This region presents a bit of a problem because there are a lot of depressions in the ground. I believe some are man-made, others are geological formations, and still more of them may be impact craters but there are so many that it's hard to tell them apart sometimes. However, let us explore.
First, a little bit of the mythology. From one of the original boundary stelae:
As the Aten is beheld, the Aten desires that there be made for him [...] as a monument with an eternal and everlasting name. Now, it is the Aten, my father, who advised me concerning it, [namely] Akhetaten. No official has ever advised me concerning it, not any of the people who are in the entire land has ever advised me concerning it, to suggest making Akhetaten in this distant place. It was the Aten, my fath[er, who advised me] concerning it, so that it might be made for Him as Akhetaten... Behold, it is Pharaoh who has discovered it: not being the property of a god, not being the property of a goddess, not being the property of a ruler, not being the property of a female ruler, not being the property of any people to lay claim to it....
I shall make Akhetaten for the Aten, my father, in this place. I shall not make Akhetaten for him to the south of it, to the north of it, to the west of it, to the east of it. I shall not expand beyond the southern stela of Akhetaten toward the south, nor shall I expand beyond the northern stela of Akhetaten toward the north, in order to make Akhetaten for him there. Nor shall I make (it) for him on the western side of Akhetaten, but I shall make Akhetaten for the Aten, my father, on the east of Akhetaten, the place which He Himself made to be enclosed for Him by the mountain...
I shall make the “House of Rejoicing” for the Aten, my father, in the “Island of the Aten, Distinguished in Jubilees” in Akhetaten in this place... I shall make for myself the apartments of Pharaoh, I shall make the apartments of the Great King's Wife in Akhetaten in this place.
Let a tomb be made for me in the eastern mountain of Akhetaten. Let my burial be made in it, in the millions of jubilees which the Aten, my father, has decreed for me.
Then, from another stela a couple of years later:
[Aknaten,] Moving ahead perfectly to Akhetaten, on the first time of discovering it by His Presence, may he live, prosper and be well, for its foundation, as a monument to the sun disk as commanded by his father, the living Ra-Horakhty rejoicing in what is Right, in his name as Shu which is in the sun-disk, given life for ever and eternity, to make a monument for him within it.
The Aten was known as a minor god since the Old Kingdom over a 1000 years before but had never enjoyed widespread popularity like a lot of the other traditional gods. There were numerous political considerations that probably went into this as well but that's not the point of this post so they are intentionally being ignored here as that's another subject entirely.
From these texts, we learn that Aknaten took direct instruction from the Aten (or sun disk in the sky) with no involvement of Egypt's traditional religious entities. We also learn that Akhetaten is the "island of the Aten," it was the Aten itself who created the setting for Akhetaten and the mountain just to the east belongs to the Aten as well. From the text, it seems a clear distinction is being made that the city is being built inside Akhetaten, but the city itself is not Akhetaten.
Additionally, Aknaten tells us that he was the very first person to ever see this piece of land. However, there are sites predating Akhetaten just to the north and just to the south of it. The people of Egypt had also been repeatedly going right by it when sailing up and down the Nile for the previous 5000 years. So, how can Aknaten be the first person to "discover" it and why did it need to be discovered "by [Aten's] presence?" And how did he get a direct message from the Aten, anyway?
While Egypt always had an affinity with various sun gods, there may be an explanation as to why there was an extreme increase in the level of sun worship during this historical period. First, if you look at NASA's Catalog of Solar Eclipses for the 14th century B.C., you will find that numerous eclipses were observable from Egypt during the period. This includes a number observed as very substantial partial eclipses and two annular eclipses whose central paths passed very near Egyptian population centers. Additionally, there was a total eclipse of the sun in 1337 B.C., during which totality passed directly over Amarna around mid-day. Under the conventional chronology, that was after the construction of Amarna but it was still during Aknaten's reign.
Perhaps the images below might give us some direction for further research...
MAP OF THE AREA:
- Coordinates = 27.6432639, 30.9145556
- I believe the broad wadi extending to the SSE of Amarna may be an old Nile flood channel as annual inundations were much higher in prior millenia when the local climate was much wetter.
- According to Peakery.com, the place marked with the blue teardrop pointer is a mountain named Ra's Abu Hasah. Even at less than 600 feet, this is the highest point of elevation in the general area and is the only feature that can be called the mountain of Akhetaten.
- To give you a sense of scale, the ruler shows the distance between the Amarna ruins and the feature I marked as the Amarna String.
- White thumbtack = city of Amarna ruins, blue teardrop = mountain peak, red thumbtacks = sites of interest.
- Coordinates = 27.6602583, 30.9724444
- Diameter = 500 feet.
- It appears to be a depression partially filled with sand.
- There are what appear to be dark rocks scattered in a circle on top of a raised rim.
- The exterior rivulets detour around it.
- The interior rivulets drain toward the center of the depression.
- There may be another crater 500 feet due east but it exhibits funky hydrology so I'm not so sure.
- Coordinates = 27.5296250, 31.0676528
- Diameter of "heel" = 700 feet
- Long axis of "sole" = 2/3 of a mile
- It's difficult to see rivulets in the "heel" so I'm not as sure that this is actually a crater...sometimes it's hard to tell whether a given feature is a depression in the ground or if the feature is actually protruding from it.
- The "sole" is clearly a depression as the rivulets drain toward the center.
- One of the boundary stelae has a reference to the Aten (sun disk) riding his chariot on the mountain to the southeast of Amarna which might actually describe this set of features.
- Coordinates = 27.5417028, 31.1350667
- Long axis = 924 feet
- This feature lies directly in the bed of a wadi. It looks to me like the rivulet at the top has been going around the feature but has eroded away the rim on the north side so that now the floor of the feature drains in that direction.
- Coordinates = 27.5755583, 31.1605528
- Long axis of the whole string = almost 9/10 of a mile
- Diameter of the lead feature (to the SE) = 900 feet
- This set of features is very odd-looking and also lies wholly within the bed of a wadi.
- Rivulets in the wadi appear to have largely detoured around the features on the north side but may have eroded the rims away on the south side. Of course, it's kind of hard to tell but you can see for yourself in Google Earth.
- The lead feature appears to have elongated trenches off to the NW & SE...possibly caused by water action over time? See the close-up.
- It also appears to have a centrally-uplifted area with rivulets draining down the uplift into the depression. Again, it's hard to see but that's what it looks like to me.
Close-up of lead feature:
- This is the wildest part.
- On the map below, the red circles are about 4.25 miles in diameter and fit perfectly with the shape of the cliff-face encircling them on the east and south.
- The ruins of the city are centered in the upper circle with the Great Temple of the Aten just about dead center.
- Of course, this only gives us semi-circles with the other halves of them extending into the Nile's alluvial plain.
- However, notice how the Nile makes a natural detour around the perimeter of the lower circle. Coincidence?
All in all, I'm not sure about some of these. However, that first one, the one I called Amarna Crater, has the classic appearance of an impact crater.
So, how could this be a new place "never before discovered" until Aknaten found it? And how could Aknaten receive a message directly from the Aten? Quite frankly, if I was an egyptologist, I'd be getting my behind out of those tombs and up on the slopes of "Akhetaten's Mountain" to have a better look around. One last little nugget is that the Near East experienced a severe period of further dessication and drought over the 100 years following Aknaten's reign. These features & images make me wonder whether a potential cause may be found here.