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Archaeologists Detect Mystery Late Inhabitant Of Scottish Ghost Village



Archaeologists Detect Mystery Late Inhabitant of Scottish Ghost Village
Photo Credit: UNAVCO

Some villages vanish and never return. Others die but are reborn. What can explain these differences? Archaeologists excavating on the Shetland Northern Atlantic subarctic archipelago, located in the Northern Isles of Scotland, have presented details about a Scottish ghost village that was abandoned after being buried in sand more than 300 years ago. Their discoveries also included a mysterious person, or people, who dug out a new home in what had become a Scottish ghost village. But why would someone or some people return to a place that had been submerged by sand and abandoned?

Shetland is an ancient archaeological treasure trove that is home to over 6,000 years of archaeology, with over 8000 sites recorded in the Sites and Monuments Record. The settlement of Broo, the name of the Scottish ghost village, with only four houses, is situated in the south west of the mainland. It was abandoned in late 1690s during the Little Ice Age (1300-1870). It has long been understood that encroaching sand deposits forced out the residents of Broo. However, newly discovered evidence has determined that someone, or some group, returned to the site where they dug out a new home in one of the otherwise abandoned sand-filled properties.

Scottish Ghost Village Surroundings Became Like A Northern Desert

The area around the Scottish ghost village of Broo is sometimes referred to as the “Arabian Desert of the North.” Archaeologists working at Broo have excavated beneath the sand to a depth of more than 6 feet (2 meters). And at this depth, they found what appears to be the main house of the Broo settlement, and three other smaller buildings. Dr Gerry Bigelow of the Shetland Islands Climate and Settlement Project working with the Archaeology Institute of the University of Highlands and Islands told The Scotsman that he and his team had to dig through two meters of sand to get to the original levels of the township and that it “really is very dramatic when you see what is there.”

The remains of one of the dwellings unearthed in the Scottish ghost village of Broo. (UNAVCO)

According to a report in Archaeology, the Broo diggers found a wide range of artifacts at the Scottish ghost village site. These included a clay pipe, pottery fragments, animal bones, coins and, believe it or now, “ elephant artifacts.” The elephant artifacts were probably owned by the wealthy Sinclair family, who were the leaders of Broo, until it was abandoned.

Why Did Someone Return To The Scottish Ghost Village?

The story of Broo tells the tale of struggle and survival on a bleak and unforgiving wind-torn island. However, after Broo became a Scottish ghost village, others may have returned to live there again. Based on the findings of the archaeologists, the person or people who returned to Broo converted a submerged outbuilding into a living space. And they built a staircase for getting over the newly formed sand dunes that surrounded the settlement, effectively breathing new life into the ghost village of Broo.

Dr Bigelow said that for this person or people, who returned to the Scottish ghost village after its original residents had fled, “life must have been pretty grim.” He said they would have had to climb out of the house onto a landscape that keeps rising, and that they did not abandon this new house until the sand “reached the eaves of the roof.”

It is currently unknown who returned to Broo, or why they chose to live like rabbits in a sandy hole, surrounded by a sand-washed arid landscape. But the evidence that someone did return to Broo after it was abandoned indicates that something about Broo “must have had value to someone.”

The sand dunes on a northern Scottish island. It was sand that “killed” the Scottish ghost village of Broo during the Little Ice Age. (Anneke / Adobe Stock)
Scottish Ghost Village Was Likely “Killed” By Climate Change

Dr Bigelow is scheduled to host an online lecture on October 30, 2020 to discuss the Broo findings. In addition to discussing why the Scottish ghost village was abandoned, he will also try to explain how sand also buried the nearby Quendale community, located about 1.2 miles (2 kilometres) inland from the sea. The findings point to effects off climate change, especially during the “Little Ice Age of 1645 to 1715,” when Scotland was 2.7-3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius) cooler than it is today.

According to a paper on the “Little Ice Age of 1645 to 1715” was caused by changes in ocean currents. In fact, the warm water Gulf Stream almost vanished during the so-called Little Ice Age. Dr Gerry Bigelow thinks that humans adapted to these changing landscapes during the Little Ice Age in such a way “that made them vulnerable to storms.” He suggests the islanders may have been growing oats in sand, or perhaps rabbits destroyed the protective dune system.” This is an interesting story and in the future archaeologists hope to learn more from the Scottish ghost village that miraculously came back to life!

This article (Archaeologists Detect Mystery Late Inhabitant Of Scottish Ghost Village) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Melting Stone With Plants: Was The Mythical ‘Green Chisel’ A Real Ancient Tool?



