North Tomb 2

This tomb was also photographed by Winlock during his visit to the site in 1908. Excavation of the tomb, led by Monash University, was conducted between 2000 and 2001. North Tomb 2 is situated 25m to the north of Tomb 1 and its architecture represents a simplified version of the latter. The tomb has three chambers (Rooms 1-3) which all open off a transverse hall (Room 4) entered through the centre of its eastern wall. It was also provided with a small porch (Room 5). The doors of the tomb were probably made of wood given that numerous iron nails from their construction were found. Room 2 had door pivots indicating that it had double-doors while the other rooms only had a single door.

The core of the tomb is approximately 10 square meters; it has a height of just below 5m and is situated upon a platform. Externally, the walls were white-plastered and feature elements such as battering, cavetto cornices and torus mouldings, corner mouldings, and had pilasters framing the entrance into the tomb – most probably supporting a cavetto cornice as well. Rooms 2 and 3 are both of sandstone with stone-paved floors and possibly once had stone vaults. Only the lower parts of the walls survive.

Fragments of a sandstone cavetto cornice as well as painted sandstone preserving part of an image of a solar disc flanked by uraei were found in Room 4. These elements undoubtedly originate from above the doors into Rooms 2 and 3. Rooms 1 and 4 are constructed in mud-brick and both have barrel-vaults; yet Room 4 has a stone-paved floor, which was coated with a layer of plaster like the others. All external walls are mud-brick and a parapet wall extended above the roof of the tomb. It appears that the tomb was constructed in a single phase and unlike in Tomb 1, there is no evidence of changes to the floor level.

A plan of North Tomb 2
A plan of North Tomb 2

The floor of Room 1 had been dug up, apparently by robbers. Within the back-fill were several sandstone paving slabs, fragmentary sandstone offering tables and the burial remains of a child. Human remains were found above the floor in Room 2. Some of the skeletal remains were orientated east-west with heads on the east, but it is uncertain if this represents their original placement as there was evidence for extensive disturbance throughout the tomb. The matrix in which these bodies were found also indicated that it derived from an episode of looting and destruction. The burials were accompanied by a small selection of objects including pottery and a sandstone offering table. The pottery included bowls that may be ascribed to the 2nd to 3rd century. Fragments of decorated cartonnage were also discovered as well as burnt and gilded wood that clearly derived from either a coffin, a shrine or a box. An intrusive burial containing an infant wrapped in linen was found in a pit which cut through one of the other burials. Room 3 witnessed a fire of considerable temperature that reduced much of the burial furniture to charcoal and transformed parts of the human skeletal material into a substance resembling glass. Other items found included decorated cartonnage, a plaster eye socket with glass inlay, a moulded glass heart scarab, and pieces of offering tables.

Amongst the low fill of the transverse hall the fragments of a polychrome-decorated, inscribed wooden funerary bed and box were found. The figures represented were of Horus, Anubis and Duamutef. Other polychrome wooden fragments found in various places of the same room include part of a boat with winged uraei and kneeling figures that seem to represent the Souls of Pe and Nekhen. The fragment of a polychrome box was also found featuring a figure of Imsety and a portion of a hieroglyphic text amongst other decorative elements. Additionally, pieces of several carved, sandstone offering tables were found distributed throughout the tomb. A provisional study of all the objects suggested dates for the burials within the 1st or 2nd centuries. Remains of several other human bodies were located in Room 4; some of these preserving tissue and elaborate bandaging. The room was found to contain 3 graves positioned against walls, but none were original as they were cut into the foundation trenches of neighbouring walls. Each grave originally contained a single burial within a ceramic coffin. Two of the burials were found to be disturbed and poorly preserved. The other burial was found in a better state of preservation. It contained a well-wrapped female placed within a coffin, but the head was found disarticulated and partly unwrapped. Well-preserved basketry sandals were attached to the exterior at the foot end and a wooden ‘mummy label’ was secured to the body. The label provides the identity of the deceased: “Senpsais, daughter of Thatres”.

It seems that the original burials, represented by the finds, were placed in the rear chambers and at least one was laid upon a funerary bed, and they were accompanied by ceramics and offering tables. At least one of these burials was within a painted cartonnage coffin. The burials in the ceramic coffins denote a second phase of burial within the North Tomb 2. The single burial in Room 1 is undated. At least 32 individuals in total were located in the tomb. A tentative reconstruction of the main phases in the desecration and destruction of the tomb is possible. Following the secondary use of the tomb for burials in the ceramic coffins, destruction and burning of the original interments occurred. This took place simultaneously in Rooms 2 and 3, but some skeletal material was thrown into Room 4 along with broken wooden furniture before the burning. At this time, the secondary burials in the floor of Room 4 were broken into and despoiled. An episode of sand accumulation followed during which further disturbance of the skeletal material occurred and objects were broken. Another phase of vandalism followed this in which pits were dug through the sand to sections of the floor, paving stones in Rooms 2 and 3 were removed and pits were dug into basal clay below. Some of this material was redeposited on top of the sand accumulation in Room 4. There was another phase of sand fill before the brick structure of the tomb began to collapse.

