Since our excavation stopped two weeks ago, we have all been moving back into our "normal" lives, jobs and projects. We will be working through the coming year to understand and interpret the information we have gathered. But as we look back at this wildly successful season and the remarkable amount of important finds and useful information, I want to say thank you to everyone who made it possible. But thank you especially to those of you who have donated since my funding appeal in the last blog post on March 10th. So far, we have raised $2,505 toward our needs for the coming year, needs including building a secure storage yard for stone fragments behind the dig house. If you missed the previous funding appeal and would like to make a donation, now is the best time to do so since we are currently planning October work priorities. Click here - Donate Today! - to go to the donation page on the website where you can make a gift using a credit card via our secure server or find the address to send us a check. PLEASE help us today - and THANK YOU!
Archaeology is often a matter of interpreting unexpected results. Most of the time finds and results are not exactly - or not at all - what you were thinking or hoping to find. In the last days of the season, as we began to excavate down into the well shaft, I was hoping to find a few more fragments of our temple building. Or an even bigger find would be a statue fragment or two which could help us understand more about the dedication of the temple. Instead, as in our trench near the cardo in 2015 where we expected to find pharaonic-style fragments, we found classical style architectural fragments instead - sort of! The fragments from the well in the last few days of the season are stylistically unrelated to our pharaonic-style temple. Instead, they are a hybrid style mixing classical and pharaonic style elements. In addition to the cobra frieze where the final cima (s-curve) molding should be, the pediment (?) block in the photo has alternating fat and thin modillions (brackets) and a very strange visual adjustment (impossible to photograph) whereby the line of the cornice bends away from 90-degrees to the vertical so in places the cornice would appear to flip up, away from the horizontal. And the block, if a corner of a pediment, is from a segmental (or curving) pediment rather than a triangular one. (The pediment is the triangular part of a temple facade on top of the columns.) I've never encountered anything like this, and continue to put a "(?)" next to "pediment" because I'm not sure that is what we have. This is puzzling, but also extremely exciting! It seems unlikely these hybrid elements were incorporated into the temple we are currently excavating. If our current excavation is of a subsidiary temple/shrine, do these new fragments belong to the "main" temple in the complex? As I've mentioned before, the Barbarini Obelisk indicates that the architecture of the Osir-Antinous temple is in a hybrid style of mixed classical and pharaonic elements.
Do these hybrid elements belong to the same building as the unparalleled, strangely detailed classical order (with projected 9.75 meter tall columns) we found in 2015 in a sondage nearby? (See Oracle no 5 here for details: http://antinoupolis.net/newsletters/ ) The only thing that will help us sort out these architectural puzzles is many more years of excavation, but that does not come without much work, planning and funding.
We are already planning our work at the site this autumn and for February of 2018. The spectacular finds, fragments and architecture we've uncovered so far are strong indications that we are beginning to uncover major monuments in the city that Hadrian built for Antinous and are possibly working in the precinct of the temple of Osir-Antinous itself. But a "beginning" is all that it is; there is so much more to be done. If you are impressed with our results so far, please help us. Click here - Donate! - to go to the donation page on our website (or click "Donate Today!") on any page on the website to make a donation by credit card or to find the address where you can send a check. If you are unable to make a donation, you can help by spreading the word to friends and colleagues who might also be interested in our work and able to help. Thank you very much to those of you who have already sent a contribution this year.
We don't have a large budget or paid employees, so your donations go directly to supporting excavation needs. In the past donations have been used not only for large items like paying for the geophysical survey, but also for excavation equipment like trowels, the stone moving cart, computer hard drives, a camera, etc. Our needs are for items large and small; any size donation will help. With all the architectural fragments we are finding, the dig house courtyard is bursting at the seams with them, with more coming up in the excavation every day. Our goal for the coming year with the largest cost will be constructing a fragment storage yard behind the dig house which will be a 19 x 40 meter 2-meter-tall stuccoed concrete wall topped with barbed wire containing brick and stucco platforms to permanently house all the architectural fragments we are finding. We are working now to get estimates for this project which will likely be between ten and twenty thousand dollars. If you can help us achieve this goal it will push forward our knowledge of this monument. Let's all pull together to make this happen! I promise we won't pester you often with funding requests. Thank you very much in advance for your support.
Two days ago, the dig house was closed and everyone left the site. Rosario, our director, is in Cairo finishing the administrative work and meetings that are necessary for any expedition. The last day of the excavation was a week ago today, but we are all still studying and trying to understand what we have found. To that end, the lead image in this post is an AutoCAD drawing I've made of what we have so far. This sketch is approximate, and I don't doubt that it will change many times as new fragments and information come to light. The fragments we have recovered plus the in situ parts - all shaded with a stipple - give a possible idea of the overall form of the temple building (on the right) and the peristyle colonnade (on the left). The Roman soldier is 1.75 m (or 5 feet 9 inches) tall to give you a sense of the scale. Among parallels, the best examples are the facade of the tomb of Petosiris at Tuna el Gebel (c. 300 BC) and the facade of the temple of Kalabsha (reign of Augustus) at the back of the court behind the pylon. Our temple facade is MUCH smaller than Kalabsha and narrower than Petosiris. This reconstruction sketch takes into account all the fragments we have found so far. For example, you will notice the outside capitals of our temple are cut and placed against a wall. In the photo below, the capital Hamada and I are discussing is the cut capital which we know was in antis (as this arrangement is called) because its backside is flat. This can be seen in the photo, and the patina, chiseling, etc. indicates the flat side is part of the original capital configuration, not added later. This, like some other details of our building, is a detail not normally found in pharaonic style monuments; we are clearly working on an unusual structure. All such details from our fragments go into the ongoing understanding of the temple's form and its reconstruction. But if we don't have evidence for something, I don't add it. For example, I imagine that our temple facade had screen walls (the short shrine-like walls between the facade columns) as are found at Petosiris and Kalabsha, but we have found no evidence for them in the form of fragments or other indications. For the moment I have shown freestanding columns matching the granite shafts and limestone bases we do have in the court, but when/if we find screen wall bits, I will add that detail. I am super excited to begin to be able to posit the architectural form of this monument, but these results are preliminary and will likely change as new fragments come to light.
We are also still working on an interpretation of Area C, the trench we excavated north of the Ramses II temple. (See earlier blog posts.) It is a disappointment not to find the structure shown in the geophysical survey (GPR) results, but what we have found is quite important. It is also, I feel, related to the structure shown in the results. We have a large amount of tightly dated offering pottery, which is pottery that should not appear outside a tomb or temple context. Finding such pottery inside the city’s boundary is remarkable and indicates we are in a location of offerings/veneration, even if washed a short way from its original location. The fill layer with animal and human bones cements the conclusion that we are in an area of offerings because of the method of deposition of the bovine material and especially because of the crocodile burial. This layer seems to be the thick layer of intentional fill that is showing on the GPR results (which is larger than the structure below). Below the fill layer is a pair of human burials in virgin sand which, analysis may show are from around the 25th – 26th Dynasty, then virgin clay below that.
The mound filled with offerings with (we hope) a structure below recalls the accepted form of Osiris's tomb/cenotaph from at least the Late Period into the Greco-Roman era. The ideogram for Osiris’s tomb in the Late Period is a mound with a tree coming out of it. And there are “model” tombs of Osiris – little brick structures that had mounds over them – in North Karnak. Even though we missed the building itself, all of the results we have support the idea of an Osireon or similar underground structure topped by a mound of sand/gravel with the mound filled with offerings. We will work with our geophysical survey engineer, Kris Strutt, to try to figure out why we didn’t find the structure, and I hope we will make another attempt to find it next winter. Even if we don't, this monument is important and, we must, in my opinion, find the extent of the field of offerings and try to better define what this monument may be.
