Ancient ‘lost’ Egyptian city discovered by Yale archaeologists

A Yale team led by Professor of Egyptology John Darnell has unearthed a lost city that flourished more than 3,500 years ago in the Western desert of Egypt.

A Yale team led by Professor of Egyptology John Coleman Darnell has unearthed a lost city — the site of a massive bread-making industry — that flourished more than 3,500 years ago in the Western desert of Egypt.

The discovery of the remains of this mud-brick settlement, which functioned as an administrative center as well as major supplier of bread, stands to shed new light on an obscure era in Egyptian history, the Second Intermediate Period, when rival factions contended for domination of what had been a prosperous state united under Pharaonic rule, asserts Darnell.

During this period, invaders from Asia, the Hyksos, seized control of the Nile Delta in the north; the Nubian kingdom of Kerma was centered in the south, and what remained of Pharaonic power struggled to survive in the Thebaid, the region around modern Luxor.

Egyptologists have focused on these three contending groups during this intermediate period, and how the weakest of these, the Pharaonic forces based in Thebes, managed to come out on top has always been something of a mystery, says Darnell.

Predating the only other major settlement in Kharga Oasis by some thousand years, the recently discovered town stretches over a kilometer in the southern Kharga oasis, a location long-held to have been an uninhabited no-man’s land, but which, Darnell says, was actually a hub for caravan routes connecting the Nile Valley of Egypt to what is now Western Sudan.

The bustling ancient city, which produced enough bread literally to feed an army, suggests a fourth faction with strong ties to Pharaonic culture flourished in this Western region.

The Western Desert of the Second Intermediate Period may well have been wild, but it was not disorganized,” comments Darnell on the significance of finding a sophisticated urban development in an area thought to have been a wasteland.

Beyond that, the Yale Egyptologist ventures that the fourth oasis state that he believes occupied this important trade route, may have formed an alliance with Thebes. This might explain how the vestiges of Pharaonic power came to prevail over their adversaries, eventually to establish the Golden Age of the Egyptian Empire.

The Yale expedition that led to the discovery of the town is part of the “Theban Desert Road Survey,” an ongoing mission to map and study the ancient caravan routes of the Egyptian Western Desert. Now in its 19th season, the Survey was created and is run by Deborah Darnell and John Darnell. Among the important discoveries their expedition has made are the Scorpion tableau, perhaps the earliest historical record of the foundation of a unified Upper Egyptian state at the dawn of Dynasty 0; the earliest datable alphabetic inscriptions in the Wadi el-Hol; and important archaeological remains of the formative Predynastic and Protodynastic Periods. The Theban Desert Road Survey is an expedition of the Yale Egyptological Institute in Egypt, of which Darnell is the director and Deborah Darnell the administrator. “The discovery of the Umm Mawagir site dovetails nicely with Deborah’s many years of work on Second Intermediate Period material in the Theban Western Desert,” says her long-time co-director.

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