North Tomb 2

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Tombs 5, 6, 7 and 16

Tombs 5, 6, 7 and 16 were excavated in 2004. Each tomb was constructed in mud-brick and comprised of two or more vaulted rooms. In some cases, the vaults are preserved; in others not, and whole sections of wall are noted to be missing from many of the structures overall. Most of the tombs were also provided with a portico. The excavations have provided invaluable information concerning burial practices at Kellis. The lack of evidence for burials within subterranean chambers confirms suggestions made subsequent to the excavations of North Tombs 1 and 2 and South Tomb 4. Original burials appear to have been above ground and within the closed inner chambers of the tombs.

Artefacts from the tombs demonstrate the use of traditional funerary items datable somewhere within the first three centuries CE. Tombs 5, 7 and 16 were probably constructed prior to the late 3rd century while Tomb 6 may have been a relatively late addition. Some of the interments with this tomb attest a distinct burial practice: unwrapped body with no grave goods placed in a roughly-cut, shallow pit orientated either north-south or east-west. It may reflect the burial of an individual with low socio-economic status. Some of the interments within Tomb 16 attest that same tradition. Interestingly, none of these tombs witnessed re-use during the period when burial practice required that graves be oriented east-west with the head placed on the west, as found amongst intrusive burials in North Tomb 1 and throughout the cemetery east of the settlement, and which conforms to Christian beliefs.

Tomb 5 measures 6.9m x 7.2m and it preserved to a height of 2.9m on the south. Its portico extends 2.85m to the east and is 2.57m wide. The north and south walls were ornamented with false doors topped by cavetto cornices, and the corners originally supported torus mouldings. On either side of the door into the tomb are raised jambs which may have been topped by a cavetto cornice above the door. No sealed deposits were found inside the tomb and the three human bodies that were discovered appear to be intrusive. Patches of blackening occur on the walls and floors indicating one or more periods of burning, perhaps related to secondary use of the tomb. The artefacts found included elements of painted wooden funerary furniture, a ceramic lamp with palm frond decoration (typically datable to the 3rd and 4th centuries), intact ceramic vessels, fragments of glass and faience vessels, and a painted wooden wreath found near to a child’s body. Beneath the western wall collapse, an intact mummy board was discovered.

A split plan of the North Tomb Group
A split plan of the North Tomb Group

Tomb 6 postdates Tombs 5 and 7 as it was built within the intervening space of 5.2m. It comprises three rooms and was provided with an entrance portico. The tomb was filled with deposits of wind-blown sand, mud-brick collapse and organic material, but no sealed deposits were encountered. The floors and walls of Rooms 1 and 2 were mud-plastered while in Room 3, gypsum-plaster was used. Wooden doors once featured in the tomb, as in the other tombs, and are indicated by the remains of wooden doorsills. Large quantities of human remains were recovered from the tomb and those in Room 1 were disarticulated, which included 12 skulls. Amongst the artefacts found in this room were linen bandages, fragments of ceramic coffins, a possible statue base of stone and a painted wooden arm belonging to a figure that may have represented one of the divine mourners, Isis or Nephthys.

In Room 2 human remains were discovered in two separate horizons. The upper one generally contained disarticulated and sometimes burnt remains. A group of four bodies with associated ceramics was found within rubble at the south end of the room. Below this context another rubble fill was encountered with evidence of burning. Large quantities of disturbed human bones were found amongst this lower context. The intact body of a child and the headless body of an adult whose legs were tied together at the ankles with rope were found in the centre of the room between the doors. These bodies were orientated approximately east-west, although it is not certain whether this was their original position. Many artefacts were also found and included possible bouquets.

At the floor level below the upper contexts, a series of pits had been cut into the basal clay underlying the site. Nine pits were apparent, some oriented north-south and others east-west in alignment with the walls and between the doors of the room. Several of the pits contained intact or disturbed bodies, often with well-preserved tissue. It is possible that some of the human remains found in the upper contexts originated from some of the pits. Those bodies within the pits generally showed no signs of wrapping and there were no grave goods deposited. At least 13 individuals were identified as having been buried in Room 2. The disturbed nature of the material within Tomb 6 makes a reconstruction of the sequence of events difficult. The pits in Room 2, however, appear to be secondary as there was no evidence found to suggest that they had been covered over except by rubble. The majority of the ceramic material found within Rooms 1 and 2 can be paralleled to material from the houses of Area A dating to the late 3rd and 4th century. A few diagnostic pieces indicate an earlier date within the 3rd or even late 2nd century, however. Certain bowls found in the portico area of the type regularly used to close large jars before they were sealed with mud may be assigned to the 2nd or 3rd century; two mud-seals were found with them.

Tomb 7 comprises five rooms, one of which is a transverse chamber, and was provided an entrance portico on the east. The tomb forms a block measuring 9m x 8.9m and its portico (3.5m wide) projects 3.25m to the east. The maximum preserved height in the centre of the tomb is 3.2m and the entire west wall has collapsed. Evidence of burning inside the tomb was apparent as well as recent re-use of the structure as a stable for a donkey. Only one intrusive burial was detected; that of an infant associated with a niche cut into the east wall of Room 1.

