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When the stones begin to crumble

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Author Topic: When the stones begin to crumble  (Read 338 times)
Kara Sundstrom
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« on: June 26, 2011, 07:24:25 pm »

When the stones begin to crumble
How can Akhenaten's boundary stela be protected in situ in the parched desert near the Upper Egyptian governorate of Minya? Nevine El-Aref ponders the question

    When the monotheistic Pharaoh Akhenaten converted to the worship the sun god Aten during the 18th Dynasty, he abandoned the capital city of ancient Thebes where Amun had been worshipped for generations and moved downriver to Minya, where he founded his new capital at the present day Tuna Al-Gabal. Between the fifth and eighth years of his reign, Pharaoh Akhenaten built a new capital which he called Akhetaten, or the Horizon of Aten.

    To speed up construction, most of the buildings were made of white-washed mud brick, with the most important buildings faced with local stone. The new city housed the royal palace, the temples dedicated to Aten, the villas of the noblemen and all the necessary administrative buildings, as well as an extensive network of private houses and workshops. Akhetaten is the only ancient Egyptian city in which the details of its internal plan are preserved, and in large part this is because the city was abandoned after Akhenaten's death.

    However, a shrine to Horemheb, the last pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, indicates that the city may still have been partially occupied at the beginning of his reign.

    To determine the city's boundaries, Akhenaten carved 15 boundary stelae into the face of the cliff of the desert plateau at Minya. Three of these were carved on the face of the cliff at the southern and northern extremities of the city, while a further 11 were carved on the east and west banks of the Nile and one was carved at Tuna Al-Gabal. Of them all, this is the most accessible.

    Each stela bears engravings of Akhenaten and his family worshipping Aten and is inscribed with hieroglyphic text. The layout of Akhetaten shows that the placement of these stelae was not haphazard, but on the contrary the alignment very closely matches the city and the royal tomb of Akhenaten.

    Some of these boundary stelae depict Akhenaten and the royal family worshipping Aten. Sadly, they were carved out of very weak rock and so natural weathering and erosion have left many of these rock-hewn stelae in a poor state of preservation.

    After its discovery in 1714 by Claude Sicard, a Jesuit priest, only minimal restoration was carried out on the stela at Tuna Al-Gabal. In the 1800s more work was carried out by two British Egyptologists, Joseph Bonomi and John Wilkinson, and the German Karl Richard Lepsius, who succeeding in securing a fund from the Prussian government. It was another Englishman, Flinders Petrie, who first categorised the stelae in a systematic way. However, the work of Norman de Garis Davies and Willian J Murnane contributed more to the knowledge of the site than did anyone else.

    The scholars divided the stelae into two groups: three with the same inscription, a dedication of the city of Aten, are found on the northern and southern ends of the cliffs on the east bank of the Nile. These are heavily damaged and difficult to read. The second group contains 11 stelae. The best preserved of these is the one erected in the sixth year of Akhenaten's reign, which provides a clear demarcation of the limits of the city, extending across the fields to the west which would presumably have been the main food source for the city.

    In 1906, one of these stelae was blown up and in 1989 it was rumoured that another of the stelae had deteriorated. However, as Mohamed Abdel-Fattah, director of the ancient Egyptian antiquities section at the Ministry of State for Antiquities, told Al-Ahram Weekly, in 1989 part of the cliff collapsed while a mining procedure was being carried out nearby, but this did not harm the stela. "The stela is safe and sound," Abdel-Fattah said.

    Consolidation and restoration work had been carried out to maintain those stelae that had been damaged. This damage occurred not only in modern times, due to natural causes, but also in antiquity when the city of Akhetaten fell into ruin following the death of Pharaoh Akhenaten. This was a time when the priests of Amun regained their power and returned to worshipping their god, Amun, moving back to the old capital at Thebes.

    A month ago it was reported that another stela had deteriorated as a result of mining in the area. Zahi Hawass, minister of state for antiquities, sent an archaeological committee to investigate.

    Abdel-Fattah told the Weekly that this committee, led by his deputy Atef Abul-Dahab, had inspected the stela and the area surrounding it and had submitted a preliminary report. This stated that the stela was as safe as it has always been, and said it was in a very poor state of reservation because of natural causes and not as a result of mining in the neighbourhood.

    Abdel-Fattah said that because of its critical position in the open desert, the stela was subject to erosion. In addition, the weak material of the cliff in which it was cut had led to the fall of some of its parts. A consolidation and restoration project is planned for the stela.

    However, some Egyptologists who requested anonymity did not accept the ministry's announcement. They believe strongly that in spite of the revolution Egyptians are still facing the same problems and the same false statements.

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Kara Sundstrom
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Posts: 4782

« Reply #1 on: June 26, 2011, 07:26:27 pm »

One of King Akhenaten's boundary stelae featuring the king with his beloved wife Nefertiti
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