Among the numerous ancient locations in Egypt, the city of Tanis is not well recognized despite having generated one of the greatest archeological hoards ever uncovered. Tanis was once the capital of all of Egypt, and the royal tombs there have yielded treasures on par with those of Tutankhamun.
In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Tanis was found after being buried by an ancient sandstorm by Nazis searching for the Ark of the Covenant.
This is the authentic story of the fabled “lost city” that Indiana Jones was searching for.
King Tut-like artifacts can be found in Tanis, a “lost city,” as well. But for more nearly 60 years, the riches from its monarchs’ tombs have gone mostly unnoticed.
Anyone who even has a rudimentary knowledge of Tanis will likely remember how the city looked in the Indiana Jones movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Nazis searching for the Ark of the Covenant subsequently discovered the city that had been buried by a horrible ancient sandstorm in the well-known film.
The Ark was never in Tanis, there was never a sandstorm, and there was never any conflict between Indiana Jones and the Nazis in the ruins. But Tanis’ real-life tale is also a good fit for a movie.
Tanis went by a lot of names. The location was known as Djanet to the ancient Egyptians and is referred to as Zoan in the Old Testament. Currently, it is known as Sân el-Hagar.
During Egypt’s Third Intermediate period, the area, in the Nile Delta northeast of Cairo, served as the center of the Tanite rulers’ 21st and 22nd dynasties.
Alexandria was able to grow into a thriving business center because to its advantageous position long before the city gained notoriety. The Tanis site had recently converted into a muddy plain with a few mounds that resembled hills but were thought to be of little archaeological relevance because the river’s waters fluctuated with changes in political fortunes.
Although it was known that the ancient city existed in the area, its exact site was unknown.
“People were trying to identify other places with it,” said Salima Ikram, a professor of Egyptology at American University in Cairo and a grantee of the National Geographic Society.
During Egypt’s “intermediate eras,” which were marked by a feeble central authority, power was divided and occasionally moved outside of Egyptian control. At this time, Tanis’ monarchs were of Libyan heritage rather than being descended from normal Egyptian families. This distinction might have contributed to the city’s eventual extinction.
“It’s not like the Valley of the Kings, where everyone knew they’d been burying [pharaohs] for 10 generations or so,” said Egyptologist David Silverman of the University of Pennsylvania.
Tanis Lost, Then Found
Tanis was brought into the 20th century in 1939 by a French archaeologist by the name of Pierre Montet following more than a dozen years of investigations. He found a complex of royal tombs with three intact, unbroken burial chambers, a rare and remarkable discovery.
Brilliant funereal objects including exquisite sarcophagi, silver coffins, and gilded masks were found throughout the tombs. Amulets, tableware, bracelets, necklaces, and pendants were some other priceless items.
Statues, vases, and jars, all belonging to a collection that has endured for countless years as a testament to the wealth and authority of Tanis’s emperors, were also found inside the tombs.
One of the rulers, Sheshonq II, was unknown until Montet found his burial chamber. He didn’t wear the pricey jewelry that the more well-known Sheshonq I, who is recorded in the Bible, wore.
The biblical allusion “shows you that [the kings of Tanis] were pretty important, at least at that particular period,” in Silverman’s perspective.
Tanis contains a wealth of archaeological treasures in addition to the tombs because it was primarily discovered in an abandoned state. Temples, such as the Amun and Horus Temples, have been found. Even the ancient city’s urban portions are still present, and excavations are constantly being done there to look for new relics.
When there was so much to learn, how could Montet succeed where others had failed?
“It takes someone who is really determined,” Silverman continued, to get through the difficulties. After much effort, Pierre Montet succeeded in discovering the information referenced in the Bible, which was previously known from modern history but had been lost.
Montet made excellent strides, but his timing was awful. His discovery of Tanis was completely overshadowed by the virtually simultaneous outbreak of World War II.
Few people now are familiar with the tale of the treasures Montet discovered. Despite being kept at Cairo’s Egyptian Museum, the artifacts also get much less attention than some of their more famous contemporaries.
Ikram claims that if not for the Second World War, the royal tombs of Tanis “would have been as well known as Tutankhamun’s tomb, if not better.”