Excavation and Restoration at the Temple of Millions of Years of Thutmose III in Luxor


The excavations of the temple of Millions of Years of Thutmosis III in Luxor began in 2008, the result of a collaboration between the Academy of Fine Arts of Santa Isabel de Hungría of Seville and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. Botin Foundation, Santander Bank and Cemex sponsor this project.

Aerial View, Temple of Millions of Years of Thutmosis III © Thutmosis III Temple Project

Although it was the temple of one of the most famous pharaohs of Egyptian history, dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the so-called Egyptian Napoleon, it had been barely studied. Some archaeologists such as Daressy, Weigall and Ricke previously investigated this monument, but it had never been excavated in its entirety. Due to its state of deterioration, the focus was directed towards other monuments which were better preserved. After 1938 nobody was interested anymore in this site, and with the passing of time, the temple fell into oblivion and was once again covered with sand.

When the Egyptian-Spanish joint project started the work in 2008, it looked like it was completely abandoned. The first thing we found was a storage room built by Weigall in 1906. It was located within the temple proper and inside was piled up a great quantity of fragments found during his excavations. This same storage room was used during the 30s of the previous century by Ricke, also to store part of the excavated objects. Due to this discovery, whose location did not appear in any document, the beginning of our work was characterized by a great activity in documenting all the stored material, which stood for so many years without any record. There we found parts of reliefs which decorated the limestone walls of the sanctuary’s chapels. Today we are making an epigraphic survey of all the fragments to see if we are able to rebuild some of the walls of this monument’s chapels.

This temple was partially excavated inside the hill and built on three terraces at different levels, with ramps to access from one to the other. It presents many similarities with the famous temple of Queen Hatshepsut at Deir el Bahari. The precinct is surrounded by a great enclosure wall of mud brick built with great perfection and it has a monumental pylon as main entrance, also in mud brick. The road that leads to the Valley of the Kings runs over the first courtyard of the temple, thus it is divided in two halves. There are also some houses-dwellings, “alabaster factories”, located over the south part of the pylon and which we have been dismantling since we have started our work.

Until now we have excavated and restored the northern, southern and eastern enclosure walls. This completely changed the aesthetics of the site, since the remains of the walls were completely covered and its monumentality was not apparent. In the course of our work we could clear the exterior area of the southern wall, where we found remains of a very interesting construction attached to the temple, and which is being studied. Likewise, in the exterior part of the northern enclosure wall, we found a great quantity of pottery vessels, evidencing the importance that this sacred place had for many years.

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The other area in which we concentrated our efforts was the pylon. This was found partly covered by rubble produced by the alabaster factories. It is one of the few pylons of this material which is preserved and that can give us a large amount of information regarding this type of construction. There were two trees that flanked the entrance, considering the two large holes where they were planted.

Inside the temple we worked in different sectors, such as, for example, on the ramp accessing the upper terrace. In addition, we excavated part of the upper terrace, the area of the sanctuary, hypostyle hall and peristyle hall. Another area of the temple that we investigated was the second courtyard, which is almost completely excavated. This has given us very interesting and, until now, unknown information about this monument. In the courtyard there used to be 8 large trees, placed in a symmetrical fashion on both sides of the ramp.

The northeast corner of the temple was also of great interest, since we found remains of a later occupation, later than the time of Thutmosis III. Thanks to the material found we know that the figure of the famous pharaoh was worshipped and memorialized by the priests of the Ramesside period. We found a complex from the time of Ramses II which belonged to the priest Khonsu “High Priest of Menkheperra (Thutmosis III)”. Among the most remarkable materials found, we should mention: two lintels on which was depicted the figure of the priest Khonsu worshipping the cartouches of Thutmosis III and two lower parts of black granite statues, one of the pharaoh himself, and the other of an official.

Another factor that enhances the importance of the site is its location between the hills of the “Khokha” and the “Assassif”. This area is a huge necropolis. Thus, underneath the temple there are tombs. Since 2010 we have been finding burials, of mainly two types: tombs comprising of a shaft, through which we access one or various funerary chambers, and tombs comprising of hallways excavated in the hill with shafts and funerary chamber. Therefore, it is as if we are excavating two sites at the same time, on one side the temple and underneath an entire necropolis of a previous era.

In addition, even though these are tombs that were looted in antiquity, in many of them we could still find materials and artefacts of great interest. Most of the tombs date back to the Middle Kingdom and some to the Second Intermediate Period. During our seventh excavation season in 2014, we found a lady buried with all her jewels.

Once the cleaning of the funerary shaft of the tomb no. XIV, which had already been looted in antiquity, was finished, the excavators could determine that in one of the chambers part of the roof had already collapsed before the desecration by ancient tomb robbers, which in turn nourished hopes that this particular part of the sepulchre had not been plundered in the past. As the cleaning of the debris went on, it became clearer and clearer that indeed these hopes had not been misleading.

Location of tombs XIV and XV © Thutmosis III Temple Project

A large boulder, which had fallen down before the tomb was looted, had crushed and buried a previously untouched coffin with all its contents. Thus, the raiding of the valuable artefacts attached to the mummy inside was prevented. When removing the aforementioned boulder, the excavators discovered vestiges of a wooden coffin completely destroyed and an utterly destroyed female mummy, which, however, still wore the marvellous jewellery attached to it during the process of mummification and subsequent burial. A preliminary analysis of the pottery found in the tomb allows for a reliable dating of the ensemble to the Middle Kingdom.

The female owner of the tomb was buried with a cylindrical amulet made of amethyst stones and gold plates, and a pendant in the form of a finely wrought golden shell weighing over 20 grams. She also carried two golden bangles on her arms, each formed by two pieces of twisted wire connected to each other with a reef knot, and silver bracelets on both ankles. The golden shell and the two golden bangles were found in a perfect state of preservation, while the silver ankle bracelets had suffered heavy damage. These spectacular findings confirm that under the Temple of Millions of Years of Thutmosis III there is an elite necropolis, in which wealthy and important individuals of the Middle Kingdom and their families were buried.

At the end of the 2013 campaign another tomb, no. XI, was unearthed, containing the unfortunately badly preserved funerary equipment and fragments of a wooden coffin belonging to a person named Ikery. The tomb, that had been looted and reused in later times, preserved the bones of seventeen different individuals and, among other artefacts, fragments of wooden models, canopic jars and small figurines, among which there were about twenty fragments of so-called magical wands, made of ivory, which are especially important, and that relay important information about the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians.

Year after year, the three-month campaigns in the temple of Millions of Years of Thutmosis III have provided interesting materials for the study of important periods of the ancient pharaonic civilization.


Dr. Myriam Seco Álvarez is the Director of the Thutmosis III Temple Project.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Dr. Hawass’ views.
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