The recently discovered temple of Ptolemy II in Beni Sweif is set to rewrite the ancient history of the area, writes Nevine El-Aref
Late last week, Egyptian excavators working at the Gabal Al-Nour archaeological site in Beni Sweif stumbled upon what is believed to be the first ever temple to be found dating from the reign of the Pharaoh Ptolemy II (282-246 BC).
The temple is a two-storey building made of sandstone 25 metres in height and 16.5 metres wide. The excavators have unearthed the temple’s first floor and part of the ground floor, the rest being still buried in sand.
Mansour Breik, head of the Central Administration of Middle Egypt Antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly that only two metres of the temple had been unearthed but that it was in a very good state of preservation. The temple’s ground floor consisted of several rooms that had not yet been excavated, he said.
The eastern wall of the temple had been revealed, showing it to be decorated with engravings featuring Ptolemy II wearing a white crown and presenting offerings to the goddess Isis who was worshipped in the temple with the Nile god Hapy.
A collection of sandstone blocks engraved with Ptolemy II’s cartouche has also been found, along with clay pots and a large limestone head of a cobra. Breik said that he expected the excavations would soon lead to the western wall of the temple, which may be engraved with the provinces of Lower and Upper Egypt.
“It is a very important discovery that could rewrite the ancient history of Beni Sweif and that of Ptolemy II’s reign. We know little about this although he ruled Egypt for 32 years,” Breik told the Weekly.
He said that the newly discovered temple was the first ever monument from the reign of Ptolemy II to be found in Beni Sweif. The 20 architectural monuments from his reign that have been found are spread across different provinces, such as Fayoum, Dendara and Kom Ombo, but never Beni Sweif. Most of these monuments consist of rooms and a portico but never a complete temple.
“This temple is the first to be uncovered from the reign of Ptolemy II,” Breik said, adding that early studies carried out on the hieroglyphic texts engraved on the wall of the temple had revealed that it was dedicated to Isis, also known as the “Lady of Mora”.
This meant that the ancient city of Mora could be the same as the modern one of Beni Sweif, he said. The city had been important during the reign of Ptolemy II because Isis was an important deity in the Ptolemaic era. Mora had emerged as an urban centre during this period, having never been mentioned in the ancient Egyptian period.
The temple seems to have been reused or transformed into a basilica during the Byzantine era, said Breik, adding that Byzantine mud bricks had been found in different parts of the temple.
Breik said that the one-feddan area of Gabal Al-Nour where the temple is located was an important archaeological site but that it had not previously had any monuments. The site had been excavated during the 1980s, he said, and a collection of Ptolemaic coffins found there were now exhibited at the Beni Sweif Museum.
No further excavations had been carried out until a month ago, when the ministry of antiquities started a survey of the site. The temple was then uncovered, and it is the first and only exposed monument to be found at the site.
Breik said that other structures could be uncovered soon. A Google Earth survey had revealed the existence of a road connecting the temple to the Nile, for example. He added that the discovery of the temple would add another tourist attraction to Beni Sweif, in addition to the Wadi Sannur Cave. This was created by groundwater percolating through the Eocene limestone of the Galala Plateau and contains important geological formations. The Cave covers some 700 m, and is 15m high. It is important for researchers conducting comparative studies of ancient environmental conditions.
When water penetrates downwards, excess calcium carbonate is deposited on the roof and floor of the Cave forming spectacular stalactites and stalagmites of various forms. When light is shown on them they glitter.
Minister of Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim said that the temple could have been built on the remains of an ancient Egyptian temple as the goddess Isis was an ancient Egyptian deity whose divinity lasted into the Ptolemaic era.
He said that funds would be provided for the mission to continue its work at the site.