Mut el-Kharab

Monash's excavations at Mut al-Kharab have recently been reported in a popular magazine on Archaeology in USA:

Leonard B 2020, "Lord of the Oasis", Archeology, March/April 2020.

mut el-kharab(Egyptian Mt/Mrt; Greek Mothis; Arabic Mut el-Kharab)

The remains of Mut comprise a temple complex and a series of cemeteries where Monash has worked since 2000; excavations are on-going. Excavated material documents a 3,500 to 4000-year occupation span making it the longest occupied, historical-period site currently known in the western desert.

The temple enclosure occupies an area 240m N/S and 180m E/W; its mud-brick walls stand up to 5m high and are 8m thick at the SE corner.  In its SW corner is a large mound with a substantial well, which may provide the partial rationale for the location of the site – a good source of water; it is also strategically located at the southern edge of the oasis providing access to routes leading to the Gilf el-Kebir and Gebel Uweinat at Egypt’s current border with Libya and the Sudan.  Early Dynastic period pottery attests contact between the Nile valley Egyptians and local Sheikh Muftah Cultural Unit peoples, a semi-nomadic pastoral group, in the early third millennium BCE.  They aided the Egyptians in the exploration of the desert during Dynasty IV, possibly from Mut, where the latter established a settlement. With the colonization of the oasis in Dynasties V-VI, Mut may have been abandoned and Ayn Asil in the east of Dakhleh became the regional capital.  On the reunification of Egypt under Montuhotep II in Dynasty XI, Mut was incorporated into the central administration.  The cult of Igai, Lord of the Oasis, was celebrated there until the Third Intermediate Period, having been introduced into Dakhleh in the Old Kingdom.

Mut may have become the capital of Dakhleh in the New Kingdom when control of the oases would have been crucial during Egypt’s problems with Libyan tribes in the Ramesside Period, and Libyans likely settled there from that period.  Monuments of Thutmose III, Horemheb, Seti I, Ramesses II and Ramesses IV occur and Seth became the main deity alongside Amun.  His cult flourished at Mut until the Christianization of the oasis, despite its decline in the valley.  The importance of Dakhleh to the central regime is shown by major inscriptions found at Mut: the two so-called Dakhleh Stelae of Shoshenk I and Piye (Dynasties XXI and XXV), another of this period, parts of the record of a jubilee held by a ruler probably of Dynasty XXII and finally fragments of a monument of Psamtek I of Dynasty XXVI.  Surviving parts of the temple complex date mainly from the Late Period.  Considerable quantities of ostraka (inscribed fragments of pottery) dating from Dynasty XXV and the late Ptolemaic period attest cult activity. The cemeteries surrounding the temple contain tombs of the Late Period to Roman period; from the latter are a series of decorated mud-brick pyramids, amongst the latest known from Egypt.

During the first to third centuries CE Dakhleh was administered in combination with Kharga Oasis and the second-in-command may have resided at Mut. Possibly during the reforms of Diocletian (284-312) Mut may have become the capital of a separate administrative district (nome), the Mothite; this is attested definitely from 310. At this time the temenos may have been modified to house the military, though the major contingent was at Qasr el-Dakhleh in the west.  With the widespread adoption of Christianity in the fourth century Mut was the seat of the bishop; certainly there was a church and ceramics attest consistent use until the VI-VIIth centuries.  Continued activity at the site during the Islamic period is shown by Fatamid and Mamluk ceramics.  Mut was probably abandoned or in decline from the 13th century.

Most of the ancient settlement that surrounded the temple enclosure lies under the modern town and is therefore inaccessible.  We know from one text that in late antiquity Mut was the largest settlement in the southern western desert.