Archaeologists have hailed the discovery of what is believed to be the largest ancient city found in Egypt, buried under sand for millennia, which experts said was one of the most important finds since the unearthing of Tutankhamun’s tomb.
The famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass announced the discovery of the “lost golden city”, saying the site was uncovered near Luxor, home of the Valley of the Kings.
The Egyptian mission under Dr Zahi Hawass found the city that was lost under the sands,” the archeology team said. “The city is 3,000 years old, dates to the reign of Amenhotep III, and continued to be used by Tutankhamun and Ay.”
It called the find the largest ancient city, known as Aten, ever uncovered in Egypt.
Betsy Bryan, Professor of Egyptian art and archaeology at Johns Hopkins University, said the find was the “second most important archeological discovery since the tomb of Tutankhamun”, according to the team’s statement.
Items of jewellery such as rings have been unearthed, along with coloured pottery vessels, scarab beetle amulets and mud bricks bearing the seals of Amenhotep III.
Hawass, a former antiquities minister, said: “Many foreign missions searched for this city and never found it.”
The team began excavations in September 2020, between the temples of Ramses III and Amenhotep III near Luxor, 500km (300 miles) south of the capital, Cairo.
“Within weeks, to the team’s great surprise, formations of mud bricks began to appear in all directions,” the statement read. “What they unearthed was the site of a large city in a good condition of preservation, with almost complete walls, and with rooms filled with tools of daily life.”
After seven months of excavations, several neighbourhoods have been uncovered, including a bakery complete with ovens and storage pottery, as well as administrative and residential districts.
Amenhotep III inherited an empire that stretched from the Euphrates to Sudan, archaeologists say, and died around 1354 BC.
He ruled for nearly four decades, a reign known for its opulence and the grandeur of its monuments, including the Colossi of Memnon – two massive stone statues near Luxor that represent him and his wife.
“The archaeological layers have laid untouched for thousands of years, left by the ancient residents as if it were yesterday,” the team’s statement said.
Bryan said the city “will give us a rare glimpse into the life of the Ancient Egyptians at the time where the empire was at his wealthiest”.
The team said it was optimistic that further important finds would be revealed, noting it had discovered groups of tombs it reached through “stairs carved into the rock”, a similar construction to those found in the Valley of the Kings.
“The mission expects to uncover untouched tombs filled with treasures,” the statement added.
After years of political instability linked to a popular revolt in 2011, which dealt a severe blow to Egypt’s key tourism sector, the country is seeking to bring back visitors, in particular by promoting its ancient heritage.
Last week, Egypt transported the mummified remains of 18 ancient kings and four queens across Cairo from the Egyptian Museum to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation, a procession dubbed the “Pharaohs’ Golden Parade”.
Among the 22 bodies were those of Amenhotep III and his wife Queen Tiye.