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Dig days: Egypt's top 10: The Temple of Min
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 07 - 02 - 2008


Dig days:
Egypt's top 10: The Temple of Min
By Zahi Hawass
When people think of Egyptian temples, they usually focus on the temples of Karnak, Luxor and Abu Simbel. For this reason, I was happy to see that Atlantic Productions, a TV production company in the United Kingdom, had chosen the town of Akhmim and its little-known temple to the god Min as one of the top 10 archaeological discoveries in Egypt. I was doubly happy because I participated in this discovery, and I even published a scientific article about the temple, one of the largest in Egypt, which is dedicated to Min, the god of fertility.
Akhmim was the capital of the ninth nome of Upper Egypt. Its ancient monuments are buried under the ground, and modern houses have been built on top of them. Today, people dig in the courtyards of their homes and sometimes discover major artefacts. With the help of the FBI in New York City we were able to recover two stelae that had been excavated illegally from Akhmim and smuggled by antiquities dealers. The Arab travellers who visited the site in the ninth century AD said it took from sunrise to sunset to view the temple of Akhmim, and even remarked that it was larger than the temple at Karnak. When the Sohag governorate built a post office more than 20 years ago part of a temple erected by Ramses II's was found underneath the construction site.
One of the discoveries was a beautiful statue of Merit-Amun, the daughter and wife of Ramses II. This statue may be the largest female statue ever found in Egypt. I saw the statue for the first time when I went to discuss a young lady's master's thesis with my late friend Gamal Mokhtar and Ahmed El-Sawy. One evening I went to see the statue and found that it was as though the sculptor had put the royal blood inside the stone to bring the statue to life. I went behind the statue, and saw that although sculptors usually neglected this part because they knew it would be against a wall, the sculptor had modelled Merit-Amun's back beautifully. It was just as if I was looking at a beautiful, naked woman. The face also showed great beauty. From the statue, we know that she or Ramses II built a temple in her name to Min. The great Egyptian sculptor Mahmoud Mabrouk restored the statue's crown.
Statues of Ramses II were also found at the site, scattered in pieces around Merit- Amun's. The headless statue of a beautiful woman dating to the Roman period was also discovered. It too was dedicated to Min, the god of fertility. By accident, the head of a large statue of Ramses II was uncovered beneath the modern city of Akhmim. One day, President Hosni Mubarak came to visit Sohag, and went to see the discovery. He was very interested in the find, and to encourage further work at the site he donated LE5 million towards the relocation of a modern cemetery that was obstructing the excavation. The people of Akhmim wanted to see the temple, and hoped that it would bring tourists to their town. They all agreed to the relocation of the cemetery, and so far the SCA has paid more than LE30 million towards it.
Five years ago I received a call from Sohag's antiquities director. He told me that they had caught a thief entering the tomb of someone who had died a few weeks before, intent on stealing a head from a Pharaonic statue. I went to Akhmim and learnt that the family of the deceased had found the head when they were burying their relative, and had gone back later to retrieve it. We began our excavation next to the tomb and found the huge base of another statue. The base was decorated with a scene of the god Hapy, the Nile god, holding the sign of the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt. It also bore scenes of the enemies of Egypt and the names and titles of Ramses II. Two smaller statues were attached to the base, one of Merit-Amun and one of the king's mother. The head was found lying near the statue. The excavation will continue soon because the moving of the cemetery is almost complete. We will soon see the largest temple in Egypt, the temple of Min, and it will be clear why the site was chosen as one of the top 10 discoveries in Egypt.


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