The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Home of the Mother goddess and the creation of Mother Earth, a visit to Gebelein and Dababiyna

The Ancient Nome of Gebelein Pathyris /Aphroditopolis, Ezbet Abu Humus. “The two mountains”
As planned the mini bus promptly arrived at our house at 6.00am to transfer us to the East Bank where we would meet Moamen. Now Moamen Saad is a well accomplished archaeologist with the S.C.A. [now: MSA] here in Egypt and after us discussing it for awhile, Moamen suggested a visit to Esna Temple this Friday. So after picking up Moamen we hit the road at 7.00am having briefed the police that we would not be continuing past Esna and that we would be on our own from there.
We arrived at Esna lock and proceeded to the West bank to the village of Ezbet Abu Humus to meet with Adel Abd el Satar who is an inspector at Esna Temple and would be joining us for the day. From there we drove to Sheikh Musa’s tomb on top of one of the smaller gebels in the village. Its natural location provides a valley in which the small village has grown up in. The town of Gebelein, whose modern archaeological site name is known as Naga el-Gherira or Ezbet Abu Humus, is located in Upper Egypt 29 km south of Luxor/Thebes on the West Bank of the Nile. Its name in Arabic means "the two mountains," and this derives from its Kemetic name of Inerty, "The Two Rocks." The site consists of a western embankment (manmade with a central gulley resembling a canal) having numerous tombs from various periods and an eastern gebel having the ancient temple of Hathor located on top. A mud brick wall fortified the temple during the Late Period. The town took its name, calling itself Pr-Hwt-Hr , (Per-Hathor) which later became Pathyris /Aphroditopolis under the Ptolemies. The site was in use right through the Graeco-Roman period and possibly into the Gnostic/Coptic eras.

The Eastern gebel itself is strewn with shallow graves from various periods. The escarpment used to be home to a modern Egyptian army look out post, but has fallen into disrepair over the years. The actual post was built on the foundations of the earlier temple structure, of which nothing remains today except for a couple of pink granite pillar bases and some foundation walls constructed of mud bricks, of which some bear cartouches.

The remains of the mud brick structure were posing many questions to us.  Firstly, where was the approach/entrance to the site? The pathway that we had taken was rocky and not well trodden, seemingly it had not been there for the thousands of years that the site had, and given the fact that the temple had been dismantled and removed from the site, there were no real evident pathways to associate either the removal or the existence of a site at all at this location. There were, however, still evidence of the mud brick foundations lying very close and precariously to the edge of the gebel: this may suggest the actual entrance and approach to the temple was by means of an artificial, manmade stairway or causeway from the bottom on the eastern side, which had direct access to the Nile itself. The temple complex could also have had a dual purpose, not only was it a place of pilgrimage for the followers of Hathor, but also by means of collecting taxes from the river traffic and possibly military purposes due to its vantage point across the eastern and western terrain, but also due to its view over the Nile and its traffic. Given the strategic location of such a temple it is no wonder that the modern Egyptian army utilised the site for its posting. A similar site that collected taxes from the river traffic was at Gebel el-Silsila, the very name meaning “chain”: legend has it that a chain in fact spanned the river Nile at that point and it was the chain that prevented the Nile traffic from passing without paying its taxes.

Returning to Gebelein, the base of the gebel is a sheer drop and is impossible to scale at any point except where the mud brick foundations can be found. It was at this point that we were met by our other guest for the day, Amer Amin, another inspector from Esna Temple. He to wished to join the hunting party as we climbed down the uneven slope which at times had the better of all of us as we slipped and skidded our way down: without, I may add, breaking our necks!

Once at the bottom, you can appreciate the strategic location of the site at the top of the gebel: the sheer vertical walls of the cliff side gave it a formidable presence and protection; the height at which the temple would have stood would have been most impressive to the approaching traveller. Located at the bottom on the eastern side a small cenotaph has been cut into the base of the cliff. Approached via a small climb up the base of the gebel (no stairs have been cut into the stone surface), the shrine is entered by a small open doorway giving access to the first chamber with another door immediately in front of you and two small niches either side. Continuing through the second doorway leads you into the main chamber with two small niches to both left and right, and directly in front in an alignment with the doorways the shrine itself. Unfortunately nearly all the relief has all but disappeared except for a few instances; one can be clearly made out to be that of Hathor. The discussion that took place amongst us was whether she was in a seated position or standing position as it was not easy to determine the exact positioning, but made for healthy discussion of relief work.

