Aten

5 strange discoveries from Egypt’s lost golden city

Archaeologists are calling it the most important find since Tutankhamun's tomb.

It’s the stuff of Indiana Jones: an ancient city buried for centuries under the sands of Egypt that has eluded archaeologists and explorers for decades. Now researchers have found it, and it’s full of pristine artefacts giving us a rare insight into life under the pharaohs.

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The city of Aten is the largest ancient dwelling ever found in Egypt. It’s located close to Luxor and dates back to the reign of Amenhotep III, one of Egypt’s most powerful pharaohs, who ruled from 1391 to 1353 BC.

The site is so large that new finds are expected to keep coming for months, but the famed Egyptologist Dr Zahi Hawass described it as a “lost golden city” that was quickly unearthed after excavation began in September 2020.

“Within weeks, to the team’s great surprise, formations of mud bricks began to appear in all directions,” Hawass said in a statement. “What they unearthed was the site of a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life.”

More detail is sure to follow, but here are five of the most exciting, unexpected and macabre discoveries so far.

1

An unusual skeleton

Finding the remains of ancient rulers and their subjects is not unusual in Egypt but one skeleton unearthed at Aten has puzzled archaeologists. The figure was found with its arms outstretched and rope tied around its knees and the team is still investigating why and how this person died. Elsewhere on the site, an entire cemetery has been located as well as stone tombs consistent with those found in the Valley of the Kings. They have not yet been opened.

2

A high-security wall

One unusual structure unearthed at the site is a zigzag wall, the design of which is unusual in Egyptian excavations. The wall has only one entranceway, leading researchers to speculate that it was heavily guarded or at least used to control entry and exit to what lay behind it: a mix of residential and administrative buildings.

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3

A container full of meat

Anyone for some 3,500-year-old meat? One of the less appetising finds of the dig so far is a vessel filled with what archaeologists believe is boiled or dried meat. The container is inscribed with the following: “Year 37, dressed meat for the third Heb Sed festival from the slaughterhouse of the stockyard of Kha made by the butcher luwy.”

“This valuable information, not only gives us the names of two people that lived and worked in the city but confirmed that the city was active and the time of King Amenhotep III’s co-regency with his son Akhenaten,” Hawass said.
4

A bakery

Not a meat-eater? Worry not. Aten also had a thriving bakery. Archaeologists have found a remarkably intact structure with a cooking and food preparation area, complete with ovens and storage pottery. “From its size, we can state the kitchen was catering a very large number of workers and employees,” Hawass said. Tools associated with spinning and weaving have also been unearthed at the site.
5

Seven different neighbourhoods

Perhaps the most incredible thing about the city is that its impressive state of preservation means archaeologists already know a lot about it. They have identified seven different residential neighbourhoods, as well as industrial and administrative centres. It reveals a lot about the city’s culture and economy, with evidence of metalwork and glassmaking. What isn’t yet known is why the city was abandoned. The rulers Akhenaten and Nefertiti are thought to have relocated their empire’s capital to the city of Amarna within a year of some of the finds uncovered being built. Perhaps further excavations will reveal why.