The splendour of ancient Egypt's mayors

September 10, 1999

Archaeologists excavating the first Ancient Egyptian mayor's house to be identified have found evidence of enormous power, affluence and a predilection for board games.

The dig in Abydos is revealing glimpses into how everyday life was organised in what would have been a new town of the Middle Kingdom at about 1850 BC.

The excavation is being led by Josef Wegner, assistant curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. He said hieroglyphs found on seal impressions and other objects in the house had identified it as a mayor's home.

"From the evidence thus far, it appears that the mayor enjoyed significant affluence and privileged political power," Dr Wegner said.

The team also found the pieces of a board game dubbed "Hounds and Jackals" as well as statuettes, amethyst and carnelian jewellery and ornate mirrors.

The house was of a comparable size to a pharaoh's palace, with rooms, courtyards and a columned hall surrounding a nine-room residential block and backed by a huge granary once filled with wheat used for the staples of bread and beer.

Stephen Quirke, assistant curator of the Petrie Museum at University College London, said the granary showed the great power that the mayor must have had, giving him control of labour within the town.

"It could be our best chance to reconstruct in detail aristocratic life in ancient Egypt during one of its biggest peaks," Dr Quirke said. 'The new integrated test for Down's syndrome gives an 85 per cent detection rate compared with 70 for standard screening methods'

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