Text Box: Text Box: EXCEPTIONAL EGYPT

Dakhla Oasis,Wadi el-Gedid,Mut,Balat,Deir el-Hagar,Qasr Dakhla ,Tineida ,Ezbet Bashendi,El-Muzzawaka Tombs, Ain Asil, Ain Birbiya, Amheida,Ismant el-Kharab

 

    In ancient times Dakhla was known as Zeszes, the ‘Place of the Two Swords’, because it is divided into two distinct areas. It has also been called el-Wah, the ‘Inner Oasis’ and is an area of around 2000 square kilometres, bounded on the west by the Great Sand Sea, on the north by a high limestone escarpment and on the east by the Abu Tartur Plateau. From el-Kharga, the trip to the eastern edge of the Dakhla Oasis, covers150km travelling along the ancient Darb el-Ghubari desert track, through some spectacular dune-fields. If coming from the north and Farafra, the distance is around 230km. Although smaller than Kharga Oasis, Dakhla is the most highly-populated region in the Wadi el-Gedid, or ‘New Valley’ - the name, since 1958, by which the oases of Kharga, Dakhla and Farafra are known. The government of Egypt is working to unleash the full potential of these desert areas, with plans to further develop agriculture, mineral resources, industry and tourism There is evidence that Dakhla, like other desert regions, has been inhabited since Prehistoric times - fossil bones associated with

     human habitation have been found here from 150,000 years ago Whenthe region gradually became more arid people began to move closer towards the sources of water. We know little about these people, but several skeletons, flint and bone tools and some of the earliest hut circles in Africa have been found here, dating from the Neolithic era (circa 5000BC). Evidence suggests that the inhabitants of thedesert led a pastoral lifestyle. Like Kharga, Dakhla was once dominated by a vast lake or ‘playa’ and neolithic rock-carvings have been found which indicate that elephant, buffalo, zebra, giraffe and ostriches watered on its shores. In these times the region would

      have been similar to the African savanna, but when the a rea began to dry up the human population migrated towards the more hospitable Nile Valley where they settled and became agricultural Archaeologists have been constantly excavating here for a quarter of a century, with many teams of specialists involved in the search for

      Dakhla’s history. The Dakhla Oasis Project, currently directed by Professor Tony Mills of Toronto University, is an international, multi-discipline team dedicated to investigating all areas of human activity at a wide range of sites in Dakhla The desert sands, which have covered and preserved the settlements dating back to the Old Kingdom, are now beginning to reveal their buried treasure as the oasis becomes more fertile Dakhla seems to have been of great importance during the Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom, with its capital possibly at Ain Asil, near

    Balat. Here, in the east of the oasis, was a large settlement with a palace, administrative buildings and a nearby necropolis at Qila. el-Daba. A necropolis from the First Intermediate Period has been found at Amheida, one of the largest archaeological areas in the oasis which was later covered by a large Roman city

  During the New Kingdom the capital was moved to Mut, further to the west, which remains the main city of Dakhla today. The old quarters of Mut are now crumbling into ruins but contain a warren of dark twisting alleyways and intriguing wooden doors which invoke the atmosphere of centuries past, while the ancient pharaonic temple

  area of the town, known as Mut el-Kharab (‘Mut the Ruined’) is located a little to the south-west of the modern city. On the northern edge of the oasis is Qasr Dakhla, a medieval Islamic village built over Roman foundations and believed to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited villages in Dakhla Oasis. Here too the visitor can wander through the older parts of the fortified village where the Islamic architecture is currently being restored and soak

    up the images of a time gone by. In pharaonic times the oases were places of wells, orchards, vineyards and farms as attested in many of the New Kingdom tombs in the Nile Valley. Dakhla especially seems to have been very fertile and known to be a centre for the production of wine, fruit, grain and minerals which were extracted from its inhabitants in the form of taxes. There are remains of Ptolemaic structures in Dakhla, with more evidence from this period emerging with recent excavations, but so far there is little evidence of Greek occupation. The Romans however, left many important remains in Dakhla, including the recently restored Temple of Amun at Deir el-Hagar. There are only two of the fortress-temples (so prominent in Kharga) and much of the Roman architecture and art is quite different to that seen in the southern oasis

       The Christian population of Dakhla re-occupied many of the Roman sites during the later part of the Byzantine Period and many of these sites are now being uncovered after remaining buried in the sand for centuries. These are proving to be a great source of important information on the transitional periods between Roman and Christian occupation at Dakhla. The town of Ismant el-Kharab ancient Kellis, seems to have been the major administrative centre during this period and contains remains of several early Christian churches.

