A University of Chicago expedition at Tell Edfu in southern Egypt has unearthed a large administration building and silos that provide fresh clues about the emergence of urban life.
The discovery provides new information about a little understood aspect of ancient Egypt-the development of cities in a culture that is largely famous for its monumental architecture.
The archaeological work at Tell Edfu was initiated with the permission of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, headed by Zahi Hawass, under the direction of Nadine Moeller, Assistant Professor at the Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. Work late last year revealed details of seven silos, the largest grain bins found in ancient Egypt as well as an older columned hall that was an administration center.
Long fascinated with temples and monuments such as pyramids, scholars have traditionally spent little time exploring the residential communities of ancient Egypt. Due to intense farming and heavy settlement over the years, much of the record of urban civilization has been lost. So little archaeological evidence remains that some scholars believe Egypt did not have a highly developed urban culture, giving Mesopotamia the distinction of teaching people how to live in cities.
"The traditional view of ancient Egypt has been biased by the fact that most excavation work so far has focused on temples and tombs. The mounds which comprise the remains of Egyptian cities were either ignored, buried under modern towns, or else destroyed by modern agricultural activities. Edfu is one of the very few remaining city mounds that are accessible for scientific study," said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute.
"The work at Edfu is important and innovative in that it finally allows us to examine ancient Egypt as an urban society,whose cities and towns housed bureaucrats, craft specialists, priests, and farmers. Nadine Moeller's discovery of silos and local administrative buildings shows us how these cities actually functioned as places where the agricultural wealth of the Nile valley was mobilized for the state. Grain as currency provided the sinews of power for the pharaoh," he added.
"Ancient Egyptian administration is mainly known from texts, but the full understanding of the institutions involved and their role within towns and cities has been so far difficult to grasp because of the lack of archaeological evidence with which textual data needs to be combined," Moeller said.