The discovery of the Golden City

Zahi Hawass , Tuesday 14 Mar 2023

Zahi Hawass writes on the ancient Egyptian Golden City discovered near the Valley of the Kings in Luxor two years ago

Golden City
Golden City


The main street of the city extends to the north of the first district. The street runs east to west, and therefore we believe that the main entrance of the city was located on the west side. The southern edge of the second district is bordered by a serpentine wall.

From the main street there is another side street that extends from the eastern end of the first street to the south that leads to the main entrance of the first district. It is worth noting that the floor level of this street is higher than that of the first and second districts. This construction method was used by the ancient Egyptians to protect houses and workshops from the wind and bad weather. It could also have provided cool air inside the houses. 

The main street extends further to the east beyond our current excavations.

The second district is larger than the first and is surrounded by serpentine walls on the south, north, and east sides. Unfortunately, we were unable to uncover evidence of the western extent of the second district as it is under the paved road that leads to the Valley of the Queens.

Concerning the general plan of the second district, it appears that the entrance was on the west side, as the passage that leads to the district extends from west to east. This district is remarkable in that it contains very extensive industrial activities, such as several ovens and many public places for preparing food and grinding grain. The district also contains industrial workshops. 

Additionally, we found a kitchen that contains five ovens used for cooking meat and a store of dried meat consisting of a large group of pots for meat storage. One of these vessels was inscribed with two lines of hieratic text that mentions the quantity of meat, the name of the slaughterhouse, and year 37 of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III’s reign. The text is translated as:

- Regnal year 37, cured (or dry) meat for the third heb-sed festival, pure.

- From the stockyard of the slaughterhouse of the royal scribe Kha,12 made by the butcher Iwy,2 hn.

This particular vessel is unique because it has a rare, or perhaps unique, comment on the quantity of meat inside it.

This district is also remarkable for its fine architectural style. There is a passage on the entrance from the west to the east adjacent to the northern end of the district. Small rooms open onto it from the north. All the rooms have a similar plan: square-ended with a semi-circular shape to the north.

The northern serpentine wall surrounds the second district. Each room is surrounded by a transverse wall that divides the northern section from a storeroom for each room. These rooms contain ovens for the preparation of food.

Additionally, ceramic vessels that were placed on a fire for warming were uncovered in the area. When we found them, it was as if they had been left yesterday, with the fire still containing layers of ash. Furthermore, near the vessels we uncovered the fuel used for the fire. The vessels used for eating or drinking were still covered with a layer of soot. The rooms had several entrances, and each has a door, 120 cm high, with a gable-shaped top.

We believe that these rooms were used for living and resting in by supervisors, and such sleeping areas still exist today in some villages in Upper Egypt. The gable-shape provides coolness for the room in the summer and warmth in winter.

All the objects and the mudbricks in this area were dated to the reign of Amenhotep III. We did not uncover anything dated after his reign. The two most important pieces of evidence in terms of dating the district are a wine vessel that bears a date of year 26 of Amenhotep Ill’s reign and the meat storage vessel dated to year 37 of the king’s reign.

Interestingly, in this district all the doors were closed with mudbrick. We believe the closing of the doors to the rooms and workshops may indicate that the inhabitants of the city left for Amara with Amenhotep IV/Akhenaten to work in the new capital. Each one of the inhabitants wanted to secure their rooms and workshops in Thebes so they could use them when they returned to Thebes.

This raises the question of whether the city continued to be used by Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb.


ACTIVITIES: This district had the following extensive industrial activities:

- The production of faience jewellery: We uncovered a large quantity of moulds that were used to make amulets and decorative elements. We also uncovered about 100 amulets resting beside the moulds. Of special interest were faience rings in different colours, including blue used for royal jewellery impressed with the name of Amenhotep III.

- The production of jewellery from stones: Near one of the ovens, we uncovered many stones of different varieties that were used for the production of jewellery.

- Weaving industry: We discovered a great number of tools that were used in weaving, such as a pulley that still held string and ceramic spinning bowls.

- Sandal production: We uncovered a workshop that contained leather, needles, footwear, and a borer that was used for making shoes and sandals.

There are still several features that were uncovered in the city that are in need of further study. For instance, there were two well-preserved cow skeletons that were found inside a room surrounded by high walls of mudbrick. This room had no door, as if it had been built for the burial of the cow. We are not certain if these burials date to the era of the city; however, further investigation will commence shortly.

