BLOCKbuster News!

Jay (me) posing with the new discovery.

Jay (me) posing with the new discovery.

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.

First noticing that we have a cornice block.  (Holes at right are damage from when block was pried off the temple for reuse.)

First noticing that we have a cornice block.  (Holes at right are damage from when block was pried off the temple for reuse.)

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.

Fathy revealing the first cartouche.

Fathy revealing the first cartouche.

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 block tipped up, and Fathy photographing its muddy imprint.

The block tipped up, and Fathy photographing its muddy imprint.

Reused block wall context.

Reused block wall context.

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.

Tipped up shortly after discovery.

Tipped up shortly after discovery.

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.

Moving the cornice block with the 7-meter tripod.

Moving the cornice block with the 7-meter tripod.

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.

Thanks to our fantastic block moving team:  Hileal, Ahmed, Khaled, Mohamed and Rageab.

Thanks to our fantastic block moving team:  Hileal, Ahmed, Khaled, Mohamed and Rageab.