for National Geographic News
A series of surprising discoveries has been made at the foot of Egypt's famous Temple of Amun at Karnak, archaeologists say.
The new finds include ancient ceremonial baths, a pharaoh's private entry ramp, and the remains of a massive wall built some 3,000 years ago to reinforce what was then the bank of the Nile River.
A host of other artifacts, including hundreds of bronze coins, has also been found. Together the discoveries are causing experts to reconsider the history of the largest religious complex from ancient Egyptian times.
Archaeologists are particularly intrigued by the discovery of the embankment wall, which they say is the first evidence that the Nile once ran alongside the temple.
The elaborate shrine to the god Amun-Re covers about 200 acres (81 hectares) near the present-day city of Luxor and sits 650 feet (200 meters) from where the river runs today (see map).
Archaeologists discovered portions of the embankment accidentally while building a new plaza and performing routine maintenance near the temple's facade. The other artifacts and features were unearthed in the process of excavating the wall.
"[The discovery of the wall] changes the landscape [of Luxor]," said Mansour Boraik, general supervisor of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Luxor.
"It changes also our theory about the settlement of Luxor, and it changes our theory about the construction of the temple itself."
The sandstone wall measures roughly 23 feet (7 meters) tall and 8 feet (2.5 meters) wide, but it may have been even higher in antiquity, said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)
"This is the largest embankment ever built in any place in ancient Egypt," Hawass said.
"This embankment is very important because it protected the Temple [at] Karnak from the [annual] Nile flood."
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