Swedish-led team uncovers ancient Egyptian temple

15 min

A Swedish-led team of archaeologists has discovered the remains of a temple dating back to about 1500 B.C. in southern Egypt, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities announced this week.

Archaeological evidence found there refers to the Pharaohs Thutmose, Amenhotep III, and Ramses II of the New Kingdom, and on to the Roman period.

The Lund University mission, led by Dr. Maria Nilsson, discovered the temple at the Gebel el Silsila sandstone quarry, which lies along the Nile, north of Aswan and south of Luxor, where they have been working since 2012.

"Every site was in one way or another considered sacred," Dr. Nilsson tells Radio Sweden. She explains the ancient Egyptians used to build temples or shrines in order to mark the beginning of a site, like a village, or in this case, a workplace. She says that the temple was essentially the boundary mark of the quarry site on the east bank. 

"This is the mother of all temples," says Dr. John Ward, assistant director of the project.

Ward and Nilsson, who are not only colleagues but also engaged to be married, explain that limestone was superior to the porous Egyptian sandstone, because it's possible to get a much finer cut. But during the early 18th dynasty, the rulers switched from building in limestone to sandstone, and what they have found at the temple site reflects this changeover in building materials. 

"We actually discovered a limestone temple situated in a sandstone quarry, so we've actually got the transition between limestone construction of temples in Egypt, through to the sandstone, which is of course most prevalent today when you go to Egypt and you look at temples like Karnak," Ward adds.

Ward says that there is no limestone at Silsila, so it would have had to been brought in, and that the limestone temple was eventually "eradicated, and the sandstone one was put in its place."

"One thing we have to bear in mind, with all the fragmentation we found on site, all of them had been painted white to mimic limestone, so even though the transition had taken place... they actually went ahead and lime-washed all the sandstone to make it look like limestone," Ward remarks.

The temple had been previously noted by excavators in the early 1900s and then published on a map in 1934, with "T" for "temple", says Dr. Nilsson, so her team picked up where the previous researchers had left off.