As you can see from the sketch at the top of this post, we are also continuing to study the results from Area B, next to the dig house. In spite of the limited amount of time we have worked this site, the recovery of information and the finds have been extraordinary. The cornice block and the torus molding block go far toward creating an idea of the reconstruction of the temple building at the top of the staircase, but they also do more than that. Because the paleography of all four hieroglyph-inscribed blocks we have recovered is similar, the cornice and torus molding blocks strengthen the idea that the other two blocks found previously (from a door jamb and from a pylon) are part of the same structure or complex. The similarity of the texts on our blocks to the Barbarini Obelisk is also important, and it strengthens the case that the Barbarini Obelisk was originally located at Antinoupolis. It is now conclusive that we are excavating a temple complex built during the reign of Hadrian. The bands of inscription naming Osir-Antinous and Hathor may indicate the temple is dedicated to one or both of these gods or some arrangement where we have a shrine to Hathor within the Osir-Antinous temple complex. This is the first time Hadrian’s name and the first time the name of Osir-Antinous have been found at Antinoupolis. This is only the third time the name of a Roman empress has been represented in hieroglyphs in cartouches – one of the other two is Sabina’s name shown on the Barbarini Obelisk.
Hadrian built many of the largest monuments constructed during the Roman Empire. His largest building project, Antinoupolis, is dedicated to the worship of Osir-Antinous and is a city filled with large public monuments, many rivaling the size of their counterparts in Rome, including its triumphal arch, its hippodrome, its theater. It is my opinion that, with an eight-meter wide facade, the temple we are excavating is too small to be the main temple of the city dedicated to its titular deity, Osir-Antinous. I think the monument we are now excavating is a subsidiary shrine within the Osir-Antinous complex, perhaps dedicated to Hathor, perhaps the shrine adjacent to the Nilometer (if our well proves to be a Nilometer).
Near the new trench we made near the Ramses II temple (Area C) on the surface there are scattered in different locations three badly eroded architectural fragments. All three of these match in size, material and detailing the columns we have in Area B next to the dig house about half a kilometer to the south. The three pieces are a four-lobed papyrus bundle capital in local limestone, a red granite shaft and a tapered base and plinth with carved papyrus sepals in local limestone. Fathy (our archaeologist who is from the village adjacent to Antinoupolis) informs me that these pieces were pulled out of the ground when the foundation of a new school was dug, a school which is standing near our Area C trench. These fragments suggest, and I suggest, that Area C and Area B are related. They share a common architectural design and a complementary ritual purpose. Both seem related to the function of the city as the cult center of Osir-Antinous, and both are threatened by the expansion of the village. In Area C we have a field of offerings which may have a relationship to the Ramses II temple and a still-undiscovered buried structure we will continue to seek. In Area B we have a temple which may be in a corner of the court of the main Osir-Antinous complex. But what we are beginning to see is the overall scheme of grand architectural gesture that Hadrian created to celebrate the new god. I see it as a complicated, but unified, riverine design stretching from one end of the city to the other and containing the principal monuments necessary for the creation of the new cult.
Both of these sites are critically important for understanding the architectural and urban form of Hadrian’s city, but also, I think, to begin to understand the practice and ritual of the new cult it was founded to celebrate. In Area C we must work with Kris to refine the location for our excavation, to find the walls we are missing, and thereafter to define the implied connection with the Ramses II temple. In Area B we must push back the baulk to reveal the extent of the temple building, we must clear the well and the associated staircase to the maximum depth possible given the water table, and we must reveal the foundation of reused blocks in which we found the reused cornice block to try to find more. It is shaping up to be a very busy campaign in October, and - we can hope - for years to come!
The most useful and interesting discoveries often come from the unlikeliest places! Our main focus in the area next to the dig house, as I have mentioned, has been the east baulk of the 1990's excavation where we have a temple and a well. Around the south and west sides of the old excavation, we have two sides of the monumental peristyle (colonnaded court - see earlier blog posts for more on this). If we accept that the centerline of the temple represents the center axis of the court, the north baulk should only cover more pavement until one reaches the north colonnade which would be under the houses across the road to the north. Nevertheless, through the season we have been slowly working the north baulk with a small crew to recut the section properly for drawing - a task which we didn't finish in October of 2015. Near the middle of the baulk a reused block foundation, consisting of undecorated bad quality limestone blocks quickly revealed itself. It is sitting directly on the Roman pavement level as are many other small scale walls of reused blocks, mud bricks and baked bricks. Of course, we would draw and photograph it, as we do all the others, but it didn't seem likely to yield much useful information, so it went on the growing list of things to get to before the season's end.
All of us noticed that the blocks peeking out of the baulk behind the foundation's edge were of better quality limestone than the pitted, eroded ones at the front, but there are blocks of varying quality mixed throughout the excavation, especially in the structures made of reused blocks. After the wall had been visible for about a week, I was cleaning it up with a trowel in preparation for drawing, and I found that the buried corner of one block had the distinctive curved edge that marked it as a block from a cavetto cornice that normally appears at the roofline of Egyptian temples. This was immediately exciting since cornices on Egyptian temples are sometimes inscribed with cartouches (containing the name of the pharaoh) - perhaps even more commonly in the Greco-Roman period than in earlier eras. But as such things often happen, it was late at the end of the workweek, and we had to wait through a Friday day off to figure out what we had.
On Saturday morning we dismantled a few foundation blocks from in front of our cornice block to access the cornice on the short side of the block, and this work did indeed reveal a single cartouche carved in sunk relief, badly broken next to the common vertical striations also often found on corniches. Traces of blue and yellow paint came away from the surface and stuck in the moist clay in which the block was found. We were very excited to find anything at all, but when our careful troweling reached the corner of the block away from the cartouche, things began to get really exciting. We found not the end of the cornice, but that the cornice turned the corner! But the large block's long face with potentially a lot more information was set against another equally large block still partly buried in the baulk. No crane was handy, so after some serious discussion, we dug under the opposite long side (undecorated) of the block to be able to tip the block up from its neighbor. This worked so well that the long cornice surface left most of the moist clay in place featuring a perfect reverse image impression of the cornice's inscription again with traces of paint embedded in the mud.
The inscription on the long side of the cornice block is a very special find. (See photo at top or the one below for inscription detail.) It contains four cartouches and two and a half columns of inscription. The cartouches are surmounted by additional carving, including on the left two ostrich plumes and a sun disk denoting a king's cartouches and on the right falcon tail feathers, Hathor horns and a sun disk denoting a queen's cartouches. To understand the text, we have enlisted the help of Dr. J. Brett McClain who is a specialist in Ptolemaic and Roman period hieroglyphic texts and who is the Senior Epigrapher at Chicago House, also known as the Epigraphic Survey, the University of Chicago's long-term mission in Luxor, Egypt. I won't keep you in suspense any longer: the two left cartouches are those of Hadrian, and the two on the right are those of Sabina, his wife. Sabina's right-hand cartouche (called a nomen) spells "Sabina" and below that is the beginning of "Sebaste" which is Greek for "Augusta." (The bottoms of all the cartouches were on the next block down.) Sabina's left-hand cartouche (called a prenomen) contains a title naming her as [Hadrian's] "royal wife." The presence of Sabina's name is remarkable; this makes only the third instance of a Roman emperor's wife being named in a cartouche in a hieroglyphic inscription. One of the other two is on the Barbarini Obelisk in Rome. In addition, due to the presence of Sabina's name we can know that this inscription was carved (and likely that the temple was constructed) between October 30, 130 (the city's founding date) and late 136 or early 137, the date of Sabina's death. Hadrian's nomen also spells out his name: "Hadrian," but his prenomen is attested in only one other location: also on the Barbarini Obelisk in Rome. (For more on this obelisk, see the Boatwright 1987 reference on our bibliography page: http://antinoupolis.net/bibliography/ ) This prenomen for Hadrian reads, "Beloved of Hapi and all the gods," creating a special identification for Hadrian with Hapi, the god of the Nile.
