The Season's Work at Ahnas and Beni Hasan, 1890-1891

The Season's Work at Ahnas and Beni Hasan, 1890-1891

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The Season's Work at Ahnas and Beni Hasan, 1890-1891

The Season's Work at Ahnas and Beni Hasan, 1890-1891

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Excerpt

Ha-Khenensu, the Hininsi of Assyrian inscriptions, the "Heracleopolis" of Greek historians and geographers, and the "Hanes" of the Bible. These mounds are situate some twelve miles inland from Beni-Sûef, and seventy-three miles south of Cairo. They represent all that is left of the capital city of the 20th, or Heracleopolite Nome, which was the seat of government of the obscure IXth and Xth Egyptian Dynasties. That Ha-Khenensu was in its foundation a city of prehistoric antiquity may be gathered from the place it occupies in the mythological records of Egypt; for, according to a text quoted by Brugsch ( Dict. Géographique, vol. i. p. 604) it was there that Ra, second king of the First Dynasty of the Gods, began his reign upon earth.

Twelve years ago, in that remarkable paper which has been aptly called his archæological will, Mariette--then in fast-failing health, and foreseeing the near end of his own brilliant career--drew the attention of the French Academy to the importance of various sites in Egypt which up to that time had been either quite neglected, or but imperfectly explored. Among these, Ahnas occupied a prominent place. "C'est à Ahnas el Medinet," he said, "representée aujourd'hui par des ruines assez étendues qui n'ont été jusqu'ici l'objet d'aucune investigation sérieuse, que nous devrons essayer de faire revivre des souvenirs des IXe et Xe Dynasties" ( Institut de France; Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres,' Séance Publique Annuelle, 21st Novembre, 1879). Three years later, Professor R. Stuart Poole again urged the claims of this site to systematic investigation. "Temple and town, and the unknown necropolis that must lie in the Libyan waste, should be excavated," he wrote, "for the materials of a lost book of history. For here ruled two ancient dynasties of kings at the second capital of Egypt" ( Cities of Egypt, ch. iii. p. 38). The Egypt Exploration Fund was founded a few months after the publication of Cities of Egypt, and Ahnas was one of the sites first proposed for excavation by Sir Erasmus Wilson. Though at that time impracticable, the project was never abandoned; and at last, in 1890, it was decided that M. Naville should be invited to undertake the task so long deferred. He did not, however, actually begin work at Ahnas till the month of January in this present year; and a summary of the results of his last campaign is here reprinted from the columns of The Academy, July 25th, 1891.

That excavations on so large a scale should have brought to light no vestiges of the IXth and Xth Dynasties is matter for regret, since it was at Ahnas, if anywhere, that we had reason to hope for those lost links of history. The necropolis also, which in Mariette's time was yet undiscovered, had meanwhile been found and dug over by Arab and Greek plunderers. The mounds have, nevertheless, yielded an abundant harvest of beautiful Egyptian and Coptic sculptures, of which the former have been ceded to the Egypt Exploration Fund, the latter having been reserved by the local authorities for the National Egyptian Museum at Ghizeh.

The well-known rock-cut chambers of Beni Hasan, excavated in the face of the limestone cliffs on the east bank of the Nile, 170 miles above Cairo, date, as now established by the researches of Mr. Percy E. Newberry, from the XIth to the XIIth Egyptian Dynasties. They were made for the great vassal princes who ruled at that time in Middle Egypt. Those princes were probably the lineal descendants of the independent petty sovereigns of earlier times. Their position under the Pharaohs of the XIth and XIIth Dynasties closely resembled that of the semi-independent princes of India at the present day. Nominally, they were Nomarchs, or Governors, owing allegiance to the reigning Pharaoh; but they were, in fact, each within the limits of his own province, absolute rulers over the lives and property of the people of their district. They held their provinces as fiefs, their duty towards the Pharaoh being to preserve territorial boundaries, to regulate the work of irrigation, and to furnish fighting men in case of need. Like the Indian princes, they had not only their courts, court ceremonies, and household troops, but an immense body of skilled serfs, or domestic craftsmen, who had their workshops and dwellings within the precincts of the palace walls. Here . . .

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