Polish researchers are discovering who attacked the temple in ancient times - on pharaoh's orders.
The rock temple at Gebelein has been under attack twice. But it wasn't modern vandals with mindless anarchy on their mind. This damage was made with brutal precision, a long time ago.
Gebelein is a complex of archaeological sites around 30 kilometres south-west of Luxor. And it's old. Researchers believe that Gebelein was probably the capital of one of the very early states that lined the Nile, long before Egypt emerged under the rule of a single king.
Now, for the first time, researchers are studying the temple of Hathor at Gebelein in detail. And it's not in great shape. Previous archaeologists who poked their head inside were discouraged at the rough state of the inscriptions.
There's a good reason for that. The temple has come under attack twice during Egypt's pharaonic past. And this destruction was state-sanctioned.
The temple was dedicated to two gods: Hathor and another deity whose name has been hacked from the rock. The primary suspects for this treatment were agents of King Akhenaten who ruled during Egypt's 18th Dynasty. Akhenaten turned his back on thousands of years of tradition and promoted the worship of one god above all others; the Aten, represented by a solar disc. The king's passion for Aten was matched by his contempt for Egypt's state god, Amun. Up and down the Nile, the name and image of Amun were set upon by men wielding copper chisels. The Temple of Hathor at Gebelein didn't escape their attention.
But Akhenaten wasn't the first king with destructive intent towards the temple.
For a while, the Polish researchers were puzzled about the lack of royal names on the walls. Ancient Egyptian rulers were always keen to stress their close bonds and devotion to the various gods. Then, amongst the damaged walls, they noticed it: fragments of preserved inscriptions containing a feminine word ending. This temple was carved out of the rock at Gebelein for Queen Hatshepsut, some 120 years before Akhenaten's time.
Long after Hatshepsut's death, various pharaohs set about erasing her kingship from history. Images of her as king and inscriptions with her name in the royal cartouche were coldly destroyed.
When Hatshepsut's husband died, a toddler was left to rule Egypt. This was Hatshepsut's step-son, Thutmose III. As royal women had done in times past, the widowed queen dutifully stepped-in to act as regent while the young boy grew old enough to run the empire. However, instead of letting go of power when the young king was ready, she did the opposite; Hatshepsut took on kingly titles and regalia and set about co-ruling Egypt. Although it seems she probably did it with the best intentions in mind - to secure the kingship for her young step-son - hers wasn't a legitimate rule. In retrospect it was decided to pretend it never happened by erasing all mentions of Queen Hatshepsut acting as king - including the reliefs at her temple at Gebelein.
Next the Polish team plans to remove the centuries-old debris from the floor of the temple and look for artefacts from the period.
Here you can see expedition director Wojciech Ejsmond and Daniel Takacs taking measurements in the rock temple of Hathor. The faint image of the goddess can be seen etched into the rock behind them. Photo: Piotr Witkowski