Melting Stone With Plants: Was the Mythical 'Green Chisel' A Real Ancient Tool?
Photo Credit: Anjocreatif

Archaeology is not an exact science. It is full of doubts, uncertainties, surprises, and unanswered questions. One of its unsolved mysteries concerns the methods of ancient stone work, which is lost in the mists of time. All existing stones, listed in the Mohs Scale according to their hardness – from the 1st degree (softest, talc), to the 10th (hardest, diamond) – are workable with tools made of something harder than them. This means they are worked and altered with a mineral tool with a higher degree of hardness, or more often with a metal tool.

From the 1st to the 6th degree (mostly calcareous stones), copper or bronze tools are enough. But for stones from the 7th upwards (much harder and mostly siliceous) we need iron or steel tools. In this article, we are interested in the examples of how ancient stoneworkers worked the oldest, hardest stones.

Why the Hardest Stones?

Many of these finds date back to periods or geographical contexts where iron did not exist: i.e. in the Old World before 1200 BC and in the New World before the Conquest. Nevertheless, surprisingly, just the hardest stones were used by ancient peoples in those situations – and with great skill and extremely sophisticated workmanship. Indeed, it seems that they were even preferred, despite the difficulties in working them (during which, moreover, they can chip badly). It was as if shaping them was commonplace for the ancient stonemasons.

We have emeralds, quartzes, obsidian jewels, and amulets with very fine incisions and carvings; slender vases in syenite with very thin sides with a smooth, impeccable finish; the cup of King Narmer, in porphyry; diorite tablets with bas-reliefs on a perfectly smooth background, and long texts in minute hieroglyphic or cuneiform characters, traced with perfect graphics, without smudges, as if they had been stamped rather than carved.

And then there’s the disquieting geometries in diorite of Puma Punku, of maniacal rigor and the incredible puzzles of the Peruvian walls (and Egyptian and Japanese walls too), with millimetre-precision junctions between the immense andesite blocks with 20, 30, or even 40 corners. There are also basaltic boulders three meters high as the grandiose Olmec heads. The 70-ton granite blocks with very clear cuts, that were emptied to create the sarcophagi of the Serapeum of Saqqara, whose even the internal surfaces are as smooth as the outer ones, are another marvel. The shiny cylinders of ‘carrots’ also appear to be dug into granite by drills that seemed to have been as fast as their modern counterparts.

All this work was done by ancient stonemasons on hard siliceous rocks – up to the 8th or 9th degree of the Hardness Scale.

They made vases with smooth finishes and bas-reliefs without smudges, as if they had been stamped rather than carved. (Heagy1 / CC BY-SA 4.0)

None of this, in theory, was feasible by just muscular strength and with the ancient tools in the archaeological record. The stone workers apparently manipulated hard stone with a high degree of skill – but they were without strong saws, bits, special steel drills, and motor-powered tools. It simply seems impossible. But how did they do it? With what?

Inferences and Theories

Obviously, that inexplicable technical perfection has generated a lot of inferences and theories of every kind, many of which arbitrarily transpose means, methods, and knowledge of today into the most distant past. We see a hypothesis suggesting stone was ground, mixed with water, and cast into molds (with a disproportionate expenditure of energy). In another one, the stone is said to be softened by a mix of sour plant juices and shaped, then it would harden.

Other suggestions say the ancient people used lasers, radioactivity and so on, or that they had very advanced machines provided by a mysterious lost civilization. And, of course, there’s the hypothesis that the work was done with the assistance of aliens. But no evidence has ever been found for such devices.

To this technological enigma, excluding fanciful speculations, I intend to offer an explanation in line with ‘Occam’s razor’: with all factors being equal, the solution to a problem is the simplest one.

Using Acid to Work the Hardest Stones

The thesis is that the only practical system available to act on the mentioned minerals, refractory to (or unmanageable by) physical action, was chemistry – specifically exploiting the natural capacity of certain elements to break down other materials due to their incompatibility; incompatible chemical principles put in contact with each other will react by destroying each other. That is, to cause a guided reaction, and to stop it at the right time: the stone would be disintegrated by treating it with a corrosive substance (one incompatible with it) that chemically attacked it, instead of, or before tools were used on it.

In short, an acidic chemical would do most (or part) of the work necessary to produce the desired effect – all while saving time, effort, and material. This, as we shall see, was entirely within the reach of the ancient craftsmen, even if it is not clear how they came to understand that natural phenomenon and its possible advantageous uses.

The fact is that this intuition was, apparently, operatively implemented, and in a very simple and not at all mysterious way. Because – unlike other proposed solutions – the acid does not change the structure of the stone, but literally liquefies it and, if carefully managed, it can eliminate from a block all the superfluous parts (or materials) not included in the project design.

Acid-Washed Stone – a common treatment to show the beauty of a stone without cutting and polishing. (cobalt123 / CC BY-SA 2.0)

The difference compared to manual tools is that it does it without friction – it’s done at the atomic level . That’s all.

We have both direct (material) and indirect (immaterial) clues of the reliability of this hypothesis.