        The Arab invaders seem to have reached Dakhla earlier than the other oases and there are remains of buildings in Qasr Dakhla which date from the Ayyubid Period (12th century). It was during this time that

     the medieval fortified villages came into existence, as a protection from invaders from the south and west. These centres later came under Turkish influence, when the town of Qalamun became the capital

        Dakhla Oasis has a very long history. There are many sites to visit and several of them can be seen easily, though some will require the use of a 4x4 vehicle. Today there are 16 modern villages in Dakhla and 75,000 inhabitants with increasing agricultural and industrial areas. Growing, drying and packing of fruit and other produce remain one of the region’s main industries, along with its crafts of            pottery, rug-making, basketware, jewellery and wood-working. Apart from the wealth of archaeology and the rich cultural heritage of

   Dakhla there is also an abundance of hot and cold springs, famous for their therapeutic effects, said to be a cure

for many ailments

 

       Tineida The main road leading into Dakhla Oasis is the Darb el-Ghubari, the ‘Dust Track’, which passes from east to    west through the oasis and originates in Kharga. The first point of civilisation on the eastern edge of the Dakhla depression is Tineida, a village which is said to have its origins in ancient Egyptian times. Today the area is

   surrounded by cultivated fields which no doubt cover many remains of ancient structures  .

  Around 135km from Kharga, before reaching Tineida, there are rocks on the south side of the road covered with ancient carvings of giraffes, camels and men on horses. The inscriptions on the northern side of the soft sandstone rocks are well-preserved, suggesting that they may only have been uncovered in recent times. The exact date of the carvings is unknown, but archaeolo gists suggest that some may predate the Pharaonic Period, although modern signatures have now defaced many of the older grafitto. This was once the site of a major crossroads where the caravan route from the Nile Valley met

  the track from Kharga to Dakhla. On the east side of Tineida village, a Muslim cemetery contains several large domed sheikh's tombs as well as many unusual painted

  mud grave-stones in the style of tiny houses

Ain Birbiya One of the most important sites in the Tineida area is a Temple of Amun-Nakht and his consort Hathor at Ain Birbiya, between the villages of Tineida and Ezbet Bashendi. Excavation of this ‘buried temple’ has been conducted by the Dakhla Oasis Project since 1995 when it was re-discovered after being covered by sand for many years

- a process which has been very slow and exacting as the team are conserving the structure as they excavate it. The desert

has preserved the decoration well and many reliefs so far uncovered have provided scholars with valuable information about the obscure deity who was known as ‘Amun the Mighty One, Lord of the Desert’. Other titles are similar to those of Horus, suggesting that he was  probably a local aspect of the latter god. Inscriptions claim that Amun-Nakht twice visited Dakhla in order to defeat his enemies. The temple at Ain Birbiya is thought to date from the reign of Augustus Caesar, who constructed the gateway into the enclosure, and probably also the Emperor Hadrian. During the 2004 season Anthony Mills and Adam Zielinski of the   Dakhla Oasis Project, continued excavation and preservation work on

     the temple. On the rear wall in the sanctuary area, they found a large icon of Amun-Nakht which was originally inlaid

