Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

More discoveries

Military fortresses in Tel Habuwa, the tomb of a previously unknown queen in Abusir and a relief showing quarry work
in ancient Egypt are among important new discoveries in Egypt, writes Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

Ancient Egypt was one of the earliest, longest-lasting and most influential civilisations in world history. Its achievements captured the imagination of the whole world. Various mysteries have surrounded its origins, beliefs, system of medicine, irrigation and agricultural production techniques, as well as the mathematics that enabled the ancient Egyptians to build awe-inspiring structures such as the Pyramids, the Sphinx, obelisks, monumental temples and painted tombs.

The civilisations of ancient Egypt are still revealing many of their achievements: four important discoveries were made last week in Upper and Lower Egypt, at the end of the winter archaeological season.

In Tel Habuwa in Ismailiya, Egyptian excavators stumbled upon important Middle Kingdom military fortifications called the Al-Amir Wall. The site was mentioned in a papyrus relating the flight of the vizier Senuhi out of Egypt during the reign of the pharaoh Amenhotep III but unearthed only last week.

“It is a very important discovery, not only because it reveals structures that archaeologists knew about from ancient Egyptian documents but had never found, but also because it highlights the country’s military and defensive system during the ancient Egyptian era,” Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said that the Al-Amir Wall fortifications were spread along 1,500 feddans of land and included mud-brick fortresses with defensive trenches and barricades to prevent military attacks on Egypt. Each fort was in a strategic location and separated from others by the ancient Pelusium branch of the Nile, he added.

Mohamed Abdel-Maqsoud, coordinator of the development project for archaeological sites along the new Suez Canal Corridor, said that a number of the fortresses date to the Hyksos period, while others belong to the Middle and New Kingdoms.

They were of different designs, he said, adding that some of them had 25-metre-thick walls and wave breakers to protect them during the Nile flood and from the Mediterranean Sea. “Tel Habuwa overlooked the Pelusium branch of the Nile from the south and the Mediterranean Sea from the north,” Abdel-Maqsoud said.

A harbour and customs unit has been identified on the southern side, a point that connected the Nile with the Mediterranean Sea, he added. “The customs unit is important because it highlights the fact that Tel Habuwa was not only an important military area on Egypt’s eastern frontiers but also a major trading point during the Middle Kingdom,” Abdel-Maqsoud said.

Elsewhere in Egypt, near the Memphis necropolis, a Czech archaeological mission led by Miroslav Barta uncovered the tomb of a Fifth Dynasty queen called Khentkawess III, believed to be a previously unknown wife of the pharaoh Raneferef.

The discovery was made on the southeast side of the Raneferef pyramid complex at the Abusir necropolis southwest of Cairo, where several pyramids and tombs dedicated to royal figures from the ancient Egyptian Fifth Dynasty are located.

“It is an important discovery that will rewrite the history of the Fifth Dynasty,” Eldamaty said, adding that this was the first time that the name of this queen had appeared in a discovery. “Queen Khentkawess III was unknown until the discovery of her tomb,” he said, adding that two previous queens with the same name had already been identified.

The different names and titles of the present queen were inscribed on the tomb’s inner walls by the builders, saying that she was the “wife of the king” and the “mother of the king,” he added.

According to Barta, the discovery “will help shed light on unknown aspects of the Fifth Dynasty, which along with the Fourth Dynasty witnessed the construction of the first pyramids in Egypt.” He added that the discovery also indicated the important place held by women in the palace life of the time.

“More studies need to be carried out in order to reveal more about the family of this previously unknown queen,” Barta said. Preliminary studies suggest that if the queen died during the reign of the pharaoh Neuserre, as a stamp with his name inside the tomb suggests, she was probably the mother of the pharaoh Menkawhur, a descendant of Neuserre.

Kamal Wahid, head of Giza antiquities, said that the layout of the tomb was similar to those found in the Abusir necropolis. Its upper section is made of mastaba and includes a small offertory chapel, while its lower part includes the burial shaft and a deep well. A collection of 24 limestone pots was unearthed inside the tomb along with four copper tools.

The area of Abu Sir, close to the esplanade of the Pyramids at Giza, was part of the necropolis of the ancient city of Memphis. The most important monuments in Abu Sir are the temples of the sun and the funerary complex of the Pyramid of Sahura, along with places of worship and the tombs of noble personages from the time.

Meanwhile, at the Gorna necropolis on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor, a Spanish-Italian archaeological mission has discovered a complete symbolic tomb of the god Osiris with multiple shafts and chambers.

Eldamaty described the newly discovered tomb as interesting because it is a smaller version of a design of a similar tomb found in Abydos near the Upper Egyptian city of Sohag.

Abdel-Hakim Karar, head of antiquities for Upper Egypt, said that the newly discovered tomb could be dated to the 25th Dynasty and consists of a large hall supported by five pillars. Its northern part includes a rock-hewn staircase that leads down to a funerary complex where an Osiris statue was found in the core of a vaulted chapel, he said.

To the west of the chapel is a funerary hall, decorated with reliefs depicting ancient Egyptian gods holding knives in order to protect the dead. Opposite the Osiris statue is another staircase that leads to a nine-metre shaft that connects to another chamber with a seven-metre shaft and two rooms filled with debris.

Maria Milagros Alvarez Sosa, head of the mission, said that part of the tomb was earlier discovered in the 1880s by the archaeologist Philippe Virey. Some attempts had been made to sketch out the main structure in the 20th century. However, it was not until recently that the full extent of the structure was discovered through excavation.

The funerary complex will continue to be explored and the chambers cleared of debris in the autumn of this year.

Finally, in the sandstone quarries of Gebel Al-Silsila, north of the Upper Egyptian city of Aswan, Swedish excavators from Lund University have stumbled upon a rare Late Period stone relief depicting an unidentified ancient Egyptian king presenting offerings to the gods Thoth and Amun-Re.

Eldamaty told the Weekly that the relief is in a poor state of conservation, but the carving on it can be seen. The relief is rare because the gods are portrayed together, he said. Thoth was the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom and is depicted with the body of a man and the face of an ibis, while Amun-Re was the king of the gods.

The mission also unearthed a sphinx-shaped statue similar to those found at the avenue of sphinxes in Luxor, as well as another relief showing two obelisks being cut and transported on a boat from the quarry to the Karnak temples. Eldamaty said that this relief highlights quarrying work during the ancient Egyptian era.

Maria Nilsson, head of the Swedish mission, said that more than 60 rock-art sites have been found on both sides of the Nile. The sites date from the Epipalaeolithic, Predynastic and early Dynastic periods. She said that the present discovery is the result of an epigraphic and archaeological survey mission by Lund University. “We think that the site belongs to the early 18th Dynasty, possibly to queen Hatshepsut,” Nilsson said.

The Al-Silsila quarry was one of the biggest quarries in ancient Egypt, with blocks from it being used in the construction of the Karnak and Luxor temples, as well as the Ramessium in Luxor.

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