Near the modern village of el-Hiba, on the east bank of the Nile about 32km south of Beni Suef, is the site of ancient Tuedjoi. Now thought to have been occupied at least as early as Third Intermediate Period, the town was an important frontier fortress on the northern limits of the Theban region during Dynasty XXI and Dynasty XXII and a temple was built here at that time, probably by Shoshenq I. Although there was continued habitation through the following centuries, the town regained its military importance under the name of Ankyrononpolis during the Graeco-Roman Period. The mudbrick ruins of the town now sprawl up the hillside from where there is a magnificent view over the surrounding plain to the River Nile.
El-Hiba appears to have been divided into two parts, a large town mound surrounded by thick mudbrick walls and a series of cemeteries spread around the desert and hills beyond. Of the structures found at el-Hiba, there are remains of the large mudbrick enclosure walls where a number of bricks were found to be stamped with the names of Pinudjem I and Menkeperre who were high-priests of Amun-Re at Thebes around the beginning of Dynasty XXI. It is thought that they established a residence here. The site is probably best known for the large amount of papyri it contained and was the reported provenance of the famous ‘Tale of Wenamun’. The ‘Petition of Petiese’ (Papyrus Rylands IX), which appeared on the antiquities market in the early 20th century, actually mentions Sheshonq’s temple there.
The temple is now largely ruined and overgrown with vegetation, but standing on the hill above you can still make out the shape of the low stone walls emerging from the sand, scrubby grass and small palm shoots growing around it. Within the enclosure walls, the stone-built temple measured about 36m by 18m and contained an entrance hall with two rows of four papyrus columns – one of the earliest pronaoi – and a four-pillared hall. There was a small offering hall and a barque shrine with four small side-chambers as well as a crypt. The main problem of current excavators and conservators is the very high level of the water-table within the temple structure. This is due in part to the rising level of the Nile as well as the surrounding irrigated agricultural land, especially a nearby banana grove planted recently. With continual wetting and drying, the already unstable surface of the limestone blocks is deteriorating rapidly and unless a reliable method of stabilization can be found, excavators fear that the future survival of the temple does not look good. The completion of the new highway from Cairo on the east side of the Nile also poses a threat to the site.
El-Hiba is also a vast necropolis and it was in the tombs where the majority of papyri were found, as well as many sarcophagi. Carol Redmount’s team from UC Berkley have also uncovered the plan of a large Late Roman or Early Byzantine structure to the south of Sheshnq’s temple.
For more information and latest reports see the website of UC Berkley Excavations at El Hibeh
How to get there
El-Hiba is on the east bank of the Nile and can be reached via a car ferry from the village of el-Fashn on the west bank. Visitors at present must be escorted by the tourist police. The town site and temple are a few kilometres from the ferry landing on the eastern side of the road. There is a gafir at the site.