Direct clues are the concrete evidence of the use of that method in artifacts and buildings. The results of the process described above are stunning when they are observed with the naked eye.

But I have no doubt that when they are enlarged under a microscope they would show the uniformity of a ‘controlled dissolution’ made by an acid even in the hardest parts of the stone to reach. This is in contrast to scratches which would have been made by metal tools. As a ‘chemical chisel,’ acid can creep everywhere.

As I said above, there is no archaeological evidence for modern technologies and tools used in the ancient past. But acid has always existed in nature. If we wanted to, we could still use it today.

With it, we could – drop by drop – engrave and pierce precious stones, create the empty cavity of a vase and smooth its sides, model statues, and even make coffins out of huge granite blocks. Layer by layer the acid would consume the inside of the stone and smooth it; or, if we wanted to mark it instead, we could cover it with a film of wax (which doesn’t react to it), scratch away the wax in areas we wanted to mark the stone, and then pour acid on those areas.

This could explain how Moses engraved the Tables of the Law, as the Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 48b,  describes how Shamìr is used to cut stone. To write on stone at that time, it would make sense that Moses used the same method of first marking the letters with ink, then passing Shamìr over them, and then they were engraved.

Did Moses engrave the Tables of the Law with acid? (James Steidl / Adobe)

By penetrating natural fissures with acid, we could remove boulders from their rocky bed and cut them as we wish. And maybe we could use it in the building industry in the form of a corrosive paste or mortar which disappeared after having eaten away the roughness and smoothed away the differences in height between boulders. It would eliminate the space needed for joints and give the structure the appearance of a dry-stone wall.

I believe this was the only way that it was possible for the ancient stonemasons to work very hard silicon-based stones. It would also be used for softer stones like limestone, marble, and alabaster, since the same acid also attacks all other types of stone. Indeed it attacks every material except gold, lead, and wax.

For us, it is important because it is the only natural solvent for silicon – and that aspect allows us to identify it with certainty because there is nothing else capable of so much. It is hydrofluoric acid (chemical symbol HF), one of the most aggressive, extremely reactive, caustic, and poisonous chemicals. The ancient stonemasons used that. That was their secret tool.

Sourcing the Secret Stonework Tool

But how did they get it? What did they extract it from?

Indirect clues will indicate its origin. Ancient legends speak of a magical ‘something’ that could weaken or destroy every type of stone: a ‘something’ that, from time immemorial, was reserved for the mighty ones and unknown to everyone else. But at a certain moment, it was replaced by iron, abandoned, and eventually forgotten. That’s how things happened in the Old World at least; in the New one, history handed it over to oblivion.

There isn’t much to tell though.

There is a transient reference to the ‘farr’ of Persian king Zal which was a symbol of his celestial investiture, which acted as HF. Another, no less scanty reference mentions an obscure ‘plant mixture’ conceived by Egyptian scholars to soften stone. This was perhaps the same ‘unknown cement’ that was thick as a sheet of paper and that the Arab scholar Abd el-Latif (12th century) said connected the stones of the Great Pyramid, in which some ‘plant residues’ have recently been found. This is all from Egypt, although there traces of the technique abound.

Instead, we find a lot of data (certainly from Egyptian sources) in myths and texts, including the Bible, of ancient Israel, however there this discovery – a gift of God, which later disappeared – was only used twice. The Jews called it Shamir.

Was unknown cement used in the construction of the Great Pyramid? (primavera108 / Adobe)

The first time Shamir was used was to engrave the Tables of the Law and the names of the 12 tribes on the gems of priestly vestments. The second time was to cut the stones of the Temple of Solomon as God commanded: these were calcareous stones, but the gems were almost all siliceous, which confirms that Moses used hydrofluoric acid – Shamìr.

The description of its appearance is rather vague and ambiguous, but its behavior isn’t. It worked the hardest stones and left perfect, smooth, residue-free surfaces; it had to be kept in a lead basket (an airtight vase would have exploded), and insulated with wool and bran; it had heavy collateral effects (it scalded Moses and poisoned and killed the Temple workers); in the long run it became inactive.

This is the unequivocal picture of the action of that powerful acid, but it does not help us to understand its origin and nature.

Excluding that it was, as hypothesized, mineral (diamond) or animal (worm), maybe it was plant-based?

Some writings related to Shamìr warn not to identify it with Euforbia, a stinging shrub; but why would they do that, if not because it was also a plant? And unfortunately, the information stops there.

Connecting Shamír and the Pito of Peru

But the astonishing answer comes, unexpectedly, from distant Peru, where oral tradition says ever since the ‘ancients’ started to assemble the stones of their huge walls, they used the mysterious Pito, a plant that was described as a low creeping grass with red leaves.