The two columns of inscription are also important. (The half column at the block's left edge repeats the complete right-hand column.) The one on the right concerns the goddess Hathor, and the one on the left names the god "Osir-Antinous". This is to my knowledge the only inscription so far recording the name of Osir-Antinous to be found at Antinoupolis itself. (I'm not thinking of coins here. In addition, there are many papyri with the name of Osir-Antinous, and I haven't checked the find spot of them all. I'll update this post if I discover my claim is incorrect. If for this or any other assertions I make here, you have information to the contrary, I would be most grateful if you would let me know via the comments below or by message or email under the "Get In Touch" tab on the website. Thanks!) The analysis of these two columns of text is more complicated, but it may show, for instance, that our temple is dedicated to Hathor, but is located in a larger complex dedicated to Osir-Antinous. The above information is from Brett, and when he has finished his research, we may be able to say more.
Covering about 113 hectares (279 acres) and with an area which is about 2.5 times the size of Pompeii, Antinoupolis is Hadrian's largest building project, and though texts from antiquity until now tell us the story behind the city's founding and agree that Hadrian built it, until this moment there has been no discovery of Hadrian's name at the site, on a building or otherwise (again not counting coins), which makes our cornice block find incredibly significant. But it is more important than that. This cornice block proves that the structure we are excavating is one of the temples that Hadrian built at Antinoupolis, and Brett's analysis will likely show to whom the temple was dedicated: Osir-Antinous, Hathor, or a combined dedication of the two.
We've been quiet for a few days with no blogs posts, but that's only because amazing discoveries are taking place. Today I'll outline some of our progress in sorting out the form of this monument, and I'll share more with you soon.
The big news today is that we can finally say with certainty that the structure we are excavating is, in fact, a temple. The diagnostic block from the February 20 post has shown this in a conclusive way. It's form, with three intersecting torus moldings (which are large round moldings, also called bullnose moldings, commonly found on pharaonic style structures) can only come from the top corner of a temple's facade just underneath the projecting cavetto cornice (the large concave molding at the roofline). We have suspected and proposed for some time that our structure was built during the reign of Hadrian and is a temple of Osiris, perhaps even Osir-Antinous, but until now this suspicion has been a hypothesis only. One part of that hypothesis is answered today: the structure is a temple. The reason this is so exciting is that "New" temples are rarely discovered in Egypt and also because the rest of the hypothesis stands - we may have a Hadrianic-period temple of Osir-Antinous.
And we've learned more information about the temple since my last post on this area of the excavation. As you can see from the above photograph at the top of this post, our men are excavating down inside the temple's exterior walls. You can just see three eroded steps at the front of the structure which would have led at the top to a pavement outside the temple's cella (sanctuary). The blocks showing are the first course of the ashlars of the temple's superstructure, and the stair platform and cella floor were likely at the level of the top of the missing second course of blocks. So why are the men excavating inside the podium (base) of the temple beneath the floor? Normally this area (and the stair platform) would be filled with stone in some parts of the Roman world or (more usual in North Africa) with fill such as clean sand to make a casemate platform. However, we did not find clean fill in either location, but debris (such as pieces of baked brick, kiln slag, and pot sherds. So if we do have a casemate here, it was cleaned out during the period of the temple's reuse. If the casemate fill were in place, we would most likely leave it, but since it is debris from re-occupation, we are excavating it.
At least one moment of the temple complex's reuse, according to our ceramicist, Pascale Ballet, is the late ninth century since the pottery and silt layer covering the well is from that time. Pascale also notes that the pottery vessels found in this layer are for carrying water, meaning they suggest that the well itself was in use at this time. Since we have little pottery earlier than the ninth century, it may be that the well was not in use from the Roman period until the ninth century. The well (at the right in the photo at the top) is circular, 4.7 meters (about 16 feet) in diameter, and we discovered the west half of its upper edge the last time we were allowed to work, in October of 2015. Finally we have excavated away the material above the east half, and we are beginning to go down inside the well. As you can see in the photos, we almost immediately began to encounter material that is likely from the period of the well's reuse in the ninth century and possibly other moments. Visible in the photos are the remains of flooring made of limestone blocks, many clearly reused from the Roman period. Who would put a floor in a well? I'll outline a possible scenario. The one course of superstructure of the temple which is in situ is very eroded which indicates that after it was dismantled (for burning in a lime kiln or reuse) it was left in the open for a long time, perhaps hundreds of years. This means no one was around to build a house on top of it or cover it with trash, etc. In this period, likely immediately after the end of the pagan era and at the beginning of the Christian period, with no occupation at the site the well may have filled with Nile silt. When later people wanted to reuse the well (i. e. the ninth century water-carrying-pottery people), they had to dig it out again, but since it is large, they chose not to dig the whole thing, but to put in a floor over part of it and dig a hole or small holes. That is what we think is going on here, but our idea is likely to change as we continue going down in the well itself.
There is another very exciting development just between the well and the temple. Round wells like this are common in later temple complexes in Egypt such as the ones at Edfu and Kalabsha. (I've termed it "well" for the time being. Since Antinoupolis was built to be a new Greek poleis or administrative center in Egypt, the fourth after Alexandria, Naucratis and Ptolemais, we may discover that it is a Nilometer since Antinoupolis needed one to assess the height of the Nile flood and the rate of tax each year. But until we we know we have a Nilometer, I'll call it a well.) Usually there are stairs going down into the temple's well and following its curvature either inside the well perimeter or outside it, between the well's wall and an additional stone wall. We were expecting to locate such a circular staircase, a passage sloping down to give access to the lowest parts of the well. Instead, after locating an area of collapsed stone roofing, we found a small sloping underground passage at the well's east edge which is sloping AWAY from the well and toward the temple. (I'm not calling it a stair at the moment because we haven't removed enough fill to reach the bottom, and we don't know that it is a staircase. But the slope I describe is visible in the corbeled stone ceiling.) This is peculiar, and I don't know of any parallels in other Egyptian architecture of earlier periods.
Since the above two photos were taken, we've removed enough fill that Mohamed could go farther into the passage and make a few measurements, notes and photos. Briefly, at a steady slope down away from the well, the sloping passage goes north toward the temple for about four meters until it turns left (west) at the temple foundation's exterior. It then runs west (with the temple foundation forming its north wall) for about four meters before turning back toward the well to the south. The leg toward the well is only about a meter long when it reaches the exterior of the well perimeter wall. As yet the passage is still almost filled with silt and debris, so we don't know for sure whether there is a connection through the temple's foundation and into the temple, or through the well's perimeter wall and into the well. In my opinion, the former would be extraordinary, and the latter would be expected. The form of this passage does not match parallel material, and so it is difficult to know what to expect. Most stairs down into wells or sacred lakes in a temple context simply follow the perimeter of the well/sacred lake. This one is doing something else.
And I'm sorry to say that we may have to wait until next year to know what that something else is! Clearing this narrow passage of debris is extremely slow dirty work with one basket on a rope and one unlucky worker at the bottom. Since we have only two excavation days remaining, I'm afraid I won't have much more to tell you until our next campaign in the fall. But do not despair! I promise you more interesting news of discoveries here at the site in the next few days.
One week to go before this year's excavation officially comes to a close!
First I want to let you know that Erin Peter's blog is up at this link: http://carnegiemuseumnaturalhistory.tumblr.com For those not following this blog regularly, Erin came and joined the mission here at Antinoupolis for a week for her first time. She is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, a curator at the Carnegie Museum and a specialist studying Roman period temples in Egypt. For more info go to the blog tab on our website http://antinoupolis.org and scroll down for older posts.
