What happened to Sobek? Revealing the crocodile-temple at Gebel el-Silsila (Short: Digging the crocs at Silsila)
Expedition period September 15 2018 – February 28 2019
What are we creating?
The archaeology at Gebel el-Silsila is astonishing and mind-blowing. With our excavation we are increasing awareness of a long lost temple, unveiling the secrets of when, how and why the crocodile-god and his sacred edifice was abandoned, no longer being in favour with the local (or domestic) priesthood and perhaps even the pharaoh himself.
We will share our discoveries with you through a beautifully illustrated publication written by our team and with stunning imagery produced by our photographers, presenting for the first time the excavations of a temple with its dismantled and destroyed building blocks, fragments and artefacts of devotions still preserved inside of it, dumped into its western part.
This is Egyptian archaeology at its best: temple, crocodiles, pharaohs, mystery and unfortunately destruction. But it is also an authentic, real mystery scene where the destruction of a temple and the hatred towards its main god screams out for justification! Can we finally, after almost 3000 years, explain what happened to Sobek? Let’s try to do that together!
If you are interested in learning more about the project and our previous excavations, surveys, and results, check out our blog, the personal director's page at Lund University, or at Facebook. Of course we sincerely hope that you will back us and be part of our journey!
Gebel el-Silsila was Ancient Egypt’s largest sandstone quarry, located in southern Egypt, just north of Kom Ombo in the Aswan region.
As a unique site in Egypt it contains archaeological records of over 10,000 years of human activity, with Prehistoric rock art, Pharaonic grand monuments, Graeco-Roman infrastructure and administration buildings; incredible testimonies of a thriving ancient past.
The Temple of Sobek was re-discovered in 2015, situated on a sandstone outcrop, once holding structures build from sandstone, limestone and details in granite. Chronologically, we can trace at least three royal families: Thutmoside, house of Amenhotep III, and Ramesside. In addition, Romans were active here during the time of Trajan-Antonius Pius, although at a time when the temple was already long gone.
Not much was known about the temple until 2015 when an initial survey was conducted by the team, following a map from the early 20th century and notes from the 1980’s. Previous records describe in few words a destroyed Temple of Ramses II, but no comprehensive excavation was carried out. The results of the 2015 survey and following excavations were beyond all expectations.
In the main temple area, hundreds of sandstone and limestone fragments were recovered, containing hieroglyphs and relief decoration, some preserved in their original colour. But we also found foundation deposits, votive offerings, and items of daily life; all witnessing of the temporal development of the temple’s past.
In 2017 another, adjoining structure was discovered to its west, containing yet more and vivid information, revealing the Horus-name of Ramses II and the title of the crocodile-god as “Sobek, Lord of Kheny”. Inscribed fragments from the reigns of Amenhotep III and Ramses II showed us that there was once a grand interior door. Objects of veneration, such as a small votive figurine of a crocodile, were also found. So was a kiln, coins, ostraca and fishing equipment from the Roman era, long after the destruction of the temple.
Sobek – the crocodile God
The crocodile-god Sobek (literally meaning “crocodile” in ancient Egyptian) was the principal deity of Gebel el-Silsila and the only god entitled “Lord of Kheny”. He was worshiped there since at least the 12th Dynasty.
However, no records of the god are attested at Gebel el-Silsila after the Ramesside period. Instead, we can notice a complete eradication of crocodile images, in which the figures and name of Sobek are erased. Graffiti of later periods instead show a crocodile as a defeated enemy, representing the maleficent snake-god Apophis of the Underworld, harpooned by the mighty falcon-god Horus; Sobek had become a face of evil.
Certainly, there is a distinct change in religious practice, and the Theban triad with Amun-Re, Mut and Khonsu replaces Sobek as the most important deities at Gebel el-Silsila. This change is noticeable elsewhere in Egypt to, and it is believed to reflect socio-political changes during the Third Intermediate Period, but so far, scholars have failed to explain why, how and exactly when.
By studying the artefacts discovered in the Temple of Sobek at Gebel el-Silsila, we hope to find answers to these questions. We hope to find clues to this mystery, and piece together the jigsaw puzzle that makes the story of Sobek, Lord of Kheny.
