Tell-el Amarna

I was immediately drawn to research the site of Tell-el Amarna after reading about its historical significance. This site remains to be one of the most well-preserved, accessible archeological sites. It had not been disturbed or reused after its abandonment in 1332 BCE , and the dry conditions of the desert helped to preserve the foundations of the buildings as well as the artifacts within. It is situated on flat desert land and is directly east of the Nile River (Amarna Project, 2017). My interest in this site peaked when I found that this incredibly large site was completely abandoned within eight years of use after its pharaoh, Akhenaten, died.

Tell-el Amarna Excavation Site. Oxford Handbooks Online.

The reason for the abandonment of this site stems from the context in which this site was built in the first place. The new pharaoh of the New Kingdom of Egypt, Akhenaten, had a religious mission to convert the kingdom to monotheism, taking a strong turn away from the former theological system that all of his predecessors adhered to. Instead, the kingdom would worship the single sun-disc Aten. To initiate this change in a commanding way, Akhenaten moved the kingdom’s capital to this new site, Tell-el Amarna, and naming the city Akhet-Aten (“the horizon of Aten”). However, the pharaoh died quickly after the completion of the complex, and the following pharaoh worked quickly to undo the changes Akhenaten made, entailing the abandonment of this site (Current World Archeology, 2019).

Akhenaton, Nefertiti and their three children. CIO Watercooler

The site as a whole works to separate the royal precincts and temples from the rest of the city and smaller villages. One can see from the below map of the site that the Northern Palace is extremely isolated from the rest of the city, and that non-elite villages are isolated as well. This socioeconomic separation worked to discourage non-elite travel into the royal areas (Amarna Project, 2017).

Plan of Tell-el Amarna. Oxford Handbooks Online.

I am especially interested in learning more about the structures within the suburbs of Tell-el Amarna, specifically the relationships between the nobles/officials from the non-elite. Nobles were granted large villas with courtyards and gardens, as pictured below. On the other hand, laborers and non-elite lived in cottages. However, across all architecture sun-dried mudbrick was used; limestone was reserved for temples (History World, N/A). Interestingly, in the suburbs of Tell-el Amarna, a diverse range of socioeconomic statuses coexisted, with simple walls and courtyards to make separations between status. These houses were organized so that the elite would have large courtyard houses and those in lower status would have small, compact houses surrounding these estates. This setup developed a “patron-provider model” (Stevens, 2015) where the elite would be supplied by the non-elite with products and would, in turn, grant them valuable items like grains. This was conducive to developing a pattern of small houses being fit around larger estates, in a mutually beneficiary relationship between those of lower status to the elite (Stevens, 2015)

Noble Villa. Oxford Handbooks Online.

I want to explore more about how this “patron-provider” relationship worked pertaining to the actual architecture and layouts of these residences, and compare the plans of elite houses to that of the palaces, which were isolated from everyone.

Current World Archeology (2019), “Tell-El-Amarna.” Current World Archeology, accessed March 30th, 2019, https://www.world-archaeology.com/great-discoveries/tell-el-amarna/.

Amarna Project (2017), “Model of the City.” Amarna Project, accessed March 30th, 2019, http://www.amarnaproject.com/pages/model_of_the_city/index.shtml.

History World (N/A), “Tell el Amarna: c. 1350-1336 BC.” History World, accessed March 30th, 2019, http://www.historyworld.net/wrldhis/PlainTextHistories.asp?historyid=078.

Stevens, A.  (2015, March 04). The Archaeology of Amarna. Oxford Handbooks Online. Ed.   Retrieved 30 Mar. 2019, from http://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935413.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199935413-e-31.