A Plan of North Tomb 16
A Plan of North Tomb 16

Tomb 16 is situated a short distance to the north of Tombs 5-7. It is of similar size to Tomb 7, measuring 9m x 8.7m yet with an internal height of 1.8m. Like Tomb 7, Tomb 16 also includes a transverse chamber, but lacks an entrance portico. Alterations to the internal room arrangement are apparent. The tomb was mud-plastered throughout and has mud-plaster floors, all of which have been disturbed by intrusive cuts. The fill beneath wind-blown sand deposits showed that the tomb was also used for the stabling of donkeys. A total of six human bodies were excavated in the northern part of Room 1 and all appear to be secondary. The bodies were found to have either been laid upon the partially-disturbed floor or within a shallow grave cut into the floor against the east wall.

Adults and children were amongst the bodies and in Room 5, an additional quantity of disturbed, disarticulated human remains was found. In Room 2, a considerable amount of linen wrappings were discovered. The ceramics from the tomb can all be assigned to the 2nd or 3rd century, except for one decorated bowl of the late 3rd to 4th century.

North Tomb 5

North Tomb 6 

North Tomb 7

North Tomb 16 

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North Stone Tomb

View of the North Stone Tomb, showing collapse at the west end of the subterranean burial chamber
View of the North Stone Tomb, showing collapse at the west end of the subterranean burial chamber

This structure is situated apart from the line of brick mausolea of the North Tomb Group and may be one of several such tombs in this part of the site due to scatters of sandstone noted upon the surface. Clearance of surface rubble and sand revealed a single chamber (2m x 4m) made from regularly-cut sandstone blocks at the centre of a mud-brick complex. A rectangular mud-brick entrance chamber with barrel-vault is located on the east of the stone room and another brick chamber was noted to its north.

The tomb was filled completely with wind-blown sand. It had a stone vault, but only a small part of this survived in the southwest corner. The floor of the chamber was also built with stone and the height of the room measured 2.3m at the southwest corner. All of the walls within the room appear to have been coated with a thin layer of gypsum plaster. Faint traces of original painted decoration were preserved on the north and west walls; on the west, parts of a figure making offering to Osiris (?) and the deceased were distinguishable.

Nothing of the original interments or burial equipment was found. As the tomb includes a subterranean chamber, it is possible that this reflects either a cultural or chronological significance of some sort. Subterranean chambers are attested in West Tombs 1, 2 and 3; the latter constructed in mud-brick. The use of stone as a major building material occurs in West Tombs 1 and 2, as well as North Tombs 1 and 2; North Tomb 1 also contains paintings. Although socio-economic factors may have influenced the degree of elaboration and complexity of the tombs, it is possible that vaulted subterranean chambers were also a feature of the earliest mausolea.

 

 

Main Temple

Kellis was the cult centre for the worship of the god Tutu (Tithoes), his consort Tapshay (Tapsais) and mother Neith. This temple is the only surviving one dedicated to Tutu, who warded off evil and is represented either as a sphinx or in human form. The temple complex and its ancillary buildings occupy a sizeable portion of the village and were operational by the reign of Nero.

The complex comprises a stone sanctuary with colonnaded portico, main gate and contra-temple, a colonnaded forecourt, three shrines occupying the corner areas of an inner temenos and a fourth set beside the main temple, a west court and well area, an inner east stone gate which is connected to the inner temenos, and an outer east stone gate which is connected with an outer temenos.

As a whole, this complex occupies an area of approximately 40m x 80m. The inner temenos measures approximately 27m x 70m and at a later time, the outer temenos was added which increased the area by 5-6m on the east, north and south sides and 2m on the west side. All of these structures are surrounded by another enclosure wall (Enclosure 1).

A plan of the Main Temple Complex [click to enlarge]
A plan of the Main Temple Complex [click to enlarge]
Only the lowest sandstone courses of the temple are preserved in situ as most of the superstructure has suffered from quarrying. Additionally, several sandstone pedestals associated with the portico/forecourt and the lower stone courses of the main and east gateways have remained in place. The sanctuary and the four associated shrines combine pharaonic and classical style architecture and decoration. Notable architectural elements include a paired doorway, pylons, torus- and cavetto-moulded lintels, and plaster-moulded Corinthian capitals. Most of the decorated stone blocks bear scenes that are typical of pharaonic-style engagement between the gods and royal personages while surviving painted wall plaster, namely that in Shrine 1, displays a combination of elements. The lower portions of wall in this shrine contain classical-style rectangular panels with grapevine motifs shown around the borders and above these panels are registers which contain hieroglyphic inscriptions, figures of Egyptian deities and scenes with human figures garbed in traditional Egyptian dress.

