Tell er-Retaba is a major archaeological site in the
Wadi Tumilat of Egypt. The site served as a natural chokepoint along the natural topography
that links the Nile Delta to the Sinai.
Map of the eastern half of the Delta showing Tell er-Retaba.
Eastern half of the Delta, Wadi Tumilat and the Sinai from outer space.
Wadi Tumilat and the Suez Canal.
The modern Egyptian village built along the edge of the archaeological site.
A modern irrigation canal runs along the edge of the archaeological site and the
modern village. The mudbrick house in this image was rented by Michael Fuller during 1981.
Modern mudbrick houses in the village along the edge of Tell er-Retaba.
The modern Egyptian farmers living at the Tell el-Retaba believe that the site's name
is related to the variety of date palms that is
cultivated in a basin of rich soil southwest of the ruined site. It is possible that
the shallow basin was a reservoir during the New Kingdom and/or Third Intermediate Period.
Another possibility is that the site name preserves the name of the Egyptian God, Re, + taba.
Are there possible interpretions for taba? Faulkner's Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian
the hieroglyphs tb as "crate." There is a modern Egyptian village near the
Gulf of Elat/Aqaba called Taba which can be translated as "plate" in Egyptian Arabic. Could
Retaba equal the (offering?) plate of Atum-Re or the crate/container of Atum-Re?
This is a tortured deconstruction of the name, but
it makes as much sense as "date palm variety."
Tell El-Retaba is situated in the Wadi Tumilat (Arabic, "Valley of Tumilat").
An Egyptologist at the ASOR meetings during 2003 privately discussed the possiblity that
Tumilat equals [A]tum + Elat. What
could Elat signify? It could correspond to the Canaanite word for God or the feminine form
of the Hebrew word for God (some writers immediately relate this to the Asherah).
The Wadi Tumilat appears on Landsat imagery as a low, vegetated depression which trends North 86
degrees East. The site is situated 26 kilometers east of the mouth of Wadi Tumilat and
30 kilometers west of Lake Timsah. Site elevation is approximately 12 meters above mean sea
level. The latitutde and longitude of the site are 30 degrees 32' 58" North and
31 degrees 57' 49" East.
The tell is a roughly rectangular mound composed of weathered mudbricks, sand, and stone fragments.
It is situated on an east-west trending tongue of sand near the center of the wadi.
The size of the site is 442 meters (east-west) by 215 meters (north-south). Its relief
above the general land surface is only 4.3 meters. The depth of cultural deposits is
7.2 meters near the center of the tell and 5.3 meters in the western portion of the site.
The consolidated deposits on both sides of the Wadi Tumilat are deltaic deposits
of the Moghra formation that date from the lower Miocene.
Archaeological and zooarchaeological analysis has been conducted on plant and animal remains
from the upper strata of the tell. Cultivated seeds, probably dating to the New Kingdom and
Third Intermediate Periods, include horsebean (Vicia faba), chickpea (Cicer arietinum),
field pea (Pisum sativum var. arvense), date palem (Phoenix dactlifera),
fig (Ficus sp.),
flax (Linum usitatissium), and watermelon (Citrullus lanatus). Imported plant
remains include the cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) and olive (Olea europaea).
Faunal remains recovered during 1981 include numerous cattle bones, sheep-goat bones,
chicken bones, dog, and oyster shells. Two articulated fish skeletons were observed during the
1978 field season as they were found insitu within a shallow bowl.
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