Ancient ruins, a prime asset for Egypt’s soft power, just made new headlines.
Egypt’s most famous archeologist, on the scene in Luxor on the Nile, told journalists from around the world on April 10 that his team has unearthed brick houses, artifacts, tools from a large city buried for three millennia.
The archeologist, Zahi Hawass, said his team had been working since last September. He called the ancient metropolis, “the dazzling Aten.” It was a surprise discovery. The team originally was searching for the mortuary temple of the boy king famously known as Tutankhamun.
Mr. Hawass told reporters: “This was originally a large city that was lost.” Within weeks, his teams came upon mud brick foundations that turned out to be a well-preserved metropolis.
Among the early findings: city walls, rooms filled with ovens, storage pottery and utensils used in daily life. Archeologists found human skeletons, perfectly preserved, and meters-long stretches of flat boulevards lined with symmetrically preserved, curled walls.
The newly-discovered metropolis, archeologists say, was originally built during the reign of the 18th dynasty King Amenhotep III, who ruled this section of what is now modern Egypt from 1391-1353 B.C.
Some Heil recollections
As VOA’s Cairo Bureau Chief for 11 months in 1966-67, I recall visiting modern Luxor with Dot and viewing a forest of columns from antiquity — a major tourist attraction — at the western entrance of the city with views of the surrounding desert.
It was a feast for the eyes, seven gigantic circular columns at right angles, each about 50 feet high. Between the columns, five statues of bare-chested figures, two of them headless, illuminated by the mid-day sun.
Back to the present
Little could we imagine what remained to be discovered about life in antiquity beneath the fabled city. Leaping ahead to a half century later, the briefing by Egypt’s antiquities ministry, was particularly telling.
As the ministry put it: “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, well preserved, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life. The southern part of the city includes a bakery, ovens, and storage pottery. The northern part, most of which still remains under the sands, comprises administrative and residential districts.”
As archeologist Zahi Hawass put it in an interview by ABC News, “it was the largest administrative and industrial settlement in the era of the ancient Egyptian empire on the western bank of Luxor. The city’s streets are flanked by houses, with some walls up to three meters high.”
According to Mr. Hawass, the Lost Golden City was still active during Emperor III’s co-regency with his son, Akhenaten. But It was an unstable time in Egypt’s ancient history. Akhenaten then founded a new capital some 400 kilometers north of Luxor and 200 kilometers south of Cairo.
As Mr. Hawass concluded: “We found four major districts of the Golden City, one for administration, one for workmen to sleep in, one for the industries, and an area for storage of dried meat.” In his view, “the dazzling Aten” was the most important archeological discovery in Egypt since the Emperor Tutankhamun’s tomb was unearthed in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor nearly fully intact in 1922.
An Associated Press wrapup of the Aten unearthing explains: “Egypt has sought publicity for its archeological discoveries in hopes of reviving tourism there, which was badly hit by the turmoil following the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world and now, the coronavirus.” The announcement came a few days after Egypt moved 22 of its prized royal mummies in a gala parade to their new resting place, the newly-opened National Museum of Egyptian Civilization in Cairo.
As a 36-year veteran of the Voice of America (VOA), Alan Heil traveled to more than 40 countries a foreign correspondent in the Middle East, and later as director of News and Current Affairs, deputy director of programs, and deputy director of the nation’s largest publicly-funded overseas multimedia network. Today, VOA reaches more than 275 million people around the world each week via radio, television and online media. Read More