Funding: National Science Center (NCN) – Sonata Bis-9 Call – project no. 2019/34/E/HS3/00438
Principal investigator: Dr. Massimiliano Nuzzolo (Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures Polish Academy of Sciences)
The “Sun Temples Project” is an interdisciplinary project that aims at deepening our knowledge of a so far unparalleled category of royal monuments in ancient Egyptian history, the so-called “sun temples” of the Fifth Dynasty (mid-Third Millennium BC).
The Sun Temples – the first sanctuary, in the pharaonic civilization, to be dedicated exclusively to the cult of the solar god Ra – were built over a quite short period of time, approx. 100 years, and played a pivotal role in both the religious and economic life of Old Kingdom Egypt. Surprisingly, they were suddenly abandoned by the end of the Fifth Dynasty and not replaced by any similar buildings for several generations, at least until the mid-II Millennium BC and the heretic religious reforms of pharaoh Akhenaton. As widely known, the religious development of ancient Egypt, especially of Akhenaton’s time, had important – though indirect – effect on all later monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islamism).
Despite their importance in the history of ancient Egypt, our knowledge of Sun Temples is still blurred, especially when we consider that out of the 6 temples known from historical sources, only 2 have been uncovered so far. Out of them, only one – the sun temple of Niuserra, located in the site of Abu Ghurab, c. 20 km south of modern-day Cairo – is still preserved enough today to give us an idea of how these temples should look like.
The main objective of the present project is thus to re-study and re-excavate this sun temple as a whole. The project also benefits of a partnership with the University of Naples L’Orientale, which is working in the site since 2010. Main project aims are:
1) Understanding the temple architecture and its original layout;
2) Reconstructing, virtually, its decorative apparatus, which is nowadays scattered among several museums in Europe and Egypt.
3) Studying and publishing the material culture connected with the temple occupation, never documented and published before.
4) Exploring the nature of the rituals and ceremonies carried out in the temple;
5) Investigating the daily life of the communities living around it.
The project also includes a wider study of the sacred landscape of the site of Abu Ghurab in relationship with the rest of the monumental landscape of the Memphite necropolis. In fact, sun temples were an integral part of the wider phenomenon of Kingship construction and manifestation during the Fifth Dynasty, a process which involved different “social players” and was shaping Egyptian culture downwards (from the royal to the non-royal milieu) as much as upwards (from the non-royal to the royal context). This landscape investigation will eventually contribute to shed light also on another pivotal research question of this project: where are the missing sun temples?
The final project's outcome is to create an open-access Historical Geographical Information System (HGIS) on Fifth Dynasty Sun Temples, where information extracted from the analysis of diversified categories of material and conceptual data can interact with one another, and be presented on both a geographical and historical base.
Project duration: 2020–2024