Ezbet Bashendi

      The village of Bashendi lies 4km from Tineida, to the north of the main road. The inhabitants claim that the origin of the name of their village is derived from a medieval Indian prince, Pasha Hindi who settled there and is the ancestor of most of the villagers. This is a romantic story and although Pasha Hindi’s domed tomb (built over a Roman tomb) can be found in the village, the modern name is more likely to be derived from ancient Egyptian. Even the houses are considered to be of pharaonic design and are said to sit on top of pharaonic remains. The village was probably first inhabited during the Christian era and Roman tombs lie under the foundations of many of the existing houses. Some of these are accessible,   

     including the tomb of Kitines (2nd century AD) which consists of six chambers with relief decoration in a mixture of Egyptian and Roman styles. There is also said to be a New Kingdom Temple of Mut in the vicinity. To the south-west of Bashendi, at Ain Tirghi is a cemetery thought to date from the Second Intermediate Period, though most burials

     appear to date to the Late and Roman Periods. Some of the tombs contain as many as 40 burials

     The original home of the Dakhla Oasis Project was at Bashendi - a large dig-house which now houses a craft centre run by the New Valley Governorate, while the international teams have another building in Mut.

    Balat The modern village of Balat, around 9km west of Tineida, has spread beyond the older fortified town. Built during the Mamaluke and Turkish eras, the Islamic town is perched on a mound and is little changed since Medieval times. Inside the walls of this once busy town, picturesque winding lanes roofed with palm fronds shelter dark ornately carved doorways of houses typical of the Islamic architecture in the oases during this period. The roofed streets would have acted as additional protection for the inhabitants, as they were too low to admit mounted invaders. The old houses consisted of two or three stories with mudbrick walls plastered and painted in pink or ochre. Bread ovens and storage containers can still be seen on the roofs of some of the crumbling dwellings though few people live in the old town today. The Egyptian          government is hoping to clear the area so that it can be restored and turned into a museum Now Balat is beginning to reveal its secrets of an even earlier history, for nearby at Qila el-Dab'a is an Old Kingdom necropolis and an associated settlement from the same period at Ain Asil. These areas are currently being excavated.

     Ain Asil The settlement of Ain Asil (Spring of the Source) is 3km east of Balat and 8km north-west of Tineida, at the junction where the ancient Darb el-Tawil joins other routes through the oasis. This has proved to be one of the best-preserved examples in Egypt of an Old Kingdom town, with important remains of a governor’s palace, houses and workshops. Since 1977 the site has been investigated by a team from the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) which is currently directed by Georges Souki assian The site at Ain Asil, originally a small fortified enclosure, later encompassed a rectangular area of 33 hectares, split into two separate parts. The earliest is the fortress area to the north, with a mudbrick settlement extending to the south and east of this. An administrative centre for Dakhla during the reigns of Pepi I and Pepi II, most of the town appears to have been destroyed by fire at the end of the Old Kingdom and abandoned for a time. A rare discovery of inscribed clay tablets dating to Dynasty VI provides the earliest evidence that Dakhla Oasis was linked to the Nile Valley during this time. The tablets contain names of governors of the oasis and their households in hieratic script as well as lists of distribution of goods and food supplies to the palace, valuable information which in other areas of Egypt were usually written on papyrus.

        From the fortress, which was later adapted to other uses, the town sprawls to the south along a main street and to the east is the principal administrative building, or palace which seems to have contained a courtyard which may have been a public audience area. The surrounding apartments rose to a height estimated at around 4m, with walls painted in yellow ochre and wooden columns on limestone bases. Off to the sides, two superimposed levels of vaulted magazines have been uncovered, probably used for the storage of produce, suggested by the evidence of remains of oil jars, but emptied before the construction of a third level. These were built under a governor called Medunefer, who also constructed a cult

      chapel here and his name and titles can be seen on the restored doorway to the naos. Also found within the palace area is the name of another governor, Khentika and seals bearing the name of Pepi II. So far the names of at least five generations of governors have been found and each one erected a small sanctuary for hemselves Other excavations of the settlement have revealed many surprisingly large dwellings (much larger than those rare examples found in the

    Nile Valley) and some of these have remains of staircases leading up to a roof terrace. Bakeries with ovens, grinding stones and pottery jars for baking the bread have also been found along with ceramic workshops and many pottery fragments Although a fire destroyed much of the early town and part of thefortress-like structure, it was rebuilt during the First Intermediate Period to include the enclosure wall and a canal and a great deal of restoration seems to have been undertaken. The destruction by fire has allowed archaeologists to gain much information about the Old Kingdom structures. It seems to have been abandoned before the Ptolemaic Period and so far no Roman remains have been found at the site

