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Tell Ibrahim Awad

Update : August 2017

Dr Willem van Haarlem

Since 1998, regular excavations have taken place at Tell Ibrahim Awad (‘tell’ is the Arabic word for a hillock). These excavations are now being supported by the Allard Pierson Museum. The tell is situated in a remote part of the Egyptian province of Sharqiya in the eastern Nile Delta. Archaeological surface research in the wide environs of the nearby district capital Faqus was conducted between 1982 and 1988. This revealed that this tell, which actually comprises two parts, was one of the most promising archaeological sites in the area. Two trial trenches dug in 1986, one on each tell part, revealed thick walls of what later turned out to be a Middle Kingdom temple and a much older rich burial dating to the 1st Dynasty.

Tell Ibrahim Awad is located just outside the village of Umm Agram. The highest point now is about three metres above the ground level, but it must once have been much higher. About thirty years ago, the middle of the tell was dug away to make room for an orchard, thus dividing the tell into two. It currently covers an area of about 20,000 m2 in total. Extensive drilling has revealed that this is no more than 10% of the original surface area; the rest of the mound has long been dug away for agricultural purposes. The heart of the original tell is formed by a sandy ridge, deposited there by the Nile when it flowed more slowly around a bend. Such sandy ridges remained dry during the annual Nile inundation and were thus good locations for settlements. The sand itself soon vanished under the accretion of habitation layers, eventually reaching a thickness of four metres. Because the Nile branches constantly changed their course, Tell Ibrahim Awad was abandoned in the early Middle Kingdom, when the closest Nile branch shifted its course and the settlement was no longer easily accessible.
Six older temples turned out to lie under the Middle Kingdom temple, the earliest dating back to Naqada II. This makes this temple one of the oldest, if not the oldest, ever found in Egypt. The most important finds were made in the temple layer dating to the late Old Kingdom. Deposits of votive and cult objects in use for long periods were found there, dating back to the Early Dynastic and even the Predynastic periods. Hundreds of statuettes depicting people, baboons, crocodiles, hippopotami and lions were offered by the devout to the temple to strengthen their pleas for healing or children. What is remarkable is that concentrations of such statuettes are found in temples from the same period all over Egypt – from Elephantine, Hierakonpolis and Abydos in the south, to Tell el-Farkha close to Tell Ibrahim Awad. In this aspect Egypt was a cultural unit from very early times, much earlier than a political one. 

Alongside the temple terrain is a cemetery containing about eighty graves so far, dating from the late Old Kingdom to the Middle Kingdom. Most of them are very poor graves, often with not much more than some pottery and beads as burial goods. This is in contrast to the few large, richly provided burials from the 1st and 2nd Dynasties on the second tell – discovered by the first test trench – which contained a wide variety of pottery (beer jars and wine jars), stone vessels made of calcite, basalt and schist, ivory playing pieces, etc.

Due to circumstances, the excavations had to be suspended since the last documentation season in 2014.

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