The tradition affirms that Pito or, rather, it’s extract, is capable of melting every stone (the explorer Percy Fawcett talks about an amphora stolen from an Inca tomb, incidentally broken, and of how the liquid leaked out and dissolved the stone below) and iron too. It also declares that – as God had given Israel Shamir to work on the Temple – the local gods had once given men, in order to alleviate their labors, two plants: coca and Pito; not to be confused, however, with the caustic Efedra. Does it remind us of something?

Archaeologists still argue as to how the precise stonework found in places such as Cusco in Peru was achieved. (CC BY 2.0)

Jewish myths mention a wild rooster that used Shamìr to make many small holes in rocks in which to plant trees. In Peru they also associate Pito with a bird which, according to several witnesses, is accustomed to rubbing the leaves of the plant onto rocks with its beak: this softens the stone, in which then it digs itself a nest.

But there’s more. The wild rooster also used Shamìr to erode the glass slab placed upon its nest covering its little ones and the Peruvian bird did exactly the same with the Pito herb, but that slab was made of iron.

These similar narratives cannot be pure coincidence. In different contexts, these birds are apparently using two distinct corrosive chemical agents which act in exactly the same way in the stories. So, on both sides of the ocean, we have two elements with common characteristics and the same range of action: the unique capacity to attack silicon.

And now everything can be reduced to a simple syllogism: if two factors have the same effect on a third, it means that they are equal. Even the legends tell the same story. In short, the active component of Pito and Shamìr was the same.

Moreover, from the descriptions we have established that Shamir was HF and that Pito was a plant; therefore HF was derived from a plant. Ultimately both those substances – Pito and Shamìr – were actually only one with the same formula: hydrofluoric acid, HF, which was extracted from plants. However, they were probably not of the same species because the same plants do not grow in the two geographical areas.

But it is also true that over 40 plants of various species have high contents of the poisonous HF, which they absorb from soil and synthesize, to protect themselves from herbivores, in the form of a compound called fluoroacetic acid.

And to extract hydrofluoric acid from fluoroacetic acid is no more difficult than to make tea: you just have to boil the plant in water, distill the solution, and then concentrate it. HF dissolved in water is manageable, very carefully, at room temperature.

Shamìr/Pito: Continents Apart, Techniques in Common

At this point it is relevant to identify Shamìr and Pito with the richest HF spontaneous plants.

The most probable suspects are Dichapetalum in Africa and Palicourea in South America (coincidentally, the areas of our interest). Both of them are not very attractive and of little economic value, having no known uses (only as a rat poison for Dichapetalum). Today they are not the object of any particular attention.

But, in the mists of time, the discovery of their special virtue, exploited in various ways according to their availability and needs, enabled the first civilizations to create and advance in epigraphy, sculpture, and architecture.

In Peru and Bolivia, where Palicourea abounds, it was used directly and in abundance in the pre-Inca building industry. In Egypt and outside Africa, I believe that only the acid derived from Dichapetalum was used to carry out smaller, expensive works.

Dichapetalum plant. (Vinayaraj / CC BY-SA 3.0 

Who by, where, and when that precious resource was identified is not known and the “how” is perhaps trivial. Maybe the ancient peoples really noticed what the birds were doing or they saw the action of the plants themselves. Regardless, ancient craftsmen learned from experience, and, as they had learned to use fire, water, and wind energy, they also discovered plant or animal juices that melted stones, healed, or killed. They observed that strength, realized its potential, and put it to good use.

Yet the real mystery is not how that knowledge was acquired, nor who transmitted it to whom, but how it travelled between such distant continents. Because, if it is impossible to believe in a coincidence like that shown by myths, it is equally impossible to understand its path unless we rethink the past on very different terms. But this is another story to be investigated elsewhere.

I wish I could demonstrate the validity of this hypothesis by giving it proof and concrete and irrefutable evidence. Modern science can do it. I would like those who have asked the same questions about these mysteries to join me in this research and finally give credit to the skills and knowledge of those who preceded us.

This article (Melting Stone With Plants: Was the Mythical ‘Green Chisel’ A Real Ancient Tool?) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Adam’s Calendar: Oldest Megalithic Site In The World?


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Adam’s Calendar is controversially suggested to be the oldest man-made structure in the world. Sometimes referred to as “African Stonehenge“, it predates both Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza by tens of thousands of years. Located in Mpumalanga, South Africa it is a standing stone circle about 30 meters in diameter and has been estimated by some accounts to be more than 75,000 years old. Various astronomical alignments have been identified at the site and it is possibly the only example of a completely functional, mostly intact megalithic stone calendar in the world.

