Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 January - 4 February 2009
Issue No. 932
Front Page
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Bathing 13 centuries ago

A 250-METRE-long embankment, a quay and some Ptolemaic baths are the most recent discoveries at Karnak Temples, Nevine El-Aref reports.

Coincidence always makes for important discoveries. It led to Tutankhamun's tomb, the distinguished funerary collection of King Khufu's mother Hetep Heres, and those of Pharaoh Akhenaten's grandparents Yuya and Thuya, to mention just a few. This time, it makes a better understanding of the construction plans of the temples of Karnak as they were drawn by the ancient Egyptians.

During routine excavation work carried out by an Egyptian archaeological mission in the front courtyard at Karnak, part of the Karnak Temples site management project for the area enclosed between the temples and the Nile, a 250-metre-long embankment used to protect Karnak from the Nile flood was discovered, along with a quay, baths and a settlement.

Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said that early studies on the newly-discovered structures revealed that the quay, the first part of which was discovered last year, was constructed as part of the embankment. The quay consists of two opposite steps leading to a five-metre-long ramp made of sandstone blocks brought from the quarries of the Silsila mountains in Aswan.

"This kind of stone can stand against the erosion of Nile water," Hawass explained, adding that because the ramp was very steep towards the Nile, the 25th Dynasty Pharaoh Taharka (690--664 BC) built a small royal quay in the middle of the ramp which on its turn divided the ramp into three sections.

"The embankment and the quay were found at the northern gate of the Karnak complex, which was formerly used as the temples' main entrance in winter when the Nile level was low.

While examining the embankment structure, archaeologists found a number of holes used to attach the ropes of the boats while docking. Mansour Boreik, director of the mission, told Al-Ahram Weekly that further excavation at the site had uncovered remains of two villages on the quay, one Ptolemaic and one Roman, which suggested that the movement of the Nile varied over the span of history and its path had veered slightly towards the western side. Such changes, Boreik said, enabled the ancient Egyptians to build a residential settlement during the Ptolemaic and Roman ages.

"It also helped to better understand the Nile flood evolution in front of the quay," Boreik pointed out.

At the last course of the embankment a Ptolemaic bath was found. The building is characterised by its circular domed chambers, each with an oval hip bathtub with an individual seat for washing, 90cm in length and 20cm in width. "This is the second bath to be found in this area," Boreik said, adding that it was built between the beginning of the third century BC and the first decades of the second century BC.

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