First insight into beginnings of the temple city of Heliopolis
An Egyptian-German team of archaeologists has made a number of astonishing finds, dating back to the earliest history of the temple city of Heliopolis, in Cairo during emergency excavations carried out for construction work. Among the artefacts discovered from various millennia are a brewery furnace, a stone-paved path, a relief depicting Rameses II and fragments of life-size sculptures. The excavations were directed by Dr Dietrich Raue from Leipzig University and Dr Aiman Ashmawy from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.
In their thirteenth joint excavation campaign, the group of scientists from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities and Leipzig University, supported by staff from Mainz University of Applied Sciences, have now reached the oldest strata of this important cult centre. They belong to a time in which the northern and southern parts of the country were gradually merging, but the north still had a clearly different material culture a good four centuries before the kings of what is now termed the First Dynasty.
Together with numerous finds recovered from a depth of up to two metres below the water table, the team found sections of buildings from the middle of the fourth millennium BC. One remarkable find was the furnace of a brewery. A construction project in Cairo’s Matariya district necessitated the first emergency excavation, during which these amazing finds were unearthed.
“In the overlying layers from the second millennium BC there was, no less surprisingly, evidence of wells built during the transition from the Twentieth to the Twenty-First Dynasty, so around 1100 to 1050 BC,” reported Dr Dietrich Raue. “The layers of sediment were found to contain fragments of pink granite columns, royal sphinxes and ceramic moulds used in faience amulet production.”
A second emergency excavation also yielded unexpected findings: the team discovered a stone-paved path dating from the Third Intermediate Period (early first millennium BC). Sensational finds come from two Greco-Roman-era pits. On the one hand, there was an excellently preserved relief depicting Rameses II before the sun god Ra-Horakhty as well as a collection of fragments of life-size sculptures.
Besides the base of a statue of the grandson of Rameses II, Seti II (1204–1198 BC), made of brown quartzite, a female figure made of pink granite is particularly remarkable. The reverse shows the title of Rameses II (1279–1213 BC). “This is either the representation of a queen of this ruler or of a goddess from during his reign,” explains Raue.
Dr Aiman Ashmawy of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, co-director of the excavation campaign, explained that the finds may be related to removals that occurred during the Roman Empire. After all, during the late first century BC and early first century AD, numerous obelisks and other monuments were taken away to Alexandria. The most famous Heliopolitan monuments transported from the temple during this period are a series of obelisks that can now be seen in Rome.
According to Dr Dietrich Raue, curator of Leipzig University’s Georg Steindorff Egyptian Museum, the excavations involved an international team of scholars from the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities, the Universities of Liège, Venice and the American University in Cairo. Just recently in May, the researchers already caused a sensation when, among other finds, they discovered mighty interior walls five to seven metres thick, made of clay bricks.
The work was made possible by the support of the Gerda Henkel Foundation, the Berthold Leibinger Foundation, the European Foundation for Education and Culture of the Rahn Dittrich Group and the Egyptology Forum at the University of Zurich.
PD Dr. Dietrich Raue
Phone: +49 341 97-37013