a site 32 kilometers (20 miles) south of Thebes, on the western bank of the Nile, in the third Upper Egyptian nome (25°29′N, 32°29′E). The two hills that form it are the source of its Arabic name, Gebelein, and its ancient Egyptian name, Inr-ti (“two rocks”); the southern hill is long and narrow, falling sheerly to the Nile. The site was also known by the Greek names Aphroditopolis and Pathyris, from Old Egyptian Per-Hathor (prḥwt-ḥr).

A temple to the goddess Hathor was built at this site, and during the Late period it was surrounded by a fortified wall of mud brick. On the western slope and the northern plain stood the ancient town, now partially covered by a modern village. In the wall that juts out over the Nile, there is a grotto dedicated to Hathor, a T-shaped vestibule and shrine. The northern hill, wider and more irregular in outline, is the site of a necropolis that has been incompletely investigated.

Although this site was known to the authors of the Déscription de l'Egypte (1804), it was not explored until 1884, after clandestine excavation indicated its importance. Investigations were then carried out by E. Grébaut and G. Daressy (1891), J. Morgan and G. Foucart (1893), G. W. Fraser and M. W. Blackden for the Egyptian Exploration Fund (1893), and H. de Morgan, L. Lortet, and C. Gaillard (1908–1909). 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 since 1990 in order to draw an archaeological map of the site.


Gebelein. View of Gebelein. (Courtesy Donald B. Redford)

The excavations in the area of the temple, on top of the first hill, unearthed the remains of the temple of Hathor within a fortified wall of mud bricks, on which the cartouche of the high priest Menkheperre, son of Pinudjem, is carved. Objects found include a royal stela from the second or third dynasty; many fragments of wall reliefs from the reign of Nebhepetre Montuhotep I (eleventh dynasty) and from the thirteenth and fifteenth dynasties; a foundation deposit from the time of Thutmose III; stelae and some stela fragments from the New Kingdom; and some Ptolemaic reliefs.

From the area of the town have come several collections. Together with papyri, there are probably more than four hundred Demotic and Greek ostraca, discovered by Schiaparelli, which reflect the life of the mercenary garrison quartered there from 150 to 88 BCE. Other Greek and Coptic texts on sheets of leather, dating from the late fifth and early sixth centuries CE, constitute evidence of the presence of the Blemmyes at Gebelein or on the island facing it.

The necropolis extends along the eastern slopes of the northern 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 fourth 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 fifth dynasty, containing three burials with rich furniture; a tomb with equipment from the end of the sixth dynasty; a tenth 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 eleventh dynasty, was decorated with a series of paintings of ceremonial scenes (in the chapel) and images of daily life (on the pillars and the 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 twelfth dynasty is attested by some inscriptions of Coffin Texts and by the remains of the rich equipment of Iqer that was devastated by thieves and termites.

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 PanGrave cultures that displayed both provincial elements and some Nubian influence.

The earliest tombs are simple ovals or rectangles. From the third to fourth dynasty the types vary: some consist of one or more rooms dug into the mountain, apparently without a façade; others are shaped like large, small, or even minute mastabas. By the eleventh or twelfth dynasty, as in the area of Thebes, there appear saff-tombs; these are constructed with porticoes of mud brick and a vaulted corridor, and 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 twelfth dynasty tomb.


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Anna Maria Donadoni Roveri