4500-year old buildings with beer and bread making facilities discovered in Tell Edfu

4500-year-settlement-egyptian-tell-edfu_1Credit: G. Marouard

Last month, we talked about how archaeologists had (possibly) came across the oldest known complex at the ancient Egyptian site of Tell Edfu, which dated from the Fifth Dynasty period (circa early 25th century BC to mid 24th century BC). More recent discoveries, made by the researchers led by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, have revealed how this site, situated far south in Egypt – around 400 miles from Cairo, even boasted a fully-functioning settlement dated from the very same period. This habitation probably served as the southerly bastion for the royal trading expeditions conducted under the auspices of the Fifth Dynasty pharaohs.


Credit: G. Marouard

The focal point of this 4,500-year old settlement at Tell Edfu pertains to two large buildings that served as the seats of the royal administration in the area. Made of mudbricks, the structures were found to be flanked by open courtyards and a range of workshops and storage containers. Analysis of these zones and on-site artifacts (like weights and crucible fragments) has revealed how the facilities were used for making beer, bread, and even smelting copper along with other metallurgical processes.

Additionally, the researchers were able to find around 220 mudbrick stamps of King Djedkare Isesi inside the complex, possibly alluding to the royal expeditions conducted during the Fifth Dynasty period. Now historically, the discovery rather mirrors the increase in Egyptian trade during 24th-23rd century BC, a thriving maritime scope which extended to the exchange of high-value items like ebony, myrrh, frankincense, gold, and copper. To that end, the archaeologists did identify goods inside a storehouse that were possibly sourced from King Isesi’s famous royal expeditions to Wadi Al-Maghara in South Sinai.

Historically, it is also known that King Isesi funded an expedition that went along the length of the Red Sea to the Kingdom of Punt, which may have pertained to present-day Somalia. The endeavor was aimed at establishing trade-based supplies of non-native luxury items like ivory and aromatic resins. In that regard, the aforementioned Fifth Dynasty site also contained the official list of the names of the workers and miners who participated in the incredible excavation, including the leader of the sementiu (a group of royal prospectors). This was complemented by the fragments of Nubian pottery and shells that originated from the Red Sea areas. Nadine Moeller, associate professor of Egyptian archaeology and the co-leader of the excavation, said –

It’s just about this time that the Egyptian royalty, until then focused on the northern area directly around the capital Memphis, began to expand its reach after a period of contraction during the fourth and much of the fifth dynasties. This is a first sign that the ancient city of Edfu was evolving into an important departure point for large expeditions leaving for the Eastern desert regions, and possibly the Red Sea shore, located about 125 miles to the east.


Credit: G. Marouard

And lastly, the ancient Egyptian site at Tell Edfu also retains its fair share of mysteries. For example, one of the aforementioned large buildings of the royal administration displays an outer facade with a unique gradient. Gregory Marouard, an Oriental research associate and the other co-leader of the ongoing excavation, said –

It’s very well-constructed and so the slope is certainly intentional, which highlights the architectural peculiarity of this monument. We don’t know of any other structure within an urban context in Egypt that looks like this.

Furthermore, even after the settlement was abandoned, its massive, eight-foot-thick walls along with the still-standing wooden door to the complex, were never stripped and re-purposed, as was the conventional practice. This fascinating case of ‘non-interference’ possibly had to do with the cultic significance of the area, especially since the structures were constructed pretty close to the main temple of the site. Moeller added –

It’s such a unique site. We’ve had a hard time finding architectural parallels because no other settlement in Upper Egypt has such extensive remains from this time period. We’ve learned so much at Tell Edfu, and there’s still more to come.


Source: University of Chicago