An Egyptian archaeological mission, led by famed archaeologist Zahi Hawass, has unearthed the 3000-year-old “Golden City”, also called, The Rise of Aten.
The ancient city was built during the reign of Amenhotep III, the ninth king of the 18th Dynasty who ruled Egypt from 1391 to 1353 B.C. This city was active during the great king’s co-regency with his son, the famous Amenhotep IV/Akhenaton. It remained in use by following kings Tutankhamun and Ay.
The Egyptian mission was surprised to discover the largest administrative settlement in Ancient Egypt.
“Many foreign missions searched for this city and never found it. We began our work searching for the mortuary temple of Tutankhamun because the temples of both Horemheb and Ay were found in this area,” Hawass said.
“The city’s streets are flanked by houses, some of which have up to 3-metre-high walls,” Hawass continued, “The city extends to the west, all the way to the famous ancient village Deir el-Medina.”
Betsy Brian, Professor of Egyptology at John Hopkins University in Baltimore USA, said, “It is the second most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun.”
“The discovery of the Lost City, not only will give us a rare glimpse into the life of the Ancient Egyptians when the Empire was at its wealthiest period, but it will also help us shed light on one of the history’s greatest mysteries: why did Akhenaten and Nefertiti decide to move to Amarna?” Brian added.
The excavation area is sandwiched between Rameses III’s temple at Medinet Habu and Amenhotep III’s temple at Memnon. The Egyptian mission started working in this area in search of Tutankhamun’s Mortuary Temple.
Tutankhamun’s successor, King Ay, built his temple on a site which was later adjoined on its southern side by Rameses III’s temple at Medinet Habu.
Egyptologists believe Ay’s temple may formerly have belonged to Tutankhamun as two colossal statues of the young king were found there. The northern part of the temple is still under the sands.
The excavation started in September 2020 and within weeks, to the team’s great surprise, formations of mud bricks began to appear in all directions. What they unearthed was the site of a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life.
The archaeological layers remained untouched for thousands of years, left by the ancient residents as if it were yesterday.
The first goal of the mission was to date this settlement. Hieroglyphic inscriptions found on clay caps of wine vessels. Historical references tell us the settlement consisted of three royal palaces of King Amenhotep III, as well as the Empire’s administrative and industrial centre.
A large number of archaeological finds, such as rings, scarabs, coloured pottery vessels, and mud bricks bearing seals of King Amenhotep III’s cartouche, confirmed the dating of the city.
After only seven months of excavation, several areas or neighbourhoods have been uncovered.
In the southern part, the mission found a bakery, a cooking and food preparation area, ovens, and storage pottery. From its size, we can state the kitchen was catering a very large number of workers and employees.
The second area, which is still partly covered, is the administrative and residential district, with larger and well-arranged units.
This area is fenced in by a zigzag wall, with only one access point leading to internal corridors and residential areas. The single entrance makes us think it was some sort of security, with the ability to control entry and exit to enclosed areas.
Zigzag walls are one of the rare architectural elements in Ancient Egyptian architecture, mainly used towards the end of the 18th Dynasty. The third area is a workshop.
On one side, the production area for the mud bricks used to build temples and annexes. The bricks have seals bearing the cartouche of King Amenhotep III (Neb Maat Ra).
On the other side, a large number of casting moulds for the production of amulets and delicate decorative elements. This is further evidence of the extensive activity in the city to produce decorations for both temples and tombs.
All over the excavated areas, the mission has found many tools used in some sort of industrial activity like spinning and weaving.
Metal and glass-making slag has also been unearthed, but the main area of such activity has yet to be discovered.
Two unusual burials of a cow or bull were found inside one of the rooms. Investigations are underway to determine the nature and purpose of this practice.
And even more remarkable burial of a person found with arms outstretched to his side, and remains of a rope wrapped around his knees. The location and position of this skeleton are rather odd, and more investigations are in progress.
One of the most recent finds of a vessel containing 2 gallons of dried or boiled meat (about 10 kg), has a valuable inscription: Year 37, dressed meat for the third Heb Sed festival from the slaughterhouse of the stockyard of Kha made by the butcher luwy.
This valuable information, not only gives us the names of two people that lived and worked in the city but confirmed that the city was active and the time of King Amenhotep III’s co-regency with his son Akhenaten.
The excavation also reveals a mud seal with inscriptions that can be read: “gm pa Aton” that can be translated as “the domain of the dazzling Aten”, this is the name of a temple built by King Akhenaten at Karnak.
As history goes, one year after this pot was made, the city was abandoned and the capital relocated to Amarna. But was it? Why? And was the city repopulated again when Tutankhamun returned to Thebes?
Only further excavations of the area will reveal what truly happened 3,500 years ago.
To the north of the settlement a large cemetery was uncovered, the extent of which has yet to be determined.
So far, the mission has discovered a group of rock-cut tombs of different sizes that can be reached through stairs carved into the rock. They share a common feature of tomb construction with the Valley of the Kings and in the Valley of the Nobles.
Work is underway and the mission expects to find untouched tombs filled with treasures.