Two days ago, the dig house was closed and everyone left the site. Rosario, our director, is in Cairo finishing the administrative work and meetings that are necessary for any expedition. The last day of the excavation was a week ago today, but we are all still studying and trying to understand what we have found. To that end, the lead image in this post is an AutoCAD drawing I've made of what we have so far. This sketch is approximate, and I don't doubt that it will change many times as new fragments and information come to light. The fragments we have recovered plus the in situ parts - all shaded with a stipple - give a possible idea of the overall form of the temple building (on the right) and the peristyle colonnade (on the left). The Roman soldier is 1.75 m (or 5 feet 9 inches) tall to give you a sense of the scale. Among parallels, the best examples are the facade of the tomb of Petosiris at Tuna el Gebel (c. 300 BC) and the facade of the temple of Kalabsha (reign of Augustus) at the back of the court behind the pylon. Our temple facade is MUCH smaller than Kalabsha and narrower than Petosiris. This reconstruction sketch takes into account all the fragments we have found so far. For example, you will notice the outside capitals of our temple are cut and placed against a wall. In the photo below, the capital Hamada and I are discussing is the cut capital which we know was in antis (as this arrangement is called) because its backside is flat. This can be seen in the photo, and the patina, chiseling, etc. indicates the flat side is part of the original capital configuration, not added later. This, like some other details of our building, is a detail not normally found in pharaonic style monuments; we are clearly working on an unusual structure. All such details from our fragments go into the ongoing understanding of the temple's form and its reconstruction. But if we don't have evidence for something, I don't add it. For example, I imagine that our temple facade had screen walls (the short shrine-like walls between the facade columns) as are found at Petosiris and Kalabsha, but we have found no evidence for them in the form of fragments or other indications. For the moment I have shown freestanding columns matching the granite shafts and limestone bases we do have in the court, but when/if we find screen wall bits, I will add that detail. I am super excited to begin to be able to posit the architectural form of this monument, but these results are preliminary and will likely change as new fragments come to light.
We are also still working on an interpretation of Area C, the trench we excavated north of the Ramses II temple. (See earlier blog posts.) It is a disappointment not to find the structure shown in the geophysical survey (GPR) results, but what we have found is quite important. It is also, I feel, related to the structure shown in the results. We have a large amount of tightly dated offering pottery, which is pottery that should not appear outside a tomb or temple context. Finding such pottery inside the city’s boundary is remarkable and indicates we are in a location of offerings/veneration, even if washed a short way from its original location. The fill layer with animal and human bones cements the conclusion that we are in an area of offerings because of the method of deposition of the bovine material and especially because of the crocodile burial. This layer seems to be the thick layer of intentional fill that is showing on the GPR results (which is larger than the structure below). Below the fill layer is a pair of human burials in virgin sand which, analysis may show are from around the 25th – 26th Dynasty, then virgin clay below that.
The mound filled with offerings with (we hope) a structure below recalls the accepted form of Osiris's tomb/cenotaph from at least the Late Period into the Greco-Roman era. The ideogram for Osiris’s tomb in the Late Period is a mound with a tree coming out of it. And there are “model” tombs of Osiris – little brick structures that had mounds over them – in North Karnak. Even though we missed the building itself, all of the results we have support the idea of an Osireon or similar underground structure topped by a mound of sand/gravel with the mound filled with offerings. We will work with our geophysical survey engineer, Kris Strutt, to try to figure out why we didn’t find the structure, and I hope we will make another attempt to find it next winter. Even if we don't, this monument is important and, we must, in my opinion, find the extent of the field of offerings and try to better define what this monument may be.
As you can see from the sketch at the top of this post, we are also continuing to study the results from Area B, next to the dig house. In spite of the limited amount of time we have worked this site, the recovery of information and the finds have been extraordinary. The cornice block and the torus molding block go far toward creating an idea of the reconstruction of the temple building at the top of the staircase, but they also do more than that. Because the paleography of all four hieroglyph-inscribed blocks we have recovered is similar, the cornice and torus molding blocks strengthen the idea that the other two blocks found previously (from a door jamb and from a pylon) are part of the same structure or complex. The similarity of the texts on our blocks to the Barbarini Obelisk is also important, and it strengthens the case that the Barbarini Obelisk was originally located at Antinoupolis. It is now conclusive that we are excavating a temple complex built during the reign of Hadrian. The bands of inscription naming Osir-Antinous and Hathor may indicate the temple is dedicated to one or both of these gods or some arrangement where we have a shrine to Hathor within the Osir-Antinous temple complex. This is the first time Hadrian’s name and the first time the name of Osir-Antinous have been found at Antinoupolis. This is only the third time the name of a Roman empress has been represented in hieroglyphs in cartouches – one of the other two is Sabina’s name shown on the Barbarini Obelisk.
Hadrian built many of the largest monuments constructed during the Roman Empire. His largest building project, Antinoupolis, is dedicated to the worship of Osir-Antinous and is a city filled with large public monuments, many rivaling the size of their counterparts in Rome, including its triumphal arch, its hippodrome, its theater. It is my opinion that, with an eight-meter wide facade, the temple we are excavating is too small to be the main temple of the city dedicated to its titular deity, Osir-Antinous. I think the monument we are now excavating is a subsidiary shrine within the Osir-Antinous complex, perhaps dedicated to Hathor, perhaps the shrine adjacent to the Nilometer (if our well proves to be a Nilometer).
Near the new trench we made near the Ramses II temple (Area C) on the surface there are scattered in different locations three badly eroded architectural fragments. All three of these match in size, material and detailing the columns we have in Area B next to the dig house about half a kilometer to the south. The three pieces are a four-lobed papyrus bundle capital in local limestone, a red granite shaft and a tapered base and plinth with carved papyrus sepals in local limestone. Fathy (our archaeologist who is from the village adjacent to Antinoupolis) informs me that these pieces were pulled out of the ground when the foundation of a new school was dug, a school which is standing near our Area C trench. These fragments suggest, and I suggest, that Area C and Area B are related. They share a common architectural design and a complementary ritual purpose. Both seem related to the function of the city as the cult center of Osir-Antinous, and both are threatened by the expansion of the village. In Area C we have a field of offerings which may have a relationship to the Ramses II temple and a still-undiscovered buried structure we will continue to seek. In Area B we have a temple which may be in a corner of the court of the main Osir-Antinous complex. But what we are beginning to see is the overall scheme of grand architectural gesture that Hadrian created to celebrate the new god. I see it as a complicated, but unified, riverine design stretching from one end of the city to the other and containing the principal monuments necessary for the creation of the new cult.
Both of these sites are critically important for understanding the architectural and urban form of Hadrian’s city, but also, I think, to begin to understand the practice and ritual of the new cult it was founded to celebrate. In Area C we must work with Kris to refine the location for our excavation, to find the walls we are missing, and thereafter to define the implied connection with the Ramses II temple. In Area B we must push back the baulk to reveal the extent of the temple building, we must clear the well and the associated staircase to the maximum depth possible given the water table, and we must reveal the foundation of reused blocks in which we found the reused cornice block to try to find more. It is shaping up to be a very busy campaign in October, and - we can hope - for years to come!