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Archaeologists Unearth a 3,000‑Year‑Old ‘Lost’ City In Egypt

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Apr 9, 2021

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Image Credit: Zahi Hawass

A new archaeological discovery has created ripples: the largest ancient city in Egypt, thought to be more than 3,000 years old and buried under sand all this time, is buried no more.

Called the “lost golden city,” Aten, the site, was uncovered near the southern city of Luxor. The discovery of Aten “will give us a rare glimpse into the life of the Ancient Egyptians at the time where the empire was at its wealthiest,” Betsy Bryan, Ph.D., professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, U.S., said in a statement.

Aten was discovered in the Valley of the Kings, a historical stretch of land that served as a burial site for Egyptian kings (called pharaohs) for nearly 500 years between 1539–1075 BCE. Exploration for Aten is not new; according to Zahi Hawass, Ph.D., a famous Egyptologist, several government missions in the past had searched for the city but never found it. Hawass’s team, with help from Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, discovered ancient riches and a peek at past Egyptian life: now-faded rings, strings of jewelry, colored pottery vessels, beetle amulets, and mud bricks depict a life temporally and geographically far away.

Bryan called the find the second-most important archaeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun, who has been called the most famous pharaoh. Tutankhamun, or more colloquially recognized as King Tut, was an ancient Egyptian ruler who was the last member of his dynasty. His legacy was mired in politics and controversy, and there was little evidence of his rule until his tomb was famously discovered in 1922. Carrying a hoard of artifacts, it revealed King Tut and his father’s riddled history.


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The discovery site, Aten, dates back to a city that existed during the era of Pharaoh Amenhotep III (King Tut’s grandfather), who ruled around 1386 to 1353 B.C; his was a regime of extraordinary wealth, power, and luxury, Erin Blakemore explains in the National Geographic. The legend goes that in his final years, Amenhotep III briefly reigned alongside his son, Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (who later took the name Akhenaten). But the story of Aten — then known as Akhenaten, too — is engulfed in mystery and historical conjecture: the contentious Amenhotep IV left his empire and religion in Thebes (modern-day Luxor) to move with his wife, Nefertiti, to his eponymous new capital city of Akhenaten, start a new religion, and inspire a cultural revolution.

But Amenhotep IV’s dynasty was retrospectively scrubbed from Egyptian history as the culture reverted to its original religion and capital after the death of his son, King Tut.

“Starting with his son, the boy-king Tutankhamun, Akhenaten’s capital, his art, his religion, and even his name was dismissed and systematically wiped from history … which has fueled archaeological speculation for hundreds of years,” Blakemore writes.

Aten’s discovery is a step beyond an understanding of ancient Egyptian life, shedding light on one of history’s greatest mysteries. Experts hope to find answers to the pharaoh’s transformation and more details about everyday life under the storied Amenhotep IV.

“There’s no doubt about it; it really is a phenomenal find,” says Salima Ikram, Ph.D., an archaeologist who leads the American University in Cairo’s Egyptology unit. “It’s very much a snapshot in time — an Egyptian version of Pompeii.”

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Written By Saumya Kalia

Saumya Kalia is Culture Editor at The Swaddle. Her journalism and writing explore issues of social justice, digital sub-cultures, media ecosystem, literature and memory as they cut across socio-cultural periods. You can reach her at @Saumya_Kalia.

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