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Ancient Egypt

'Greatest' Fort Tjaru Discovered

by Dan Morrison, 27 July 2007

The largest known ancient Egyptian fortress was unearthed near the Suez Canal, as the archaeologists responsible announced towards the end of July 2007.

The massive fortress, discovered at a site called Tell-Huba, included the graves of soldiers and horses and once featured a giant water-filled moat. The discovery dated back to ancient Egypt's struggle to re-conquer the northern Sinai peninsula from an occupying force known as the Hyksos.

The campaign against the Hyksos was depicted in etchings on the walls of the Karnak Temple, 720 kilometres to the south of Cairo. The archaeologists said the new find showed those stone-chiselled tales to be surprisingly accurate. The bones of humans and horses found in the area attested dramatically to the reality of such battles.

Zahi Hawass, director general of Egypt's Supreme Council for Antiquities (SCA) pointed out that, previously, the area was known only from depictions in temples elsewhere in Egypt. There was no first-hand evidence of what was happening there during the pharaonic period. The discovery was part of a broader effort called the North Sinai Archaeological Project, which was started in 1991 to identify and protect archaeological sites which were threatened by an industrial agriculture project.

The fort, called Fort Tjaru (or Tharo), was unearthed by a team led by Mohammed Abdul Maqsoud of the SCA. The fort dates from a period between the 18th to 20th Dynasties (from 1550 to 1075 BC).

Ancient empires clash

Tjaru's mud brick walls were thirteen metres thick, enclosing an area 500 metres by 250 metres. Twenty-four watchtowers loomed over the parapets. A deep moat ringed the entire complex. It was the biggest in a chain of eleven fortresses which stretched from Suez to the present-day city of Rafah on Egypt's border with the Palestinian territories.

The formidable defences were built on bitter experience. In the seventeenth century BC, a people known as the Hyksos invaded from Canaan, sweeping across the Sinai to seize and rule over the Nile Delta and northern Egypt. The Hyksos' reign faded about a hundred years later. Subsequent pharaohs cast a wary eye to the east and militarised the northern Sinai.

By the reign of Ramses II (1279 to 1213 BC), a new enemy was on the horizon: the Hittites, from what is now Turkey, and they battled the Egyptians until around 1258 BC.

The fort was built to secure the entrance to the delta and protect Ramses II's city of Piramesse. It demonstrated the importance to the Egyptians of securing the eastern border. The need to protect Egypt's eastern frontier was made clear by the invasion of the Hyksos, who were able to cross the desert into Egypt and establish themselves as rulers in the delta region.

Much of this manoeuvring is described at Karnak, the massive temple complex near Luxor. The most surprising thing about the fort is how accurately its architecture was depicted at Karnak. The archaeologists found evidence of the exact buildings shown, as well as of the moat which surrounded the citadel and of the large, wooden beams which spanned it.

An expedition led by archaeologist James Hoffmeier of Trinity International University in Deerfield, Illinois, unearthed a smaller fort known as the Lion's Lair about seven kilometres to the east of Tjaru at Tell el-Borg. Another small fortress fifteen kilometres away was unearthed by a French team.



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