Hellenic-era block, New Kingdom axes discovered in Egypt's Aswan

Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 23 Nov 2017


During excavation work at the north-eastern area of Aswan's Komombo temple as part of a project to decrease subterranean water, an Egyptian mission from the Ministry of Antiquities has recently discovered a Hellenic-era limestone block engraved with hieroglyphic inscriptions.

A carpentry workshop was also discovered by a German-Swiss mission led by Cornelious von Pilgrim on Aswan's Elephantine Island in Aswan, where two New Kingdom-era axes were found.

Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, explains that preliminary studies carried out on the block reveal that it dates back to the era of Macedonian King Philip III Arrhidaeus, the step brother of Alexander the Great, who succeeded his brother to the throne.

The block is 83cm tall, 55cm wide and 32cm thick. The inscription shows the cartouche of King Philip III and a prayer to the crocodile god Sobek of Komombo. The upper part of the block depicts the goddess Nekhbet and its lower part bears an image of King Philip wearing the red crown of Lower Egypt.

The two most notable artefacts found at the workshop on Elephantine Island are axes made of bronze or copper. The axes were found in a small pit in one of the uppermost floors of the structure. The artefacts have been dated to the reign of either Thutmosis III or during the early rule of Amenhotep II.


One of the axes, which was most likely used as a construction tool, is symmetrical with elongated lugs; this type of axe started to appear in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period. The axe, which is heavily corroded and cracked, is similar to a type of splayed axe with straight sides that became common at the time of the 18th Dynasty.

The second axe is clearly of foreign, likely Syrian, origin, and is the first of its kind to be found in Egypt. The axe head has a hole where it can be mounted on a shaft; a technology that was never adopted by Egyptian manufacturers.


“The axe has four spikes on the opposite sides of the blade, which corresponds to the Nackenkammäxten type of axe, which has only been known to originate from the northern Levant and Syria,” Von Pilgrim told Ahram Online.

Von Pilgrim added that two almost identical pieces have been found at a sanctuary of stratum VIII in Beth Shan (North Palestine) and in a tomb in Ugarit (Syria).

However, the Levantine pieces are dated slightly later than the artefacts from Egypt, which could possibly be explained by the longevity of such precious weapons or tools and their eventual depositing in sacral and funeral contexts.

Von Pilgrim added the axe from Elephantine is the earliest example of such an axe ever found, adding that it is safe to assume that it was used as a construction tool on Elephantine.

The Syrian axe, however, may have found its way into Egypt during the direct contacts, or conflicts, between Egypt and Mitanni during this period. The discovery of this Syrian axe in Elephantine could add to the study of contact between Egypt and Mitanni, the North African nation's rival in Syria during the Thutmoside period. 


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