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.