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Archaeologists make unique discoveries in Egypt

Photo: Gebel el Silsila Survey Project

A team of archaeologists in Egypt has made a number of exceptional discoveries, including a stela – a relief design carved into a stone wall – with what are believed to be 2500-year-old inscriptions. The project is led by Maria Nilsson from Lund University in Sweden.

“What is unique about the stela is that it shows the gods Amun-Ra and Toth together. These two deities are rarely represented together”, says Maria Nilsson. “We believe that the combination is related to a connection with the moon. Our research indicates the existence of a previously unexamined moon cult”, she continues.

The international Swedish-led research project, the Gebel el Silsila Survey Project, has been underway since 2012 and involves around 15 researchers. Gebel el Silsila is a stone quarry outside the city of Aswan, 850 km south of Cairo. The quarry supplied the stone for sites such as Luxor and other temple constructions in southern Egypt.

Photo: Gebel el Silsila Survey Project

Another interesting find is that of two physical obelisks made of sandstone, abandoned in their original location due to a crack which appeared during the stone-cutting process. Researchers were familiar with the famous obelisks present in the Aswan quarry, but Maria Nilsson’s team has now found two more.

A different, but somewhat related find includes two engraved obelisks are represented in an image inside the famous monument of the Speos of Horemheb.

“What is spectacular about this find is that the scene is visible through a second scene which was engraved on top of it, and through stylistic comparisons we believe the underlying scene, showing a boat transporting obelisks, to be from the early 18th dynasty, possibly from the time of the famous female pharaoh Hatshepsut”, explains Maria Nilsson.

Previous research teams that have worked in the quarry have thought that the location did not contain any significant Prehistoric remains.

“We have found over 60 Rock Art sites with the flint tools used there, and documented around 5000 quarry marks and 800 texts since we started in 2012. We have refuted previous observations and thereby re-written the history of the location”, says Maria Nilsson.

Besides the head of the research team, Maria Nilsson, two other researchers from Lund University have taken part in the fieldwork of the previous autumn – Stefan Lindgren at Lund University’s Humanities Laboratory and Giacomo Landeschi from the Department of Archaeology and Ancient History. They have worked with photographic technology that generates 3D reconstructions of monuments. This technology allows us to interpret the remains in various lights and from various angles, making it easier to discover details that are not visible to the naked eye.

The objectives of the project in Gebel el Silsila include comprehensively documenting, categorising and analysing engravings (quarry markings) for the first time to find out more about who was responsible for these markings and why they were created.

“For people in Antiquity, this was more than a mere workplace. Religion was a natural part of their lives and everything they did was protected by the gods. The stelae, the engraved reliefs, are an example of an offering by the workers of the time to the gods, partly as an expression of gratitude that nobody was injured during the work”, says Maria Nilsson.

What happens next?

”Many more discoveries remain to be made. For example, we would like to find stone carving tools in order to learn more about the workers”, says Maria Nilsson, who is looking forward to a further 20 years or so of research in the area, as long as the funding lasts.

More information about the research project

The project’s blog