  Qila el-Dab'a Qila el-Dab'a, the necropolis associated with the Old Kingdom settlement at Ain Asil, is located about 1.5km to the west of the ancient town. The site was investigated in 1970s by Egyptian archaeologist Ahmad Fakhry who uncovered four large mudbrick mastabas probably belonging to governors of the oasis. Since 1986 the IFAO have been excavating at Qila el-Dab'a and they have found at least seven mastabas, including one containing the mummy of a

     Dynasty VI ruler

   The mastabas were constructed in steps from mudbricks and dressed with slabs of limestone. When found, the tombs were in various stages of ruin, but basically followed the plan of a large brick enclosure surrounding a courtyard in which the mastaba stood. The tombs had niched façades like others of the Old Kingdom and a funerary stela at the entrance identified the occupant. A stela of the governor Khentikau-Pepi can be seen in the Kharga Heritage Museum. Inside the tombs there are a number of rooms, antechambers and burial chambers with barrel-vaulted roofs. The first to identified was the tomb of the governor Medunefer who served during be the reign of Pepi II and which contained funerary goods including gold jewellery. In the mastaba of Khentikau-Pepi, over 100 pottery vessels were found in fragments beneath the fallen masonry in the underground chambers. Other governors who built mastabas at Qila el-Dab'a include Khentika, also from the reign of Pepi II whose painted subterranean chambers have been restored, and Ima-Pepi, whose later tomb shows an improvement in construction techniques. The mastabas of the wealthy governors were found to contain rich

      burial equipment with wooden or ceramic coffins, but further cemeteries containing more modest burials have been found to the south and east of the mastabas. These poorer members of the community were often buried in simple pits and wrapped only in layers of matting. Many skeletons have been found in the necropolis and are currently being studied by the IFAO, while some of the pottery and other artefacts from the site are on display in the Kharga Heritage Museum.

     Ismant el-Kharab The ancient town of Kellis, situated 2km to the east of the modern village of Ismant (or Smint), is now known as Ismant el-Kharab meaning ‘Ismant the ruined’. The mudbrick tombs, temples and settlement remains of Kellis, can be seen from the road at a point about 20km east of Mut. The large site has been investigated in recent years by a team from the Dakhla Oasis Project and is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the oasis

        Inhabited for seven centuries, Kellis was once a thriving and well-populated market town and the past two decades of excavation has uncovered a wealth of Roman and Coptic remains, including houses, churches, wells, a bath-house, storage buildings, aqueducts and a cemetery of free-standing tombs. This is another site where deep covering of sand has served to preserve many of the structures up to a height of 2 to 4m and its importance is seen in terms of a

       what it has revealed of the emergence of Christianity in Roman Egypt. The settlement is still being studied by several teams and has been found to contain many interesting structures, mostly from the Roman and Christian eras as well as important cultural objects such as bedsprings, pottery and basketry. Thousands of literary texts and religious writings in Greek and Coptic on papyrus fragments have been discovered in the domestic site which indicate a great diversity of beliefs. Gnostic papyri relate to the presence of a Manichaean community there by AD 300, offering a unique version of

       Christianity as taught by the followers of the prophet Mani alongside the more orthodox Catholic faith which had begun to spread throughout Egypt. Three mudbrick churches have been found at Kellis, one of them has been securely dated to the 4th century AD by a hoard of coins found there and is said to be the oldest Christian church in Egypt Although wooden notebooks were a rare commodity in Egypt, three such objects (known as the Kellis codices) have been found at the site.