The west court was an open space and contained two free-standing sandstone basins, each one cut from a single block. They were part of the original layout and it is likely that both served as lustral basins. Later, chambers were added to the south and to the east of the basins. Many Greek ostraka of 4th-century CE date were found in these chambers. The floor of the court is of earth, but traces of what may have been a plaster coating were also discovered during excavation. Deposits above the floor contained numerous sandstone blocks from the temple. A similar deposit was found in an area between the contra temple and Shrine 1. One of these blocks depicts the emperor Pertinax (193 CE) making an offering to Tapshay. Other decorated blocks were located in an outer court that is connected with the West Gateway; however, these are stylistically different from those identified with the Main Temple and indicates that there may have been an earlier religious structure on the site of the present temple. An intact sandstone stela was found between Shrine 4 and the inner east gate. It depicts a king making offering to seated figures of Neith and Tutu below the sign for heaven. The lunette contains a winged sun’s disc with two dependent uraei and the cartouche in front of the king allows him to be identified as Septimius Severus (193-211).

Investigation of the northwest corner of the inner temenos revealed a series of rooms that appeared to be related to food production and storage. The corner also has a mud-brick well. Excavations below the original surface level in this area have unearthed three phases of constructions. At first, the area had a mud-brick structure with a barrel-vaulted roof. A stone-lined, rectangular structure was then constructed within the area and truncated the earlier building. The walls were built of roughly-shaped sandstone blocks laid without mortar and it has been tentatively identified as a well. In the third phase an oval mud-brick well was constructed at the eastern side of the stone well. It had a wooden beam across it to assist in the raising of water. A series of mud-brick chambers surround the remains of this well and were built against the western and northern sections of the inner temenos.

The structures around the well were constructed on two levels and probably functioned as magazines. Although dates for the first two phases cannot be determined, ceramics and ostraka associated with the structures of the third phase suggest a 3rd-century date. This accords well with information from other parts of the Main Temple, which indicates that the final modifications to the temple took place in the 3rd century. The earliest date attested for activity in the temple area of the site is before the reign of Nero (54-68 CE). Further excavation in this area in following field seasons unearthed numerous clay sealings, several of which preserve the impression of a seated griffin with a tail that appears to end in a crowned serpent’s head. The device upon the sealings depicts Nemesis, who is often depicted accompanying Tutu of his mother Neith. The finds suggest that this storage area was constructed and used at a time when Tutu was still worshipped, which is believed to have lasted until the second quarter of the 4th century. Further excavation in the area unearthed a small limestone stela depicting Tutu. Tutu is shown as a sphinx with a lion’s head attached at the rear of its human head (wearing the nemes-headcloth and a crown), while a crocodile emerges from his chest and his tail ends with a cobra wearing the white crown. The stela was inlaid with coloured glass and it has been tentatively dated to the 1st or 2nd century.

Shrine 1 is situated in the southwest corner of the Main Temple. A study of the wall decoration and schemes has permitted an identification of the shrine as a mammisi (Birth House). Some of the reliefs show the days of the lunar month and there is also a scene depicting Khnum potting at his wheel in front of the seated figures of Isis and Tapshay. One of the registers shows a procession of priests bringing offerings to figures of Tutu and Neith. Other registers depict the nome-gods of Upper and Lower Egypt in procession and there is one register which shows Tutu worshipped by other gods. The classical-style decoration consists of alternating coloured panels with female heads set within squares topped with birds at their centres. Upon the inner face of the northern doorjamb, a male figure in Egyptian style is painted at the same level as the classical panels. On the east wall, there is a representation of Tutu as a sphinx; he sits upon the sign for the union of the two lands of Egypt (sm3-t3wy). The elaborate decoration accorded to the shrine exceeds that of the Main Temple and this highlights the importance of such structures within temple theology in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods.

Shrine 2, located on the north side of the temple, was also decorated. Sections of painted wall plaster are preserved in one of the rooms. The design consists of green panels below a foliate-scroll motif. This same design has been detected in Shrine 3 and it is possible that the entire inner face of the Inner Temenos wall from its east corner along the north wall of Shrine 3 to Shrine 2 was originally decorated with the same design. One of the more impressive artefacts found in Shrine 2 is a gilded wooden naos. The panels are carved in high relief and depict a seated and a standing figure of Isis, a seated Nephthys, a standing figure of Onuris-Shu and a standing figure of a king (named only as ‘Pharaoh’) making an offering. Fragments from a life-size, painted bust of Isis-Demeter were also found in the shrine. Some of the inscribed material included ostraka, jar dockets, fragments from inscribed wooden boards and papyrus. Two fragments from a wooden board inscribed in Greek date to the reign of Claudius II (268-270 CE) and two papyrus fragments also inscribed in Greek provide reference to the reign of Commodus (177-192). Three coins of Trajan (98-117) were also found amongst the material in two of the rooms of the shrine and are the earliest discovered at the site thus far.

