Journal: Sunday 12 March 2000
I swore I’d never ride a donkey again! But somehow today I found myself once more astride one of these overstuffed sofas bouncing through the fields of the West Bank on the way to the King’s Valley road. It was no fault of the poor donkey – Jenny had arranged the trip with Mandour and I let myself be talked into it. We were to ride the donkeys from el-Gezira to the foot of Thoth Hill, and I suppose that was the attraction. For a long time I’ve wanted to walk up Thoth Hill, but everyone usually tells me it’s too hot at the time I’m in Egypt, so just to get an idea of the route sounded helpful.
The spur of mountain now known as Thoth Hill is at the very northerly point of the Theban necropolis and I’m told is an exhausting three hour hike from the road leading to the Valley of the Kings, just past the house which Howard Carter once used. On top of the mountain is the oldest known temple to be built in Thebes, its origins dating to the Archaic Period. Although the mountain is locally known as the ‘Crown of Thebes’, it was called Thoth Hill because three baboon statues were originally found there (representing the god Thoth). The remains of monuments on top of the hill were surveyed as long ago as 1909 by Petrie but a more thorough excavation was done by a Hungarian Mission during the 1990s. There the excavators found a mudbrick structure built on top of an artificial Middle Kingdom stone terrace. Walls with an entrance pylon contained a free-standing sanctuary with three chambers. Many objects were found in the clearance work including foundation deposits and fragments of a limestone lintel and limestone door jambs which were carved with an inscription in the name of Sankhkare, dedicating the temple to the god Horus. It was thought by the excavators that the temple had been astronomically oriented towards the heliacal rising of the star Sirius (at that time) which was associated with the god Horus in ancient times. Further work on the level below the Middle Kingdom terrace revealed, to the surprise of the Hungarian archaeologists, a previously undiscovered stone temple with only a single sanctuary. It is the pottery and architectural fragments found in the earlier remains that date the structure to the Archaic Period. The earlier temple differs in its orientation to Sirius by around two degrees from the later structure, suggesting a shift in the star positions over the intervening centuries and the astronomical calculations involved assist in its dating.
Although I would love to visit this site, it’s a long trek in the hot weather and must be done with a guide who knows the way. So after an hour or so on the back of the donkey, we found ourselves turning off the road to the King’s Valley and along a sandy track leading into the mountains. By this time I was sore and aching but rescue was at hand in the form of the police, who came dashing after us and forbid us to go any further. I don’t think I’ve ever been so grateful for their intervention. As I said once before – never again!