      Two of them, complete with their original binding chords, are the best-preserved examples of wooden books known from this period and help us to understand the gradual transition from papyrus scrolls to books. One of the documents consists of nine wooden boards containing speeches and political instructions, while a second, on eight leaves documents farming records and accounts - payments in kind by tenant farmers to absentee landlords. A third single board, written in Greek is a contract of sale for a house - this is how we know that the settlement was called Kellis and that Dakhla existed as a separate administrative centre from Kharga. These codices can now be seen in Kharga Heritage Museum

        A large mudbrick walled area to the south-west of the settlement encloses two small stone temples, a number

      of mudbrick shrines and various storage buildings, dating from the 1st century AD and probably the Emperor Hadrian. The complex has been under investigation since 1991 and the most recent excavations have revealed Ptolemaic ceramics, perhaps giving the site an even earlier date. The largest temple to the east contains three parallel

     sanctuaries, the side chambers and the offering hall in front had vaulted ceilings and the central sanctuary was encased in stone. Outer walls were decorated with engaged columns but reliefs survive only in small fragments, as this and the smaller temple were quarried for their stone. By contrast the larger of the mudbrick shrines (Shrine I), which may have functioned as a mammisi, has much of its original painted decoration intact. In this structure, located to the south of the main temple, there are two chambers, the inner one having a beautiful painted vaulted ceiling which collapsed

      in antiquity and was buried by sand until the current excavations Archaeologists are currently piecing together the fragmentary jig-saw of painted plaster, reconstructing the ceiling on paper and working towards a restoration. Decorations in the plastered inner chamber of Shrine I were painted in a mixture of Pharaonic and Classical style, interesting for their information on artistic development during this period The two temples and the shrines were dedicated to the god Tutu and the goddesses Neith and Tapsais. Tutu (Tithoes), an obscure god venerated in Graeco-Roman times, was a son of Neith and held the title ‘Master of Demons’. He was also called ‘he who keeps enemies at a distance’ and was believed to provide protection from hostile forces and evil demons. Tutu was depicted in the form of a walking lion or a sphinx, sometimes with a human head, the wings of a bird and the tail of a snake. His monuments at Kellis are the only known

      remains of a cult centre for this god. Other deities depicted in Shrine I at Kellis include Amun-Re, Mut, Khons, Thoth and

       Nehmetaway, who are also venerated at the Dakhla Temple of Deir el-Hagar and possibly at Amheida. In other areas of decoration in Shrine I, groups of deities include Osiris ‘Lord of the Oasis’, Harsiese, Isis and Nephthys as well as Amun-Nakht (also seen at Ain Birbiya), Khnum, Isis and Hathor - it is in fact an inventory of all the main deities represented in Dakhla Oasis. Hundreds of burials have been collectively excavated from major cemeteries around Ismant el-Kharab, especially in two main areas to the north of the town, ranging in date from around 300 BC to AD 300 There have been many mummies recovered from Ptolemaic Period. burials, complete with cartonnage coffins, while other stone-blocked

      tombs contained linen-wrapped bodies placed in tomb-chambers without coffins. Many more bodies were found to have been buried in a cemetery to the west of the site - some in very unusual circumstances. A team from the Dakhla Oasis Project engaged in studying the burials from Ismant el-Kharab found many composite mummies, prepared by taking parts from different bodies and wrapping them on a wooden rack to resemble a single traditional mummified burial.

      Kellis seems to have been abandoned sometime around the end the 4th century AD during the Roman-Byzantine Period. Evidence has been found to suggest that until then it was an area of heavy trading with many people coming and going, and perhaps like other settlements in the oases, a place of banishment

       Mut el-Kharab The modern city of Mut is the main centre of population in Dakhla Oasis today. Once a fortified town, the old Islamic quarter is still inhabited and though its painted houses and dark winding alleyways are now crumbling into ruins, it is characteristic of the Medieval settlements seen in other parts of the oases. The town’s defence was to bolt its heavy gates at night, closing off the streets to any invaders Mut el-Kharab (Mut the Ruined) is the ancient town probably named ,after the goddess Mut, consort of Amun. This area lies to the south-west of the modern city and though its ruins represent many periods of Egyptian history, it is still mostly buried beneath the desert sands. Two stelae acquired in 1894, dated to the Dynasty XXII reigns of Shoshenq I and III or IV and now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, refer to an oracle of Seth. They are thought be from the temple site at Mut el-Kharab and highlighted the importance of Mut