Today we finished excavating the “Z” shaped trench near the Ramses II temple. The trench showed us that we are in a very interesting area to which we plan to return next year. Altogether from this trench we removed about 156 cubic meters of material with a crew of 12 workers over 15 working days. The trench was laid out at two meters wide, but of course the walls in the baulk cannot be absolutely vertical. By the time we reached four meters in depth, the width of the trench was reduced to about a meter wide. If we still had layers and finds coming up, we couldn’t get much deeper anyway since a meter is hardly enough room to work and a four-meter tall baulk begins to be dangerous, depending on what the baulk is made of. Luckily, ours are very stable. On the way down we encountered a large mud brick wall and a layer of second to third century A.D. offering vessels just near the surface. The little terra cotta in the photo which may be an Osiris ex voto showing him on a bier in a boat is one of the finds from this level. Below this was a thin layer of ash through most of the trench, thickening considerably toward the south around an intrusive lime kiln. This kiln was cut into and through the layers much later (perhaps only a few hundred years ago) and extends to a depth of 2-2.3 meters below the surface. But its “debris plume” (the mass of ash, burned bricks and lime from when it was unloaded after firing) extends across much of the southern leg of the trench. The kiln is cut through a layer that extends across the rest of the trench: this is the homogenous fill layer with the bones. And even though it is clear from soil stains that the animals and humans were buried with their flesh, the location was wet enough that all we have remaining are bones. It is also clear that this layer is fill because the sand and gravel are not deposited in long thin layers, alternating fine and course as one finds in material naturally deposited by action of wind and water over great lengths of time. This fill was deposited by basket load and cart load. Random patches of large or small pebbles can be seen to have been dumped beside loads of fine sand in batches throughout the fill layer.
This layer is about 1.2-1.4 meters deep and contains the animal offerings – the non-food animals offered whole (such as the crocodile), and the bovine animals butchered and piled into offering piles, often with the heads on top in numerous, seemingly random locations. Also in this fill layer with the animal offerings were found four of the six sets of human remains sometimes in close proximity to the animal offerings. The humans were buried whole, but with no amulets, ushebtis (figurines to serve the tomb owner in the afterlife), pottery – no grave goods of any sort. There was no evidence of mummification (in the form of traces of bitumen, for instance) found on these remains or on any of the other human or animal remains. The humans’ heads were oriented in four different, seemingly random directions. Animals and humans also occur at seemingly random depths in this layer and appear to have been deposited shallowly or deeply, some as the layer was being built up and some cut in a bit afterwards and then covered.
Below this layer we found 1-1.2 meters of quite clean yellow sand, and it is in the top of this layer that the two other sets of human remains were found. These two sets are clearly burials: one with a terra cotta sarcophagus (of a type which persists so long in Egypt’s history that it is unhelpful with dating) and the other with two offering jars and five ushebtis with the human remains placed beneath a single-layer platform of mud brick. In this example a preliminary date for the jars and the ushebits may be 25th to 26th Dynasty, but we await word from ceramic experts to be sure. This clean sand was very, very clean with no pot sherds or other evidence of human activity, and only occasionally a natural stone, fist-sized or smaller. The beginning of this layer is about 2.2-2.4 meters below the surface, and we continued to go down to reach the walls indicated by our geophysical survey results at a depth of 2.8 to 3.3 meters. At about 3.3 meters in depth, a layer of compact clay appeared throughout the trench.
In consultation with our geophysical surveyor Kris Strutt in the UK, we continued the trench through the clay to a depth of four meters to be sure we weren’t missing anything, since according to Kris clean sand can sometimes make a feature (or an “anomaly”) appear shallower than it actually is. Even at a consistent depth of four meters across the entire trench, we found no walls.
But this does not mean the work was not a success! In archaeology one often finds the unexpected; in spite of the best technology, information and careful hypotheses, the only facts are what you find beneath the surface, and no new information is unwelcome or without value. This trench, though we didn’t find the walls we expected, has revealed to us, in an area where no antiquities were known, an area of (Roman period?) intentionally buried animal offering piles and humans underlaid by two likely earlier human burials.
We are certainly not finished with this area. We will work with Kris to determine if our location is off or if some other issue exists with the data. We definitely plan further work in this area on the north edge of the Ramses II temple precinct. I am also pleased to tell you that if you would like more details about the results of this work, we plan to publish them in next year's edition of the journal "Analecta Papyrologica" which is edited by Rosario Pintaudi and Diletta Minutoli.
It has been a busy day at both sites, so there isn't time for a detailed post. But I wanted to be in touch to share that in the excavation next to the dig house we found an important fragment today. As we are cutting back the layer just above the foundation of the building with the staircase, we are finding some additional blocks outside the foundation that were likely dumped into their current position as the building was being dismantled block by block for the lime kilns or to be cut into smaller blocks for other buildings such as churches. The block in the photo was tipped off the very top of the building at the beginning of the dismantling and lay forgotten in the rubble below until now. And it's inscribed!
In our newsletter ("Oracle" no. 5 http://antinoupolis.net/newsletters/) you may recall that we found in the past two other inscribed blocks, but they lacked a secure archaeological context and could not be conclusively linked to the building we are excavating. This block does not have that problem since it is clearly from our building, and it could strengthen the association of the other two blocks with our building depending on whether the paleography of their hieroglyphs (meaning their form or style) matches this new block. But we have to extricate it from the jumble of blocks around it first to see the text which may take several days.
In addition to the above, this block's form also solves many questions regarding the facade of our building, and (together with several other fragments from the excavation) forms a group of diagnostic blocks just large enough to propose a likely reconstruction for our building's facade. Reconstruction drawings for the rest of it will have to wait until the rest of it is excavated. And the excavation will definitely continue next season if we are allowed permission to work. Looking at the photo, can you tell what part of the building it comes from?
The last time we were allowed to work at the site, in October of 2015, was also the first time we worked under a collaboration with the Antiquities Ministry wherein we could continue excavation in the old excavations that the Ministry had made (then the Egyptian Antiquities Organization) in 1990-1995. This is the monumental court which may be part of a Hadrianic Osiris temple discussed at length in our most recent newsletter the “Oracle” number 5, available here: http://antinoupolis.net/newsletters/
In our shortened two-week 2015 season, we managed only to recut the collapsed baulk around most of the old excavation and draw the section cut of the new baulk. (The “baulk” is the vertical cut through the earth at the edge of an excavation.) So our first real opportunity to do work at the site began three weeks ago with the beginning of this campaign. The clear interpretation of the material contained in the old excavation is that the remains are part of a monumental courtyard (or “peristyle”) comprised of a pavement of large rectangular limestone blocks cut thinly and laid on a bed of crushed limestone and mortar. This pavement makes an “L” shape around two sides of the excavation, the west and south, and is accompanied by a number of whole and broken granite column shafts and limestone capitals and bases. (Again for more, see “Oracle” number 5.) We have approximately six column shafts and capitals which are in good condition (though there are pieces of many more), and as a priority this season we are excavating an old robber’s trench where the limestone ashlar foundation of the columns along the edge of the peristyle was robbed out, perhaps in the Christian period. (“Ashlars” are rectangular blocks of stone.) This work has the specific goal of locating the original placement and spacing of the columns on the foundations. IF we can do that, if we can conclude we know the disposition of the columns with reasonable certainty, we will launch a fundraising campaign to raise money to re-erect five or six columns in their original locations along the edge of the peristyle.
The foundations are not simply ashlars, but first there is a layer of rubble limestone laid, and this is topped by a leveling course of mortar to get things perfectly level. These two elements are preserved in many places. Atop this went the ashlar limestone blocks, and it is these blocks that were robbed out by the villagers long – perhaps more than a thousand years – ago. We have some blocks remaining, but so far none in situ. Then it appears that the setting bed for the pavement was laid on top of this trench of blocks (and all throughout the whole court) with the paving stones set on top of the setting bed. The columns, as one often sees in pharonic-style temples, were set directly onto (or into) the pavement without a special stylobate or large foundation stones visible (but with the trench foundation beneath). We will keep you posted on our search for the column foundations.
