Ancient fortress city unearthed in Egypt

Image: Mud brick foundation
The mud brick foundation of an ancient palace has been unearthed near the Suez Canal, Egypt's minister of culture announced. Tell Dafna was long known to be a strategic outpost against Egypt's enemies.Supreme Council of Antiquities
/ Source: Discovery Channel

Egyptian archaeologists digging near the Suez Canal have discovered the remains of what is believed to be the largest fortress in the eastern Delta, Egyptian Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni announced.

Located at the site of Tell Dafna, between El-Manzala Lake and the Suez Canal, the remains reveal the foundation of a military town about 9 miles (15 kilometers) northeast of the city of western Qantara.

"The fortress covers an area of about 380 by 625 meters (1,247 by 2,051 feet), while the enclosure wall is about 13 meters (43 feet) in width," Mohamed Abdel Maqsoud, head of the Central Department of Lower Egyptian Antiquities and the director of the mission, said in a statement.

The discovery shouldn't come as a surprise; Tell Dafna was long known to be a strategic outpost against Egypt's enemies. King Ramses II of the 19th Dynasty (1279-1212 B.C.) chose the site to erect a fortress. King Psammetichus I, the first ruler of the 26th Dynasty (664-625 B.C.), later established a garrison of foreign mercenaries to defend the eastern borders of Egypt from invaders.

Dating to the 7th century B.C., the foundations unearthed by the archaeologists most likely belonged to Psammetichus I's fortified garrison town.

One of the forts on the "Ways of Horus," an ancient military and trade route that connected Egypt with the East, Daphnae is mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus (484-425 B.C.), who described it as Psammetichus I's guard post "against the Arabians and Assyrians."

First excavated in 1886 by the English Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who recognized it as Psammetichus I's camp for Greek mercenaries, the desert site has since been flattened by wind erosion, which left the archaeological remains originally unearthed by Petrie barely visible.

"The new fieldwork at the site by Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities is most valuable at this time, particularly in that it is rescuing one of the sites of the Delta endangered by development and environmental factors, " Jeffrey Spencer, deputy keeper at the British Museum's department of ancient Egypt and Sudan, told Discovery News.

The author of several books on ancient Egypt, Spencer has been directing a British Museum research project at the site, which focuses on a reinterpretation of Petrie's excavation and the discoveries he made, which are now on display in various museums, including the British Museum.

"We are looking into the connections between Egyptian and archaic Greek remains," Spencer said.

The recent excavation work has added plenty of material for further research.

The discovery of arrowheads at the excavation site bolsters the case that the city was used as a military garrison.

The Egyptian mission unearthed a huge number of pottery vessels, as well as local and imported pottery lids. The group also uncovered a white plate inscribed with Demotic text, some red and black decorated amphora, a group of stones used for grinding seeds, an amulet and parts of alabaster kohl pots. These finds reflect the large-scale trade activity among ancient Egypt, the Near East and Greece.

Moreover, many bronze arrowheads emerged from the desert sand, reinforcing the idea that the site served a military purpose.

Maksoud's team also discovered a group of drainage networks for rain water, made of pottery tunnels that ended with a group of pottery vessels buried vertically in the sand to a depth of about 10 feet (3 meters).

Most significantly, the team found a large mud-brick temple, consisting of three halls. A group of storage magazines was built at the eastern and western sides of the temple. A small mud-brick palace made up of eight rooms was also discovered at the northeast side of the temple.

According to Spencer, the discovery of the temple opens the door for a new interpretation of the site.

"The existence of a temple within a large enclosure suggests that this was in part an Egyptian temple-town. Located as it was on the eastern frontier of Egypt, it also had a strategic role guarding the Pelusiac branch of the Nile and must have possessed an appropriate garrison," Spencer said.

Excavation work at the site will continue in 2010.

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