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Chicago university discovers ancient Egyptian building at Edfu in Thebes

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An American archaeological mission from the University of Chicago has unearthed an administrative building and silos dating back to Dynasty 17 (c. 1665-1569 BC), as well as an older columned hall during routine excavations at Edfu in Egypt.

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An American archaeological mission from the University of Chicago has unearthed an administrative building and silos dating back to Dynasty 17 (c. 1665-1569 BC), as well as an older columned hall during routine excavations at Edfu in Egypt.

Dr. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), explained that the columned hall is a mud-brick building with sixteen wooden columns that predates the silos. Pottery and seal impressions dated to early Dynasty 13 (c. 1786-1665 BC) were found inside the hall. Hawass said that the layout of the building shows that it may have been part of the governor’s palace, which was a typical feature of provincial towns. It was used by scribes for accounting, opening and sealing containers, and also for receiving letters.

Dr. Nadine Moeller, head of the American mission, said that the seal impressions were made by scarab seals decorated with ornamental patterns such as spirals and a combination of hieroglyphic symbols including ankh signs. Patterns belonging to different officials were also uncovered, providing evidence for the various administrative activities, such as accounting in addition to sealing boxes, ceramic jars, and other commodities.

Moeller said this discovery reflects Egypt’s political situation at a time when ancient Egypt’s unity no longer existed and a small kingdom had developed at Thebes which controlled Upper Egypt. During this period, connections between the provincial elite, such as the family of the governor, and the royal family in Thebes were strengthened through marriage or the awarding of important offices.

Ancient Egyptians built the Edfu Temple, one of the most beautiful completed during the Ptolemaic era in the 10th year of King Ptolemy. A magnificent and architectural wonder, it is considered a complete registry of several sceneries of offerings by the Kings to the gods, as well as reliefs of wars and battles. The first stone was laid on the 7th day of the month of Epiphi in the reign of Ptolemy III Evergetes on August 23, 237 BC. Bas reliefs indicate when construction was over, on December 5, 57 BC. Interesting bas reliefs can be found on the staircase leading to the panoramic terrace in which the union of the solar disk was commemorated.

In a small, otherwise insignificant ancient village with a population of about 65000 dependent on the town’s sugar refinery, steel and synthetic fertilizer industries, this well-preserved temple is the second nô me of Upper Egypt. Called Apollinopolis Magna by the Greeks, it was dedicated to hawk-headed god of day Horus, although the triad of deities venerated in the temple included the Hathor of Dendera (the woman with cow’s ears) and Ihi, the child.

During the Ptolemaic era, the monument was erected on top of a previous, older temple feature dating back to Tutmoses III. According to historians, it took 180 years to build the temple which prides the most perfect shape of the Naos – a monolithic,intact tabernacle in grey granite 4 meters high erected in 360 BC at the time of Nectanebo II of the older temple. The Naos’ inscription translates the project was originally the brainchild of Imhotep, the son of Ptah and the vizier of Zoser. Imhotep had been credited for building the first free-standing structures in ancient Egypt, notable of which was the step pyramid in Saqqara. Since Imhotep reigned 23 centuries earlier, the architects of the temple may have attributed it to him as an assurance of perfection. If there were any leader at the time to whom the priest builders ascribe precision and excellence, it would have naturally been Imhotep.

Every mid-July, the flooding of the Nile compelled the ancient Aswanis to move the holy statue or remove it from its enormous sanctuary or sancto santorium on a shrine (already standing since Tutmoses) to drier grounds, thrice. This ceremonial transfer is depicted clearly on the temple walls. Around the shrine are detailed decorations on the walls with the sacred serpents flanking the cartouches of Pharoh Ptolemy Evergetes. Unfortunately, the shrine in the sacrarium was found without the wooden or cedar doors (sealing off the ‘corridor of mysteries’) sent from Byblos in Lebanon, and the golden statue of the gods. Defaced illustrations of gods sustained by the walls prove substantial desecration and vandalism by the pagans. Traces of Egyptians living inside the temple in the 4th and 5th centuries AD are visible. Smoke stains blamed on cooking, incense-burning or kiln fires in the great Roman times are evidenced on the ceiling of the temple used as fortress in that era. Beneath the carbon-marks lie detailed illustrations of the starry sky still prominent on the ceiling or upper walls of the King Tutankhamun burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings.

Edfu’s imposing dimensions make it the second most important after the Karnak Temple in Luxor. The 137-meter façade rises up in all majesty with great huge pylons, measuring 79 meters on the front and 36 meters high, consisting of two massive towers on either side of the entrance. Pylons are divided internally into 4 levels of rooms decorated externally with drawings of Ptolemy XII sacrificing the prisoners to the gods. The wide libation court boasts 2 giant columns on three sides, joined by screen walls in typical Hellenistic style, with each capital different from one another but corresponding to the one across.

Former tourism minister Dr. Mamdouh El Beltagui launched a $2.5 million project for further restoration, development and lighting of the Edfu Temple in Upper Egypt. The Aswan monument then finally opened to tourists at night. The illumination attracts visitors to the site which has stopped receiving guests after dark since the operation began. Edfu opened its original entrance to visitors for the first time in 2200 years. Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni worked on a previous project costing $4 million which included electronic gates and closed-circuit TV’s around the temple.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.