Egypt's Most Ancient Desert Fortress Uncovered in Sinai
In Egypt, the Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities has announced a major discovery in Sinai. Dr. Moustafa Waziri has announced that an Egyptian team of archaeologists has unearthed a two towers of a castle or fortified structure that dates from the 26 th Dynasty. The find is important as it will not only enable a greater understanding of the development of Egyptian fortresses but also provide insights into the strategic importance of the Sinai region in ancient times.
The discovery was made in the north of Sinai at a site that is known as Tell El-Kadwa. The Sinai Peninsula was very important to the defense of Ancient Egypt as it was a frontier area where the pharaoh’s army would attempt to halt any invasion from the area that is now Israel. There is evidence that successive pharaoh’s built many forts in the desert region to protect the Egyptian heartland from invasion. According to the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research , the Ancient Egyptians had established an ‘eastern frontier defense network’ in Sinai since at least the Middle Kingdom .
According to the ministry facebook, this fort represents ‘Egypt’s eastern gate, and the only fortress in control of the entry and exit process during the Zionist era’.
Spear heads found at the fortress site in Sinai ( Ministry of Antiquities )
Walls and towers of a great fort
The latest excavation has found ‘the remains of the towers of the ancient castle, as well as its southern wall’ according to the Luxor Times . This site extends for some 240 feet (84 m) and is located on an eminence (raised ground). The castle is believed to have had some 16 towers built of mud brick and is at least 2,500 years old.
The experts also unearthed many rooms in the fort that are filled with debris, earth, and sand, which was possibly to buttress the walls and to reinforce them. It has also been suggested that they may have been used to store water . The Luxor Times also reports that archaeologists have uncovered an ‘entrance to the castle, which is a side gate located in the north-eastern part of the discovered wall’. A chamber near the entrance where members of the garrison probably monitored people entering and leaving the fort was also revealed during the dig.
Some mud-brick houses that were built against one of the fort’s curtain walls were also excavated. A quartz amulet was found near one of these former dwellings and it was inscribed with the name of a 26 th Dynasty pharaoh. The monarch named on the talisman is King Psmatik I, who was a member of the Saite Dynasty the last native-born pharaohs to rule Egypt.
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An amulet with the name King Psmatik I was found. ( Ministry of Antiquities )
The Saite Dynasty
The Saite Pharaohs had originated in the city of Sais and they had come to prominence after the Assyrian invasion and occupation of Egypt. Psmatik I had expelled the brutal Assyrians and reasserted Egyptian independence c. 610 BC. His family ruled the country, mostly successfully, until the Persians invaded and deposed the last Saite Pharaoh, Psmatik III in 525 BC.
This castle was built on the ruins of an earlier one that is considered to be the oldest one yet found in this part of Egypt. The Luxor Times quotes the head of the Department of Lower Egypt Antiquities, Nadia Khedr, as saying “the walls of the old castle were near 7 meters in width, compared with 11-meter wide walls of the most recent one”. The later castle had sixteen towers compared to the earlier one which only had four. The differences between the two forts are helping archaeologists to understand the evolution of ancient Egyptian castle building over the centuries.
There is evidence that Tell El-Kadwa fort had come under a sustained siege and that at some point its walls were mostly destroyed. This may have occurred during the Persian invasion of 525 BC. The team are continuing their excavations and they hope to discover more about the construction of the fort. It is hoped that the project will help to generate interest in the Sinai and encourage more tourists to visit the area.
Top image: Excavation site of fortress in Sinai Source: Ministry of Antiquities
By Ed Whelan