Adam’s calendar is location in Mpumalanga, a picturesque region in South Africa (Wikimedia Commons)

Scattered throughout the mountains of South Africa are thousands of stone circle ruins. The first estimates of the number of these ruins was made in 1891 by English explorer Theodore Bent. He estimated there were about 4,000 in this area of the world. By 1974 the estimate had risen to 20,000. Today, researcher and authority on the subject, Michael Tellinger, has estimated the number of ancient stone ruins to be 100,000 or possibly much higher. Some of these “stone circles” have no doors or entrances while most are connected by an expansive network of channels that are often misinterpreted as “roads” by some historians. This connected grid of circular ruins are immersed in a seemingly never-ending expanse of ancient agricultural terraces surrounding the structures. Adam’s Calendar is considered to be the most famous among these ruins.

Screenshot from Google Earth showing just a tiny area in South Africa, which is rich with ancient earthworks and stone structures (Google Earth)

Known by African elders, as the “The Birthplace of The Sun” or “Inzalo y’Langa”, the site was first brought to public attention in 2003 by South African pilot Johan Heine. He had been flying over the mountains of Mpumalanga, South Africa for over 20 years and took an interest in the thousands of strange circular stone objects scattered throughout the region and began photographing them. In consulting experts on their origins, he was informed that they were the remains of “cattle kraal” (livestock enclosure) left behind by the Bantu people when they migrated from the north around the 14th century. Today this theory seems far from definitive as the structures are unlike any other Bantu cattle-kraal designs, which are usually made of thorny shrubs, with a single entrance/exit for the cattle. There are also several thousand of them spread over tens of thousands of miles.

Bantu cattle kraal (Image source)

An air crash involving one of his crew brought Johan to discover the mysterious monolithic circle by accident. On route to find one of his pilots who crashed his plane on the edge of the cliff, Johan noticed an arrangement of large stones sticking out of the ground next to the crash site. While rescuing the injured pilot down the side of the cliff, Johan walked over to the monoliths and realized they were aligned to the cardinal points – north, south, east and west – as well as the equinoxes and solstices. There were at least 3 monoliths aligned towards the sunrise, but on the west side of the aligned monoliths there was a strange hole in the ground. After weeks and months of measuring and making observations, Johan suspected it was a stone calendar.

The site is aptly named Adam’s Calendar because the stones are placed to track the movement of the sun, which casts shadows on the rock. It still works perfectly as a calendar today by following the shadow of the setting sun, which is cast by the taller central monolith onto the flat stone beside it. This remarkable calendar was originally a large circular stone structure resembling Stonehenge and in the center of the ‘circle’ are two upright stones which are said to have been carved. Its original shape is still clearly visible from satellite images. The stones are all dolomite, weighing up to 5 tons each, and are said to have been transported from a distant site. It should be noted that the area surrounding Adam’s Calendar is extremely rich in gold. Several mining shafts have been reported in the area with one of the richest working mines in the world today being the Sheba Gold Mine, located in Mpumalanga. Not only did the rich gold reefs attract attention in the 1880’s, but the early evidence of historic civilizations mining for minerals was described in writings by the early Europeans.

Rodney Hale’s plan of Adam’s Calendar with alignments as they were in 11500 BC (

The first calculations of the age of the calendar were made based on the rise of Orion, a constellation known for its three bright stars forming the “belt” of the mythical hunter. The Earth wobbles on its axis, so the stars and constellations change their angle of presentation in the night sky on a cyclical basis. This rotation, called the precession completes a cycle about every 26,000 years. By determining when the three stars of Orion’s belt were positioned flat (horizontal) against the horizon, it is possible to estimate the time when the three stones in the calendar were in alignment with these stars. According to Tellinger, a calculation done by astronomer Bill Hollenbach based on the rise of Orion suggested an age of the site of at least 75,000 years. A further calculation done in June 2009, suggested an age of at least 160,000 years, based on the rise of Orion ‘flat on the horizon’ but also on the ‘erosion of dolerite stones’ found at the site. Some pieces of the marker stones had been broken off and sat on the ground, exposed to natural erosion. When the pieces were put back together about 3 cm of stone had already been worn away. This calculation helped assess the age of the site by calculating the erosion rate of the dolerite.

Michael Tellinger testing the sound acoustics of the site (

The latest and most interesting discovery of the stone circles and Adam’s Calendar is the sound frequencies of the rock formations from the earth below them. With modern technology, Tellinger and scientists have been able to detect and measure sound frequencies with acoustic properties made from the earth inside the circles which conduct electricity. These sound frequencies of the earth under the stones are shaped as flowers of sacred geometry as they surface to the ground.

There is still much about Adam’s calendar that is yet to be understood, including who built them, what their civilization was like, and how they constructed it with such precise measurements. Perhaps in time, more research will piece together this prehistoric mystery. 

This article (Adam’s Calendar: Oldest Megalithic Site in the World?) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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59 Ancient Coffins, Buried For 2,600 Years, Discovered In Incredible Archaeological Find In Egypt

59 well-preserved and sealed wooden coffins were recently discovered by archeologists in Egypt.