Excavations in Shrine 3, located in the northeast corner area, unearthed important sub-floor deposits. These contained pottery that is similar to that found dumped under the houses of Area A and in the lowest deposits of Area B. This ceramic material may be ascribed to the 1st to 2nd centuries CE. Nine fragments from wooden boards inscribed in Greek, nine reed pens and 30 Greek ostraka were also found in Shrine 3. The text written upon the boards has been identified as a school exercise and it is possible that this part of the temple was dedicated to scribal activities. One of the inscribed boards preserves four lines of Homer’s Iliad.

The East Gateway comprises two stone gates, each set within the mud-brick temenos walls. Both are a similar size, approximately 4m wide and 4m deep, and they are set 3m apart. The two gates are constructed of sandstone, but they have limestone paving which is a unique feature at the site as this stone was usually reserved for sculpture.

Main Temple Photo Gallery

Shrines Photo Gallery

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Enclosure 4

This enclosure is the last of a series of additions on the north of Enclosure 1. Before Enclosure 4 was constructed, the monumental West Tombs occupied this space. The West Church Complex was added in the mid-4th century; its western and northern walls form part of the walls of Enclosure 4. Within the enclosure and against the exterior of the east wall of the church, two single-interment graves were discovered. They are east-west orientated and had mud-brick superstructures (Graves 1 and 2).

A further seven graves were found within the enclosure and all are orientated east-west and were sealed with mud bricks. Ceramic evidence and the location of the burials in relation to the pre-existing structures suggest that most of the burials date to the second half of the 4th century. A two-roomed structure was detected in the central space of the enclosure, east of the West Tombs, in which ceramics and numismatic evidence of the 4th century were also found.

The actual function of the structure is unknown. During the removal of wall collapse along the north wall of the enclosure, two deposits of glass vessels were found. These were in a fragmentary state, but comprise 7 vessels in total and amongst this group was the unique jug with painted scenes of combatant gladiators. All of the vessels may be dated to the 4th century.

Enclosure 4

Publications

Read more about the Gladiator Jug in this related article:

Reproduced from G. E. Bowen and C. A. Hope, eds, The Oasis Papers 3, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2003 – courtesy of the editors.

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West Tombs

The West Tombs are located within Enclosure 4 (Area D/7). These tombs were monumental and constructed in classical style. They pre-date Enclosure 4 and were probably built during the first centuries of Roman rule. Only parts of their sandstone pavements remain, which were built upon mud-brick platforms and approached by flights of sandstone steps. The two tombs had central chambers, but only that of West Tomb 1 is preserved.

Both chambers were surrounded by a peristyle colonnade and both also had subterranean, barrel-vaulted chambers, accessible via shafts. This architechtural style is unlike that of any other structure in the oases of Dakhleh or Kharga and is largely non-Egyptian in character. Almost one dozen human interments were discovered in West Tomb 1; however, they appear to have been interred in the late 3rd or very early 4th century, and all had been disturbed.

View overlooking the West Tombs, facing northwest
View overlooking the West Tombs, facing northwest

The following link contains a detailed report on the West Tombs, written by C. A. Hope and J. McKenzie:

Reproduced from C. A. Hope and A. J. Mills, eds, Dakhleh Oasis Project: Preliminary Reports on the 1992-1993 and 1993-1994 Field Seasons, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 1999 – courtesy of the editors.

wt1-bodies
The burial chamber of West Tomb 1, showing wrapped interments and grave goods

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West Church Complex

This church complex (D/6) is located in the northwest corner of Enclosure 4. The mud-brick structure comprises a small two-roomed church (15m x 7m) and several rooms to its south in an ancillary structure. Both components are roughly equal in size and the church is accessed by the south rooms. The state of preservation of the complex varies; the west and north walls are heavily eroded, but the south wall of the nave and those of the ancillary rooms are better preserved.

The church comprises a nave with an apse, a west room which presumably functioned as a narthex, and a magazine (Room 8) connected with this room. A wide corridor opens off the north wall of Room 1 and provides the approach to the church; i.e., through Room 2. Each end of the corridor had wooden doors.

A plan of the West Church Complex
A plan of the West Church Complex

Both the nave and the narthex have high benches which line the interior walls and the nave was closed off from the narthex by a wooden door. The apse, which was built at the east end of the nave, is raised and flanked by columns set upon pedestals. In front of the apse is a bema (ceremonial platform) which is approached by steps and to the sides of the steps are graves. Small chambers are situated on both sides of the apse. The north chamber has three storage bins, one of which contained large sheets of blank papyrus.

The ancillary rooms may have served various purposes, but the functions for only Rooms 1, 2 and 8 seem clear. Room 1 provides access to the whole complex and was lined with benches. It is also possible that the flight of steps in the north wall of Room 1 gave access to the rooftop. The narthex is accessed via Room 2 and Room 8 probably served as a magazine. All of the rooms except for these three have niches.

Artefact finds in the church were few. The objects were varied and included complete ceramic vessels, coins, an incense burner, ivory knobs, basketry, sherds from glass vessels and seal-impressed mud jar sealings. Many ostraka were found and the majority of these recorded economic transactions. Fragments of inscribed papyrus and a large piece from a codex were also retrieved; the latter containing parts of two personal letters. Based on a study of the numismatic evidence, it appears that the church was established after the mid-4th century and was operational until the 390s. 

