Feb. 20 ? British archaeologists have discovered the "Egyptian Lourdes," a town dating back to 2,500 B.C. that was probably home to priests, builders working on the pyramids and people who would have earned a living by selling religious objects. Buried in the desert sand near the necropolis of Saqqara, 15 miles from Cairo, the town has been pinpointed through geophysical imaging. It is lying 20 feet down in the sand, and measures approximately one mile by three-quarters of a mile, an area probably inhabited by 4,000 people
"We will not know for certain what lies beneath the sand until ? unless ? we excavate. However, the image shows three separate zones of building that we think represent temples, tombs and settlement respectively. The tombs belong to the Old Kingdom, the temples may well be of the 6th-1st century B.C. on the basis of similar structures that we tested in 2001," Tony Leahy of the University of Birmingham, and co-director of the Saqqara Geophysical Survey, told Discovery News. In the settlement, a causeway, lined with temples, leads to a central shrine dedicated to the Apis bull, the sacred bull of Memphis.
The team was originally seeking a long-lost road that would have been used to transport the heavy loads of building materials needed for pyramids and tombs. Instead, the archaeologists found a lake with a town on the side of it. This would indicate that the materials were carried by boat.
"It is important to bear in mind the town's location at the bottom of a slope down from the Saqqara plateau and abutting the Nile floodplain," said Leahy
At the time the town temples were built, Saqqara, the location of the celebrated Step Pyramid of Djoser, was a very important and much-visited religious and healing center, much like Lourdes, the French town that draws millions of faithful each year to seek its allegedly healing properties.
The newly discovered town, a one-line reference in the papers of French archaeologists Auguste Mariette and Jacques de Morgan who had worked in Egypt in the 1890s, may well at that date have been the point at which visitors arrived, found food and lodging, and could buy souvenirs.
"The priests had a good business in selling mummified ibis, falcons, baboons, cats, and other religious objects" Ian Mathieson, the other project director, told Discovery News
According to David Jeffreys, of the University College London's Institute of Archaeology, it is perhaps premature to describe the settlement as an independent city, since it was one of the desert-edge mortuary suburbs of Memphis.
"The area is almost certainly linked to the adjacent groups of sacred animal temple complexes of the Late and Hellenistic periods (6th-4th and 4th-1st centuries B.C.). As well as one of the reception points for pilgrims and other visitors, it may include the animal farms in which the ibis, falcons, baboons etc were reared and penned," Jeffreys told Discovery News.
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