The modern city of Mut is the main centre of population in Dakhla Oasis today. Once a fortified town, the old Islamic quarter is still inhabited and though its painted houses and dark winding alleyways are now crumbling into ruins, it is characteristic of the Medieval settlements seen in other parts of the oases. The town’s defence was to bolt its heavy gates at night, closing off the streets to any invaders.
Mut el-Kharab (Mut the Ruined) is the ancient town probably named after the goddess Mut, consort of Amun. This area lies to the south-west of the modern city and though its ruins represent many periods of Egyptian history, it is still mostly buried beneath the desert sands.
Two stelae acquired in 1894, dated to the Dynasty XXII reigns of Shoshenq I and III or IV and now in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, refer to an oracle of Seth. They are thought be from the temple site at Mut el-Kharab and highlighted the importance of Mut and the cult of Seth in Dakhla during the later periods of Egyptian history.
Mut el-Kharab contains the largest temple complex so far found in Dakhla and since 2001 the remains have been the subject of an investigation by the Dakhla Oasis Project. Their task is a difficult one as the site has been plundered extensively over the centuries. The area was enclosed during the Roman Period within a mudbrick wall, measuring 240m by 180m, which still stands up to 8m high in some places. Several wells and cemeteries have been found within the enclosure.
The temple was dedicated to the god Seth and although very poorly preserved, decorated blocks have been found here which contain fragmentary cartouches of Tuthmose III, Horemheb, Psusennes I, Psamtek I and some Ptolemaic rulers. Seth was a major deity in Dakhla Oasis from the Third Intermediate Period onwards and especially during the Roman Period. The 2005 season of excavations have provided evidence to date the extant remains of the temple to the early Roman Period, but these are overlaying earlier deposits from the Third Intermediate Period and perhaps the New Kingdom. No decorated blocks have been uncovered from the Roman remains as it would seem that the Roman rulers re-used blocks from the earlier temples, ranging in date from Dynasty XVIII to the Ptolemaic Period. These blocks contain references to Seth, Amun and various priests. A pit within a recently excavated room in the temple complex has revealed a collection of gypsum and ceramic moulds for the production of inlays for a large image of a falcon-headed winged god, similar to the portrayal of the winged Seth in Hibis Temple, and to the local deity Amun-Nakht found at Ain Birbiya.
The excavators claim that Mut is emerging as one of the most significant sites in the Western Desert, possibly the capital of Dakhla from the New Kingdom onwards. Evidence of early Old Kingdom occupation of the site in the form of Dynasty VI pottery has been found in the lowest strata so far uncovered.
The modern town of Mut contains a small Heritage Museum in the form of a traditional Islamic house which houses many cultural items from Dakhla Oasis.