located in the northern Nile Delta, 15 kilometers (about 9.5 miles) east of the Rosetta branch and 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) south of the Mediterranean coast (31°12′N, 30°45′E). The ancient mound occupies about 1 square kilometer (a half mile square). Visible structures on the surface are the temple precinct (B) and the two settlement mounds (A and C) of up to 20 meters (66 feet) above the level of cultivation. The first trial pits were dug in 1904; further excavations were undertaken during the 1960s by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) and, since 1982, by the universities of Alexandria and Tanta and by the Egyptian Antiquities Organization. Since 1983, surveys and excavations have been carried out by the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut in Cairo.


Buto. Statue group. On the left is Edjo, the goddess of Buto, and on the right, Ramesses II, nineteenth dynasty. (Courtesy Donald B. Redford)

The hieroglyphs spelling “House of Uto” (i.e., the temple of a cobra goddess named Uto) was the name of the town since the Ramessid period in the thirteenth century BCE; it gave rise to the Greek form, Buto. Before that, however, the names Pe (p) and Dep (dp) were used, and an even older name was in use during the late fourth millennium, Djebaut (“the heron”). Stressing the duality of the country, Uto was the representative of Lower Egypt but, in rituals and myths, Buto was treated as the capital of Lower Egypt—represented like Hierakonpolis, its Upper Egyptian counterpart, by “souls,” believed to be the deities or former kings. A burial custom, called “Butic burial,” is supposed to have its roots in the rituals of the prehistoric kings of Lower Egypt; however, despite a pictorial representation showing the subjugation of enemies, most probably at Buto, it seems doubtful that such a prehistoric kingdom ever existed. The town, which was later in the sixth Lower Egyptian nome, lost its political importance by the Old Kingdom and, apart from the Coffin Texts, is not mentioned again before the eighteenth dynasty. Finds from the New Kingdom include a Thutmose III–era stela and statuary from the time of Ramesses II, who rebuilt the temple. Finds from the twenty-sixth and the twenty-ninth dynasties included votive sculpture. In the fifth century BCE, Herodotus was impressed by the overall grandeur of the shrine. During Ptolemaic times, Buto was the capital of the nome Phthenotes, “The Land of Uto.”

The prehistoric settlement (layers I and II, c.3500–3200 BCE) belonged to a distinct Lower Egyptian culture, called Buto-Maʿâdi culture, which now is represented by about a dozen localities in the Nile Delta, where the culture reached its apex, as well as in the Faiyum. The most outstanding of the artifacts are some fingerlike clay objects, locally manufactured, but most likely influenced by personal contacts with people from the Uruk culture of Mesopotamia or its colonies in northern Syria. They may best be compared with clay nails from western Asia that were associated with architecture and used to form mosaic patterns. The local architecture, however, to which the objects must have been applied, has never been identified from excavations at Buto.

The later, so-called transitional layer (IIIa) showed remarkable cultural change, from the Lower Egyptian Predynastic to the Upper Egyptian culture of Naqada (which has been interpreted as a gradual cultural superposition by assimilation). This shift, recognized for the first time in Egyptian archaeology at Buto, has been dated to the time of Naqada IId (c.3300–3200 BCE).

Layer V, probably mid-second dynasty, yielded a building of extraordinary ground plan. It still showed remains of plaster and colored-wall decoration; its function was most probably nonsecular, either cultic or palatial.


  • von der Way, Thomas. Untersuchungen zur Spätvor-und Frühgeschichte Unterägyptens. Studien zur Archäologie und Geschichte Altägyptens, 8. Heidelberg, 1993.
  • von der Way, Thomas. Tell el-Faraʿîn-Buto, vol. 1: Ergebnisse zum frühen Kontext Kampagnen der Jahre 1983–1989. Archäologische Veröffentlichungen, Deutsches Archäologisches Institut Abteilung Kairo, 83. Mainz, 1997.

Thomas von der Way