The Birket Habu: Amenhotep III's Ceremonial Lake at Western Thebes

Date & Time: 
Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 7:00pm to 8:00pm

Birket Habu — ‘the lake of Habu’ — is the modern name for the outline of a huge basin on the edge of the Nile floodplain not far south of the temple of Medinet Habu. Although now entirely filled with sediment its outline is defined by embankments and hills of excavated sediment which define a rectangle of roughly 2 x 1 km, with an outward turn in the middle of the (local) east side, which creates a T-shape. Around its north-west corner it runs adjacent to the remains of a mud-brick town of the reign of Amenhetep III. Known today as Malkata, it contained palaces. To judge from many inscribed objects the celebration of at least two of Amenhetep III’s jubilees were held here.

The purpose of the Birket Habu remains uncertain. The lecture looks at the evidence for dating it to Amenhetep III’s reign and considers whether it served as a harbour or was a place for water-borne ceremonies. Both it and the adjacent palaces and town of Malkata flourished only a few years before the accession of Amenhetep IV/Akhenaten. Although he nowhere appears in the tomb and temple scenes which record the jubilee festivals it is reasonable to think that he would have witnessed them. Does the site, therefore, make a contribution to understanding Amarna?

There is a personal side to the lecture. In 1969 and the early ‘70s I carried out survey and excavation at the site on behalf of David O’Connor and the University Museum of Pennsylvania. The lecture draws heavily on these results. The experience introduced me to the archaeology of the late Eighteenth Dynasty and helped me to focus on the idea of starting work at Amarna, which I did a few years later