Written by By Ellen Barber, CNN
In the ancient Egyptian town of Tharwa, local residents used to expect a warm breeze to filter through the leaves of date palms during the warmer months. They probably expected more gusts in August, when the sun was at its hottest. But a new team of researchers has found evidence of a very different arrangement, in which the leaves were hewn into the shape of sun temples, to celebrate the rising sun.
The team, led by Roy Hill of the University of Melbourne, spent a year studying the site, collecting archaeological material and examining it under high-powered CT scanners. The resulting excavations unearthed clues of worship that have only recently been revealed to the public.
“The entire study was built around one principle,” Hill said in a news release. “What was the culture’s worship? The museum is there to show who the gods were, but we’re not there to show the gods, we’re there to tell the story. And we want to know how people came to worship the gods.”
The warmest period was between 45 and 50 Celsius (113-115 Fahrenheit), so palms would have been in full bloom during the harvest season. But also part of the 10,000-year-old landscape was a particularly hard-struck field, subject to severe irrigation, with almost no harvesting and no farming.
Hill believes the precise place is now unmarked, but with precise measurements could be found. Visitors have been allowed in to see what’s been uncovered, but Hill wants to move it to a specially built building.
Researchers also collected petroglyphs, or carvings, dating back tens of thousands of years on nearby boulders. Tharwa is a busy town on the Nile river, teeming with boatmen. One of the artists featured on the team’s Instagram account was able to show Hill the spot where he and his team had found their discoveries.
Here, Hill is investigating one of the carvings. Credit: Daniel Hennessy/URSA/ARTICOVENTURES
The team’s discovery is particularly special, said Justin Foucheau, an Egyptologist with the University of Sydney. “Tharwa is a really important site because of the presence of vineyards. There were grapevines growing on the roads, which indicate that human activity was taking place in the area,” he said.
Tharwa, like many other cities, had a large number of pagan temples dedicated to the Egyptian sun god Amun (Amunilp). “There’s a major direct connection, and particularly one that’s being emphasized at the moment — the relationship between Amun and sun worshiping, which is part of the ongoing discourse about that religion,” Foucheau said.
The kingdom that influenced Ancient Egypt would be ruled by Amun, a proud god, he said. The sun god is believed to bring rain and prosperity, and making the temple of his sun god tangible on the landscape is a tradition passed down from one generation to the next.
“That interaction with the sun god is something to be enormously honored — the history of statues and hermits of the sun god,” Foucheau said.
“We’re about to be visiting different parts of the kingdom in the near future, and we’ll get a chance to see whether or not there are other sites like this,” he said.