Al-Ahram Weekly Online   5 - 11 June 2008
Issue No. 900
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

One for the road

Ptolemaic artefacts from the north coast near Alexandria, traces of a New Kingdom fortified city in Northa Sinai and a Byzantine wine factory in South Sinai are the most recent treasures found in Egypt, Nevine El-Aref reports

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Clockwise from top left: Ramses II's relief; bronze statue of Aphrodite; the wine basins; coins; Cleopatra's head; wine factory; Seti I's relief

An Egyptian-Dominican Republic archaeological team working at Taposiris Magna, an area of archaeological importance west of Alexandria and site of a temple dedicated to the prosperity god Osiris, as well as a number of Graeco- Roman catacombs, have stumbled upon several Ptolemaic objects that date back to the reign of the famous Queen Cleopatra.

The team was searching the site in the hope of locating the tomb of Cleopatra VII and her lover Mark Anthony. Excavation work started early last year in the area, as it was believed that the tragic couple had dug their tomb in an area some distance from Alexandria in order to be out of reach of their enemies.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) and the head of the archeological mission, said that what fuelled the belief was that early historians were able to describe the tomb of Alexander the Great (ruled Egypt 332-323 BC) but made no mention of a name or a description of a tomb either for Cleopatra or Mark Anthony.

The team unearthed an alabaster head of Cleopatra and a mask thought to be of Mark Anthony, as well as an alabaster statue of the goddess Aphrodite and a headless basalt statue of a royal Ptolemaic figure. Inside the temple a number of 50-metre deep tunnels and corridors have been found leading to the temple's foundation stones, revealing that it was built during the reign of Ptolemy II (281-246 BC). With them were found 20 bronze coins dating from the reign of Cleopatra.

But if the team members had set their hearts on making that special discovery, they were disappointed. "We have found nothing that indicates the presence of Cleopatra's or Anthony's tomb," Hawass said.

The classical Taposiris Magna, now called Abu Sir, was known in the Pharaonic era as Po-Osiris, which means the place of the god Osiris. Under the Graeco- Romans this was shortened to Posiris. It was believed to be where Isis buried the 14th part of Osiris's corpse after he had been killed and his body scattered by his evil brother Set. Further excavation is now on hold until November.

In North Sinai, meanwhile, another Egyptian team led by Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, head of the Lower Egypt Antiquities Department, found the remains of the largest fortified city of the New Kingdom so far discovered on Horus military road in Qantara East in north Sinai . The excavation leading to the discovery came within the framework of an archaeological project led by the SCA since 1986 to excavate the Horus military road that once connected Egypt to Palestine. Inside the city, remains have been found of a mud- brick fort dating back to the reign of Ramses II. The fort measures 500 by 250 metres and has military towers four metres tall and 20 metres thick. Abdel-Maqsoud said that early studies carried out revealed that the fort was the centre of military control from the New Kingdom to Ptolemaic times.

A relief of Tuthmosis II has been also unearthed, implying that this Pharaoh also built a military edifice on the Horus road which has not yet been found.

Also on the Horus road, a New Kingdom temple has been found built on the ruins of an 18th-Dynasty fort. Among the remains was a number of reliefs of Ramses II and Seti I, a stela bearing the names of several deities, and a number of storehouses.

Abdel-Maqsoud said the new discovery affirmed what was engraved on the walls of Karnak Temple in Luxor, especially in the well-known relief of Seti I which describes the section of the ancient Horus military road that linked Qantara East to what is now Rafah.

The third discovery was made during routine excavation in the area of Sayl Al-Tuhfah, west of Saint Catherine's Monastery in South Sinai, where an SCA team discovered the well-preserved remains of a limestone wine factory dating to the Byzantine era (sixth century AD).

Farag Fada, head of the SCA's Islamic and Coptic Department, says the factory consists of two parts. The first is a square basin with a pump at one end; the bottom of the basin is covered with plaster, and some sections still bear traces of red colour. The northern wall of this basin is decorated with a cross-shaped pattern inside a circle, under which is a clay pump. "This type of pump was used to make the wine flow after treading the raisins and dates," Hawass said.

Fada says the second part of the factory is a circle- shaped basin that looks like a well with a hole. On two sides were limestone slabs which may have been used by the factory workers to stand on.

Tarek El-Naggar, head of South Sinai Antiquities, said the area connecting the clay pump to the second basin had a hole in order to place the jars used to hold the wine. Early studies have shown that the area of Sayl Al-Tuhfah was an industrial region for the production of wine, as there were many vines and date palms.

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