New discoveries of a domestic shrine for ancestor worship of the early New Kingdom (ca. 1500 BCE) at Tell Edfu
The recent fieldwork of the Tell Edfu Project of The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago, directed by Prof. Nadine MOELLER and Dr. Gregory MAROUARD, has discovered in November 2018 new evidence for a vast domestic quarter dating to the beginning of 18thDynasty at Tell Edfu. Excavations have focused on a large urban villa of about 400 square-meters, which dates from the early Thutmoside period (ca. 1500-1450 BCE). This building is characterized by several rooms with columns. The largest and main room, a 6-columned hall which measures 10 m by 8m, contained in one of its corners (Figure 1) a well-preserved domestic sanctuary dedicated to the cult of the family ancestors. Numerous elements attesting to the cult activity have been found near a small fire place and offering table, including a very rare example of an ancestor bust and a statuette of a seated scribe (Figures 2 and 3).
The female bust is made of limestone and it measures 20 cm in height (Figure 4). It shows an anonymous woman wearing a long tripartite wig and a wesekhcollar, her facial features belong stylistically to the early 18thDynasty (prior to Thutmose III).
The statue of the seated scribe is made of black diorite and measures 23.4 cm in height (Figure 5). It shows a man seated on a chair, wearing a shoulder-length wig and a long tight-fitting kilt clutching a papyrus roll in front of his chest with his left hand. The right hand is stretched out flat on his knee. The facial features are typical for the early 18thDynasty showing some features such as the large ears that are reminiscent of the Middle Kingdom. The inscriptions on the four sides of the statue mention the titles of scribe for the province (nome) of Edfu, named Jwf, and his wife, the “Lady of the house”, Hory.
Also, from the same context comes a small but unusual limestone stela, 37.6 cm high and 25.5 cm wide, which shows a man and women standing next to each other in raised relief in the center (Figure 6). The hieroglyphic text surrounding the couple mentions the typical offering formula including the names and titles of the two figures which are incised on the four sides surrounding the central image. The faces of the two figures are damaged and the lower corners have been chipped; which makes it difficult to read their names.
The ongoing excavation of the Oriental Institute and the University of Chicago offers a rare opportunity to investigate a fully preserved domestic shrine dedicated to the ancestor worship outside of the Theban area. The discovery at Tell Edfu is one of the earliest examples for such an installation excavated so far for the New Kingdom and the first archaeological example discovered since many decades. Currently our best knowledge about such cultic installations within a domestic house context comes from Deir el-Medineh dating to the Ramesside period.
Excavations of the later occupation levels above this villa led to the discovery of a fourth inscribed monument from the very same period, reused in a house of the Late Period. It consists of a 1.64 m high sandstone column with a single vertical line of text mentioning a high priest of the temple of Horus of Behedet (Edfu), named Amenmose. All these new documents emphasize the presence of an important high-ranking elite in this specific part of the ancient city of Edfu during the beginning of the 18thDynasty, a period of political consolidation in Upper Egypt by the Theban kings Ahmose, Amenhotep I and Thutmose I.
Figure 1 : View (from the East) of the main columned hall of the early 18th Dynasty urban villa discovered at Tell Edfu
Figure 2 : Female ancestor bust found on the floor of the domestic sanctuary
Figure 3 : Diorite statuette found on the floor of the domestic sanctuary
Figure 4 : Female ancestor bust of limestone
Figure 5 : Statuette of the seated scribe of the province (nome) of Edfu, Jwf
Figure 6 : Limestone stela showing a man and women standing next to each other
Figure 7 : Sandstone column inscribed with the name of the high priest of the temple of Horus, Amenmose.