Archaeology reveals aspects of daily life 3,000 years ago, at height of Egypt’s power
New excavations near Luxor have revealed an extremely well-preserved urban settlement from Egypt’s 18th Dynasty. It was a time when Egypt’s powerful pharaohs ruled over an expansive empire that stretched to the land of Canaan and beyond. Known in antiquity as Aten, the settlement dates to the reign of Amenhotep III (1391–1353 B.C.E.) and his successors. The “lost golden city” may have been established to support and help administer the pharaoh’s royal residence, located nearby at the site of Malqata.
The excavations, which began in September 2020 under famed Egyptian archaeologist Zahi Hawass, are remarkable for what they reveal about daily life in New Kingdom Egypt, when Egyptian influence reached its peak across the ancient world. In one particularly well-preserved area, archaeologists uncovered an orderly and well-planned residential and administrative district enclosed by a well-built sinusoidal (zigzag) wall with a single entrance, suggesting access was restricted. Elsewhere, an almost industrial-scale bakery with ovens and large storage jars was discovered. The scale suggests that large numbers of residents, including laborers, needed to be fed. Another area revealed several workshops that produced everything from mud bricks for royal building projects to finer objects like jewelry and amulets.
Archaeological work at the site is expected to continue in the coming years. Key questions to be addressed include the nature and extent of a large burial ground found north of the site. Researchers are also eager to learn more about how life at Aten changed following the reign of Amenhotep III. When Amenhotep III’s son, the heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, took power, he famously moved the royal capital to the site of Tell el Amarna in Middle Egypt. While the recent excavations found some evidence that life at the site continued through the reigns of both Tutankhamun and Ay, who ruled after Akhenaten, it remains unclear how Akhenaten’s tumultuous religious reforms impacted the everyday lives of the site’s inhabitants.
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