In search of Ancient Egypt's very own watery answer to Venice

Long before the canals of Venice sprung up in the swamps of the Adriatic, the ancient Egyptians are said to have used their own waterways to build an entire city into the Nile River. Now at last, we might actually find it.

The city of Thebes was never really lost, but the ruins of the city — which was first inhabited over 5000 years ago — have changed a lot in the ensuing millennia. While archaeologists have found and excavated countless incredible remains, there are plenty of things still left to uncover.

And, as New Scientist reports, one of the big questions left unresolved is whether Thebes really did once resemble an ancient Venice, with canals and waterways dug into the area surrounding the Nile to allow barges to easily cross from one side of the city — and one side of the Nile — to the other:

Texts and pictures from nearby temples and tombs suggest that sites on both sides of the Nile were connected by canals and navigable by boat. Descriptions of the Beautiful Festival of the Valley, for example, state that statues of gods were taken by barge from the temple complex at Karnak on the east bank to visit the dead kings at their mortuary temples on the west bank. These descriptions have never been tested, and [archaeologist Angus ]Graham wants hard evidence. If the waterways existed, did they operate all year round or just during flood season? Were they also used to transport supplies, including the immense stones used to build the temples?

Angus Graham, the field director for the Egypt Exploration Society in London, is hard at work on that very problem, using a technique known as electrical resistivity tomography to determine the different substances hidden below the surface, be they bedrock, watery sediments, or archaeological remains. Check out the link for more on this work, including the amazing discovery that the Karnak temple was actually most likely located on an island in the middle of the Nile, and it was actually probably submerged underwater during the annual Nile floods.

Via New Scientist. Image of Karnak Temple complex by eviljohnius on Flickr.