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Director: Pearce Paul Creasman
Updated August 2013
The University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition (UAEE) was instituted in 1988 as a non-profit scholarly entity committed to ongoing excavation, research, and conservation work in Egyptian archaeology, particularly in the area of ancient Thebes around modern Luxor. Formerly directed by Richard H. Wilkinson, the UAEE and its research are now overseen by Pearce Paul Creasman. The Expedition staff includes Egyptologists, supporting specialists, post-docs and advanced students from several universities in North America, Europe, Egypt and elsewhere.
The current and ongoing project of the UAEE is excavation of the site of the female pharaoh Tausret’s “temple of millions of years.” Today, the temple appears to be little more than traces in the sand and decayed mud brick mound, and is located immediately north of the Theban temple of Merenptah on Luxor’s West Bank.
Probably a descendant of Ramesses II and no doubt a woman with keen political skills, Tausret began her royal career as the wife of Sety II. Upon his death, she served as regent for the young heir, her stepson Siptah. This coregency lasted about six years, until Siptah’s death allowed Tausret to rule Egypt alone as king, something even the mighty Hatshepsut did not do. Tausret’s reign lasted for perhaps three or four years after Siptah’s death, and when it ended so did the 19th Dynasty. Despite this relative brevity, she was noted in the works of both Homer (who thought she was a male king) and Manetho, who placed her rule during the time of the Trojan War. Incredibly, as can be best understood today, her reign does indeed correspond to the best estimates for the date of the destruction layer at Troy most often presented as the Trojan War (VIIa). As few monuments, statues or other representations of Tausret survived, relatively little attention has been paid to her and her reign. Tasuret is little known outside of specialist circles.
Yet, like other New Kingdom monarchs, she erected a “temple of millions of years” to serve her cult and as a complement to her tomb in the Valley of the Kings (KV 14). Hoped to last for eternity, Tausret’s temple was destroyed (and her tomb was usurped) not long after the end of her reign, presumably on her death. Sethnakht, who founded the Twentieth Dynasty, or Sethnakht’s son and successor, Ramesses III, are the most likely culprits for the extensive deconstruction of her temple. In founding a new dynasty it could be convenient to disregard or discredit an immediate predecessor.
The Twentieth Dynasty kings’ work in this regard stood the test of time, as demonstrated by Petrie’s report. Petrie concluded, “only a few stones of the foundation remained” (Petrie, Six Temples at Thebes, 1897, 18). While this is, essentially correct, as virtually all of the temple’s stone is gone, a great variety of other clues remained. Through extensive excavation, patience and employing the lessons and methodologies not available to Petrie, the UAEE has made numerous worthwhile discoveries related to the building, the site and the queen. For example, Petrie believed that the temple had been based on the plan of Merenptah’s temple, but it is now clear that the Ramesseum’s inner temple instead provided the architectural inspiration.
Most notably, we now know that the temple was comprised of far more than just its foundations. It was completed or nearly so, and the most important part of the complex, the sanctuary, seems to have been functional. This has important implications for the length of Tausret’s reign. Inscriptions on remaining foundation blocks uncovered by the UAEE note Tausret’s eight regnal year (including the six with Siptah). With the foundations not in place until at least then, the rest of the building could not have been finished before perhaps her ninth or even into a tenth year! How long does it take to build a 4,624 square meter (ca. 50,000 square feet) temple?
The temple is not the only feature of interest at the site. A series of unpublished burials and features, ranging from the 19th to the 26th Dynasty, have been located in several places around the temple. These tombs (some of which have been looted) are within the scope of the UAEE’s work and a greatly anticipated component of our future work. Annual reports and publications regarding the UAEE’s work can be found at www.egypt.arizona.edu.
P. P. Creasman (ed.), Archaeological Research in the Valley of the Kings and Ancient Thebes (University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition, 2013).
P. P. Creasman, “Excavations at Pharaoh-Queen Tausret’s Temple of Millions of Years: 2012 Season,” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities forthcoming.
A. Dodson, Poisoned Legacy: The Fall of the Nineteenth Egyptian Dynasty (The American University in Cairo Press, 2010).
W. M. F. Petrie, Six Temples At Thebes (Bernard Quaritch, 1897).
INTERNATIONAL COUNCIL OF MUSEUMS
The International Council of Museums, in an effort to fight against illicit traffic in cultural goods, compiles the Emergency Red List of Egyptian Cultural Objects at Risk. This list aims to help art and heritage professionals and law enforcement officials identify Egyptian objects that are protected by national and international legislations. View the Red List for Egypt.