Tell el-Fara’in (Buto)

Tell el-Fara’in (‘Mound of the Pharaohs’) is the name of the modern village where three mounds covered the site of ancient Buto, capital of the 6th Lower Egyptian Nome. It is located in the central Delta to the north-west of Kafr el-Sheikh.

There has been a great deal of archaeological interest in Buto during the latter part of the 20th century. Although Petrie had identified the mounds at Tell el-Fara’in as Buto in 1888, the mounds were not properly surveyed or excavated until Veronica Seton-Williams and Dorothy Charlesworth worked there for the Egypt Exploration Society during the 1960s. Their excavations concentrated on the town and temple sites, where they revealed many Late Period, Ptolemaic and Roman remains, until work was interrupted by the Middle-Eastern war in 1967. Interest in the site was resumed in 1983 with excavations by the German Institute of Archaeology in Cairo, when Thomas von der Way revealed a level of Predynastic stratigraphy. German excavations continued through the 1990s under the direction of Dina Faltings and more recently by Ulrich Hartung.

Buto was a very ancient town which was continuously occupied in Predynastic times for over 500 years. In those times, when Buto was probably much closer to the north coast, the population would have taken refuge from the flooding of the plain on the tops of sand dunes which have long since been buried by the rising silt of the Delta. The earliest settlement at Buto, discovered 7m below the modern ground level, resulted in a difficult and dangerous task for the excavators as water had to be continuously pumped out of the area.

It was in these levels that the indigenous pottery of the Delta was found to have been gradually replaced by pottery from Upper Egypt. This seemed to confirm the semi-mythical location of the twin cities Pe and Dep, the northern counterpart of Hierakonpolis and the home of the cobra-goddess Wadjet who was documented in many early texts as tutelary deity of Lower Egypt. It also suggests links with the period of state formation, the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt which appears to coincide with the earliest mudbrick buildings at the site. At least one of these buildings was suggested by von der Way to have had a cult purpose and a large pottery basin incised with two bull figures was found sunk into the ground. It is thought that the ‘Souls of Pe’ may have represented Predynastic kings of the area and clay seal-impressions have been found within the Early Dynastic levels.

Between the two settlement mounds are remains of a Temple of Wadjet which faced south within enclosure walls, and was mentioned from Dynasty XII. The extant remains of the temple appear to have originated in the Saite Period, but this was destroyed by the Persians and later rebuilt by the early Ptolemies. It is mentioned in the ‘Histories’ of Herodotus as having a massive monolithic naos with a star-studded ceiling. Other Saite and Late Period structures and cemeteries have been uncovered in recent excavations.

Buto seems to have played an important part throughout Egypt’s history, at least as a symbolic cult centre. During the late New Kingdom the town was known as Per-Wadjet, meaning ‘House of the goddess Wadjet’ and fragments of statuary and stalae have been found from this period. The few visible remains today mostly date to the Ptolemaic and Roman Periods and include domestic buildings, cult buildings and cemeteries.

Buto is gradually being revealed as a huge and complex site. Ongoing investigations of many of the levels are providing more information every season, with the aim of clarifying important questions about Egypt’s early chronology and culture as well as possible trade links with other areas of the Middle-East.

The Deutsches Archaologisches Institut website has the latest reports of excavations at Buto.

How to get there

The village of Tell el-Fara’in lies to the east of the Rosetta branch of the Nile, a few kilometres to the north of the main road between Kafr el-Sheikh and Disuq.

~ by Su on March 3, 2009.