After a small banana break at the base, we continued around northwards into the valley between the two mountains, walking through the mud brick village that had utilised this safe and protected valley. The mini bus was awaiting our return near the Islamic cemetery; it was now time for breakfast. We drove a short distance to one of the many road side cafes serving fool and falafel: we ate and drank heartily and then proceeded to the second gebel situated due west of the first.

At first glance the hillside has no interesting characteristics, it is not until you actually stand on it that you start to see the undulations of the hundreds of tombs that have been dug into its surface: very similar to the Coptic burial pits at Malqata in Luxor (next to Medinat Habu). I (John) took the opportunity of climbing into one tomb that had been cut into the cliff side: there were no relief scenes and the tomb itself had not been excavated or emptied from what I could gather. At the end of the rock and sand filled passage I could make out a rectangular room with clean dressed walls and ceiling but again this chamber had been filled with rock and sand debris over the centuries from being open to the elements. Immediately next to this tomb was a mud brick structure that had been first excavated back in 1935 by the Italian mission from the Museum of Turin. Unfortunately the lack of protection from weathering and locals has not been beneficial to this site and it now stands buried again, but one could still make out the structure from the existing mud brick walls that were visible. It seemed as if it were aligned to the Nile with a large open courtyard to the front followed by a square pillared chamber having ten pillars five of which were visible, but given its symmetrical layout it would sensible to assume that there would be another five square pillars to the other side of the vaulted doorway that gave access to the tomb itself, the tomb entrance has been sealed by the S.C.A as it contains much of the archaeological finds from the area, directly behind the doorway to the tomb sits an open cut shaft, now filled with sand and debris, given though its depth and location directly behind the doorway, it is reasonable to assume that the tomb descends at a steep angle thus allowing this open shaft not to interfere with the tomb itself.

We continued exploring the area taking many photos of the numerous open pits/tombs, some of which were mud brick lined and others that were completely destroyed by wear and tear. As we walked the length of the western embankment it became more and more obvious that this was a man made structure taking advantage of the rock formations carved out by the Nile over thousands of years: the gully or canal for better words that ran its length could well of provided an means of access to the “cave of Hathor”, during either the inundation of the Nile or by means of actually permanently flooding the canal by the waters of the Nile. The cave is located mid way in the first embankment; the cave system is open and is obvious again that man has played his hand in moulding this natural formation to suit his own needs. It is said that Hathor dwells within the cave and could well have been the place at which a ceremonial boat could have used the canal to ferry her from the cave to Dendera in a ceremonial passage similar to that of a barque shrine travelling from site to site or a deity or God visiting a certain temple. The gully/canal ends by opening onto the modern village today at the far northern end. The central valley between the two gebels could never have sustained habitation during the ancient dynasties due to the inundation of the Nile every year. It would have been totally fool hardy to build any structure in the path of the rising Nile waters. If you analyse the landscape you can clearly see that the Nile water have formed the two islands in the Nile, and that the land area between the gebels was used for agriculture as much as it is today, and the man made gully/canal stretches towards the north. There is a point in the canal that looks like it could have been a harbour/landing place for the cave of Hathor.

Of course the gully/canal does also end abruptly at its southern end: is does have the characteristic though of curving at this southern end and if one looks at the eastern gebel. There is a gully/canal at its southern end too. The two gullies/canals may well have joined during the ancient times in which it was in use, thus protecting the land area between the two gebels, allowing habitation to take place at the foot of both cliffs. The land further south of the two mountains does flatten out considerably and this probably has a lot to do with the agriculture that has taken place there over the hundreds of years of cultivation, but there is a water course that runs inland and this may have had a relationship with our gullies/canals. Further exploration and investigation is required to ascertain this relationship and the function of the gullies/canals.

Gebelein may well have been as important as Abydos was, given the amount of burials around the cave system and the temple location on the eastern Gebel. It is quite ironic that the temple of Hathor is located in this part of Egypt given the location of the protected Dababiyna quarry on the East Bank of the Nile, which overlooks the two mountains. This area clearly shows within the strata of the rock formations and shale the beginning of Mother Earth herself, and that her temple overlooked these monumental stages in earth’s evolution given her authority as the mother goddess is a nice touch.