We are also digging another robber trench nearby to this, and I am pleased to say we have located an ashlar foundation in the trench. At the west extremity of the excavation is a large ashlar wall backed by a massive rubble concrete mass. We have shown with the geophysical survey that these remains formed the stone embankment of the Nile in the Roman period (though the Nile is now about 140 meters to the west). This embankment mass was enlarged with the ashlar foundation in the trench to make a sufficient width to support a 7-meter (or 22-foot) wide wall or pylon which would have been the riverine face of this complex. Again see “Oracle” 5 for more information on our ideas about the complex’s form and function. Finding this ashlar foundation was an important key to understanding the west part of the court and its relationship to the river.
But the main focus of our efforts has been at the eastern edge of the old excavations. When we began there was only a corner of a small staircase visible in that area. After the two-weeks of work recutting the baulk, we had not only two more column capitals and a new shaft and a half for the peristyle, but also an eight-meter wide monumental staircase (which must have a commensurate building behind it) in the pharonic style (with ramps up the center and both sides), we also had about half of a six-meter in diameter well edge (or Nilometer or sacred lake) visible just to the south of the stair. The baulk was slicing the well diameter in half, and the modern surface was just about 1.5 meters (or 4.5 feet) above the well’s edge when we began. We laid excavation squares on the modern surface above both the stair and the well, and have spent the last three weeks excavating to try to bring the level down to both. Much of the material over the stair consisted of a lime kiln which is likely from the 18th or 19th century. (A “lime kiln” is essentially a large oven where anything made of limestone or marble, such as architectural or statue fragments, can be cooked to turn it into lime, then ground into powder which is an essential component in mortar/cement to make buildings. Many ancient monuments in Egypt were burned in lime kilns particularly in the 19th century.) Much of the material over the well, however, has been material dumped there by the excavations in the early 1990’s. With the kiln and the excavation debris now largely removed, we have had to slow down our excavation to carefully move through some intact stratigraphy (layers deposited over time). But I am pleased to report that on Thursday, February 16, we selectively cut through the last remaining layer to locate both the back (buried) edge of the well and the continuation of the walls of the building, and as of today we have revealed about 75 percent of the edge of the well, which may not be completely circular after all. (See photo below.) Our ceramicist, Pascale Ballet, has begun analysis of pottery in the layers above the well, and finds them to be late antique (meaning post-Roman) forms associated with carrying water either for utilitarian or perhaps for ritual purposes. So it seems that long after this complex ceased its first function (temple?) as designed during Hadrian's time, its well continued to be used for gathering water, perhaps for ritual purposes, for potentially hundreds of years.
On February fifth a team arrive at Antinoupolis from Egypt’s Ministry of Irrigation. The wadi (gulley or ravine) that drains an enormous amount of nearby desert to the east runs through the center of the ancient city. This is an interesting feature of Hadrian’s design and suggests he intended Antinoupolis to be a classical version of the sacred landscape at Abydos where the sacred wadi believed to contain the tomb of Osiris also has a close relationship to the city. Of course, Hadrian’s engineers incorporated an unstable, sometimes filled with flash flood water, wadi into the city with a specific hardscape design including a massive stone canalization and multiple bridges to connect the two halves of the city. Prof. Marcello Spanu has been studying these remains. We know about the canal walls and the bridges through a series of torrential flash floods and also illegal sand mining with bulldozers that have happened over the last six years or so. The Ministry of Irrigation arrived to finalize the design for a massive stone-lined drainage ditch that would completely bury (or bulldoze away) the Hadrianic remains in the wadi. The Egyptian government has built these huge drainage ditches all over Egypt in wadis in proximity to villages and towns to protect housing. Much property has been damaged and many lives have been lost to flash flooding from desert wadis in recent years. But our wadi at Antinoupolis runs through an ancient town with no residents. The modern village on the site (el Sheikh Abada) is to the north of the wadi with only two or three houses in any proximity to the wadi at all. Nonetheless, a huge stone-lined ditch is planned through the center of the ancient city.
After many hours of discussion with the quite affable engineer Peter, he came to understand that Hadrian’s designers had already built a major flood control canal in the wadi, and through our urging he promised to simply dig out the ancient canal rather than build a new stone-lined ditch over the top of it. He also will put small diagonal new stone sides above the canal and dig a large retention lake in the wadi to the east of the city near the hippodrome. But the compromise we reached was the best we could do to try to preserve the ability to access and study the ancient remains in the wadi. Technically, the Ministry of Antiquities should have the power to stop this work since the area in question is land belonging to the Ministry, but such an action seems unlikely. We call upon the Ministry to do their best to prevent the further destruction of Hadrianic remains at the site.
We also have no guarantee that the Ministry of Irrigation will stick to our suggested compromise and excavate the ancient canal rather than destroy it or cover it with a new one. So we have rented the bulldozer owned by a neighbor of ours here in el Sheikh Abada, and we are paying him to dig out in between canal walls and bridge piers – to essentially clean out a small section of the ancient canal - to try to determine the depth of the stone walls and piers and, if he can reach the bottom, to see if the canal has also a stone lining or floor. (We know that Trajan’s hexagonal harbor at Portus near Rome is completely stone lined, including the bottom.) This is not proper archaeology, but an emergency maneuver. Whatever the bulldozer reveals for us, we will photograph, measure and draw it since it could very well be our last opportunity to gather any information about this major structure in Hadrian’s city.
We are pleased to welcome Dr. Erin Peters to our mission. Dr. Peters is a Joint Lecturer and Assistant Curator, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Museum of Natural History. (Note to our non-US colleagues: both of these institutions are in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.) Her doctoral thesis examined additions and renovations to temples in Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Augustus. She has joined us this season for ten days to help us study the remains of the possible Osiris temple we are uncovering near the dig house since this structure is likely Hadrianic in date. She is also blogging her time with us on the Carnegie Museum’s website. Welcome Erin!
Yesterday in the test trench north of the Ramses II temple we found the skeleton of another human, the second one, in the same clean sand layer with all the animal offerings. This individual’s head was facing northeast, and they were laid on their back with their hands on their pelvis. Like the first human, this one had no apparent grave goods or constructed tomb and no evidence of jewelry or any other possessions or objects. And like all the skeletons found thus far, this one has no traces of mummification. Yesterday’s human skeleton is located fully 20 meters away from the first one, but in the same layer of clean sand. Today we found a third human skeleton in the north/south trench about mid-way between the other two human skeletons. This one was mostly buried by the baulk with only the skull protruding pointing northeast, but like the other two showed no signs of mummification. However, it was different in that it was interred under a mud-brick layer and had two ceramic jars and five molded terra cotta ushebtis (small statues to serve the dead in the afterlife) located at its head. Three ushebtis were inside one jar lying on its side with two more ushebtis laid alongside it, and the other jar standing upright was filled with only sand with no trace of whatever offering may originally have been inside.
The animal and human skeletons were all laid at a similar depth, and it seems that we may be nearing the end of this large quantity of skeletons/offerings. Throughout the trench by the end of today we had made good vertical progress, and still have bones in one location only: underneath the crocodile of a few days ago, there has been continuous layers of bovine parts all cut up as for food offerings, with many skulls with large horns preserved. We have found also at this location a single course of mud brick running under what we hope to be the bottom of the bovine parts as if it were a low platform to hold them. We have a few mud bricks here or there in association with most or all other skeletons, but no other groups of mud bricks forming clear platforms. And also throughout, I have used the term “skeleton” though it is clear through soil stains (decayed organic matter that tints the sand or soil surrounding bones a dark brown) that all interments were animals, animal parts or humans with the flesh still on the bones.
We are still in the clean yellow sand layer – our geophysical survey’s noted deep homogenous infilling, and it shows no signs of ending. The stone structure shown on the geophysical survey results should appear in the trench soon since we are now at about two meters in depth. I will certainly update you in the days to come!
It has been an exciting several days here on the excavation. Today I’ll bring you up to date on the new excavation we began six days ago, north of the Ramses II temple. For background this area was previously discussed in the second half of the blog post of January 31 (which you can find on our website, if you’ve received this post by email), and the geophysical survey which led to the work there is discussed in our last newsletter the “Oracle” no. 5 beginning on page 9 (and named “Area 2”).
