Recent Finds From Tell El-Farcha In The Nile Delta


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Research at Tell el-Farcha in the Nile Delta, northern Egypt, has completely changed our understanding of the origins of the Egyptian kingdom. Among other things, one of the oldest breweries in the world and a unique golden statue from about 5 000 years ago was discovered there. This year marks the 20th anniversary of these excavations.

One of the graves discovered at Tell el-Farcha
[Credit: R. Slabonski]

"When we started excavations in Tell el-Farcha, we knew that it was the right place to conduct research, but we were not expecting such spectacular results even in our wildest dreams", said Prof. Krzysztof Ciałowicz from the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, who heads the research on this site together with Dr. Marek Chłodnicki from the Archaeological Museum in Poznań, in an interview with the Polish Press Agency.
Tell el-Farcha is three small hillocks located next to the modern village of Gazala. Inside them there are the remains of a settlement, a cemetery and a ceremonial and residential complex dating back more than 5 000 years. Archaeologists have discovered there, among other things, some of the oldest breweries in the world, golden statues showing rulers, bone figurines of people and animals which, according to scientists, are among the most beautiful specimens of art at the time of the formation of the Egyptian state.

"The importance of discovery leads us to believe that this settlement might even have been one of the capitals of the Egyptian kingdom at the end of the fourth millennium. Such a conclusion means that we have to radically change our view of the early history of Egypt", believes Prof. Ciałowicz.

One of two gold figurines discovered at Tell el-Farcha
[Credit: R. Slabonski]

So far, the prevailing opinion among Egyptologists was that the impulse associated with the development of civilization was based on communities in Upper Egypt. "However, it turns out that the level of advancement of peoples in northern Egypt was in no way inferior to the communities in the south", adds Prof. Ciałowicz.
Polish archaeologists were not the first to excavate in Tell el-Farcha. The Italians started research 30 years ago, but they did not bring spectacular findings and abandoned the excavation. "At that time, archaeologists were only a hair's length away from a deposit of precious figurines from 5,000 years ago, which has already been exposed by our research mission", recalls Dr. Marek Chłodnicki, who also participated in Italian research. The scientist adds that it is important to have patience while excavating. "In our case, spectacular results appeared only after 8 years", he notes.

In Ciałowicz's opinion, the results of the work of the Polish mission clearly indicate that Egypt still warrants excavation and archaeological research, and in the coming years Poznań and Cracow researchers intend to continue their work at Tell el-Farcha.

The oldest Egyptian mastaba (tomb of a nobleman) made of mud-bricks
was also discovered at Tell el-Farcha [Credit: R. Slabonski]

Scientists have yet to explain the reasons for the collapse of the settlement. This occurred around 2600 BC, when the largest Egyptian pyramids were built, including the Cheops pyramid in Giza. "We suppose that the inhabitants were largely engaged in long-distance trade, and in that period the course of trade routes changed, and these did not pass through Tell el-Farcha anymore," adds Prof. Ciałowicz.
In the previous years, the scientists carried out geophysical research on the site, which enabled them to penetrate the surface without any physical intervention. Thanks to this research, they have identified several other excavation sites. They hope, among other things, to discover graves from as early as the middle of the fourth millennium BC. So far, according to Dr Chłodnicki's estimates, less than 10% of the area of the entire prehistoric settlement has been explored.

Prof. Ciałowicz adds that the excavations in Tell el-Farcha must be continued because of the fact that the contemporary buildings threaten the prehistoric remains. "The modern settlement adjacent to the hills continues to grow," he points out. According to Dr. Chłodnicki, it will take several decades to fully explore Tell el-Farcha. "When I first came here, I didn't think we would spend more than 5 years in this place", he says.

Assortment of ivory figurines discovered at Tell el-Farcha
[Credit: R. Slabonski]

When archaeologists started excavations at the site, the work was much more time consuming and difficult," recalls Prof. Ciałowicz. Now, with the technological progress, documenting the results is much faster. "Two decades ago, we drew objects and archaeological profiles on large sheets of paper; now, with the use of electronic devices, the drawings are automatically stored in computers", says the scientist.

As a result, work which a few years ago would have required a few days to complete can now be done in one afternoon.

More information on the Tell el-Farcha excavation is available on the project's website.

Source: PAP - Science in Poland [May 10, 2019]
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