The harbor of Tell el-Dab’a

Tell el-Dab’a, ancient Avaris, the capital of the Hyksos, was one of the largest cities of the ancient Near East in the 2nd millennium BCE and an important harbor for inland and maritime shipping. The Cairo branch of the OeAI has been conducting archaeological research for the study of the harbor since 2013.

Location and historical importance

Tell el-Dab’a, ancient Avaris, is located in the eastern Nile Delta and excavations by the OeAI have been taking place there for more than 40 years. At its peak during the rule of the kings of the 15th dynasty, the city covered an area of more than 260 ha and with a population of between 28,800 and 34,600 inhabitants it was one of the largest cities of the ancient Near East in the 2nd millenium BCE.

Avaris as trade center and as harbor

In the late Middle Kingdom (end of the 12th dynasty) Avaris was an important center of trade and a significant harbor. This is not only known through literary sources but also through the enormous number of imports, mainly pottery from the Levant and also Cyprus. Following a hiatus during the 18th dynasty Avaris became the harbor of Piramesse, the Delta residence of the Ramessids. However, the site cannot be identified with Peru Nefer, the naval base of the 18th dynasty. 

Arms of a river and strategic location

Avaris was located on the Pelusian arm of the Nile, the eastern Delta arm, in an excellent location as a starting point between the Nile valley and the Middle East. From here cross country expeditions started to the Sinai and the Levant, at the same time also expeditions using the sea route to the Mediterranean.

The area is connected to the main river through two channels, one in the north and one in the south. This part of the city is marked by a depression in the modern terrain and was identified as a large (natural or artificial) basin in the geophysical survey.

Archaeological excavations

The current research focus is to identify the location and research the harbor and moorings within the city. Excavations have been taking place in the presumed main port of the city (Area R/A/area IV and VI) since 2013. In addition to a large number of graves from the 15th dynasty, a massive city wall and a channel from the Middle Kingdom were discovered.  From the filling of the channel a series of seal impressions were recovered, including both Egyptian stamp seal impressions as well as Middle Eastern cylinder seals, which has led to the assumption that a trading center existed close by for wares delivered by ship.