Three new discoveries

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 1 Mar 2022

An administrative centre from the First Intermediate Period in Kom Ombo, royal artefacts in Luxor, and a collection of Saite wells in North Sinai were new discoveries made this week, writes Nevine El-Aref

An administrative centre from the First Intermediate Period in Kom Ombo
An administrative centre from the First Intermediate Period in Kom Ombo

New discoveries always make the headlines, and three new discoveries were announced in Kom Ombo, Luxor, and North Sinai this week.

An Austrian-Egyptian mission working in the Upper Egyptian town of Kom Ombo approximately 45 km north of Aswan on the east bank of the Nile uncovered part of a large administrative facility from the First Intermediate Period consisting of rooms containing more than 20 conical silos used for grain storage, as well as cellars, staircases, and storerooms.

“The walls of these silos are exceptionally well preserved, standing up to two metres in height. Some of the silos are even taller,” said Abdel-Moneim Said, head of Aswan and Nubia Antiquities at the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, adding that the presence of rat bones and excrement inside one of the rooms showed that the storage facilities were infested by vermin.

The building probably served as a centre for grain distribution. “It is a unique discovery at Kom Ombo and indicates the importance of the town during the First Intermediate Period,” Said said.

Kom Ombo is a protected area containing the famous Ptolemaic temple of Kom Ombo, a regular feature on tourist itineraries. But the remains of the ancient hill around it on three sides have never been investigated systematically.

The Austrian Archaeological Institute in Egypt, which has a long-term interest in settlement archaeology, began a project there in cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities in 2017 in order to investigate the ancient town and its hinterland.

The town was settled from Early Dynastic times until the Early Islamic Period and, after a long gap, again during the British occupation of Egypt when a fort was built on the hill as part of defences against the Mahdist movement in Sudan at the end of the 19th century.

A second discovery was made this week in Luxor during excavation carried out in the vicinity of the Luxor Temple where the Tawfik Andraos Palace once stood. An Egyptian mission unearthed a collection of royal artefacts including a black granite stelae from the New Kingdom and an offering table from the Roman Period.

Mustafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), explained that the stelae depicts kings Thutmose IV and Amenhotep II standing together giving offerings to the god Amun-Re sitting on a throne. Thutmose IV is shown offering bread, while Amenhotep II is holding an incense burner in one hand and a cup of water in the other.

The offering table is a plate-shaped structure carved in limestone with holes for installing pots. A collection of limestone offering vessels and Ptolemaic stelae depicting king Ptolemy along with a granite grinder and the remains of wheat and lentils were also unearthed.

The discovery was made in the area of the Tawfik Andraos Palace, demolished late last year because of its dilapidated state and the instability of its foundations. This made it a threat to the neighbouring Luxor Temple and pedestrians walking along the Nile Corniche.

The palace had been standing in the area since its construction in 1897 and relates to the history of its former owner Andraos Bishara who was one of the most prominent figures in Luxor in the early 20th century.

Upon his arrival in Luxor from his hometown of Qus in the 1880s, Bishara decided to build his family home in the precincts of the Luxor Temple with a view across the Nile to the Theban Necropolis.

He invested part of his fortune in buying land that extended as far as the Colossi of Memnon on the west bank of the Nile at Luxor. His son Tawfik became a key figure in the town and built his own house beside his father’s, which had earlier been demolished.

The son’s palace was inhabited by the family until 2013, when the bodies of Tawfik’s two daughters were found, believed to have been murdered, inside. Since then, the palace had been abandoned.

The third discovery made this week was on the Horus Military Road in North Sinai, where a collection of Saite wells was uncovered during excavations carried out by an Egyptian mission.

“It is the first time that such wells have been found, as they were earlier only known from scientific documents and engravings on the Karnak Temples in Luxor from the reign of king Seti I,” Waziri said.

The wells were found in a sandy area surrounding the Tel Kedwa Fortress on the Horus Military Road in North Sinai. Early studies reveal that the wells were demolished in antiquity and buried in sand in order not to be used by Persian invaders.

Ayman Ashmawi, head of the ancient Egyptian antiquities sector at the SCA, said that one of the wells was in good condition and had a different shape to the others.

It is filled with clay rings stacked on top of each other. The diameter of each ring is one metre, and each has three holes in its sides. The excavations have uncovered 13 rings and a large collection of clay pots from the 26th Dynasty, while excavations inside the fortress have revealed a 12-metre storage area filled with clay pots piled on top of each other that were used for drainage.

The remains of copper-smelting workshops with ovens and copper spikes were also found inside the Fortress.

The Tel Kedwa Fortress is one of the most important sites of military architecture from the ancient Egyptian 26th Dynasty in North Sinai. The Egyptian mission has also revealed the remains of two other fortresses, one of which dates back to the era of king Psamtik I.

The Horus Military Road is one of the oldest roads in Sinai, linking Egypt and Palestine along a length of 220 km. It is mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts dating back to the Old Kingdom as the “Road of Horus”.

An inscription of king Seti I at the Karnak Temple in Luxor indicates the existence of a series of military fortresses and wells along the Road, with a well bearing the name of king Seti I in front of each fortress. During the New Kingdom, specific names were given to each fortress and well along the road.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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