In a thrilling new find, archaeologists have found the remains of what they believe is one of six sun temples ever built by the Fifth Dynasty pharaohs. The discovery made in Abu Gorab, south of Cairo and north of the archaeology site of Abusir, is being hailed as one of the most important in several decades. Two of the six sun temples have already been found, and the latest discovery makes three. It has been 50 years or more since the second Egyptian sun temple was discovered, and the latest find is causing much excitement.
Archaeologists believe that they have pretty strong evidence that they have unearthed a third sun temple. Strangely enough, the ruins of the 3rd sun temple lie beneath the remains of the later Nyuserre sun temple, built by Nyuserre Ini, the sixth ruler of the Fifth Dynasty during the Old Kingdom period.
Dr Massimiliano Nuzzolo, assistant professor of Egyptology at the Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, told the Telegraph:
“We knew that there was something below the stone temple of Nyuserre. The fact that there is such a huge entrance would point to a new building. So, why not another sun temple, one of the missing sun temples?”
Artist’s reproduction of a Fifth Dynasty Egyptian sun temple. (National Geographic / Windfall Films / MCPR)
The Fifth Dynasty: Builders of the Ra Sun Temples
The sun temples of ancient Egypt were dedicated to the powerful sun god Ra who was also the creator god of the Egyptian pantheon. These temples were meant to confer god status on the pharaohs who built them. The sun temples thus granted them god status while they were still alive.
Pyramids on the other hand were built as final resting places to ensure pharaohs were resurrected as gods in the afterlife , says the Sun explaining the purpose of the sun temples compared to that of the pyramids. Primary sources of the period mention six to seven different sun temples built by the Fifth Dynasty pharaohs.
The six kings associated with having built sun temples are Userkaf, Sahure, Neferirkare, Reneferef or Neferefre, Nyuserre, and Menkauhor. The eighth pharaoh of the dynasty, Djedkare Isesi , seems to have abruptly discontinued the practice.
Until the recent discovery, only the remains of two of these temples, the one commissioned by the pharaoh Userkaf in Abusir and the one commissioned by pharaoh Nyuserre Ini of the same dynasty in Abu Gorab, had been found.
Newly discovered artifacts at Abu Gorab relating to the third Fifth Dynasty sun temple discovery. (National Geographic / Windfall Films / MCPR)
The Older Temple at Abu Gorab
That is precisely what makes the latest discovery at Abu Gorab so exciting. The 3rd sun temple lies beneath the temple of Nyuserre, who ruled for 25-30 years in the late 25th century BC.
Archaeologists digging at the temple of Nyuserre had noticed an older base made of mud bricks, indicating the existence of another building at the site, 50 years ago. They then discovered the 2-foot-deep (61-cm-deep) base of a white limestone pillar which suggested the original structure was quite impressive.
However, it took another 50 years for more evidence to be found, in the form of an array of beer jars filled with mud. These artifacts were clear evidence that this was not part of the temple above the ground but part of a completely different and older temple.
Beer jars filled with mud was the final piece of proof that an earlier sun temple existed at the site. (National Geographic / Windfall Films / MCPR)
According to Mail Online , Dr Nuzzolo said, “I have now many proofs that what we are excavating here is one of the lost sun temples.”
Beer jars filled with mud were offerings by the ancient Egyptians at their most sacred sites and their discovery here along with the architectural remains confirmed that they had found the third Fifth Dynasty sun temple. The Fifth Dynasty pharaohs reigned for about 150 years from the early 25th century BC to the mid-24th century BC.
The sun temples were all built according to the same pattern. Each had a large courtyard with a pillar or obelisk which aligned with the east-west axis of the sun. Like the pyramids, they had a separate entrance and exit and were all built on the west bank of the Nile River. Although mostly destroyed, their ruins suggest these were open-air worship sites rather than closed.
This latest find from Egypt confirms that this ancient civilization, a focus of archaeological study and funding for more than a century, hasn’t yielded all its secrets and that many sensational discoveries remain hidden for now.