A joint Italian-Polish archaeological mission working in the Abu Gorab necropolis, south of Egypt’s Giza pyramids, found the remains of a building believed to be one of four lost sun temples built in the Old Kingdom, the country’s antiquities ministry said.
The unearthed structure is thought by Egyptologists to have been built during the reign of the fifth dynasty of ancient Egypt which ruled from 2465-2323 BCE, making it one of the oldest buildings in the area.
If the structure is confirmed as one of the four lost temples, as preliminary investigations suggest, it would make it one of the oldest structures in the relic-rich area.
According to the antiquities ministry’s statement, the remains of the lost temple were found buried beneath a newer temple built during the rule of King Nyuserre.
A prolific builder who reigned as the sixth pharaoh of the fifth dynasty, Nyuserre also built six pyramids during his reign: three for himself and his queens and another three for his father, mother and brother, all in Giza’s Abusir necropolis.
Furthermore, he constructed the largest surviving temple to the sun god Ra built during the Old Kingdom, as well as the Nekhenre, another Sun temple built to honour Userkaf, another fifth dynasty pharaoh, and the valley temple of Menkaure in Giza.
He is credited with reviving activity in the Giza area after his fifth dynasty predecessors had halted most activities in the area since the end of the fourth dynasty.
One of the most well-preserved Old Kingdom relics in the area, the newer temple was discovered in the early 1900s by a German mission working in Giza and covers a surface area of 7,600 square metres.
The remains of the recently-unearthed older temple were only accessible through a limestone doorway that leads into a long shaft paved with mud brick, which contains slabs of quartz rock embedded in the floor beneath the surface temples.
Dr Ayman Ashmawy, a prominent archaeologist who heads the Egyptology department of the country’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, said in a statement that all signs point to Nyuserre having removed parts of the lost temple while constructing his prominent sun temple.
He said that pottery fragments found between the foundation of the newer temple and the remains of the buried temple have been interpreted as part of a foundation ritual where builders laid down ceramics before they began their work as a way to bless the site.
The ceramics comprised various kinds of vessels including ones for drinking beer, serving food and others that had red-painted edges, the significance of which was unknown, said the ministry’s statement.
The mission also found a number of fragments from clay seals bearing the name of King Shepseskare, an important find, according to Rosanna Birley, who heads the Italian part of the mission. Little is known about this fifth dynasty ruler and the finding could uncover more about his life and reign.
More excavations will be carried out at the site in the coming months, said the antiquities ministry, as the mission hopes to unearth the lost temple in its entirety.