West Church Complex

Publications

Read more about the West Church in this related article:

Reproduced from C. A. Hope and G. E. Bowen, eds, Dakhleh Oasis Project: Preliminary Reports on the 1994-1995 to 1998-1999 Field Season, Oxbow Books, Oxford, 2002 – courtesy of the editors.

An extensive list of publications relating to Ismant el-Kharab is available for consultation.

 

 

West Temple

East Gateway of the West Temple Complex after excavation, looking east and showing the back wall of Enclosure 1
East Gateway of the West Temple Complex after excavation, looking east and showing the back wall of Enclosure 1

The West Temple is situated on lower ground behind the main temple and is separated from Enclosure 1 by a 4m wide lane. Both temples share a similar orientation to the east, but their axes are notably different. The West Temple, dedicated to Neith and Tapshay, has its own temenos and the complex as a whole measures 31m x 17m. The pronaos and naos were initially a free-standing rectangular structure (5.1m x 8.2m) built of coursed sandstone; the corner blocks finished with square vertical mouldings.

The outer jambs of the axial doorways, which supported double leaved doors, were decorated with scenes of inscribed relief. On the pronaos, the scene preserved in sunken relief depicts the figure of a king wearing a red crown, white kilt, blue belt, ceremonial tail and collar. The king strides forward holding a staff and mace in one hand and makes an offering gesture with the other. Hieroglyphic inscriptions in front of the king contain cartouches, but these are obscured by a thick encrustation. On the opposite jamb, the king is depicted with a white crown. Although the cartouches on this side are damaged, they are legible and preserve the words ‘pharaoh’ and ‘given life’, most probably from a generic titulary for ‘Caesar’.

On the naos doorjambs, the decoration was executed in raised relief. The main panel shows a female figure wearing a tight sheath dress with fine blue stripes, an armband, long hair curled behind the shoulder, a vulture head-dress and a lotus crown. Both of her arms are raised in offering to a goddess who wears a sheath, plain collar, lappet hairstyle and vulture head-dress, and holds a lotus staff andankh sign. The goddess on the right jamb is depicted wearing a composite red crown and that on the left jamb is shown wearing a composite crown with sundisk, plumes and Hathor horns.

A larger mud-brick structure had been built to enclose the pronaos and naos; however, this was done before the dressing of the exterior surfaces of the sanctuary was finished, perhaps deliberately. In front of the sandstone sanctuary, a small mud-brick forecourt flanked by chapels was added. To the north of the sanctuary, a corridor provides access to a rear court and subsidiary rooms. It also provides access to a ‘contra-temple’ which was built at the rear of the sanctuary. The last major construction phase detected in the temple complex is the outer temenos. Its eastern half provides a broad court that may have been colonnaded and the main east gate, built of sandstone, is flanked by projecting towers or gaterooms with other small rooms incorporated into the east wall of the temenos. In the western half of the temenos, two large side chapels occupy the corner spaces and are integrated with the subsidiary rooms.

East Gateway of the West Temple Complex after excavation, facing west
East Gateway of the West Temple Complex after excavation, facing west

The stone blocks comprising the main east gate were undecorated and the gateway itself is preserved only to a height of 1.4m above its stone floor. Excavation of the gateway revealed that its foundation was cut and set into the basel clay. The adjoining temple enclosure was also built in the same way and both were constructed at a time after the West Temple was first in use as well as after the building of Enclosure 1. During the investigation of the temple complex, few objects were found that relate to the original use of the temple. Most artefacts were of seemingly domestic nature and attest the use of the area for non-religious purposes in the second half of the 4th century CE. 

Publications

An extensive list of publications relating to Ismant el-Kharab is available for consultation.

 

Detailed Plan of Area D, Kellis

area-d

 

Detailed Plan of Enclosure 4, Kellis

enclosure-4

 

Western Mound – C/1

This designation represents the western mound of Area C. Two building complexes are indicated by plan and appear to be separated by a laneway. Overall the complex draws a parallel to the complexes of Area B. The large multi-roomed structure (C/1/1) in the south of this location was chosen for excavation. It measures 12m x 22m and is similar to the houses of Area A. The purpose of the building is not clear, yet it may be identified as a domestic unit. The rooms within this unit do not appear to have been vaulted and it is likely that the building was single-storeyed due to the discovery of a relatively small amount of collapse in them.

Dating evidence for the activity in this locality was provided by the discovery of 19 ostraka of the mid-3rd century CE. The majority of the ostraka relate to one person and concern tax receipts which bear more or less precise dates of Galli (252-253 CE) and Valeriani (between 252 and 260 CE). Regnal dates are also indicated by the documentary material for the years 269 to 271 CE. In conjunction with this, some vessels from the ceramic assemblage were found to resemble wares datable to the mid-late 3rd century. Parallel examples of items discovered in the C/2 excavations were also noted to be present in deposits associated with early occupation phases of C/1/1, giving credence to contemporary activity in this area.