59 Ancient Coffins, Buried For 2,600 Years, Discovered In Incredible Archaeological Find In Egypt
Photo Credit: TMU

(TMU) – 59 well-preserved and sealed wooden coffins were recently discovered by archaeologists in Egypt, and it is possible that there could be even more waiting to be discovered.

Three weeks ago researchers first announced that they found 13 coffins, and then further searches in the area revealed that there were even more. Scientists estimate that the coffins were buried over 2,500 years ago, and some of the remains were wrapped in burial cloth that showed hieroglyphic inscriptions.

The discovery was made in the burial ground of Saqqara, which is located just south of Cairo, near the 4,700-year-old pyramid of Djoser.

“We are very happy about this discovery,” said Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in the Egyptian government.

Tourism and Antiquities Minister Khaled al-Anani said that the coffins can be dated back to the Late Period of ancient Egypt, which is estimated to be from the sixth or seventh century BC.

“I have witnessed the opening of one of the coffins … the mummy seems as if it was mummified yesterday,” al-Anani said, according to Aljazeera.

Other artifacts have been discovered as well, including a bronze figurine depicting Nefertem, an ancient god of the lotus blossom, as well as mummified animals like snakes, birds, scarab beetles. Dozens of statues were also found in the same area that the coffins were discovered.

It is suspected that the coffins belonged to high ranking figures in ancient Egyptian society, likely from the 26th dynasty.

The coffins will be taken to the Grand Egyptian Museum on the Giza Plateau, which is currently being built. The museum is expected to open soon, but the opening has already been delayed several times. At this point, the most recent opening date for the museum is planned for 2021.

The museum will feature an entire hall dedicated to the sarcophagi that were found in the region, and this hall will reportedly hold the new discoveries.

Saqqara, where the discovery was made features numerous pyramids, including the world-famous Step pyramid of Djoser, which is sometimes called the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of mastaba tombs.

Saqqara and the surrounding areas of Abusir and Dahshur suffered damage by looters during the 2011 Egyptian protests. Storerooms were broken into, but the monuments were mostly unharmed. A series of discoveries have been made at the site in recent years. Some findings have been dated back to as far as 4,000 years ago.

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Luxor Temple: The Sacred Sanctuary With An Eternal Legacy



Luxor Temple: The Sacred Sanctuary With An Eternal Legacy
Photo Credit: Alfredo / Adobe stoc

Luxor Temple is one of the most famous temple complexes in Egypt. This temple complex is situated on the east bank of the Nile River, in Luxor, the main city of Upper Egypt’s fourth nome. Luxor Temple was established during the New Kingdom, and became one of the most important religious complexes in Egypt. This was due to the fact that the annual Opet Festival took place in the temple. After the Pharaonic period, the site of Luxor Temple retained its religious significance, though the gods worshipped there had changed.

History of Luxor

The city of Luxor was referred to by the ancient Egyptians as Waset, which translates to mean ‘City of the Scepter’. The Greeks, on the other hand, knew the city as Thebes. This may have been derived from Ta-ope, which means ‘The Temple’. The city’s current name comes from the Arabic ‘Al-Uqsur’, which means ‘The Palaces’ of ‘The Castles’. This is supposed to be a reference to the fort built by the Romans in the area.

The city of Thebes was already in existence during the Old Kingdom. During the city’s early days, however, Thebes was an insignificant settlement. The city first rose to prominence towards the end of the First Intermediate Period. At this point of time, i.e. the 21st century BC, Egypt was divided between two dynasties of rulers.

Ancient columns at the Luxor Temple in Egypt. (zevana / Adobe stock)

One of these dynasties was based in Heracleopolis, and its rulers controlled the area of Lower Egypt. Upper Egypt was controlled by another group of kings, who were based in Thebes. One of the Theban kings, Mentuhotep II, succeeded in reuniting Egypt, which brought an end to the First Intermediate Period, and ushered in the Middle Kingdom.

Mentuhotep and the other pharaohs of the Eleventh Dynasty ruled Egypt from Thebes. In the succeeding Twelfth Dynasty, however, Egypt’s capital was moved back to Memphis, which had served as Egypt’s capital during the Old Kingdom. Nevertheless, by this time, Thebes had become an important religious site.

The city was known also as Nowe or Nuwe, meaning ‘City of Amun’, Amun being the chief god of the city. As they were from Thebes, the pharaohs of the Eleventh Dynasty worshipped Amun as their family god. Although the Twelfth Dynasty pharaohs were based in Memphis, they still worshipped Amun as their family god, and therefore continued building temples dedicated to him in Thebes.

The Great Temple of Amun at Karnak, Egypt. (Pakhnyushchyy / Adobe stock)

Thebes regained its political importance during the Second Intermediate Period. During this period, Egypt was divided into two parts once again. Lower Egypt was conquered by a group of foreign invaders known as the Hyksos, whilst Upper Egypt was ruled by a line of Egyptian rulers based in Thebes.

