Excavation in Egypt at Tell el-Balamun

The temple of Amun at Tell el-Balamun

Foundation deposit of Sheshonq III

The principal temple of the site was dedicated to the god Amun. Excavation has revealed three stages of building interspersed with periods of neglect and demolition.

Throughout the various stages the temple remained on the same spot, with the consequence that the later structures cut into those of earlier date. This process provided the essential features necessary to discover the sequence of building through the detailed observation of the way in which older ruins had been either buried under later deposits of material or cut by new foundations.

The oldest temple of which we have evidence on the site dated from the Nineteenth Dynasty (1295-1186 BC), but nothing remained in place of the original stone building. Its position could be determined only by the discovery of the associated wall of sun-dried brick which had surrounded the temple. This wall, with a thickness of over 11 metres, has been traced by excavation on three sides of the temple and the location of its gateways established. The only stone element to have survived from this temple was the lower part of a colossal statue of King Ramesses II with the god Amun and the goddess Mut, found re-used in the construction of a much later gateway. An inscription on this statue gives the early name of the city, Sma-Behdet.

Plaques and beads from one of the deposits of Sheshonq III More substantial remains were recovered from the rebuilding of the temple in the period between 825 and 550 BC. Building seems to have commenced under king Sheshonq III (825-773 BC), who constructed a large pylon gateway at the front of his new temple.

Small objects placed under the foundation of this gate as part of the ritual of establishing a new building - known as foundation deposits - were found to be inscribed with the name of the king. The royal name on the deposits appeared with that of the Fan Bearer, Hor, one of the highest officials of the time.

The foundations of temples of this period were entirely filled with clean sand, much of which remained in place, Sand-bed for the 30th dynasty forecourt wall so by following the extent of the sand it was possible to trace the ground-plan of the building, despite the fact that all the above-ground masonry had been quarried away in later periods.

The temple of Sheshonq III was enlarged by the kings of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty (664-525 BC) by the addition at the front of a colonnaded approach and another huge pylon gate, seventy-five metres wide, one of the largest known in Egypt. Of this, again, only the sand foundation-bed remains and unfortunately in this case no foundation deposits were preserved to identify the builder more precisely.

It is probable that this stage was initiated by king Psamtik I (664-610 BC) who is known to hFoundation deposit of Nectanebo I from the back of the temple ave been active at Tell el-Balamun, building a small temple in the southern part of the site and a new enclosure wall around the entire sacred area.

The stratigraphy of the site indicates that the whole of the temple of Amun was completely demolished sometime after the end of the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty in 525 BC. The former sacred site was then encroached upon by secular activities, such as the construction of pottery kilns and the cutting of rubbish-pits, and languished neglected until the temple was rebuilt once more under king Nekhtnebef (380-362 BC).

The back of this new temple lay directly over the former position of that built by Sheshonq III, but the discovery of a foundation deposit of Nekhtnebef at the rear corner of the building shows that the whole structure must have been rebuilt from foundation level. At the front, the earlier arrangement of a colonnaded approach and a great pylon was abandoned and instead Nekhtnebef's temple had a simple rectangular courtyard within a plain wall of limestone about two metres in thickness.

On the east side of this courtyard a raised terrace of mud-brick was constructed as the base for some kind of chapel, and to the west of the temple a separate sand-bed foundation, discovered in 1998, seems to have been intended for the Mammisi. A granite shrine was placed in the sanctuary but never inscribed and fragments of it are visible at the site today.

The temple-building programme of the Thirtieth Dynasty at Balamun was so ambitious, including not just the reconstruction of the main temple but also the addition of a subsidiary temple and the building of the latest enclosure wall, that it is not surprising that some elements were never completed. From the evidence of rubbish-pits cut into the area of the temple forecourt, it seems that the temple of Amun, at least, had ceased to function by the end of the Ptolemaic Period.

Images (from top):

  • Foundation deposit of Sheshonq III below the second pylon
  • Plaques and beads from one of the deposits of Sheshonq III
  • Sand bed for the Thirtieth Dynasty forecourt wall
  • Foundation deposit of Nectanebo I from the back of the temple