     and the cult of Seth in Dakhla during the later periods of Egyptian history

     Mut el-Kharab contains the largest temple complex so far found in Dakhla and since 2001 the remains have been the subject of an investigation by the Dakhla Oasis Project. Their task is a difficult one as the site has been plundered extensively over the centuries The area was enclosed during the Roman Period within a mudbrick wall, measuring 240m by 180m, which still stands up to 8m high in some places. Several wells and cemeteries have been found within the

      enclosure. The temple was dedicated to the god Seth and although very poorly preserved, decorated blocks have been found here which contain fragmentary cartouches of Tuthmose III, Horemheb, Psusennes I, Psamtek I and some Ptolemaic rulers. Seth was a major deity in Dakhla Oasis from the Third Intermediate Period onwards and

     especially during the Roman Period. The 2005 season of excavations have provided evidence to date the extant remains of the temple to the early Roman Period, but these are overlaying earlier deposits from the Third Intermediate Period and perhaps the New Kingdom. No decorated blocks have been uncovered from the Roman remains as it would seem that the Roman rulers re-used blocks from the earlier temples, ranging in date from Dynasty XVIII to the Ptolemaic Period These blocks contain references to Seth, Amun and various priests. A pit within a recently excavated room in the temple complex has revealed a collection of gypsum and ceramic moulds for the production of inlays for a large image of a falcon-headed winged god, similar to the portrayal of the winged Seth in Hibis Temple and to the local deity Amun-Nakht found at Ain Birbiya, The excavators claim that Mut is emerging as one of the most significant sites in the Western Desert, possibly the capital of Dakhla from the New Kingdom onwards. Evidence of early Old Kingdom occupation of the site in the form of Dynasty VI pottery has been found in the lowest strata so far uncovered The modern town of Mut contains a small Heritage Museum in the form of a traditional Islamic house which houses many cultural items from Dakhla Oasis.

Qasr Dakhla Qasr Dakhla, situated to the north-west of Mut, is one of the fortified Medieval Islamic towns often seen in the oases and said to be the oldest continuously inhabited and the best preserved settlement of its type in Dakhla. It rests on the Sioh Ridge, nestled beneath the pink limestone escarpment which marks the northern limit of the oasis The Islamic town, el-Qasr (meaning ‘the Fortress’) was probably founded around the end of the 12th century AD by the Ayyubids, over

     the remains of an earlier Roman Period settlement. During this time the fortified town is thought to have been the capital of the oasis, constructed in a defensive position against marauding invaders from the south and west. Like the Medieval town of Mut, its streets were divided into quarters which could be closed off at night by barred gates The narrow covered streets have changed little since Medieval times. and a three-story mudbrick minaret rising 21m above the mosque of

     Nasr el-Din, erected during the Ayyubid Period, is one of the landmarks of the town. Wooden lintels over the entrances bear inscriptions from the Quran and attached to the mosque is the madrasa where the scriptures were taught to young boys, now renovated and still used as a school and a public meeting place. The madrassa and the restored house of Abu Nafir are open to visitors. This tall house, typical of the Medieval Islamic period, with its heavy carved wooden door, is said to be built over remains of a Ptolemaic Period temple and its door jambs depict hieroglyphs presumably from re-used blooks. As a respite from the scorching heat of the sun, the cool dark twisting alleyways of the old town offer views of many ornately carved beams and lintels which decorate the entrances to houses. The oldest inscription dates to 1518 on the Beit Ibrahim. Recently discovered kilns from a pottery factory, and a corn-mill, suggests that el-Qasr had a thriving community since antiquity. The town still has around 700 inhabitants, many who follow the traditions of craftsmen from a time gone by. Today the town is renowned for its traditional earthenware pots and palm-leaf basketry. However villagers who move out of the old town are no longer allowed to return and no new building is allowed there as the Ministry of

      Antiquities eventually hopes to turn their deserted houses into a tourism feature.