The cave today houses a spectacular array of bats that fly around you as you enter this sacred place. I must admit at this point that I was not exactly at my best due to fact that I am totally scared of the little buggers. But I stood my ground and took it all in. On leaving the cave system we proceeded a little further down the road to the main village, which happens to lie at the northern end of the gully as previously mentioned. If you inspect the landscape you will notice that the gully/canal has been cut just short of the village and that it did indeed at one time continue where the village stands today.

Just past this point sits what has been determined by the pottery shards as a Ptolemaic temple and associated buildings. Not much is left of the temple itself except for some mud brick foundations and a burial pit in the centre of the foundations. To the left of this structure, built into the hillside, were the domed houses belonging to the local inhabitants of that period. The Italian mission documented these in 1935, concluding that there were similar structures to the right hands side too. However, this still has not been excavated at this time. The pottery shards that we found located around the site dated from various different periods, suggesting that due to the lack of actual evidence it would be difficult to present an absolute date of the site.

Many artefacts have been found Gebelein and are dotted around various museums around the world: some of the finest early sculptures of lions have been found here together with different styles of linen with decoration including dancing women. Various alabaster jars and other household and ceremonial ware have also been documented. It is unfortunate that the magna itself is no longer visible and that we only have the necropolis to excavate. Suggestively, the actual magna actually lies beneath the modern village at the extreme end of the eastern embankment. Only further excavations will determine this to be accurate or not.

After finishing at Gebelein we continued our day of exploration by crossing the Nile to the east side to visit the protected area of Dababiyna: a once active and thriving quarry. On reaching the site, through, the mud brick villages and dirt track road made great trouble for our mini bus driver, who was not pleased at the fact that he was driving his gleaming white mini bus in such a dirty terrain. But he coped with the experience quite well, especially given the fact on reaching the quarry site there was no shade to park in at all, again adding to his demur.

We climbed the small well trodden track strewn with various pottery shards from all different periods. On reaching the summit of this small hill we gazed upon a cavern quarry with all the same characteristics as east bank Gebel el-Silsila. A stela was once erected by a Pharaoh giving the reasons for extracting stone from this particular quarry, of which is only preserved the top frieze with partial recognition of the sun disc and one cobra. The caverns were a gem to us and our research with various inscriptions and graffiti from numerous periods and cultures. The floor of the cavern had been excavated either by a mission or by someone hoping to find antiquity, but the pit that had been left gave us an opportunity to gaze upon the many layers of pottery shards and working levels of the quarry at various different times. This quarry had been particular busy in its history and the levels of strata bore witness to this. I continued on foot around the escarpment to be met by another cavern entrance this time the floor levels on the outside had risen considerably and the entrance instead of being of extreme height was in fact a crouch to enter. The ceiling had a similarity to that of the Theban quarries in so much as the ceiling had been gridded out by means of red paint and the addition in parts by hieroglyphic text, unfortunately hard to distinguish and translate at the time, but I am sure given time and the help of computer soft ware, we will be able to decipher the hieroglyphic text when returning.

The quarries were extensive and not just assigned to caverns, but open face as well. There was a remarkable difference in the geology of the quarry, which was the main reason for the area coming under the protection of UNESCO; the natural rock formations visible give a time line from life on earth first appeared and it can be traced through all the stratas in these rock faces. There is so much more that can be said about these three areas that we visited today, never actually reaching Esna Temple as planned due to all excitement provided in the other locations, but as this is a brief report we will leave a more detailed account till later.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Moamen Saad, Amer Amin and Adel Abd el Satar for a fantastic day and all their help, without them the trip would not have been possible.

There are various articles and journals which have been published on the subject of Gebelein and it is worthy to carry out further investigation into this little known area.

Dr John Ward & Dr Maria Nilsson
The Sirius Project
in association with the Historical Preservation Society



  1. Amazing find, humans still have yet to uncover all things that where not written in biblical texts and history books. Our land and what remains has been here longer than any written word. Thus, we keep finding proof that what we read isn't all that their was. I believe so much was never recorded in history; before Christ or any religion took place.