Vast tunnel found beneath ancient Egyptian temple

The tunnel is about 6.6 feet (2 meters) high and is similar to another ancient tunnel built at Samos in Greece.
The tunnel is about 6.6 feet (2 meters) high and is similar to another ancient tunnel built at Samos in Greece. (Image credit: Courtesy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a vast tunnel beneath a temple at the ancient city of Taposiris Magna, west of Alexandria. 

The 4,281-foot-long (1,305 meters) tunnel, which brought water to thousands of people in its heyday, was discovered by an Egyptian-Dominican Republic archaeological team, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities said in a statement

Ancient Egyptian builders constructed the  6.6-foot-high (2 m) tunnel at a depth of about 65 feet (20 m) beneath the ground, Kathleen Martínez, a Dominican archaeologist and director of the team that discovered the tunnel, told Live Science in an email. "[It] is an exact replica of Eupalinos Tunnel in Greece, which is considered as one of the most important engineering achievements of antiquity," Martinez said. The Eupalinos tunnel, in Samos, a Greek island in the eastern Aegean Sea, also carried water. 

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The archaeology of the Taposiris Magna temple is complex. Parts of it are submerged under water and the temple has been hit by numerous earthquakes over the history of its existence, causing extensive damage. The tunnel at Taposiris Magna dates to the Ptolemaic period (304 B.C. to  30 B.C.), a time when Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of kings descended from one of Alexander the Great's generals. 

Finds within the tunnel included two alabaster heads: one of which likely depicts a king, and the other represents another high-ranking person, Martinez said. Their exact identities are unknown. Coins and the remains of statues of Egyptian deities were also found in the tunnel, Martinez said. 

At the time the tunnel was built, Taposiris Magna had a population of between 15,000 and 20,000 people, Martinez said. The tunnel was built beneath a temple that honored Osiris, an ancient Egyptian god of the underworld, and Isis, an Egyptian goddess who was Osiris's wife. 

Previous work in the temple uncovered a hoard of coins minted with the face of Cleopatra VII. Excavations at Taposiris Magna and analysis of artifacts from the site are ongoing. 

Owen Jarus
Live Science Contributor

Owen Jarus is a regular contributor to Live Science who writes about archaeology and humans' past. He has also written for The Independent (UK), The Canadian Press (CP) and The Associated Press (AP), among others. Owen has a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto and a journalism degree from Ryerson University.