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Aerial photograph of the front part of the Great Aten Temple taken near the end of the autumn 2012 season.
Above: Aerial photograph of the front part of the Great Aten Temple taken near the end of the autumn 2012 season. A part of the gypsum foundation of the Long Temple has been exposed. The two large rectangular blocks are foundations for huge columns. North is towards the bottom of the picture. (Photo by M. Bertram, S. Kelly, under the guidance of G. Owen).

Background

The Boundary Stelae of Amarna and scenes and texts in the decorated rock tombs at Amarna give pride of place to the ‘House of the Aten’. The way it is depicted in some of the tombs leaves little doubt that it is to be identified with the building in the Central City of Amarna that, in modern times, has been named the Great Aten Temple. It formed part of the grand clearance of the Central City undertaken in the 1930s by the Egypt Exploration Society and directed by the archaeologist John Pendlebury. The plans of the remains of the building were made by the architect Ralph Lavers.

The removal of the stonework at the end of the Amarna Period had left the site largely flat and featureless, the original buildings reduced to heaps of stone chippings and dust. The EES excavations had the effect of removing this loose material to the perimeters of the buildings, heaped into mounds and ridges surrounding shallow depressions marking the locations of areas of flat foundations that were all that was left when the stone blocks were taken away. The flat foundation layer had been made from gypsum concrete. Large patches of this survived, often preserving the outlines of the walls and other architectural features that had been erected on them. These were recorded by Pendlebury and Lavers who were, as a result, able to reconstruct the plan and general appearance of the two main parts.

One of these was a long narrow building towards the front of the temple enclosure. Its original name might have been Gem-pa-Aten (‘Discovery of the Aten’); here the neutral term Long Temple is preferred. The other, the Sanctuary, lay towards the rear of the huge temple enclosure. Between the two, and arranged on a perpendicular, north–south axis, was a series of lesser features that included a free-standing stela.

One of the achievements of these excavations was the demonstration that the temple had seen two major phases of building, an earlier and more modest set of constructions replaced during Akhenaten’s reign by a grander design.

The Pendlebury excavations were carried out on a large scale that enabled the main parts of the temple to be exposed and recorded in a relatively short time. It is almost always the case that a second examination of the sites of older excavations uncovers fresh evidence. A more pressing reason to re-open the site, however, is the effect of the site being left open and untended for such a long time, since 1932–3. Apart from the effects of weathering on the relatively fragile gypsum foundation surfaces, the site lies adjacent to the modern cemetery of the village of El-Till. The official boundary between ground that belongs to the Egyptian antiquities authority and the village is poorly defined. The cemetery continues to expand at the expense of the temple ground. Increasing quantities of village rubbish have also, in recent years, been dumped over the front part. It is, too, the case that visitors to the site miss the opportunity to see and appreciate what was, in its heyday, Amarna’s principal place for the devotion of the Aten.

In 2012 the Amarna Project began a scheme to study the temple remains afresh, to clean the site and to mark the main building outlines in fresh stonework.

The work done at the Great Aten Temple is organised on the ground through a 5 x 5-metre grid that is numbered grid 18 in the Amarna excavation grid system.

Publications

W.M.F Petrie, Tell El Amarna (London, Methuen 1894), 18–19, Pl. XXXVII.

H. Frankfort, ‘Preliminary report on the excavations at Tell el-‘Amarnah, 1926–7.’ Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 13 (1927), 209–18.

J.D.S. Pendlebury, ‘Preliminary report of the excavations at Tell el-‘Amarnah, 1932–1933.’ Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 19 (1933), 113–8.

J.D.S. Pendlebury, ‘Excavations at Tell el Amarna: Preliminary Report for the Season 1933–4.’ Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 20 (1934), 129–36.

J.D.S. Pendlebury, The City of Akhenaten III. (MEES 44; London, 1951), 5–20.

B. Kemp, M. Shepperson and A. Hodgkinson, ‘Great Aten Temple’, in B. Kemp, ‘Tell el-Amarna, 2011–12.’ Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 98 (2012), 9–26.

B. Kemp, M. Bertram, A. Hodgkinson and S. Kelly, ‘Great Aten Temple’, in B. Kemp, ‘Tell el-Amarna, 2012–13.’ Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 99 (2013), 20–32.

B. Kemp, M. Bertram, D. Driaux, A. Hodgkinson and S. Kelly, ‘Great Aten Temple’, in B. Kemp, ‘Tell el-Amarna, 2014.’ Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 100 (2014), 1–33.

Reports

Great Aten Temple - Spring 2012 Season - Preliminary Report
Barry Kemp
Marsha Hill
Anna Hodgkinson
Mary Shepperson
October 2012

PDF - High Resolution (9 Mb)

PDF - Low Resolution (700 k)

Great Aten Temple - Autumn 2012 Season - Preliminary Report
Barry Kemp
January 2013

PDF - High Resolution (11 Mb)

PDF - Low Resolution (2 Mb)

Great Aten Temple – Spring 2013 Season – Preliminary Report
Barry Kemp (with an appendix by K. Thompson)
March 2013

PDF - High Resolution (6 Mb)

PDF - Low Resolution (1Mb)

Great Aten Temple – Spring 2014 Season – Preliminary Report
Barry Kemp
April 2014

PDF - High Resolution (16 Mb)

PDF - Low Resolution (2 Mb)

Great Aten Temple – Spring 2015 Season – Preliminary Report
Barry Kemp
April 2015

PDF - High Resolution (8 Mb)

PDF - Low Resolution (2.5 Mb)

 

 

Reports will also be found in the Horizon newsletter:

http://www.amarnaproject.com/downloadable_resources.shtml

‘Reclaiming the House of the Aten.’ Horizon 11, 1–6.

‘Reclaiming the House of the Aten (continued).’ Horizon 12, 6–8.

‘The House of the Aten. The work of the spring 2013 season.’ Horizon 13, 8–9.

'The House of the Aten' Horizon 15, 1-7.

'Further work at the Great Aten Temple.' Horizon 16, 2-3.

Documentation

EES photographs 1932: with commentary on what they show. The locations of the pictures are marked on the plan: Annotated Lavers plan.
EES photographs 1932 PDF (11 Mb)

The plan, by architect Ralph Lavers, is published in J.D.S. Pendlebury, The City of Akhenaten III. (MEES 44; London, EES 1951), Pl. III.
Annotated Lavers Plan (PDF 3.6Mb)

 
 

Website first posted September 2000; last updated October 2017 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk