During excavations at Tel Ibrahim Awad in the eastern Nile Delta, Dutch archaeologists discovered a large Middle Kingdom temple. Beneath this building, which dates from around 2000 BC, there were traces of five earlier temples, the earliest dating back to around 3100 BC. This is at least as old as the oldest temple previously discovered, namely at Hierakonpolis. Heavy-duty groundwater pumps had to be brought in to make it possible to reach the earliest remains. Financial support for the excavations was provided by the NWO¹s Council for the Humanities.
The ground plan of the earliest of these temples is unlike anything previously discovered in Egypt, and no other sites are known where a similar series of temples was built one on top of the other and which date back so far. The archaeologists do not yet know which gods were worshipped in the temples. In the third-earliest, they discovered about a thousand "disposable ritual objects", including statuettes of baboons and pottery. According to the laws of the ancient Egyptians, objects which had been used in religious worship must not be profaned and they therefore had to be preserved within the walls of the temple. The objects are currently being studied to see what they can tell us about temple rituals at this early date. No inscriptions were found to provide any clues.
Alongside the temple, a burial ground was discovered containing 50 small-scale tombs from various periods. Excavation of a large First Dynasty tomb (about 3000 BC) uncovered rich finds of pottery and of stone and bronze vessels.
The archaeologists are collaborating under the auspices of the Netherlands Foundation for Archaeological Research in Egypt, linked to Amsterdam University (UvA). They chose the area to be excavated ten years ago on the basis of the remains of walls and fragments of pottery visible on the surface. Increasing population pressure in the Nile Delta is making archaeological investigations more difficult. Only five percent of Egypt is habitable, so that archaeological research has to compete with land cultivation, infrastructure and urban expansion.
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