The Second Intermediate Period ended when the Theban rulers expelled the Hyksos, reunited Egypt, and established the New Kingdom. Like their Eleventh Dynasty predecessors, the pharaohs of this new dynasty ruled over Egypt from Thebes (with the exception of Akhenaten, who moved the capital to a newly-established city called Akhetaten, known also as Amarna).

The Sacred Southern Sanctuary

Luxor Temple dates to the New Kingdom. Much of the temple complex was built by Amenhotep III, the 9th pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty, who reigned during the first half of the 14th century BC. Amenhotep was a powerful ruler, and Egypt prospered under his leadership. This is reflected by the massive construction works commissioned by the pharaoh, including the huge third pylon at Karnak Temple, and his own mortuary temple. Of the latter, little remains, although the Colossi of Memnon (a pair of giant seated statues depicting the pharaoh) gives us a sense of the temple’s size. Still, Luxor Temple is perhaps Amenhotep’s greatest building project.

It has been speculated that prior to Amenhotep’s construction of Luxor Temple, an older temple stood on the site. The temple or shrine may have been built during the earlier part of the Eighteenth Dynasty, perhaps during the reign of Hatshepsut, if not before. All that is left of this older structure is a small pavilion. Amenhotep enlarged this old temple or shrine, and had the new structure dedicated to Amun.

Luxor Temple was also known by the ancient Egyptians as ipet resyt (which translates to mean ‘Southern Sanctuary’). This is meant to distinguish Luxor Temple from Karnak Temple, which is situated about 3 km (1.86 mi) to its north. The two temples were once connected by the Avenue of the Sphinxes, a processional road lined with sphinxes on each side. The road may have been originally built by Hatshepsut, and Amenhotep added ram-headed sphinxes along its length. Much later, human-headed sphinxes were added by Nectanebo I, a pharaoh of the Thirtieth Dynasty, during the 4th century BC.

The avenue of sphinxes on the road from Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple, Egypt, where the ritual journey of the Opet Festival took place. (tynrud / Adobe stock)
The Opet Festival: From Karnak to Luxor

In addition to the Avenue of the Sphinxes, Luxor Temple and Karnak Temple are connected by the Opet Festival. The festival is known formally as the ‘Beautiful Feast of Opet’, and Opet is believed to be a reference to inner sanctuary of the Temple of Luxor. The festival was celebrated each year during the second month of the Egyptian lunar calendar. This was the time of the Nile’s inundation, and hence a cause for revelry.

The Opet Festival also functioned as a way for the pharaohs of Eighteenth Dynasty to celebrate their consolidation of power. The length of the festival increased as time went by. During the reign of Thutmosis III in the 15th century BC, for example, the Opet Festival lasted 11 days. By the Beginning of Ramesses III’s rule in 1187 BC, the festival lasted 24 days. By the time of his death in 1156 BC, the festival lasted 27 days.

The highlight of the Opet Festival was the ritual journey of the Theban Triad (Amun, Mut, his consort, and Khonsu, their son) from their shrines at Karnak Temple to Luxor Temple. Thanks to depictions of this journey on several ancient Egyptian monuments, we have an idea of how it was carried out.

One of these monuments can be found on the south side of Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel at Karnak Temple. Incidentally, this is also the oldest depiction of the Opet Festival that we know of. The reliefs on this monument show that at this time, only Amun made the journey from Karnak to Luxor.

Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel at Karnak Temple. (camerawithlegs / Adobe stock)

The gods shrine was carried by priests, who travelled by foot along the Avenue of the Sphinxes. On the way, they would stop at six altars constructed by Hatshepsut along the avenue. After staying in Luxor for some days, the priests and the shrine would return to Karnak by boat.

As a comparison, scenes of the Opet Festival from the colonnade of Luxor Temple, which were carved during the reign of Tutankhamun, show that by this time, Amun was joined by Mut and Khonsu on his annual journey from Karnak to Luxor. In addition, the reliefs show that the gods were carried in boats through the streets of the city, after which they were loaded onto river barges for their voyage to Luxor. After staying in Luxor Temple for 24 days, the deities return to their home in Karnak Temple via the same route. The city celebrated whilst the gods resided in Luxor Temple.  

Relief at the Luxor Temple depicting the Opet Festival procession. (kairoinfo4u / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Constructions Through the Ages

Although the construction of Luxor Temple began during Amenhotep’s reign, it was only completed during that of Tutankhamun’s. At the time of its completion, Luxor Temple included the Avenue of the Sphinxes, two courtyards, a processional colonnade, and the inner sanctum, where the chapels of Mut, Khonsu, and Amun are located. Subsequent pharaohs added their own touches to the temple complex. Amenhotep’s successor, the enigmatic Akhenaten, for instance, built a sanctuary dedicated to the Sun god, Aten, next to Luxor Temple. The structure, however, was later demolished by Horemheb.

