Dig Site Reveals Ancient Secrets Dutch Team Seeking to Unravel Origins of Egyptian Civilization

Article excerpt

The scent of orange blossoms floats over ancient ruins of this site, where Dutch archaeologists are trying to unravel the story of Egypt's birth 5,000 years ago.

Why and how did local rulers bow to one leader, Pharaoh, creating a new and powerful civilization? Few clues remain.

At Tel Ibrahim Awad, in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, archaeologists are trying to answer those questions by examining the ruins of a settlement and cemetery dating from 3,000-2,900 B.C., about the time Egypt was united as the world's first nation-state.

"We don't even know for sure where the first Pharaohs came from," said Hisham el-Hefnawi, chief on-site inspector for the Egyptian Antiquities Organization. "It's thought from southern Egypt, but maybe they really came from this area."

Most ancient settlements in the delta were destroyed long ago by the twin forces of wet soil and expanding agriculture. Some traces are buried by as much as 35 feet of accumulated silt from the Nile's annual inundations.

Until 30 years ago, few archaeologists paid much attention to early Egyptian history. For those who did, months of hard digging in remote areas might yield nothing more than broken pottery.

Willem van Haarlem, leader of the 10-member expedition to Tel Ibrahim Awad, said, "Most of our information about ancient Egypt came from temples and tombs, because for archaeologists, they were easy to reach. But they tell us little about how common people lived."

Archaeologists from the Netherlands Foundation for Archaeological Research in Egypt first came to the site nine miles north of Faqus in 1986. …

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