Friday, June 3, 2011

Page 17: Temple Origins

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Picture: Modern excavation of area HK 29 at Hierakonpolis has
discovered much information about this very early temple. The
past holes that once held the great wooden pillars that fronted
the shrine are visible. Click to enlarge.
peoples - perhaps including the Nabtans themselves - began to move down from the Libyan and Arabian highlands and to construct settlements along the bank of the River Nile. At this time, Egyptian gods which were already ancient were probably given homes which were the precursors in their basic plans in later ancient Egyptian temples.

Hieraknopolis: the shrine in the south
Not until the Early Dynastic period, however, do we gain a fairly clear picture of what these earliest temples may have looked like. The first example of a cult temple of this period known to us is that of Nekhen or Hieraknopolis - 'city of the falcon' as the Greeks called it - in southern Egypt (Kom el-Ahmar; p. 203). Recent excavations in this area indicate that by 3500 BC Hierakonpolis was perhaps the most important settlement in the Nile Valley and may have acted as  a king of natural shrine for Upper Egypt in the early period. Archaeological evidence uncovered since 1985 shows that the earliest temple complex at thesite consisted of a large, parabolic-shaped court over 32 m (105 ft) long and some 13 m (43 ft) wide. The court was bounded by a mud-covered reed fence and contained a large mound of sand and, near the ourt's apex, a tall pole which, judging by later representational evidence , bore a flag or totem, possibly an image of the falcon form deity of Hierakonpolis. On the north side of the court were a gateway and a number of small rectangular buildings - evidently workshops associated with the cult - while on the court's south stood the shrine itself.

From the evidence of the excavated post holes and trenches, combined with early representations of the shrine on surviving seal impressions, we know that it was a rectangular structure fronted by huge wooden pillars 1-1.5 m (3ft 3 in - 4 ft 11 in) in diameter and as much as 12 m (39 ft 4 in) high. The
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Picture: A reconstruction of ancient Egypt's oldest known temple at Hierakonpolis.

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