In short, the geophys. results indicate a large area of intentionally deposited fill about two meters deep covering a large stone structure about 12 x 22 meters which seems to have the form of a temple. On February 6 using the geophysical survey results, measurements from satellite photos, and on-the-ground measurements to various landmarks, we drove an iron rod flush into the ground over what we hope to be the center of the structure. In the past any excavation squares laid out and left overnight would have the pegs/string stolen by villagers, so we returned the following morning to lay out the trench and get the work started. After finding the iron rod, we made it the center of a 2 x 14 meter trench running compass north-south. And we also had the idea to run an east-west trench over the same point to maximize our chances of catching an edge of the structure if we weren’t over the center of it after all, making a big "X." Because the compass directions address the underlying structure diagonally, we actually put one west running section at the north end of the north-south trench and one east running section at the south end making a big “Z” shape which is likely to catch more of the underlying structure. On the first day of work, February 7, after laying out the trenches, our workers managed to dig about 30 cm deep across the whole “Z” so that we can remove our stakes and string (to avoid nighttime theft) and use the edge of the trenches for our reference in drawing the contents.
Contrary to expectations of clean fill from the geophys. results, before our break at 10AM the team working the south half of the trench began getting pottery, starting right at the iron rod in the center of the trench. By the end of the day's work the north team had it as well (to a lesser concentration), and pottery was widely spread in a silty layer all over the trench. But interestingly the pottery was not of mixed eras - the only types we found closely match the set of types we excavated a few years ago in the North Roman Cemetery where we found the tombs of some of the city’s earliest inhabitants. (For information on the North Roman Cemetery see the “Oracle” nos. 2, 3 and 4 which can be downloaded here: http://antinoupolis.net/newsletters/ ) There are two things that can be noted regarding this. One is that the dating of this pottery is 2nd to early 3rd century A.D. We found no pottery of other dating mixed in which at the very surface in this archaeological site generally is extremely uncommon since so much of the city has been chewed up and pitted by looting. It is also quite unusual here to encounter any area which is not overlaid by pottery of eras much later than the city's founding, such as the early Coptic and Islamic eras. The other thing to note is that it would seem to be unusual that a set of pottery used in a funeral context (mostly small offering vessels and amphorae) would be found at all inside the boundaries of the city with a date near to the city’s founding. Such pottery should only occur in cemeteries and perhaps in temples as well. On the downside, the trench is near the village, and when the villagers dig a new foundation, they often dump ancient debris on the site which would explain such early pottery right at the surface.
But I am happy to say that this is not the case. In subsequent days, as our team excavated, we found the uneven layer of 2nd-3rd century pottery to be about 30-40 cm deep diminishing through that depth as the silt increased. Now that we are much lower in the excavation we can say that this layer was not disturbed, and was sealing the material that lay below. As the pottery lessened, the layer changed from silt to sandy silt and then to clean sand. Yesterday, at the top of the clean sand layer we found three sets of animal skeletons which appeared to be uniformly bovine in character at the baulk edges, and one human skeleton mostly still in the baulk. Much discussion ensued about possibly intrusive burials (meaning they were later and cut into the layers), but that would mean pits cut in the pottery layer, and such lines of disturbance are usually visible in the baulk. No pit cuts could be found. Sacrificed animals as offerings in a temple or tomb context would be normal, but not so a sacrificed (or at least buried) human – not since Egypt’s pre-dynastic period in any case. Today the mystery – or the debate about offerings vs. a family burying their dead cattle and a relative – was solved.
Within ten minutes of beginning work this morning in the north end of the trench, we began uncovering a set of bones which turned out to clearly be an adult crocodile skeleton. The quite large crocodile was buried lying on its back and with its lower jaw removed. You may ask: how does this solve the debate? With the presence of an interred crocodile, there is no possibility we are dealing with anything other than a field of offerings. Through the day we found at least a half dozen other sets of bones, mostly bovine, including one large mass of bovine bones directly underneath the crocodile. I am writing “bovine” because I’m not a bone specialist, and there were many types of cow-like creatures in the ancient period in Egypt, though not, I am told the gamousa (which is the water buffalo that today in Egypt one sees commonly in the countryside). So I will leave that to the eventual expert we can get to analyze the bones we have collected. But they are large cow-like creatures with horns similar to the bulls/cows one sees in pharonic temple reliefs. There were also other small vertebrate creatures the species of which is not clear to me as well as some bones in the baulk itself where it is impossible to speculate the species of the animal.
All skeletons were located beneath the silt and pottery layer and in the top of a thick layer of clean yellow sand. This clean sand (beginning at about 0.75 meters from the surface) should be the homogenous infilling noted by Kris our geophysical engineer in his results. He didn’t tell us it was going to be full of animals!
An interesting detail is that the crocodile was interred whole (except for the removal of its lower jaw), while the bovine animal skeletons all seem to be disarticulated (cut up). None of the creatures so far have been mummified, but it may be that the bovine animals were butchered as one sees them shown in piles of offerings on a pharonic temple wall relief (and as they were found stacked in the burial with, for example the head – with horns! – stacked above long leg bones and ribs, etc.), while the non-food creatures associated with dieties like the crocodile were buried whole as offerings (as they often are at other sites). The human was also buried whole with his head oriented to the west (in the pagan manner – later Christian burials normally orient the head of the body toward the east).
And this brings up the question of the human burial. If you’ve followed the analysis above, you know we have a thick clean sand layer containing a large number of unmummified animal offerings sealed beneath a thick layer of silt and 2nd-3rd century pottery. The human burial is sealed in the same clean sand layer as all the other offerings, and the not unreasonable, but somewhat uncomfortable, hypothesis must now be that at least one human was sacrificed and offered with the animals.
We are working to reach a two-meter depth which is the shallowest we might expect to encounter a stone wall, but bones must be excavated carefully – and s-l-o-w-l-y – which has slowed us down. Also slowing us down is another strange feature. In the south end of the trench at its eastern end is a small lime kiln with an adjacent lime “floor” layer where it appears burnt lime chunks were ground up. (Briefly: limestone and/or marble was often burned in a kiln to produce lime which when hydrated with water produces quick lime which is a major component of mortar and concrete for making buildings.) Next to the lime floor we found three jars containing lime in the bottom which must have been used to transport the ground lime to where it was needed. All of this is sitting at the top of the clean sand layer and was sealed under the silt layer with the buried animals. Again the lime kiln and production area is not intrusive because, though half the baked brick kiln disappears under the baulk, there is no pit cut visible in the baulk. The only explanation I can currently offer is that lime was produced on site for the building of whatever monument we are excavating. When enough lime was produced for the construction, the builders didn’t remove it before they installed the offerings, but left it in place and covered it over as well as covering the offerings, knowing it would never be visible. It seems that the clean sand layer with the offerings and the kiln were covered by the builders with Nile silt which was then irregularly covered by offering vessels, perhaps by worshippers bringing offerings to the monument we hope to find below.
This brings you fully up to date on our progress as we “ground-truth” the geophysical survey results from the north area of the site. In archaeology one almost never finds what one expects, and there is certainly more to this monument than I thought we would find! I promise to keep you updated on what we find in the excavation in the near future.
Hello from Antinoupolis! We have made an excellent start this campaign in a number of different areas. However, we have only gotten the internet up and running yesterday – thus my delay in sending you the news.
Since we have not worked in over a year (last in October of 2015), I am pleased to tell you that the site looks good with minimal evidence of recent looting. In the next few days I’ll be sending updates from the Foundation’s, as well as the overall mission’s, work around the site to fill you in on our progress.
