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!