The pharaoh who made the most impressive additions to Luxor Temple, however, was Ramesses II, the 3rd pharaoh of the Nineteenth Dynasty, and perhaps the most famous ruler of ancient Egypt. During his reign, which lasted from 1279 to 1213 BC, Ramesses built the first pylon, which became the entrance to Luxor Temple.

This was also a large ads board for the pharaoh, as Ramesses decorated it with scenes of his military exploits, most notable of which being the Battle of Kadesh. Ramesses also added six colossal statues of himself – two seated and four standing, at the temple’s entrance. Apart from the first pylon, Ramesses demolished the first courtyard, which was built by Amenhotep, and replaced it with his own. Ramesses replaced a number of giant statues of Amenhotep with his own.

Statues of Ramesses II at the Luxor Temple. Photo taken on a recent Ancient Origins trip to Egypt. (Courtesy of Ioannis Syrigos)

The importance of Luxor Temple as a religious center is evident in the fact that modifications were made to the complex even after the New Kingdom. For instance, Taharqa, a fourth Nubian pharaoh of the Twenty-Fifth Dynasty (the last dynasty of the Third Intermediate Period), built a shrine to the goddess Hathor, whilst his predecessor, Shabaka, constructed a colonnade. Both of these structures, however, have since been destroyed. The Nubian rulers also added scenes of their military victories onto Ramesses’ first pylon.

After the conquest of Egypt by the Greeks, the chapel of Amun was rebuilt by Alexander the Great, and the Greek ruler is portrayed as an Egyptian pharaoh. Even the Roman emperor Hadrian built something at Luxor Temple. He is recorded to have constructed a small mudbrick shrine dedicated to Serapis. The shrine, however, no longer exists, and all that remains is a statue of Isis and some rubble.

Some of the many ancient columns at the Luxor Temple in Egypt. Photo taken on a recent Ancient Origins trip to Egypt. (Courtesy of Ioannis Syrigos)
Loss in Significance and Revival: Romans, Christianity & Islam

In spite of Hadrian’s small shrine, by the Roman period, the religious importance of Luxor Temple had already been significantly reduced. Instead, the Romans saw the temple complex as a convenient location to build a fort, one of the reasons being the availability of raw materials. Some of the masonry from the temple were used by the Romans for the construction of their military buildings. In addition, the size of the temple complex could accommodate a large garrison, and it has been estimated that up to 1500 Romans were stationed in that fort.

Still, Luxor Temple did not really lose its religious significance entirely. Instead, it would be more appropriate to say that the Theban Triad worshiped by the ancient Egyptians were simply replaced by new ones. For instance, during the Roman period, the temple was rededicated to the cult of the emperor.

Later on, when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity, Christian churches were built around the temple. In fact, one of these churches was built inside the temple itself, in Ramesses’ courtyard. After Egypt was conquered by the Arabs, this particular church was turned into a mosque, which is still standing today. This mosque, known as the Mosque of Abu Haggag, is named after a local holy man by the name of Youssef.

The Mosque of Abu Haggag can be seen in the courtyard of Ramesses II at the Luxor Temple. (inigolaitxu / Adobe stock)

Youssef is believed to have been from Damascus, moved to Mecca during his forties, and finally migrated to Luxor, where he lived for the rest of his life. In Luxor, Youssef preached Islam to the local population, and it is claimed that the mosque was built by the holy man himself. Youssef also gained a reputation for taking care of pilgrims who were on their way to Mecca, and hence received the title ‘Abu Haggag’, which means ‘Father of Pilgrims’.

According to a local legend, after Youssef had built the mosque in the courtyard of Luxor Temple, a high-ranking official wanted to remove it. Although Youssef protested, the official was determined to demolish the mosque. One morning, the official woke up, and found that his body was paralyzed. He thought that this sudden paralysis was caused by his decision to demolish the mosque. Therefore, he retracted his order. The mosque was saved, and the official recovered from his paralysis. Interestingly, the holy man’s birthday is celebrated each year in early November, and includes a procession of his boat around Luxor. This may be reminiscent of the ancient Opet Festival.

The Mosque of Abu Haggag is still used as a place of worship even today. In addition, archaeological excavations have been carried out at the Luxor Temple. For instance, in 1988, numerous Eighteenth Dynasty statues were unearthed in the temple’s courtyard. Conservation and preservation work have also been done at the site. On top of that, the temple is a popular tourist destination, and the city’s economy benefits greatly from the tourism industry. In 1979, Luxor Temple was inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage List, as part of a group known as ‘Ancient Thebes with its Necropolis’.

This article (Luxor Temple: The Sacred Sanctuary With An Eternal Legacy) was originally created for Ancient Origins and is published here under Creative Commons.

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