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Doorway to Tomb 14, interior.

Previously Unreported New Kingdom Necropolis Revealed in Egypt

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Dozens of tombs have been discovered by archaeologists working in Gebel el-Silsila in Egypt. Bones of men, women, and children of all ages have all been found in the rock-cut tombs. The necropolis is believed to be 3,400 years old and suggests that the site was more of a permanent settlement than previously believed.

The site, which was known in ancient times as Khenu (the Place of Rowing), is located 65 km (40 miles) north of Aswan. It was a special location for its sandstone quarries on both sides of the Nile. Stressing the importance of the site, Discovery News says that “Blocks used in building almost all of ancient Egypt’s great temples were cut from there.”

As Ancient Origins reported in 2015 when two shrines were discovered: “It is known for its impressive stelae and cenotaphs and many types of ancient graffiti, including inscriptions in hieroglyphics, hieratic, demotic and also Greek and Latin. The site has petroglyphs and elaborate pictographs, as well as painted and carved art from prehistory through to many later periods.”

An 1845 drawing of a stele of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) from Gebel el-Silsila. King is shown adoring Amun-Re.

An 1845 drawing of a stele of Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten) from Gebel el-Silsila. King is shown adoring Amun-Re. (Public Domain)

The Gebel el-Silsila project website reports that the researchers knew of the necropolis for some time, but had waited to excavate until the threat of “rising ground water with highly destructive salt contents” and a larger team to work on the site urged them to get to work.

They say on the website that there are over 40 tombs and a small shrine that have been found in the “remarkable New Kingdom necropolis with archaeological material dating from the early 18th dynasty and indications of re-use throughout the 19th dynasty.”

Lund University archaeologist Maria Nilsson, director of the Gebel el Silsila Survey Project, told Discovery News that “Many tombs are in bad condition. They have suffered from heavy erosion and extreme decay due to the rising water and its high salt contents.” As a way to counter the negative effects of the environment, the team has focused on cleaning a small selection of the tombs for now.

The project website describes the tombs, saying that they:

“consist of one to two undecorated rock-cut chambers, with one or more crypts cut into the bed rock floors, some preserved with remains of their original lid. The entrance of the tombs consist of a squared semi-dressed aperture that incorporate a vertical slot to either door jamb that would have facilitated a portcullis type of closure. The tombs are generally accessed via a series of steps that descend into a rough-cut squared chamber.”

Tomb 2, exterior.

Tomb 2, exterior. (The Gebel el Silsila Survey Project 2016)

As for the identity of the owners of the tombs, the project website says “Due to the lack of exterior or interior decoration, the identity of the persons buried remains unknown at this time.” Nonetheless, “fragments of detailed, painted mud-plaster indicate decorated coffins, which together with fragments of mummy wrapping and various beads and amulets suggest individuals of considerable status.”

“However, the higher officials, viziers and such that were active at Silsila were buried in Thebes, so it is likely that the people entombed in the rock-cut graves belong to the level just below the officials. We are still studying this.” [via Discovery News]

Two of the more notable artifacts that have been found are a reversible seal ring with the cartouche of Pharaoh Thutmosis III “Men-kheper-re” and a scarab that also has the pharaoh’s name. The text on the seal’s reverse is currently being studied by the team's Egyptologists.

Seal: cartouche of Thutmosis III (Men-Kheper-Re) and scarab with the cartouche of Thutmosis III.

Seal: cartouche of Thutmosis III (Men-Kheper-Re) and scarab with the cartouche of Thutmosis III. (Gebel el Silsila Project)

The initial report of the necropolis also says that the tombs were looted during antiquity and again in the 19th century. The annual floods and sand entering the tombs also led to the discovery of “disturbed layers containing foremost pottery, bones, some beads and Nile silt, mixed with animal remains including crocodile scutes.” The pottery is said to be a collection of “traditional New Kingdom funerary ware, including storage vessels, beer jugs, and a selection of votive vessels”

As for the shrine, the report describes it as a small rock-cut sanctuary that is located on the banks of the Nile. It has two chambers that face the river and decorated walls as well as an inner doorway that is topped with a solar disc. Work will continue on the shrine and the rest of the necropolis in the following seasons.

Featured Image: Doorway to Tomb 14, interior. Source: Gebel el Silsila Project

By Alicia McDermott

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Alicia McDermott holds degrees in Anthropology, Psychology, and International Development Studies and has worked in various fields such as education, anthropology, and tourism. Traveling throughout Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador, Alicia has focused much of her research on Andean cultures... Read More

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