Western Mound — C/1

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Eastern Mound – C/2 Central

The general layout of the buildings in this section of C/2, as is the case in C/1 also, differs from the other residential buildings already studied in Area A, which date from the late 3rd to late 4th centuries CE. Large areas of contiguous structures which comprise open courts flanked by smaller, rectangular rooms with flat roofs are found in Area C. Area A on the other hand contains discrete units set within their own enclosures with all but the central courts featuring barrel-vaults. The state of preservation in Area C, however, rarely provides additional architectural details beyond the lower parts of walls. Magnetometry survey in the area revealed various circular anomalies, which are possibly pottery kilns, although iron slag found upon the surface in this zone indicates the presence of metal working kilns as well.

C/2/1

A small test excavation was undertaken in the domestic structure C/2/1 and on the whole yielded ceramic material resembling that of C/1/1. The walls of the structure generally survived higher than in C/1/1 and were found to preserve the lower parts of interior wall niches. Excavations within the rooms revealed the presence of a hearth and evidence of animal-keeping. Most importantly, one ostrakon was found providing dating evidence of the 2nd century CE. It refers to the joint reign of Marcus Aurelius (163-164 CE) and Lucius Verus (164-165 CE) indicating that this area of Kellis may have been occupied from the mid-2nd century. If so, it presents the earliest evidence for domestic activity that has been discovered on the site thus far. Most of the early investigative work, however, centered upon Structure C/2/4.

 
A plan of Structures C/2/1 and C/2/4

C/2/4

Structure C/2/4 was discovered as a result of clearance work to the north of C/2/1. It is a court measuring approximately 13m x 18m, in which excavation was restricted to features apparent along the west wall and northeast corner area. Other walls noticed upon the surface may indicate that the court had been divided into smaller sections.

In the northwest corner area, the lower parts of the firing chambers of two kilns were found. The internal diameters measure 2.04m and 1.66m; the larger with a wall thickness of 56cm and the smaller of 35cm. Neither exhibited signs of pronounced vitrification on the wall lining and from their sizes it seemed likely that they were used for the firing of pottery vessels. Fragments of unfired vessels were found nearby as well as part of a large circular ceramic disc. This disc may be identified as a bat, the device that sits upon a kick-wheel and on which potters fashion clay into vessels. It is therefore clear that part of a potters’ workshop once functioned in the court of C/2/4.

The kilns actually represent a late addition to the courtyard as they were dug through upper strata. Prior to this insertion the court may have featured as a domestic unit due to the remains of various rectangular chambers situated against the west wall which may have served as storage space. Another room was revealed in the north-eastern corner of the courtyard. It contained two rectangular storage bins, one in each eastern corner. The southern bin contained 39kg of millet.

C/2/8 and C/2/9, incorporating C/2/10 and C/2/11

These units lie to the southeast of the potters’ workshop. Surface clearance in the space of C/2/8 revealed a significant, apparently domestic unit containing nine rooms. The main entry to the complex is on the north and other structures are abutted on the south and west. The residence communicates with buildings on the west via doors in the west walls of Rooms 3 and 4 in its southwest corner. To its east, C/2/8 abuts a lane or street which appears to lead southwards. Only two of the rooms provided evidence for domestic activity: Room 8 witnessed activity focused upon a hearth in its floor; Room 9 contains remains of a staircase that lead up to the roof and was also used for storage as three ceramic jars were built into the supporting wall. Some of the rooms preserved mud-plaster floors and there were indications of re-plastering and door blocking. Only Room 2 provided evidence of a barrel-vaulted roof, but most of the others were flat-roofed.

c-2-8-c-2-9

C/2/8 was filled throughout with brick rubble originating from the collapse of both walls and roofs. Artefactual material of a domestic nature, primarily ceramics, was found in abundance as well. Fragments of papyrus inscribed in Greek and Demotic were discovered; the Greek notably unlike the examples from the late 3rd and 4th century contexts elsewhere at the site. Parts of two inscribed wooden boards were found with faded inscription while pieces from another contained writing on both sides with Greek numbers. The excavation also uncovered several Greek ostraka with dates in the early 2nd century: year 4 of Trajan and years 3 and 10 of Antoninus Pius.

The ceramics associated with this unit are all of the 1st to early 3rd centuries CE and comprise of types found in other early contexts at the site. Amongst the objects, the following are of special interest: two loom weights, a bound flint, two faience bowls (their form encountered regularly across Area C), a small carnelian scarab and the section from a flax comb which bears an ink drawing of a woman wielding a stick.

A second excavation was conducted at the same time as C/2/8, located slightly to the south, straddling the laneway. Five spaces were exposed: three rooms of a complex (C/2/9) built to the east of this lane, one space is part of the lane (C/2/11), and the other space is a room from a structure to the west (C/2/10). The fill of the rooms comprised mud-brick collapse from roofs and walls, roofing material and, at floor levels, substantial amounts of animal manure in the rooms of C/2/9. Most of the doors to this structure were blocked and the floors exhibited a disturbed nature. With the evidence of animals, this indicates that the building witnessed a secondary re-use as a stable. The work in C/2/11 revealed some rubble and an original street surface of compacted earth. Ceramics and other objects found in this area also date to the 1st to 3rd centuries and resemble those of C/2/9. Additionally, loom weights were common in C/2/9.

