Egypt: Gebelein (Jebelein) near Luxor

Gebelein (Jebelein) in Egypt

by Jimmy Dunn

A view of Gebelein in Southern Egypt

A view of Gebelein in Southern Egypt

Gebelein is an archaeological site located about 32 kilometers south of Luxor (ancient Thebes) on the western bank of the Nile (The archaeological site is actually known as Naga el-Gherira). There are two hills at the site that give it its Arabic name of Gebelein, as well as its ancient Egyptian name of Inr-ti, meaning "two rocks". In Greek times, it was known as Aphroditopolis, and also Pathyris, from Old Egyptian Per-Hathor ("Domain of Hathor). The site is really not of much interest to casual tourists as there is little in the form of visual remains, though the hills provide a good view of the Nile Valley. It may be of some interest, however, more because of the artifacts that originated here that are now spread around in various museums.

Flint and Gold Leaf knife from Gebelein

This site was known to the authors of the Description del l'Egypte, but it was not explored until 1884, after clandestine excavation indicated its importance. Investigations were then carried out by E. Grebaut and G. Daressy in 1891, J. Morgan and G. Foucart in 1893, G. W. Fraser and M. W. Blackden for the Egyptian Exploration Fund in 1893 and H. de Morgan, L. Lortet and C. Gaillard between 1908 and 1909.

Small statue of a lion unearthed at Gebelein

The objects found by the first phase of exploration are now kept in Cairo, Berlin and Lyon. The Guimet Museum in Lyon holds two extremely important prehistoric statuettes. The Egyptian Museum of Turin, then directed by Ernesto Schiaparelli, began its excavations in 1910, continuing in 1911, 1914 and 1920. Schiaparelli's successor, Giulio Farina, worked there in 1930, 1935 and 1937. The Turin Museum renewed explorations and excavation during 1990 in order to draw an archaeological map of the site. However, this turned out to be more of a rescue-archaeology mission after the team was informed by the local antiquities inspector that the local farmers were planning on extending their sugar cane fields into some parts of the archaeological site.

The region was obviously dedicated to the cult of Hathor, but was also a major cult region for Sobek, the crocodile god as well.

The eastern hill at Gebelein is dominated by the remains of a temple of Hathor, the decoration of which dates primarily from the 11th to the 15th Dynasties. However, this temple was certainly established by the end of the Early Dynastic Period and was still in existence during the Roman Period. It was later destroyed for its limestone.

The temple of Hathor stood within a fortified wall of mud bricks (dating to the Late Period), on which the cartouche of the high priest Menkheperre, son of Pinudjem, is carved. Objects found include a royal stela from the 2nd or 3rd Dynasty, many fragments of wall reliefs from the reign of Nebhepetre Montuhotep I (11th Dynasty) and from the 13th and 15th Dynasties, a foundation deposit from the time of Tuthmosis III, stelae and some stela fragments from the New Kingdom and some Ptolemaic reliefs. Hence, the site was occupied over a long period of Egyptian history.

From the area of the town, located below the eastern hill, have come several collections. Together with papyri, there are probably more than four hundred Demotic and Greek ostraca, discovered by Shiaparelli, which reflect the life of the mercenary garrison quartered there from 150 to 88 BC. Other Greek and Coptic (Christian) texts on sheets of leather, dating from the late 5th and early 6th centuries AD, constitute evidence of the presence of the Blemmyes at Gebelein or on the island facing it.

Predynastic Black-Top Pottery from Gebelein

The necropolis extends along the eastern slopes of the western hill and onto the northern plain. It yielded evidence from the Predynastic Period to the end of the Middle Kingdom. Among the most important discoveries were a Naqada II painted sheet, showing boats and funerary dancers, some Predynastic tombs with black-topped pottery and a series of administrative papyri from the end of the 4th Dynasty, which show great similarity to slightly later papyri discovered at the pyramid of Neferirkare at Abusir. Notable features of the necropolis included an intact tomb from the 5th Dynasty containing three burials with rich furniture, a tomb with equipment from the end of the 6th Dynasty, a 10th Dynasty tomb (now reconstructed at the Turin Museum) with unique stylistic characteristics belonging to Ini, nomarch and high priest of the temple of Sobek, Lord of Sumenu. The porticoed tomb of another Ini, a general and treasurer of the 11th Dynasty, was decorated with a series of paintings of ceremonial scenes (in the chapel) and images of daily life (on the pillars and walls of the portico). These paintings are of extraordinary interest because they combined Egypt's classical style with novel and lively elements, typical of provincial culture. The end of the 12th Dynasty is attested by some inscriptions of Coffin Texts and by the remains of the rich equipment of Iger that was devastated by thieves and termites.

The Naqada II painted sheet from Gebelein

The Naqada II painted sheet from Gebelein

Stelae of Nubian mercenaries of the First and Second Intermediate Periods display a rough, vigorous style. These are now in various collections, including the Turin Museum, along with objects from the C-Group and Pan-Grave cultures that displayed both provincial elements and some Nubian influence.

The earliest tombs are simple ovals or rectangles. From the 3rd to 4th Dynasty the types vary. Some consist of one or more rooms dug into the mountain, apparently without a facade. Others are shaped like large, small or even minute mastabas. By the 11th or 12th Dynasty, as in the area of Thebes, there appear saff-tombs. These are constructed with porticoes of mud brick and a vaulted corridor. At least one has paintings. To date, little is known about tomb types of the New Kingdom and the Late Period. From the Schiaparelli excavations, only some skeletons of secondary burials are known, probably from the Ptolemaic Period, found in a 12th Dynasty tomb.

Across from Gebelein on the east bank of the Nile is Moalla, another small necropolis with tombs dating from the First Intermediate period. These tombs belong to local dignitaries who became local rulers during the period. One tomb of interest belonging to Ankhtifi explains the administration of the region during the famine that that occurred.

It should also be noted that there was a quarry very near Gebelein at Dibabia, which was reopened by Smendes.






Reference Number

Atlas of Ancient Egypt

Baines, John; Malek, Jaromir


Les Livres De France

None Stated

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, The

Redford, Donald B. (Editor)


American University in Cairo Press, The

ISBN 977 424 581 4

Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, The

Shaw, Ian


Oxford University Press

ISBN 0-19-815034-2