The village of Tell el-Balamun lies on the western side of the Damietta branch of the Nile in the central Delta, towards the coast. This is the location of a huge and relatively intact mound which covers the ancient town of Sma-Behdet, the most northerly city of Pharaonic Egypt, called Paiuenamon during the New Kingdom and Diospolis Inferior by the Greeks.
Howard Carter began work at Tell el-Balamun in 1913, believing it to be the site of a lost city, when he found evidence of structures resembling plans of other temples in Lower Egypt. His work was interrupted and he went on to find important tombs in the Valley of the Kings, culminating with his famous discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Carter left maps and a report of his excavations at Tell el-Balamun and a hoard of Ptolemaic silver jewellery which was housed in Highclere Castle, the home of Lord Carnarvon. It was not until the spring of 1991 that investigations of Tell el-Balamun were re-instigated, resulting in the discovery of three destroyed temples within a huge mudbrick enclosure wall. The expedition to find the lost city was led by Jeffrey Spencer, who with a team from the British Museum has made many exciting discoveries at the site over several excavation seasons.
Tell el-Balamun is in an inhospitable area of marshy ground and it is for this reason that the mound has remained intact, naturally protected from robbers, early treasure seeking archaeologists and modern development. In the earliest excavation seasons the team from the British Museum uncovered the sand-filled foundations of temples, finding several royal names in foundation deposits, with the oldest dating to Shoshenq III Usermaatre Setepenre of Dynasty XXII and dedicated to a Temple of Amun. The temple had been dismantled in antiquity and much of the stone re-used elsewhere or burnt for lime at the site. Evidence of a second temple built by Psamtek Wahibre during Dynasty XXVI and a third by Nakhtnebef, or Nectanebo I Kheperkare of Dynasty XXX was found in further foundation deposits. The temples were enclosed within huge walls with wide, high gates. The discovery of a damaged quartzite statue-group depicting Rameses II with Amun and Mut and inscribed with the name of the city, Sma-Behdet, suggests that there were also earlier temples in the area.
The team have since uncovered more of the plan of the temple enclosure, locating pylons and avenues of shinxes, courtyards and subsidiary buildings in this huge site. Parts of the settlement area surrounding the enclosure have been investigated revealing remains of domestic structures and pottery dating to the Late and Ptolemaic Periods. A large mudbrick structure, thought to have been a fortress, was relatively well-preserved.
Recent work includes the excavation of part of a Dynasty XXII cemetery of brick-built tombs to the north of the temple enclosure which have revealed some preserved burials including falcon-headed coffins.
Reports of excavations at Tell el-Balamun by Jeffrey Spencer were published in 1996 and 1999.
How to get there
Tell el-Balamun lies to the west of the main highway between Shirbin and Damietta in the central Delta.