Completed Trench North of Ramses II Temple

The "z" shaped trench north of the ramses II temple.

The "z" shaped trench north of the ramses II temple.

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.

Osiris boat ex voto. 

Osiris boat ex voto. 

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.

Fill layer showing animal bones at left surrounded by random loads of sand and gravel.

Fill layer showing animal bones at left surrounded by random loads of sand and gravel.

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.

Three bovine heads arranged atop an offering pile.  (The one at right is not well preserved.)

Three bovine heads arranged atop an offering pile.  (The one at right is not well preserved.)

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.

Some of the crew in the trench at four meters in depth.

Some of the crew in the trench at four meters in depth.

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.