While excavating an ancient Egyptian temple, researchers came across evidence of a never-before-seen ritual.
Ancient Egypt is a treasure of history. To this day, archeologists continue learning about this fascinating ancient civilization that existed thousands of years ago along the River Nile. Discoveries and new revelations are made at a never-ending pace, and the more we learn about this ancient civilization, the more we are fascinated by it. Even more important is the fact that Egypt isn’t all about pyramids. When excavating an ancient religious complex in the eastern Egyptian desert, archaeologists from the Sikait Project discovered evidence of intense unknown ritual activity.
Ancient Egyptian Temple With Never-Before-Seen Rituals
New results have been published from the Berenike excavation campaigns conducted by the Sikait Project team, led by UAB professor Joan Oller Guzmán. The excavation of a late chronology religious complex has been published in the American Journal of Archaeology, with findings that are related to the nomadic Blemy people’s presence. Researchers now report on the excavation of the Falcon Shrine, which was one of the most important buildings in Berenike town during this period, within the Northern Complex. This complex was of late chronology (4th-6th centuries of our era) and was baptized by researchers as Falcon Shrine.
A Strange Cult
Founded in Ptolemaic times (3rd century BC), the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archeology and the University of Delaware excavated the site. From the Horn of Africa to Arabia and India, this port became the main entryway into the Red Sea during Roman and Byzantine times. In this chronology, the Late Roman Period, from the fourth to the sixth centuries CE, was one of the phases yielding the newest discoveries. During this period, the city appeared partially occupied by and controlled by the Blemmyes, who were a nomadic group of Nubians whose domains were expanding throughout Egypt’s Eastern desert at that time. Due to the discovery of inscriptions for some of their kings or the Falcon Shrine, the Northern Complex provides clear evidence of a link with the Blemmyes.
Adapting a Traditional Egyptian Temple
It was discovered that the Blemmyes adapted a traditional Egyptian temple to suit their own belief system after the 4th century. UAB researcher Joan Oller highlights that the findings are particularly amazing, including harpoons, cube-shaped statuettes, and a stele associated with religious activities. Up to 15 falcons, most of them headless, were found consecrated inside the shrine, making it the most remarkable consecrated item found. Even though the Nile Valley had already seen the burial of falcons for religious purposes and the worshipping of these birds, this is the first time researchers have discovered falcons buried within a temple, along with eggs, in an unprecedented way.
An Unusual Stele
Mummified headless falcons had been found in other sites, but always as individual specimens, never in groups as at Berenike. This stele contains an unusual inscription: “It is improper to boil a head in here.” As an inscription usually indicates, it is not a dedication or expression of gratitude, but rather a warning not to boil the heads of animals within the temple, which is considered profane. This pointed to the existence of intense ritual activities built upon Egyptian traditions and Blemmyes’ contributions, which may have been based on a Khonsu-related religious basis, according to Joan Oller. In addition, the researchers explained that these discoveries contribute to our understanding of the Blemmyes, semi-nomadic people who lived in the Eastern desert at the time of Rome’s decline.