the present-day name of the ancient Egyptian town of Nekheb, situated in southern Upper Egypt (25°10′N, 32°50′E), on the eastern bank of the Nile River, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) north of Edfu and opposite Kom el-Ahmar (the ancient Hierakonpolis). Elkab has a massive, almost square, enclosure wall made of mud bricks, which in all probability was erected in the time of Nektanebo II (r. 360–343 BCE), the last king of the thirtieth dynasty. Not only within this enclosure but also in the alluvial plain surrounding it and in the desert area north and northeast of the town, remains of all periods—ranging from prehistory to Greco-Roman times—have been discovered. The site was explored by British archaeologists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, by Belgian expeditions from 1937 to the present, and occasionally by Egyptian teams.

Elkab

Elkab. The remains of the Temple of Nekhbet at Elkab. (Courtesy Dieter Arnold)

The heart of the site consists of two contiguous temples. The largest of the temples is dedicated to the vulture goddess Nekhbet, the principal deity of Elkab and tutelary goddess of Upper Egypt; it was erected in sandstone by the kings of the last dynasties and shows several blocks that were taken from older constructions. The smaller temple, built in honor of the gods Sobek and Thoth, in its final stage dates to the reign of Ramesses II (r. 1304–1237 BCE). In the plain adjoining the eastern wall of the town enclosure are the remains of two small peripteral temples (having one row of columns around the building). One of these temples dates to the time of Thutmose III (r. 1504–1452); the other to Nektanebo I or II (r. 380–363 or 360–343 BCE). Northeast of the town, in the mouth of the Wadi Hillal, a river run dry, three minor but well-preserved sanctuaries can be visited: a temple of Amenhotpe III in honor of the goddess Hathor; a Ptolemaic hemispeos (a temple built partially with stone blocks and partially hewn out of the rock) dedicated to a lion goddess, Sekhmet; and a chapel from the time of Ramesses II.

As shown by several settlements, the site of Elkab has been inhabited since prehistory. An epi-Palaeolithic industry, called the Elkabian (c. 7000 BCE), was discovered by a Belgian expedition in 1968. No traces of pharaonicera private dwellings have as yet been found; however, a Greco-Roman village encircles the front side of the temple of Nekhbet. Demotic and Greek ostraca and some objects found in the ruins of the houses provide useful information on the village's economic and social life. Elkab and its surroundings comprise several cemeteries from various periods. Close to the Greco-Roman village, an important Naqada III burial ground (c.3300 BCE) was excavated (in 1968, and from 1977 to 1979). On both sides of the northern and eastern town walls, Old Kingdom mastaba tombs and mud-brick tombs from the Middle Kingdom have been unearthed by British and Belgian archaeologists, respectively. The rocky hills northeast of the town also contain numerous tombs. The best preserved of these, decorated with inscriptions and funerary scenes, belong to civil, military, and religious dignitaries; they testify to the prominent role that Elkab played in pharaonic times, particularly in the early eighteenth dynasty. Some tombs of the sixth dynasty, a period previously unattested in the rock-cut necropolis, have been identified, as well as a mud-brick mastaba from the early Old Kingdom.

In several places along the Wadi Hillal, rocks are covered with drawings from prehistory to the later periods; hieroglyphic inscriptions are also in evidence, consisting mainly of the names and titles of local sixth dynasty priests. Some of the inscriptions have been identified with people buried in the main rock-cut necropolis.

Bibliography

  • Depuydt, Frans, et al. Elkab, vol. 4: Topographie. Brussels, 1989. Contains several maps and a detailed inventory (with bibliographical references) of the archeological sites of Elkab and the surrounding area.
  • Hendrickx, Stan. Elkab, vol. 5: The Naqada III Cemetery. Brussels, 1994. Describes the materials excavated in this Predynastic site.
  • Huyge, Dirk. “Bearers of the Sun.” Discovering Archaeology. (1999), 48–58. Concerns the rock art in the mouth of the Wadi Hillal.
  • Limme, Luc, et al. Elkab: Excavations in the Old Kingdom Rock Necropolis. Egyptian Archaeology 11 (1997), 3–6.
  • Vandekerckhove, Hans, and Renate Müller-Wollermann. Elkab, vol. 6: Die Felsinschriften des Wadi Hilâl. Brussels and Turnhout, 2000. Corpus (with translation and commentary) of the hieroglyphic inscriptions in the mouth of the Wadi Hillal.

Luc J. H. Limme