Joel Paulson and Catharine Roehrig
The amount of broken pottery found around the palaces and other buildings at Amenhotep’s festival city is staggering considering that the area appears to have been used for only a few months during each of Amenhotep’s three festivals. Even if preparations at the site began a year before each celebration of the king’s Heb-Sed, the city and its villages would have been occupied for only three to four years at most. And the main settlement area is not the only place at the site where one finds masses of pottery from the time of Amenhotep III.
A century ago, and probably long before, odd features were noted in the desert to the west of Malqata and the Birket Habu. Over a vast area, huge swathes of pot sherds litter the desert surface, and many of the sherds seem to be associated with well dug pits. The pottery includes the same types that are found around the buildings of the festival city, and a large percentage appear to have been large open-mouthed storage jars. But, it’s not just the types of pottery that are of interest – it’s their vast quantity and their unexpected location.
The initial impression is that the pottery was buried in pits and, at some later time, the pits were dug out and the pottery was strewn about. Whether the pots were buried whole and broken when they were dug out, or whether they were broken in some ceremony connected with the Heb-Sed and then buried, is not clear. Either way, they appear to have been smashed on site with groups of sherds from the same jar lying in and around the pits. At this time it’s impossible to make even a crude estimate of the number of pots that the ancient Egyptians took out into the desert to bury.
Another major point of curiosity is the location of the pits and sherds, which extend intermittently in large and small concentrations over an area ranging from a hundred meters (the length of a football field) to almost a kilometer from the King’s Palace. Why the ancient Egyptians would haul the pottery so far from the palace for disposal is one of the mysteries of these pot sherd pits.
For the past two days, we have been surveying the area covered by the sherd pits and scatters to determine their locations and extent. Next season, we will ask permission to study these areas in more detail. Scientific excavation and pottery analysis may help answer some of the questions about the purpose and function of these interesting features.
January 28, 2016