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German archaeologists have found the remains of a mud-brick settlement occupied by priests and their families in the Ptolemaic period nearly 300 years BC. Buried in the sand of the desert at Tuna el-Gebel, which is about 200 km south of Cairo was quite an elaborate complex of 40 rooms and courtyards divided into three sections: a storage tower with silos for grain, an administrative complex with an impressive staircase which led to a central room, and a religious complex with a chapel and a kind of modern tea room where the small community assembled daily.
These priests worshiped ibis birds and baboons, which represented to them the god Thoth who was regarded as god of wisdom and magic. Thoth was known by the Greeks as Hermes and was credited with many inventions, including writing, geometry, and astronomy. Not far away was an ibis and baboon cemetery.
Ptolemy I and II – kings of Egypt from 323 to 246 BC – established a large number of new cult places in the area, which were supported by state funds. The region supplied bread and food for the priests during their service.
Built on to the side of this complex was a room which had apparently been utilised by the pious priests for priestly recreation. In it the archaeologists found many game pieces, dice, drinking cups and figurines made of clay. In one of the rooms they found lots of human hair from which they concluded that it was a barber’s shop. As priests completely shaved their hair off this room would have been well patronised. They also found a jar which contained a papyrus document on which were Demotic and Greek inscriptions, and some ostraca (broken pottery) with Greek writing on them.
This settlement was reused in Roman times but towards the end of the Roman period the Ptolemaic buildings were abandoned. As mummies were found from this period it appears that the area became a cemetery