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One of the two shrines with statues, this one showing a couple who are not identified by inscriptions at the site.

Two 3,400-Year-Old Shrines with Statues discovered at Egyptian Quarry Site

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Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered some statues of two families in shrines that researchers previously thought were destroyed by an earthquake in ancient times. They made the find at Gebel el Silsila, the site of a quarry on both banks of the Nile River, whose rock was used in most of the great temples of ancient Egypt.

The site of Gebel el Silsila, Egypt

The site of Gebel el Silsila, Egypt (public domain)

One of the statues, described as the best-preserved cenotaph at Gebel el Silsila, depicts an ancient Egyptian official named Neferkhewe and his wife, Ruiuresti, and their two children. An inscription near the statues describes Neferkhewe as overseer of the foreign lands and chief of the medjay. The medjay was what the ancient Egyptians called southern Sudan. He served under King Thutmosis III, who reigned from 1479 to 1426 BC.

A cenotaph is a monument to people whose remains are buried elsewhere.

The other two life-sized statues depict an unknown man and woman seated on a couch facing each other, says an article in Discovery reporting on the work of two Swedish and several Egyptian archaeologists.

The shrine depicting Neferkhewe and his family

The shrine depicting Neferkhewe and his family (Photo by the Gebel el Silsila Project)

The statue of the man shows large, protruding ears and large lips and nose. He also has sunken eyes, and his arms are crossed on his chest in what Egyptologists calls the Osirian pose. He is shown with a shoulder-length wig. The woman has similarly pronounced features and is embracing the man. One of her arms is on his shoulder and the other is across her chest.

Neferkhewe also was depicted in the Osirian pose.

Architectural features of both shrines are preserved despite centuries of wear and being submerged in water and silt by the flooding of the nearby Nile River. Neferkhewe’s shrine, Shrine 31, has all of its architectural details, Discovery says, including the dressed walls, door jambs, floor and threshold. The other couple’s shrine, Shrine 30, retains the doorway with its threshold, lintel, door jamb, interior walls and ceiling.

The site of Gebel el Silsila from a Nile river boat

The site of Gebel el Silsila from a Nile river boat (Dennis Jarvis/Wikimedia Commons)

Ancient Origins reported earlier in 2015 that the site of Gebel el Silsila had been largely untouched in modern times, though it has been visited a lot, since Napoleonic researchers went there in the early 19 th century. Two archaeologists did minor excavations in the late 19 th century and another did work in the early 20 th century. The work now underway took up where R.A. Caminos’ work of the early 20 th century left off. The present-day archaeologists are doing a comprehensive survey and are trying to document the site’s less spectacular features, says the website of The American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE).

Archaeologists began work on the east bank in 2012. The ARCE site says the east bank gives unique insight into views and daily activities of quarry workers, including their expression of religious and superstitious beliefs as written on quarry walls. Researchers intend to explore and document every square inch of the exposed quarry surface. In the first season alone they recorded almost 3,000 quarry marks and 500 textual inscriptions.

The site of Gebel el Silsila

The site of Gebel el Silsila (public domain)

The site, known in ancient times as Khenu (the Place of Rowing), is 65 km (40 miles) north of Aswan. It is on the east and west sides of the Nile at the narrowest point of the river. 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.

The sandstone quarries are about 2.5 to 3 km (1.6 to 1.86 miles) on both sides of the Nile and show a variety of extraction and transportation techniques. The quarrying techniques and technology changed over time and are part of the recent studies.

A Swedish mission from Lund University with chief Maria Nilsson and John Ward found shrines 30 and 31. They are working with the inspectorate of Kom Ombo under Abd el Menum and the inspectorate of Aswan under Nasr Salama. The Gebel el Silsila Survey Project has a brief report and more photos on the shrines and many other blogs and photos about their work here.

Featured image: One of the two shrines with statues, this one showing a couple who are not identified by inscriptions at the site. (Photo by the Gelel El Silsila Project)

By: Mark Miller

Mark Miller's picture


Mark Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism and is a former newspaper and magazine writer and copy editor who's long been interested in anthropology, mythology and ancient history. His hobbies are writing and drawing.

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