Our director, Prof. Rosario Pintaudi, has plans to re-erect one of the largest columns known at Antinoupolis which is located in the East Gate area. This area is discussed in the first number of our newsletter, available here http://antinoupolis.net/newsletters/. The East Gate area is called “Magnetometry Test Area 4” and is discussed beginning on page 3. The column in question is only slightly smaller than the columns forming the pediment (front façade) of the Pantheon in Rome, and we have the red granite base, sitting upright, plus the three sections of the shaft, also in red granite, lying in a rough line, presumably where they fell, to the north.
There is another matching base nearby which is upside down, but the base which aligns with the shaft segments seems to be in situ, meaning in its ancient location. The first step, then, would be to determine if the base actually is in its original location. The mission’s architect, Peter Grossmann is working nearby drawing the plan of a later Christian church, and he undertook to clean around the column base to try to determine if the original foundation is present.
And he found it! The large ashlar masonry below the column base is unquestionably the ancient column’s foundation. There is a slight mis-alignment between the base and the ashlars of the foundation, but this is not uncommon in ancient construction and does not preclude the base being in situ. However, we will, with the help of the mission's surveyor, check the alignment of the base to the city’s grid to confirm the alignment is correct before we proceed. Rosario has already put in an application to the permanent committee of the SCA (the Egyptian antiquities authority) for permission to proceed with re-erecting the column, and he has also, together with our archaeologist Fathy Awad, begun discussions with an engineer who would do the work. This symbolic raising of the largest column known in the ancient city would be a draw for tourism at the site as well as inaugurate a much-needed program of re-erection and restoration of the Roman urban fabric.
Peter continued clearing nearby to try to find the foundation for the second, upturned column base, but instead he found a wall made of large limestone ashlar blocks, plus a section of the shaft which must have been atop the upturned base. Go Peter!
Friends and Colleagues: You haven't heard from us in more than a year, but I am pleased to say that a new season of excavation and work at Antinoupolis is underway. You will recall from our last posts that due to late granting of permission to work from the Egyptian government, we had a shortened two-week excavation in October of 2015. Without being given an official reason, or even an official "no" we were not granted permission to work in either January/February of 2016 or October/November of 2016. This state of uncertainty was the fate of many expeditions in Egypt in the past year. The situation was disheartening and has made it difficult not only to push the work forward and to plan time at the site for the various professionals with whom we work (who must buy plane tickets and schedule time in their academic calendars), but it has also made it difficult to raise money to continue the work. It also has deprived the residents of the local village of a much-needed income stream as well as lessening our monitoring of any illicit digging or looting that may be happening at the site.
But I am happy to say that we have received permission to work now. We officially began the excavation on Saturday January 28, and we will continue until March 10. I will only blog during our active excavation season, so look for a post every few days over the next month only. In addition we'll produce a newletter next summer that will summarize what we've been up to. If you received this blog post by email, you are already signed up to receive future posts. If you were forwarded this blog post from a friend and would like to receive these blog posts and the newsletters automatically, please go to our website http://antinoupolis.net/ and sign up with your email address in the side bar that reads, "Get Newsletters and Blog Posts!"
I hope that you will enjoy reading about what promises to be an exciting season at Antinoupolis. We are continuing our barely begun excavation of the monumental peristyle court of a likely Hadrianic structure that featured 5.5 meters tall granite columns with lobed papyrus limestone capitals. We are looking for proof that this large complex - which may be 180 meters or about 1.5 football fields in length - is the famous temple of Osir-Antinous (the compound deity Osiris Antinous) which is described on the Barbarini Obelisk, currently on the Pincio Hill in Rome. In the very short time of our last campaign, we managed to find an eight-meter wide, pharaonic-style staircase at the assumed center of the court. And unexpectedly we found that this stair was flanked on its south by a six-meter in diameter well or Nilometer, the top of which contains at least two column capitals from the peristyle or perhaps from the building (a temple?) at the top of the staircase. In this area we are already excavating at the top of the stair to see what building may be behind it, and we are also excavating the full circumference of the well which we will then clear as deeply as we can since wells were often a depository for pagan material when the Christian period arrived in Egypt.
But that is not all we are planning for this season. In our last geophysical survey season in February 2015, we covered a large area with ground penetrating radar around our current excavation site (Area 1) to better understand what we can expect as we continue excavating the complex. But we also did an extensive ground penetrating radar survey in an area of the ancient city west of the cardo maximus (the main north/south street of the ancient city) and north of the Ramses II temple (which was incorporated into the city by Hadrian's designers). This is an area that is often threatened by illegal expansion of the villagers houses and animal pens, and we felt it was important to document as best we could the sub-surface architectural remains before they were covered over with illegal building. What we found was surprising! To quote the report of our geophysical survey engineer, Kris Strutt from the University of Southampton, UK, "The central and southern part of the survey area is covered by a substantial and extensive deposit ... suggesting a deep deposit or infilling of a large section of the area. What is intriguing is that this feature correlates to the underlying feature of a large rectilinear complex ... which seems to indicate a possible temple or similar structure. This feature seems to have an axis extending southwards towards the excavations of the Temple of Ramesses..." The clearest part of the results show a large stone structure which is about 12 x 22 meters in the form of a tripartite shrine. This simply means three rooms of the same size lined up at the end of an axis, and it is a common feature of Egyptian temples for thousands of years. The stone structure is covered by a homogenous fill indicating it was deposited at one time; it is not covered by layered or stratified deposits which accumulated over a long period of time. This indicates that the structure was intentionally buried. This is intriguing, as Kris writes, because in ancient Egypt buildings known as Osireons were sometimes constructed (the most famous of which is the Osireon constructed by Seti I as part of his temple at Abydos) and were seen as model tombs of the god Osiris. As model tombs these structures seem to have been intentionally buried. Since Antinoupolis is the cult city of the new Osiris, Osir-Antinous, an Osireon would make sense as part of the urban ensemble. Our structure, whatever it may be, is still covered by its intentional fill from just about current ground level to a depth of approximately 2 meters. Then the stone structure begins and continues out the bottom of the deepest GPR readings at 5 meters below the current surface.
As a final exciting detail, the stone tripartite structure and the disposition of the surrounding walls indicate an axis which would not only correspond to the grid of the Ramses II temple, but an axis which would enter that temple in the middle of the side of the "hypostyle hall," which is the hall of columns between the back shrines of the temple and the court at the temple's entry. This axis is a normal place for the main side entrance into an Egyptian temple precinct, and it appears that this structure, if built by Hadrian, was intended by his designers to be an extension of the Ramses II temple complex. For more information about the geophysical survey which produced these results, you can access the "Oracle" Newsletter No. 5 at this link: http://antinoupolis.net/newsletters/ Geophysical survey Area 2 is discussed beginning on page 9. For more information about the excavation of this structure, look forward to more blog posts as soon as we are able to get a test trench underway.
I look forward to sharing with you more exciting details of the excavation season as they unfold. Please pass this email or the website link along to anyone you think may find it interesting. And thank you very much for your interest!
We are nearing the end of this short, but fruitful, excavation campaign. Tomorrow is Friday, which for the workers means a day of rest and no excavation. But for the rest of us it is work as usual, or even more than usual: we are hustling to finish not only the excavation, but to reach a stopping point both with processing currently excavated material and with various other projects in progress. In many ways when an object comes out of the ground in an excavation, the work is just beginning. For example at this moment textile conservation, restoration and study of plaster mummy masks, and pottery drawing are being conducted by expedition team members. They are working on material that we excavated a few years ago in the North Roman Necropolis. (Click ‘Newsletters’ in the top bar on the website and review ‘Oracle’s 2, 3 and 4 for more information.) There are also reports to write to file with the Antiquities Ministry and closing, cleaning and packing to do. The opening and closing days of an archaeological mission are always a busy time.
