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.