      Amheida Amheida, on the western edge of Dakhla Oasis, is a vast archaeological site, reached via the loop road running from Mut to el-Qasr. A team of researchers from New York’s Columbia University headed by Lynn Meskell, has recently begun an intensive investigation and survey of the site. The area which extends for 5km to the west of the road, is thought to be the site of the ancient Roman town of Trimethis, according to literary sources, although the surrounding landscape indicates substantial occupation pre-dating the Roman Period. As with many sites in the oasis there is a scattering of prehistoric material as well as an Old Kingdom settlement and evidence of Pharaonic and Ptolemaic remains. But it is for its Roman ruins that Amheida is best known at present, in an area of 100 hectares occupied from the

       1st to the 4th centuries AD and constituting one of the largest Roman settlements at Dakhla. Much of the site is buried by sand, with only the tops of walls of ruined buildings dotting the landscape. On a rise in the northern part of the town, a large structure dominates the scene, where limestone chips and a sandstone block cut with a relief of Amun have been found, suggesting its use as a temple. The most spectaculardiscovery, near the centre of the town, is a large building which has been excavated by the Dakhla Oasis Project. The two-storey structure is as yet unidentified but contained 15 rooms, one of which was painted with classical wall scenes of the late 3rd to early 4th centuries. The paintings show a high degree of artistry which is very different from the Egyptian tradition, perhaps executed by travelling artists

           

     On the northern wall, to the left of  the doorway, a mythological scene depicts the legend of Perseus rescuing the beautiful Andromeda who is about to be devoured by a sea-monster, while to the right of the door is the Homeric scene of

       the ‘Return of Odysseus to Ithaca’, from his long voyage which brought him to Egyptian shores. The eastern wall of the chamber contains other smaller portrayals of classical mythological figures in two registers, including Aphrodite

     Ares, Helios, Apollo, Dionysus and Poseidon Several cemeteries are associated with Amheida. The largest of these

      on the southern side of the site contains between two and three thousand burials, mostly pit-graves but also some decorated tombs. A few of the more elaborate structures have above-ground chapels with vaulted ceilings. Two such tombs (Tombs 6 and 33) date from the Ptolemaic or early Roman Period and contain white plastered walls

      with painted reliefs depicting traditional Egyptian funerary scenes Here the familiar deities Isis and Nephthys, Osiris and Anubis are portrayed with little classical influence and probably date from the earliest settlement period at Amheida

       The site at Amheida will take many years to investigate properly and will be part of a long-term scheme for the Dakhla Oasis Project. The team of scientists from Columbia University is currently bringing digital archaeology to the Egyptian desert by studying the ancient ruins with the use of a robot equipped with a remote-sensing device to create 3-D subterranean images that will help pinpoint where to conduct excavations

El-Muzzawaka Tombs The Arabic name el-Muzzawaka means ‘The Decorated Hill’, but this area, which is really part of the Amheida cemeteries, consists of a series of small soft stone hills or ridges in which over 300 tombs

     were cut. Primarily Roman and dated to the first and second centuries AD, a few of the tombs are decorated in a mixture of traditional Egyptian and classical style. Although many of the tombs are still unexcavated, two of the most interesting, belonging to Petubastis and Petosiris, are outstanding for their exquisite colourful frescos

      The tomb of Petubastis consists of a single decorated chamber with recessed shelves intended to house the mummies of the deceased. On the eastern wall is a portrait of the tomb-owner, painted onto plaster. The ceiling of the chapel is painted with a zodiac in the style of the first century AD. The second tomb, belonging to one Padiosir Petosiris, dates from the early part of the second century AD and contains two chambers. The owner is again portrayed on the northern wall of the outer chamber as a large figure wearing a long pink Roman-style toga. Curiously he is surrounded by representations of traditional ancient Egyptian religious symbols, including a hieroglyphic text. The inner chamber depicts the weighing of the deceased’s heart before Osiris while Isis provides a libation for the spirit of Padiosir. Other scenes are reminiscent of the New Kingdom funerary art. Here, a more complex zodiac than that in the tomb of Petubastis, is painted with figures of birds and animals, a scarab and the god Horus as well as the usual representations of the constella tions

    Archaeologists are not certain whether either of these two tombs actually contained burials, but many mummified bodies have been found in neighbouring undecorated tombs. Simple inscriptions have also been found in some of the other tombs, providing information about the spiritual beliefs and customs of the Roman inhabitants of Dakhla.

