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Melting Ice Reveals Over 1,000 Viking Artifacts In Norway

Sled fragments, arrows, horseshoes, and even animal dung are among the objects archaeologists have found on the Lendbreen ice patch.

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Photo Credit: Espen Finstad/SecretsOfTheIce

The Lendbreen ice patch in Norway’s Jotunheim Mountains is so remote that it’s only accessible by professional mountain hikers or a helicopter ride.

This wasn’t always the case, however, as a new study on recovered ancient artifacts showed it was once an extremely busy route of Viking Age traffic.

According to Smithsonian, the historic spot is about 200 miles northwest of Oslo.

In the summer of 2011, archaeologists found horse dung dating back centuries all over the area. Warm temperatures also exposed prehistoric artifacts, such as a 1700-year-old tunic, out of the melting ice.

While it was a remarkable find — the oldest piece of clothing ever unearthed in Norway — the ice has only continued to melt. A new study published in the Antiquity journal detailed all the finds this thaw has yielded: more than 1,000 additional ancient artifacts.

Recovered artifacts ranged from horseshoes and preserved horse dung to animal remains and Bronze Age arrows.
Recovered artifacts ranged from horseshoes and preserved horse dung to animal remains and Bronze Age arrows.

According to Science, the collected items were retrieved between 2011 and 2015 and date back to the Bronze Age between 1750 B.C. and 300 A.D. The oldest are largely hunting-related, such as arrows likely used to kill deer. The rest range from wool clothing and leather shoes to sled fragments.

Lars Holger Pilø, who led the new research and serves as co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program in Norway’s Innlandet County carbon-dated 60 of the recovered items. It was this analysis that confirmed the pass was used from the Roman Iron Age all the way through the Middle Ages.

At the time, while the Roman Empire didn’t extend to what is now Norway, it did have enormous influence in Northern Europe. The Lendbreen ice patch was unlike most others which were used for hunting and was instead a hub for travel and trading.

Merchants, sheepherders, and farmers would cross the 6,300-foot-tall Lomseggen mountain ridge to get to summer pastures and trading posts. Lendbreen hasn’t just provided the most archaeological finds of any ice patch in the region — but possibly the world.

“A lost mountain pass melting out of the ice is a dream discovery for us glacial archaeologists,” Pilø said.

The preservation of the objects emerging from the ice is just stunning,” said Espen Finstad, co-author and co-director of the Glacier Archaeology program. “It is like they were lost a short time ago, not centuries or millennia ago.”

Lars Pilø with the ruins of a cairn along the Lendbreen trail.
Lars Pilø with the ruins of a cairn along the Lendbreen trail.

This pass was at its busiest during the Viking Age around 1000 A.D., a time of high mobility and growing trade across Scandinavia and Europe,” said co-author and archaeologist at the University of Cambridge, James Barrett.

“This remarkable peak in use shows just how connected even a very remote location was to wider economic and demographic happenings,” added Barrett.

To his point, this new evidence heavily indicates that a lost Viking trade route has been right under our noses for centuries — one where everything from reindeer antlers to butter was traded and transported to markets all over Europe.

“The Viking Age is one of small-scale globalization: They’re sourcing raw materials from all over,” explained Søren Michael Sindbæk, archaeologist at Aarhus University in Denmark. “This is the first site where we have good chronology and the finds illustrate that.”

Pilø explained that the Lendbreen route even contained the ruins of a shelter and that the scarcity of finds in other passes suggests this was likely the most trafficked of them all. He and his peers believe it was also used to travel from permanent farms in the valleys to summer farms above the ridge.

He added that the preservation of organic materials made this pass “a completely new ballgame compared to normal mountain passes without ice where only a few metal objects remain from the traffic.”

The Lendbreen ice patch site of discovery, with markers connoting areas of discovery.

This study is one of the first ice-patch archaeology studies to explore the role of mountain passes in travel over long time scales,” said William Taylor, curator of archaeology at the University of Colorado’s Museum of Natural History.

“It is fascinating to see direct evidence for the emergence and re-emergence of mountain travel routes — not as an abstract concept, but as a tangible archaeological phenomenon demonstrated by horse dung, horse bones and the objects dropped by travellers engaged in important pastoral work.”

Perhaps most ominously, the amount of discovered and dated items sharply declined around 1400 A.D. This drop coincided directly with the Black Death in Norway and with the centuries-long Little Ice Age plaguing the region from 1300 A.D. forward.

“There were also other subsequent pandemics in the late medieval period making the situation even worse,” said Pilø. “This obviously had a great influence on local settlement and economy, and thus mountain traffic, which dwindled, both long-distance and to the local summer farms.”

While Pilø and his team scoured an area measuring 35 football fields — the largest archaeological survey of a glacier in history — their work has come to an abrupt end. The current COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to further exploration.

Hopefully, their remarkable research can continue soon.

This article (Melting Ice Reveals Over 1,000 Viking Artifacts In Norway) was originally created for All That Interesting and is published here under Creative Commons.

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Archeology

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

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https://www.ancient-origins.net/
Photo Credit: www.getaway.co.za

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 (andrewcollins.com)

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 (andrewcollins.com)

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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Archaeologists Detect Mystery Late Inhabitant Of Scottish Ghost Village

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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 Astro.com 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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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.

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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

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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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