Excavations in Area A

Area A is primarily a residential zone and is delineated by a series of many streets and lanes. One major east-west orientated street appears to feature centrally within this area and may connect up with the eastern gateway of the Temple enclosure. The main localities of investigation include the group of Houses 1, 2 and 3, House 4, House 5, a bath house and the Small and Large East Churches. Most recently, a probable Nymphaeum has been revealed in the northern sector of the area.

Houses 1, 2 and 3 exhibit a combination of architectural features typical of domestic structures encountered in this sector of Area A. Each of the houses is entered from the south. A fourth structure, the North Building, abuts Houses 1 and 2; it may originally have served a domestic function, but was later used as a rubbish dump. Traces of vaulting suggest that many of the smaller rooms were barrel-vaulted.

Some of the larger rooms appear to have had flat roofs comprising wooden beams, palm-fronds and mud-plaster, yet it is also possible that some were kept partly open to the sky. Preserved stairs in Houses 1 and 2 indicate that many activities took place at roof-top level.

houses1-3

A plan of Houses 1, 2 and 3

Houses 1 and 2 were provided with kitchens and built ovens. House 3 was provided with ovens in the northwest corner of its courtyard. Typical features of the walls within these houses include ledges, cupboards, shelves and niches, often delineated with white plaster; bands of white plaster were placed across some of the vaults. Courtyards of varying sizes are associated with the individual houses.

Importantly, the excavation of these structures revealed many artefacts. The objects primarily included domestic items such as a wide selection of ceramics and glass, basketry, textiles and sandals, furniture and items associated with textile manufacture. House 2 contained a number of well-preserved wooden implements such as mallets, and sections of wood that indicate the manufacture of wooden codices. Inscribed material was numerous and proved to be some of the most important evidence upon which to reconstruct life at the site. The corpus of material includes papyri and wooden boards which were inscribed predominantly with Greek and Coptic, though a few are in Latin and Syriac.

Papyri have provided the site’s ancient name – Kellis. Additionally, these documents and others from the North Building often contained consular dates of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries CE which assisted in understanding the overall occupational phasing. Two books with their original binding were found in House 2 stand out as particularly significant finds: (1) the Cyprian Orations of Isocrates the Orator – perhaps the earliest surviving copies of sections of his work dating to the early 4th century CE; and (2) an agricultural account book – dated to the end of the 3rd or beginning of the 4th century CE which contained valuable economic information on commodities.

A plan and profile of House 3

A plan and profile of House 3

The incribed finds at or near the floor level in House 3 are especially significant. The Greek texts vary in topic and cover a period from the late 3rd century to 390 CE, providing a good indication of when the house was in use. The coins also belong to this same time span, dating from Numerian (283 CE) to Valentinian II (392 CE). Remarkably, a significant number of private letters written in Coptic of the same date were also found. The Coptic corpus includes a variety of religious documents, which have revealed the existence of a once-flourishing Manichaean community at Kellis.