       The tombs at el-Muzzawaka have been known of for many years and have been well-plundered for any artefacts of value. The two major tombs were photographed by Herbert Winlock in 1908, but only rediscovered by Akhmed Fakhry as recently as 1972 after which time the badly damaged frescos were restored. In 1998 the tombs of Petubastis and

       Padiosir Petosiris were once again closed to the public as the ceilings were in a state of collapse. It is not known whether the difficult task of further restoration has yet been undertaken

Deir el-Hagar

        Deir el-Hagar, the ‘Monastery of Stone’, is a sandstone temple on the western edge of Dakhla Oasis, about 10km from el-Qasr in the desert to the south of the cultivation. In ancient times it was known as the ‘Place of Coming Home’, or ‘Set-whe’. After being buried in debris and sand for many centuries the temple has been uncovered, restored and partially reconstructed during the 1990s by the Dakhla Oasis Project with the Supreme Council of Antiquities and is now open to visitors. The temple of Deir el-Hagar represents one of the most complete Roman monuments in Dakhla Oasis

       Dedicated mainly to the Theban Triad and to Thoth, construction of the temple began during the reign of the Roman Emperor Nero (AD 54-68), whose cartouche can be seen in the sanctuary. The walls also bear the names of Vespasian (AD 69-79) and Titus (AD 79-81) and the monumental gateway was decorated during the reign of Domitian (AD 81-96), although other Roman rulers have contributed to the decoration, with the latest inscription in the temple dating to the

       3rd century AD The temple building measures 7.3m by 16.2m and has a well-preserved outer mudbrick enclosure wall where some remains of painted plaster can still be seen. The main gateway is in the eastern side of the enclosure wall, while another gateway to the south, in the temenos wall of the sanctuary, depicts many Greek inscriptions and graffito

     written by early travellers who wanted to record their visits to this sacred place. A processional way leading from the main gateway up to the temple entrance still has remains of round mud-brick columns which would have been part of pillared halls flanking the entrance and a few small sphinxes found in this area can now be seen in the Kharga Heritage Museum

         The entrance to the temple is through a screen wall into the wide pronaos or porch, which has two columns. A doorway leads to a small hypostyle hall containing four columns which in turn opens into a hall of offerings before the central sanctuary. The sanctuary is flanked by two side-chambers - to the south is the staircase which would have given access to the roof and to the north a storage chamber. The sanctuary itself was decorated with a magnificent astronomical ceiling, dating to the rule of Hadrian (AD 117-138), which had painted reliefs including an arching figure of the goddess

      Nut, representing the sky and the god Geb, who symbolises the earth In the centre of the ceiling the god Osiris is represented by the constellation of Orion, while other astronomical features are represented by various deities whose task was to maintain the universe. The west wall at the rear of the sanctuary gives prominence to the primary gods of the temple, Amun-Re and Mut. The south wall portrays the Theban Triad of Amun-Re, Mut and Khons, as well as Seth, Nephthys, Re-Horakhty, Osiris and Isis, and Min-Re. The northern wall includes the Theban Triad alongside the

      Heliopolitan creator gods, Geb, Nut, Shu and Tefnut. Here also is an important representation of the Dakhla god Amun-Nakht (seen at Ain Birbiya) and an inscription from the sanctuary denotes his earliest known visit to the oasis. This desert god, who seems to have characteristics of both Amun-Re and Horus, is shown here with his consort Hathor. Thoth, another deity well-represented in the oases is seen with his local consort Nehmetaway. These are all deities which occur in paintings in Shrine 1 at Kellis and probably at the  temple at Ain Birbiya, showing that they were probably partly of

       local origin or variation. Remains of other still partly-buried structures surround the temple and there is a block field to the west of the enclosure. In the immediate vicinity there is much evidence of agriculture in Roman times, including pigeon-houses. To the north-west of the temple is a Roman Period cemetery where crude human-headed terracotta coffins have been uncovered

DAKHLA OASES