini Volcano which erupted in 1500 BC, killing 35,000 people and demolishing several coastal cities in southwest Turkey, Crete, north of the Saudi Arabia, Palestine and the Sinai.

The pumice, which was found among several 18th Dynasty clay vessels that date back to the Hyksos era, was probably brought to Sinai by a tsunami caused by the volcano.

On Monday, Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the SCA along with Egyptian and foreign journalists and photographers, embarked on an inspection tour at Qantara East to check on the new discovery.

At the site, Hawass said the new discovery confirms what has been written and drawn on ancient artwork and documents that recount the destruction of coastal cities in Egypt and Palestine during the Hyksos reign right towards the early New Kingdom. It also opened a new field of study in Egyptology which will reveal how natural disasters played a major role in the devastation of several ancient Egyptian cities.

Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, head of the excavation mission, said Egyptologists are currently studying all ancient Egyptian texts concerning natural disasters which occurred during the Hyksos and New Kingdom eras in the Delta in an attempt to determine the relationship between such texts and Santorini tsunami disasters in the Mediterranean Sea.

In fact, Abdel-Maqsoud told Al-Ahram Weekly the volcano led to the rise of the Mediterranean sea level and the disturbance of the sea's movement which in turn caused the rerouting of the sea path and the water flow towards the Nile through the Pelusium branch. The Nile's colour was changed after its water was mixed with the melted lava which rested on the archaeological sites and cities which once existed on the Pelusium bank.

Three metres away, the mission also found remains of a mud brick military fort with four rectangular towers. The fort, which was built on top of remains of a Hyksos military base, dates back to the 18th Dynasty era. It is 150 metres wide and its walls are four metres thick. Considered the oldest military fort found on the Horus military road, the fort shows Egypt's military might defending its strategic zones during the New Kingdom. It also confirms what is shown on a relief from the reign of King Seti I, found on a wall at Karnak Temple in Luxor. It also confirms what is written on King Thutmosis III's tomb describing Horus military road and what is on the Rhymed Papyrus, now on display in Moscow, relating different stages of king Ahmose's war to expel the Hyksos out of the country and the demolition of Tharo's fortress.

Remains of residential houses, tombs, clay pots and two human skeletons from the Hyksos have been unearthed revealing a part of Egypt's liberation war against the Hyksos.

Meanwhile, the discovery of ancient Egyptian remains of administrative edifices and granaries, which can hold 187 tonnes of grains, shed light on the operation of Egypt's military system.

Abdel-Maqsoud told the Weekly the discovery revealed that Egypt's eastern gate was fortified with three New Kingdom forts 600, 300 and 150 metres tall.

The long military road running from Qantara to Rafah shows various kinds of military architecture in Egypt.

During the visit, a French reporter asked about the Exodus and if the new evidence can be linked in any way to the story of Passover. In reply, Hawass said the story of the exodus in archaeology "is really a myth. There is no archaeological evidence that supports what is written in the Old Testament, the Bible and the Holy Quran.

"Profits like Moses, Abraham and Joseph do not exist at all in archaeological references," asserted Hawass. He said some do believe that three things may be related to them. The first was found on Soheil Roman relief which relates a similar story of Joseph written by a vizier to the king. "This text is a repetitive theme found on several Middle Kingdom reliefs," said Hawass, adding that the Soheil relief could be a repetition of what was written before.

The second is a scene found on a wall of a tomb in Beni Hassan in Minya depicting 36 Asiatic people led by an individual called Ebsha (some believe Ebsha means Abraham). "But this translation is without concrete evidence," Hawass said.

The Israeli stelae exhibited at the Egyptian Museum dates back to the Meneptah reign and was written by a poet praising the king and telling the masses that the Israelis have been destroyed and have vanished.

"As archaeologists we have to say that these stories of Abraham, Joseph and Moses never happened because there is no historical evidence," Hawass said.

The Egyptian excavation team will continue their work in the area.

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