The entire temple was completely dismantled, down to its foundation blocks during antiquity – or at least that was what we thought during the first season! The ancient surface of the temple was covered by blown-in sand and modern debris, including cement and slag left from the construction of the modern canal and associated bridge. The excavations of the main temple in 2015 revealed a structure of approximately 35 x 18 m, which included four dressed floor levels, column bases, inner and outer walls, and archaeological evidence for at least four different chronological periods. The remains of five dressed and raised column bases were located, and so was a raised and dressed platform with dressed sandstone surface, parts of which have received linear positioning marks that indicate the location of interior and exterior walls, including four chambers.
Excavations continued in 2017 with focus on an area known to the team as “Temple Mound”, which is a small mound of silt, sand and debris accumulated around a tamarisk tree over the years since abandoned in antiquity. The mound rose from a few centimetres to several meters above the natural sandstone slope. Below the modern rubble was found a layer of ancient debris of predominantly dressed and decorated sandstone and limestone fragments and pottery sherds. Further below was a layer of pure Nile silt, brought by the annual inundation. Underneath we found dressed and aligned sandstone blocks, together with several fragments from the original temple and artefacts indicating cultic life.
The daily activity and the various phases were documented by means of 3D photogrammetry, combined with traditional archaeological recording techniques, photography and GIS mapping.
The work planned for the winter of 2018-2019 will extend the excavation area towards the south and north respectively in order to understand the function(s) of the various structures, but also towards the east with the aim of connecting this new structure with the main temple.
Why we need Your help!
So far, neither the main temple, nor its western structure have been fully excavated. In the western part, we estimate that 2/3 remain to be excavated, while 1/3 remains of the main temple. The reason the temple has not been excavated fully is partially due to time restriction, but mainly financial. We need to employ more local workers and have time for our experts to analyse all the finds in detail. We strongly feel that we must continue to uncover the temple, study its archaeology and tell its story.
We would like to understand why the temple was destroyed and why Sobek became a maleficent villain instead of Silsila’s divine benefactor. Solving the mystery of Sobek also includes opening a window into the daily life on site: who were the people active there? Were live crocodile kept there captive as was the case in nearby Kom Ombo Temple? Who were the priests and what did their daily activity look like? Of course, another intriguing and driving question is how the temple actually look in its complete form?! We need Your help to find the answers and do this!
The archaeological excavations must be performed with greatest care and up-to-date techniques of reclamation, documentation and analysis. This is equally expensive and time consuming. Furthermore, to complete the analysis and produce a book – the post-excavation work – we need months of work in the office. To be brief, what need to be done are all very important but costly undertakings, which is why we are depending on You for funding.
What we will use the money for
If we reach our goal with this Kickstarter campaign, we will be able to excavate the western part of the temple, to locate its boundaries, to analyse the artefacts, and produce a beautifully illustrated book presenting results in English. This is the part of the temple that contains fragments of the once glorious temple structure dedicated to Sobek. Some have already been recovered, but we are convinced many more are still left to be discovered.
We hope that by analysing the structure and its artefacts we can find answers to why the temple was destroyed and why Sobek was disposed from his position as the main god of Silsila.
The funding will cover costs mainly for local workmen, basic archaeological equipment, food and living costs while in the field, and post-excavation work including the production of the book. Rewriting history and telling the story of Sobek!
One of the main issues in this project is to make the Temple of Sobek known to the public in a format attractive and available to all kinds of readers. Since the start of the Silsila Project in 2012, public interest has been enormous and with each discovery it increases! The Temple of Sobek is no exception, and it comes with a potential key to unlock the mystery of why the main god Sobek disappeared from Silsila and was replaced with the image of a speared enemy.
We would love to share with You the spectacular finds combined with the story of Sobek!
Risks and challenges
There are various challenges, but the main challenge is the actual excavation costs; to predict costs that will arise that cannot be foreseen. Such costs often come hand in hand with extra efforts needed, and naturally depend on what we will discover. We may find structures that require immediate conservation or restoration work, we may find items that are incredibly vulnerable or unique and thereby require urgent need of specialists, scientific analysis, or similar.
Another challenge is of course if there is a major discovery that requires an extension of the field season (as has happened to us before!). We have, however, tried our best in assessing the costs needed to fulfil the goals listed above.
The other major challenge is to compose a high quality publication written in a style and with information attractive to various types of readers while at the same time being fare and detailed enough to paint the full picture of the story. For this, we need to find a balance between science and storytelling, information and exciting archaeology! Obviously, another risk is that the production of the book takes longer than expected for external reasons.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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