During the exploration of Egypt, a puzzle emerged along the Nile River: a singular ancient city
that had been hastily abandoned to the desert. The site dated to the mid 1300’s BCE (the height of New
Kingdom Egypt) and became known as Amarna (named for the local Beni Amran tribe).
Unusual discoveries here included cuneiform tablets (the Amarna letters), written in a “peripheral
Akkadian” vernacular spoken in the Levantine cities of the former Hyksos and their relatives to the north.
Even more unusual was the “Amarna art” found in the city. Unlike the idealized royal icons customary in
ancient Egypt, Amarna was decorated with naturalistic portraits emphasizing the individuality of the
king’s family and retinue.
Absent from Amarna were images of Egypt’s ancient pantheon. Instead, this abandoned city had
been dedicated to the more abstract “Aten,” symbolized by the sun’s orb extending its rays.
Examination of texts and monuments revealed this as the lost city of Akhetaten (“Horizon of the
Aten”), freshly built for the “rebel pharaoh” Akhenaten and his wife Nefertiti. The iconoclastic
Akhenaten had opposed the wealthy and influential priesthood of Egypt by closing temples, removing the
names of the gods from monuments, and even forbidding use of the plural term “gods.” Known in life as
“Living in Ma’at” (Justice or Truth), he was later remembered only as the “Criminal of Akhetaten.”
After Akhenaten’s rule ended in unknown circumstances, his name was erased from all future
king lists. Traditional polytheism was then re-established under Tutankhamun (“King Tut”) and the
former vizier Ay.
2 Despite helping the return to Egyptian customs, the names of Tut and Ay were also
omitted from Egyptian records for their association with the “rebel pharaoh.”