Near the cow skeleton in an adjacent room, we found a human skeleton that was found with the hands at its sides, the legs extended, and with a rope around the knees.

Further investigation of this skeleton is needed. We uncovered another human burial in a room inside the second district, but it was missing the upper part of the body and the two legs. In the second room near this skeleton, we uncovered the burial of another cow under the floor’s surface. We plan to investigate the motive for the placement of the human burials near those of the cattle. Was the placement related to a religious festival, or was it simply an accident?

We also discovered a mummified fish (length 75 cm) covered with a very thin layer of gold. It could be a kind of fish used in temple offerings. We found two fishing hooks, both in an excellent condition, and near them, a small stelae in the shape of a fish.

A small stelae made of terracotta shows the goddess Mut seated on a chair with a large-sized Horus falcon facing her. In the lower register is a row of offering bearers. The painted stelae is very rare and needs further study.


SECOND EXCAVATION: The second excavation took place in the middle of the site on the far west side in the location of a mound that contained pottery sherds and pieces of mudbricks. 

The size of the mudbricks here is larger than the ones found in the first excavation. They also differ in colour.

Under the first level, we uncovered a level that contained layers of ash, pottery sherds, and pieces of faience. Below this, we uncovered a large number of mudbricks. Near the mudbricks, a place for the mud (sweat room) was found. We also discovered impressions of workmen’s feet and egg-shaped blocks of mud. 

The mudbricks are very large (44 cm long, 22 cm wide, 13 cm high). Some were stamped with the cartouche of Nebmaatre. This type of mudbrick was used to build temples and palaces, but it was not used for any buildings in the city itself, indicating that making these particular bricks was another industry of the city.

The third excavation took place on the far northwest side of the site towards the north beyond the city. The nature of the surface of this region is different than the surface of the other areas. It is higher than the surface of the site as a whole and it is not covered with debris. It is the original surface, or the natural rock, that provides the height of this region of the site. Here, we uncovered mudbrick walls of one or two courses.

After the removal of the lowest level, we discovered stairs cut into the rock that led to a cemetery that dates to the Late Period. This cemetery contains many rock-cut tombs each with the same plan. Each tomb has stairs cut into the previous flood level. The stairs lead in a westward direction to a square room that leads to another room that contains the burial shaft and which also leads to the second, lower level of the tomb. 

Around the stairway entrance were mudbrick walls that formed the chapel superstructure of the tomb. So far, we have uncovered four tombs with this same architectural plan. In one tomb, we discovered a set of canopic jars, an offering table, a group of amulets, shawabtis, and the remains of bracelets.

These artefacts provide a date for the tombs from the 25th to the 27th Dynasty. 


NAME OF THE CITY: We uncovered a large number of mudbrick seals for wine jars with hieroglyphic texts that indicate the name of the city as [pr] THn, which means “[the estate] of Dazzling Aten”.

The inscriptions read: “wine from the western river to THn Itn.” The Palace of Amenhotep I at Malkata was called “Nebmaatre is the Dazzling Aten (THn It)” and the “House of Rejoicing (pr Hai).” This same city was also mentioned in the titles of the officials and princes who worked in it in their tombs, but the location of the named city was not known. 

The reference to THn It indicates that our Golden City is the continuation of the town that supported the Malkata Palace and perhaps the memorial temple of Kom Al-Hetan.

I believe that the discovery of this town is incredibly important. I originally called it “the Lost Golden City” because it was built in a “golden age”, the reign of Amenhotep III, and because we never imagined that we would discover it. 

The city provides details of daily life in a New Kingdom city. The state of preservation is excellent. The city contains tools, ovens, and a great number of ceramics, and in some rooms, we discovered everything as it was left at that time, for instance granite grinding tools and vessels to store grain liquid. We also found a massive vessel that the villagers today call a zeir and, near it, a small ceramic vessel that is used to drink water from the larger vessel.

Also important was the discovery of a seal with the name of a temple of Akhetaten, especially since it was discovered in Thebes. Together, the evidence for the name of the city, the epithet of Amenhotep Ill, and the name of the palace, may suggest that Amenhotep III was the one who began the worship of Aten, but that he did not neglect the other deities.

We hope that the further excavation of the west section of the city will reveal evidence of whether Nefertiti, Tutankhamun, Ay, and Horemheb all utilised this city. We also hope to find the funerary temple of Tutankhamun.

A version of this article appears in print in the 16 March, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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