A rare wall relief showing an unidentified pharaoh has been discovered within the sandstone quarries of Gebel el Sisila, north of Aswan.
Carved into the vertical face of the quarry wall, some 5 feet above the ground, the stela depicts the pharaoh presenting offerings to Thoth, the ancient god of wisdom, and Amun-Ra, the king among gods.
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“It’s particularly rare for these two deities to be portrayed together,” Lund University archaeologist Maria Nilsson, director of the Gebel el Silsila Survey Project, told Discovery News.
She added the three figures are rather poorly preserved, although some details can be made out.
“We can see the characteristic double feather crown of Amun-Ra, and the moon disc of the ibis-headed Thoth,” Nilsson said. “Unfortunately, the item presented by the pharaoh is no longer discernible.”
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Preliminary study suggests the stela dates to the late dynastic period, perhaps the Third Intermediate Period, which began with the death of pharaoh Ramesses XI in 1070 B.C. and ended with the foundation of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty by Psamtik I in 664 BC.
Readable inscriptions on the stela are merely titles of the gods, “Amun-Ra, King of the Gods, Lord of (-)”, and “Thoth, Twice Great, Lord of (-)”.
Just below the winged solar disc of the pharaoh, adorned with two uraei (stylized Egyptian cobras symbols of royalty and deity) the text reads: “Lord of the Two Lands, Behedet (Horus of Edfu).”
The personal text of the pharaoh is limited to “Lord of the Two Lands” followed by a poorly preserved cartouche and a short epithet.
“The team is currently trying to retrieve more information, but the area of the figure and title of the pharaoh is eroded by wind and sand, not to mention a natural fracture in the rock,” Nilsson said.
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The finding is the result of an epigraphic and archaeological survey mission of Lund University, Sweden, that has studied the site since early 2014.
The researchers have discovered more than 60 rock art sites on both sides of the Nile that date from the Epipalaeolithic (about 8500 to 6500 B.C.), Predynastic (about 4000-3100 B.C.), and Early Dynastic (about 3100-2686 B.C.) periods.
“Overall, the Gebel el Silsila repertoire consists of mainly abstract patterns, curves and lines, circles and dots, ladder-shaped drawings and a few stylized animals and reptiles,” Nilsson said.
However, there are several unique patterns that are far more elaborated than the abstract designs.
Among the most spectacular discoveries is a rare depiction of two obelisks being cut and loaded onto boats.
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According to Nilsson, the scene, which is currently studied and analyzed, is particularly important as it may change the chronology of the site’s most famous monument, known as the Speos of Horemheb. This rock-cut temple which is believed to have been originally carved for King Horemheb (1323–1295 B.C.).
“Now, based on a similar contemporaneous scene, we think that it belongs to the early 18th dynasty, possibly to Queen Hatshepsut (1473–1458 B.C.),” Nilsson said.
Nilsson’s team plans to create a detailed archaeological map of the area as well as a 3-D reconstructions of selected monuments.
“We also hope to start smaller excavations that will bring new information about the extraction and transportation techniques, as well as giving us a better understanding about the daily life in the quarry,” Nilsson said.
Image: The rock carved stela with the pharaoh to the right. Credit: Gebel el Silsila Survey Project.