But for a few days more we are still excavating as well, and new information is continually turning up. On Sunday in the line of the eastern baulk of the old 1990’s excavation edge, we uncovered an additional column capital which was mentioned in the last blog post on Monday. When completely uncovered, it turned out not only to match the others, but to be beautifully preserved with plaster on it that is, of course, missing from the ones that have been exposed in the old excavation for more than 20 years. Then Tuesday, when we reached the level of the Roman pavement, the TOP of yet another capital appeared. It is the same size as the rest, but though similar to the others, its design is more complicated. It was also strange that its top was at the Roman pavement level, but two more days of excavation (through fill) revealed that it had fallen into a larger feature represented by the curving stone wall visible in the photo above. Though it was standing upright, once the capital had been freed from the surrounding matrix, we tipped it on its side so that it could be measured, drawn and photographed properly.
We also have some inspectors from the antiquities service with us who have had some training in cleaning artifacts. In the photos you can see Hannan and Nourhan cleaning mud and debris carefully from the plastered surface of this new capital while looking for paint traces. It was reported to me by a witness to the excavation in 1991 that a capital recovered that year had traces of red paint. And indeed today we found traces of red paint (but no other colors) on the plaster surface of this new capital.
Our excavation will continue on Saturday and Sunday, but then we will close down the operation until January-February of 2016. But you can check this blog for updates periodically during that time.
Correction (4 November): In the photo caption above "Hannan" was misspelled.
Correction from the last post: we now have seven column capitals and eight shafts! As we continue to clear the collapsed 1990's baulk we are making interesting "discoveries." I use the quotes because the information is new to us, but must have been known to the excavation team in the early 1990's. The area in these two photos was first excavated in 1994 at the end of the Egyptian government's multi-year excavation campaign. In the first photo from yesterday we see a well-preserved column capital of the lobed papyrus-bundle type emerging from the debris clearance, and this was followed today by two additional sections of granite column shafts. These new fragments match the known capitals and shafts we have so far, and their locations - while not in situ - will inform possible architectural reconstructions of the structure.
We have also reached the top of the stair - which is mostly foundation, but clear nonetheless. In the photo you can see the few remaining blocks with carved steps to the left, a double foundation wall to receive the weight of the top of the stair run in the center (under the wheelbarrow), and to the right, our workers are standing inside a rectangular foundation for a casemate which supported the first paving at the top of the steps. "Casemate" simply means a perimeter foundation is intentionally filled with loose material (in this case sand and baked bricks) to create a raised platform which in this case supported a pavement. The fill in the casemate was mostly removed in the excavation of 1994, and the level where you see the two workers standing is the top of the remaining Roman-period fill.
As we enter our second week of the campaign, you may be asking yourself whether these blog entries are appearing your inbox too frequently. Fear not, dear Reader! Our plan is a post every few days only while we are actively excavating. And this short, two-week campaign has only one more week to go. Otherwise, you might receive a post about once a month. And, of course, you can let us know what you think about the frequency or content of these posts in the comments section or by sending us a message using the “Get In Touch” tab above. We would be delighted to hear from you.
When we are not actively working at the site, this blog will have a new post less frequently, but it will still discuss issues related to our work at the site and the interpretation of archaeological material found there.
Speaking of such, in the course of our work even large architectural fragments must sometimes be brought back to the dig house for safe storage. This column base (in photo) is made of local limestone and the zigzag pattern on it represents the sepals of a papyrus stalk (a common motif on pharaonic-style columns). In our latest newsletter (“Oracle” 5, p. 19, fig. 54 – click the “Newsletter” tab above to access it) you can see a drawing of this base as part of an entire column (labeled “C” in the drawing). In our immediate excavation area we have seven complete or partial column shafts and six complete or partial capitals. But we have brought this one rather ragged base back to the house because it is the only example found so far of this base type, and if it were further damaged or even removed by the locals it would be a serious loss of information. In fact, when it was excavated by the Egyptian government in 1991, it was bashed but whole, but when our recent work began we found that someone had broken it in two pieces.
The photo shows some of our workers and me bringing the base back to the dig house on Thursday (22 October). The other photo was taken this morning, and it shows Hamada taking levels of the collapsed 1990’s baulk prior to our workers beginning to remove the collapse there to create a clean section. The tall white stick being held vertical in the distance is marked with measurements that are read with the auto level (which is the device in the foreground on the tripod). This technique allows us to plot accurate elevation measurements for features (layers) and objects as we proceed.
This stair was partly uncovered as part of the Egyptian government's excavation here twenty years ago, but we found it mostly covered with recent debris. At the bottom right of the photo you can see the short-rise steps and sloping ramps of stairs found in pharaonic-style Egyptian temples. Even though many of the blocks were robbed out in the late antique period, we can determine that this stair had two sets of steps alternating with three ramps and was approximately eight meters (or twenty-six feet) wide.
It is located at the east edge of the monumental court where we are working (with the ancient Nile course at the west edge of the court). We are still working to clear debris to the original extent of the 1990's excavations. After this is complete we are looking forward to continuing this excavation to the east (uphill in the photo) to see what remains of the structure to which the stair once led.
Welcome to the fall 2015 Antinoupolis archaeological campaign! Today we began our joint project with the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities Affairs in the monumental architecture they uncovered in the early 90's. In the photos Fathy and Hamada are laying out squares and workers in the background are cutting the collapsed 1994 baulk back to a clean section so we can draw it. These initial steps will help us understand the material excavated more than twenty years ago and will allow us to expand the work on a solid basis. We are looking forward to sharing more with you in the coming weeks. Check back to follow the archaeology as it happens!
Dear Friends, Donors, Colleagues - Welcome to the new website and blog for the Antinoupolis Foundation! I am very pleased to announce the launch of this new venue to disseminate information about the history of Antinoupolis and the archaeological work that has taken place in the past and that we are currently conducting there. We are launching now to celebrate the five-year anniversary of the collaboration of the Antinoupolis Foundation and the Isitituto Papirologico "G. Vitelli." We are so pleased and proud to be working together with the Istituto to excavate and preserve the ancient city of Antinoupolis, to publish the results of our work, and to help tell the remarkable story of this ancient city and this moment in history to the world. On this site you will find regularly updated information useful for the specialist as well as for more casual inquiries. If you find the site useful, please make a donation to help keep it going and to help further our archaeological work. Our next excavation campaign begins very soon: 17 October 2015, so a donation now could not be more timely. Thank you!
You are reading the blog now, and its latest entry will be located on the home page along with a gallery of recent photos. Clicking to the "Blog" tab will take you to an archive of blog entries and photos. The "Bibliography" tab will take you to an ever-growing compilation of articles and books about Antinoupolis including the expedition's own published material. Articles about Antinoupolis from print and electronic media can be found by clicking the "Press" tab. The "Newsletter" tab navigates to a page where you can view and download all of the issues of the Foundation's newsletter, "The Antinoupolis Oracle." The "About" tab leads to a drop down menu where you can learn about the city itself, the Antinoupolis Foundation, and the Istituto Papirologico "G. Vitelli" which, under the direction of Prof. Rosario Pintaudi, directs the Foundation's funded projects and all other archaeological work at the site.
Please let us hear from you - via the "Get In Touch" tab - to tell us what you think of our new home on the Internet, to make suggestions, or to make further inquiry. Also please make a donation using the "Donate" tab to help us continue to uncover the story of this remarkable city. You can donate with a credit card on our secure payment system, or mail a check to our address in Chicago.
We are happy you found us here on the web; please stop by often to see what's new. If you would like to receive notifications of new posts to the blog or if you would like to automatically receive new editions of our newsletter, "The Oracle," look for the sidebar, enter your email address and indicate your preferences.
Thank you so much again, and enjoy!
James B. Heidel
Welcome to the Antinoupolis Foundation's website - prelaunch!
Hi - we will be launching this website with the first 'official' blog post in a few days. And we will be blogging during our upcoming archaeological campaign in Egypt beginning on October 18th. If you would like to be updated with new blog entries and / or would like to receive our yearly newsletter, sign up and indicate your preferences in the side bar. You are also welcome to enjoy this sneak peak by clicking through the website and accessing the various pages and information already available here. Enjoy! And stop back often . . .