Tineida & Ain Birbiya
The main road leading into Dakhla Oasis is the Darb el-Ghubari, the ‘Dust Track’, which passes from east to west through the oasis and originates in Kharga. The first point of civilisation on the eastern edge of the Dakhla depression is Tineida, a village which is said to have its origins in ancient Egyptian times. Today the area is surrounded by cultivated fields which no doubt cover many remains of ancient structures.
Around 135km from Kharga, before reaching Tineida, there are rocks on the south side of the road covered with ancient carvings of giraffes, camels and men on horses. The inscriptions on the northern side of the soft sandstone rocks are well-preserved, suggesting that they may only have been uncovered in recent times.
The exact date of the carvings is unknown, but archaeologists suggest that some may predate the Pharaonic Period, although modern signatures have now defaced many of the older grafitto. This was once the site of a major crossroads where the caravan route from the Nile Valley met the track from Kharga to Dakhla.
On the east side of Tineida village, a Muslim cemetery contains several large domed sheikh’s tombs as well as many unusual painted mud grave-stones in the style of tiny houses.
One of the most important sites in the Tineida area is a Temple of Amun-Nakht and his consort Hathor at Ain Birbiya, between the villages of Tineida and Ezbet Bashendi. Excavation of this ‘buried temple’ has been conducted by the Dakhla Oasis Project since 1995 when it was re-discovered after being covered by sand for many years – a process which has been very slow and exacting as the team are conserving the structure as they excavate it, re-burying each excavated stage as they go. The structure of the sandstone temple is fragile and so this is the first Egyptian temple to be excavated from the top downwards, a technique that enables the archaeologists to examine the construction of the masonary.
The desert has preserved the decoration well and many reliefs so far uncovered have provided scholars with valuable information about the obscure deity who was known as ‘Amun the Mighty One, Lord of the Desert’. He is a previosly unknown god named Amun-Nakht who had many attributes similar to Horus and the similar titles suggest that he was probably a local aspect of the hawk-headed god. Inscriptions claim that Amun-Nakht twice visited Dakhla in order to defeat his enemies and the excavators at Ain Birbiya have seen images of the god portrayed as an aggressive deity with outstretched wings and a spear. Like other aggressive gods Amun-Nakht was most likely also perceived by the local inhabitants as a protector from the evils of the desert, as Seth was at Hibis Temple. His consort appears to have been Hathor, also the consort of Horus.
The temple at Ain Birbiya is thought to date from the reign of Augustus Caesar, who constructed the gateway into the enclosure, and probably also the Emperor Hadrian. The layout of the temple apparently is fairly standard with two gateways and a processional way.
During the 2004 season Anthony Mills and Adam Zielinski of the Dakhla Oasis Project, continued excavation and preservation work on the temple. On the rear wall in the sanctuary area, they found a large icon of Amun-Nakht which was originally inlaid. In 2007, the Project team found an unusual feature while excavating the eastern end of the temple. Near a partly collapsed gateway a large niche was found to have some stone blocks that had foot-shaped cuts which contained residues of lead. They have also now found the names of five Roman emperors connected with the temple: Augustus, Titus, Galba, Domitian and Hadrian. It is hoped that further exploration and study will give much information about Roman administration in Dakhla Oasis as well as the re-use of the temple building in later times.
For more information see the Dakla Oasis Project website.
The village of Bashendi lies 4km from Tineida, to the north of the main road. The inhabitants claim that the origin of the name of their village is derived from a medieval Indian prince, Pasha Hindi, who settled there and is the ancestor of most of the villagers. This is a romantic story and although Pasha Hindi’s domed tomb (built over a Roman tomb) can be found in the village, the modern name is more likely to be derived from ancient Egyptian. Even the houses are considered to be of pharaonic design and are said to sit on top of pharaonic remains. The village was probably first inhabited during the Christian era and Roman tombs lie under the foundations of many of the existing houses. Some of these are accessible, including the tomb of Kitines (2nd century AD) which consists of six chambers with relief decoration in a mixture of Egyptian and Roman styles. There is also said to be a New Kingdom Temple of Mut in the vicinity.
To the south-west of Bashendi, at Ain Tirghi is a cemetery thought to date from the Second Intermediate Period, though most burials appear to date to the Late and Roman Periods. Some of the tombs contain as many as 40 burials.
The original home of the Dakhla Oasis Project was at Bashendi – a large dig-house which now houses a craft centre run by the New Valley Governorate, while the international teams have another building in Mut.