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Sarah helping bring past to life as her team of archaeologists unearth temple of the Pharaohs

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 23/05/2015

Sarah Doherty
Sarah Doherty
Sarah Doherty with her team working at a rocky gorge at a point where the Nile narrows

A Northern Ireland archaeologist has helped unearth the remains of a lost 3,300-year-old Egyptian temple.

Dr Sarah Doherty is part of the team which discovered the ruins at an ancient site north of Aswan.

The temple, believed to have been founded by the 18th century Pharaoh Thutmose II, was found at Gebel el Silsila.

It is believed to be the first temple unearthed in this area of Egypt for a century.

Sarah said the discovery had shed further light on an important period in Egyptian history.

"We are starting to learn more about the ancient past," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

The 28-year-old archaeologist and ceramicist from Jordanstown was part of an international team of 10 working at Gebel el Silsila.

The site, 65km north of Aswan, is a rocky gorge where the Nile narrows and high sandstone cliffs come down to the edge of the river.

Several shrines were cut in the area by the New Kingdom Pharaohs Thutmose I, Hatshepsut, Thutmose III and Horemheb.

Sarah has been working there for the last two years.

She explained: "I saw a Facebook advertisement, applied and joined the site in March 2013.

"I study the ancient pottery and I'm able to date the pottery in the different sites we're excavating.

"Part of my work helped to date this site to about 1500BC.

"It was one of the golden ages, when Egypt had a huge empire and was quite a significant world player."

The temple unearthed by the group, headed by Swedish academic Dr Maria Nilsson of Lund University, is described as a "destroyed New Kingdom temple".

The remains have revealed archaeological evidence for at least four periods of ancient history.

"It's a really significant discovery," she added.

"What we've found are the ruins of the temple. It was almost demolished and what we have remaining is the foundations, column bases and stone block work.

"Finds included pieces of a blue and yellow starred ceiling, faience beads and carved limestone hieroglyphs of Pharaohs' names such as the famous Ramses II and Amenhotep III.

"We are not sure yet which god it was dedicated to, but we're hoping we might find that out from future excavations."

Sarah explained how the area played a significant role in Egypt's past.

"The sandstone blocks of most of Egypt's southern temples came from this site," she added.

"By finding a temple here, it firmly establishes Gebel el Silsila not just as a quarry but as a sacred location."

Previous investigations led the team to discover hundreds of images, inscriptions, and graffiti carved into the rock faces of the quarries.

The trove included a ram-headed sphinx, an unusual image of the Moon god Thoth and rock art of giraffes and boats that are 6,000 years old.

Sarah, who plans to return to Egypt in November, said it has helped bring the past to life.

"We started to see faces and depictions of Pharaohs and hieroglyphics," she added.

"It was like finding pieces of a huge jigsaw puzzle.

"Slowly, though, we are putting the puzzle back together and learning more about Egypt's past."

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