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

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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

Berry Kemp

Professor Barry Kemp, is Professor Emeritus of Egyptology at the University of Cambridge and is currently directing excavations at Amarna in Egypt. His widely renowned book Ancient Egypt: Anatomy of a Civilisation is a core text of Egyptology as well as many Ancient History courses. Professor Kemp graduated at the University of Liverpool in 1962. The next year, he became a Lecturer at the University of Cambridge and later became a Professor there. From 1977 until 2008, he has been the director of excavation and archaeological survey at Amarna for the Egypt Exploration Society. In 1990, Kemp was elected a Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. He was Professor of Egyptology at the University of Cambridge until his retirement in 2007. In 2008, he became a Fellow of the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research. Professor Kemp continues his research of the Amarna Period of ancient Egypt as director of the Armarna Project.

He has also contributed to many highly regarded and widely used Egyptology texts, including Civilisations of the Ancient Near East, and is a co-author of Bruce Trigger's Ancient Egypt: A Social History, which incorporates the work of many leading Egyptologists and addresses recent trends in the subject. Kemp states to be interested in developing a holistic picture of the Ancient Egyptian society rather than focusing on the elite culture that dominates the archaeological record: "This holistic approach involves explaining the present appearance of the site in terms of all the agencies at work..."

Kemp was elected Fellow of the British Academy (FBA) in 1992, and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 New Year Honors for services to archaeology, education and international relations in Egypt.