Archaeologists uncover ancient Egyptian beer and bread-making facilities

An archaeological excavation in Southern Egypt led by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago has uncovered two large buildings dating to around 2400-2350 BC used to brew beer and make bread.

Image: G. Marouard

Researchers and archaeologists at the Oriental Institute have been investigating the ancient Egyptian city of Tel Edfu, 400 miles south of Cairo, for over 16 years.

In December 2017, they unearthed two large mudbrick buildings which they state “appear to be centres for official administration”. Surrounding the complex, the team found “vast open courtyards and workshops” where they uncovered large storage containers and other artefacts which suggest that beer and bread-making was taking place at the site.

Nadine Moeller, associate professor of Egyptian archaeology who led the excavation together with Oriental Institute research associate Gregory Marouard, described it as “a wonderful find”.

“We have so little information about this era of settlement in the southern provinces. We don’t know any such similar complex for the Old Kingdom”.

Among the other finds were copper slag, pieces of crucibles and small weights, indicating that the ancient Egyptians were smelting copper in the complex.

In the rooms and pits dug into the courtyard floors, the archaeologists discovered over 200 broken clay sealings inscribed with hieroglyphics. These acted as official sealing stamps on boxes, bags and storage containers and bear the names of officials working for pharoah Djedkare-Isesi, the eighth and penultimate ruler of the Fifth Dynasty of ancient Egypt.

“It’s just about this time that the Egyptian royalty, until then focused on the northern area directly around the capital Memphis, began to expand its reach after a period of contraction during the fourth and much of the fifth dynasties,” Moeller said.

“This is a first sign that the ancient city of Edfu was evolving into an important departure point for large expeditions leaving for the Eastern desert regions, and possibly the Red Sea shore, located about 125 miles to the east.”

“It’s such a unique site. We’ve had a hard time finding architectural parallels, because no other settlement in Upper Egypt has such extensive remains from this time period. We’ve learned so much at Tell Edfu, and there’s still more to come”.

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