Egypt: Thoth Hill on the West Bank at Luxorz

Thoth Hill on the West Bank at Luxor

by Jimmy Dunn writing as Mark Andrews

Thoth Hill (Berg Thoth) is not located in the valleys of the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes), but rather high on the southern spur of the great plateau which forms the backdrop to western Thebes. It was named Thoth Hill because of a large number of limestone fragments of three baboon statues found in the vicinity during Flinders Petrie's 1909 investigation of the ruins. The hill is also sometimes referred to as the "Crown of Thebes".

A good view of the Thoth Temple on the West Bank at Luxor in Egypt

Thoth Hill is the site of two temples, an archaic temple that may date to around 3,000 BC and would be the oldest temple built on the West Bank at Luxor, and built upon it, a later temple built by an 11th Dynasty pharaoh known as Sankhkare Mentuhotep.

This site became known to modern explorers relatively late. The ruins were only discovered in 1904 by George Sweinfurth. It was later examined by Petrie in 1909, but not very thoroughly and only for a few days. Not until a Hungarian expedition led by Gyozo Voros for Eotvos Lorand University between 1995 and 1998 was the site systematically investigated. The older temple was unknown until this expedition's work. The newer temple was investigated first, during the seasons 1995-1996 and the older temple during the season of 1996-1997.

The area is somewhat difficult to reach. The hill is surrounded by desert ravines and the ancient route leading up to the temple is difficult to ascend.

The Archaic Temple

Plan of the Archaic Temple

Beneath the Middle Kingdom structure of Sankhkare Mentuhotep, the oldest known temple in the Theban region was only recently discovered. Made of stone, it was very small and had a similar plant to the later temple built upon it, though it probably only had a single chambered sanctuary. Interestingly, the older temple appears to have had a pylon entrance, just as the newer temple. However, considering the age of this temple, this would be most unusual. Also like the later temple the earlier site was surrounded by an enclosure wall, and had a free standing inner sanctuary, though the older temple has only a single room within the sanctuary while the newer temple had three.

This older temple was slightly offset in its axial alignment (by about 2 degrees towards the south). It was built upon an artificial terrace, as was the newer temple. Egyptologists believe that the older temple was oriented towards the helical rising of Sirus, and have determined that the older temple's orientation would have been correct in about 3000 BC, at the very beginning of Egypt's dynastic period. The star Sirius was worshipped as the god Horus, and apparently because the later temple was probably dedicated to Horus, Egyptologists believe the older structure was as well.

The Horus Temple of Sankhkare Mentuhotep

The newer temple, first investigated by Petrie, was thought by him to be a Sed-festival chapel. There is a Sed-festival building within the area to the west but he was wrong about Sankhkare Mentuhotep's temple. Investigation by the Hungarians revealed that it was instead a small temple of Horus. However, they also apparently investigated the Sed-festival temple as well, which revealed roofing beams and columns made of imported tropical sycamore wood.

Plan of the Horus Temple of Sankhkare Mentuhotep

The 11th Dynasty temple is made of mudbrick and consisted of an entry pylon and walls surrounding a free standing inner sanctuary with three rooms at the rear (northwest). The floors of the newer temple were covered in plaster. This temple was more closely aligned with the modern helical rising of Sirus. Found among the ruins were foundation deposits and fragments of the foundation text and dedicatory inscriptions form the fine limestone door jambs. The dedication reads:

"Horus Sankh-towi-ef [Who Causes his Two Lands to Live],
He of the Two Goddesses 'Who Causes his Two Lands to Live,'
The Peaceful Golden Horus,
The King of Upper and Lower Egypt Sankh-ka-Ra [Who Causes the Soul of Re to Live],
Son of Re Montuhotep [The Peaceful Montu],
Living Eternally.
He made this as his monument to Horus,
may he make to him given-life,
like Re eternally."

The foundation deposits were located at each of the complex's four corners. Within the foundation deposits were terra-cotta animal figurines, portions of animal sacrifices, alabaster vessels and shallow offering saucers. There were also parts of a lintel, decorated with a winged sun-disk and inscribed with hieratic graffiti that indicate the older temple may have been badly damaged by an earthquake before the end of the 11th Dynasty.

Another View of the Temple on Thoth Hill


Restoration work has also apparently been completed on the artifacts found at Thoth Hill, including ceramics recovered form the new temple and pottery from the older stone temple. Items from the older temple included cylindrical jars and rectangular basins also thought to be of archaic date. The fragmentary baboons that provided the site with its name were also restored and are believed to date from the 11th Dynasty.






Reference Number

Complete Temples of Ancient Egypt, The

Wilkinson, Richard H.


Thames and Hudson, Ltd

ISBN 0-500-05100-3

Various current Egyptology