This Ancient Building May Have Served as a Rest Stop for an Egyptian Pharaoh’s Army

Found in the northern Sinai Peninsula, the multi-room structure may have housed Thutmose III’s troops over three and a half millennia ago

Floor plan of ancient rest house
Researchers found the building's remains at Tel Habwa, an archaeological site northeast of Cairo. Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Around 3,500 years ago, ancient Egypt underwent a transformation. Thanks to the efforts of Thutmose III—sometimes called Thutmose the Great—the civilization expanded from a kingdom to an empire. Thutmose secured more territory than any other Egyptian pharaoh, marching his armies across the Sinai Peninsula to the Middle East. Now, archaeologists have found rare evidence of the ruler’s military campaigns: an ancient “rest house” that may have temporarily housed his troops.

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities discovered the remains of the mud-brick building at the Tel Habwa archaeological site in northern Sinai. Per a translated statement, a hieroglyphic inscription found on the structure indicates it dates to ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty—specifically, to the reign of Thutmose, who ruled between 1479 and 1425 B.C.E.

The building includes two halls, once supported by limestone columns, which connect “a number of rooms,” the statement notes. According to Ahram Online’s Nevine El-Aref, researchers also found stone thresholds from the building’s entrances. The architectural layout of the structure, as well as the “the scarcity of pottery fragments inside it,” suggests the building was used as a royal rest house, per the statement.

Archaeologists conduct an excavation at Tel Habwa
Researchers dated the building to the reign of 18th-Dynasty pharaoh Thutmose III, who ruled between 1479 and 1425 B.C.E. Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

Ramadan Helmy, director of the North Sinai Antiquities Area, led the excavation. He says the researchers determined the building’s age based on artifacts discovered outside of it, like pottery and items bearing Thutmose’s name.

In the statement, Helmy suggests that Thutmose’s armies used the rest house during one of his campaigns to expand the Egyptian empire eastward. The building was later fortified with a surrounding wall that had an east-facing main gate.

The rest house is located near the beginning of the “Horus Road,” an ancient Egyptian path that stretched across the Sinai Peninsula and contained numerous military structures. It’s one of many buildings found in Tel Habwa (also known as Tharu), an archaeological site about 100 miles northeast of Cairo, to date.

“This discovery is pivotal,” says Mohamed Ismail Khaled, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, per Ahram Online. “It illuminates crucial aspects of Egypt’s military history, particularly in the Sinai region, during the New Kingdom era.”

The team found multiple items bearing the names of pharaohs, including a cartouche for Thutmose III and a ceramic plaque for Amasis. Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

The New Kingdom period began around 1550 B.C.E., with the reign of Ahmose I. Known as Egyptian culture’s third great era, it spanned the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties, enduring for half a millennium. The New Kingdom was a time of stability and prosperity, including Thutmose’s military expansion.

Anthony Spalinger, a historian at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who wasn’t involved in the recent dig, tells Live Science’s Owen Jarus that the conquering king may not have used the rest house himself. Spalinger notes that the layers of earth around the building appear to postdate the 18th Dynasty, as does a cartouche sporting Thutmose’s name.

Egyptian armies brought tents on their expeditions, Spalinger adds, and “the royal tent is where I would expect the king to be.”

Either way, the site’s history didn’t end with the New Kingdom era. Sometime later, it was used as a cemetery. Per the statement, the archaeologists discovered vessels used to bury children between the 21st and 25th Dynasties. Finally, a small ceramic plaque discovered at the site bears the name of Amasis, a 26th Dynasty pharaoh who ruled from 570 to 526 B.C.E.

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