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Eastern Mound – C/2 East

Leather sandal from C/2/2
Leather sandal from C/2/2

The state of preservation of structures on this mound is identical to that of the central mound. The surface finds between both zones is homogenous and like the central mound, this eastern mound provides evidence of the technological workings of metal and pottery in the vicinity. The density of iron slag upon the surface is particularly noticeable here.

The units designated and excavated as C/2/2, C/2/3 and C/2/5 each consist of a single room, but belong to small complexes. C/2/6 is part of an open area that contained a kiln and C/2/7 is a three-roomed building situated beside C/2/5.

C/2/2

Four rooms can be identified with this unit which lies on the east side of the mound. C/2/2 measures between 5.10m and 4.22m, containing a large storage bin in the southwest corner, two hearths and several circular depressions on its floors. Excavation revealed part of a brick wall below the floor surface and storage bin in the southwest corner, but no major structure associated with it. On the north and west walls, sections of three layers of superimposed, polychrome-painted plaster were found preserved. The actual motifs were not well preserved, however, but one may have been a vine with grape clusters.

C/2/3

This unit lies to the west of C/2/2 and is a room measuring 4.03m x 2.12m. The only feature of interest discovered here was the burial of a child, approximately aged 2 years at death, set within the north wall. The body had been inserted there after the room had undergone considerable deflation, but no grave goods were found and its date could not be determined.

C/2/5

C/2/5, a small room west of C/2/7, was initially selected for excavation after the results of a resistivity survey indicated a number of features in this part of Area C which been exposed to heat. Distinctive contours were visible on the map produced by the survey relating to concentrations of iron slag noted upon the surface. A circular feature could be observed in the southwest corner at surface level and appeared to coincide with one of the anomalies identified. This feature turned out to be a clay storage bin which had once sat upon the roof of the room, but had collapsed into it with much roofing material when its beam supports were removed. Amongst this collapse were a number of ceramic vessels. Quantities of iron slag were found in the room, yet seem to have entered the room during the build-up of fill. Hence, this obeservation does not indicate that the room was used in connection with iron working.

Remarkably, two deposits of papyri inscribed with Greek were discovered here. It was possible to reconstruct several documents from the fragments and they have provided dating evidence covering the period 111/2 to 146/7 CE. These name the emperors Trajan, Hadrian and Antoninius Pius. Four of the documents relate to a single family which must have once occupied the structure in which C/2/5 is situated.

Inscribed wood from C/2/6
Inscribed wood from C/2/6

C/2/6

This unit comprises an area 2m x 3m and is covered by the same zone that exhibits numerous anomalies which were detected and mapped by the resistivity survey. C/2/6 is situated near the southern edge of Area C. Its fill contained large amounts of ash and iron slag, but also some pieces of glass slag. The excavation uncovered two circular features, one with a diameter of 1m and the other of 40cm. It is possible that the larger of the two represents the bottom of a kiln, but nothing of its structure survived.

C/2/7

As with C/2/5 and C/2/6, the unit C/2/7 is located within the area where magnetic anomalies were detected. Unexpectedly, however, the excavation of each room found no material to account for the strength of the magnetometer reading.

C/2/7 comprises of three contiguous rooms arranged within a L-shape: Room 1 in the corner, Room 2 to its south and Room 3 to its west. The maximum preserved height of the structure is 84cm. Other spaces were accessible from Rooms 2 and 3, but the full distribution of the rooms was not determined. It is likely the structure had a flat roof and a stairway in Room 3 may have led to this level. The floors consist of trampled earth throughout and the walls were unplastered. Dimensions and features of the rooms are:

  • Room 1 is 4.4-4.75m EW and 3.1-3.62m NS. It has a depression in the floor against the western end of the south wall and possibly the remains of a hearth against the centre of the same wall.
  • Room 2 is the largest of the three, 3.5-3.55m NS and 5.85-6.3m EW. Flimsy mud-brick structures in the western end of the room demonstrate that it had been used for animal stabling, at which time the door from Room 2 to its outer space was blocked.
  • Room 3 is 3.65-4.11m NS and 3.83-4m EW. Other than the stairway in this room, there is a free-standing butress against the south wall.

In order to investigate whether the magnetic anomalies were produced by earlier features a decision was made to excavate through the floor of Room 3, along the eastern wall where an intense anomaly had appeared during the survey. Several superimposed earth floors were found, some containing concentrations of iron fillings and small pieces of corroded iron that may have resulted from smithing. As no structures were revealed, it is assumed that the concentration of fillings accounts for the high magnetic reading.

C/2/7 appears to date to the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, indicated by the discovery of papyrus fragments inscribed in Demotic, ostraka in Greek and the ceramic material. The ostraka include two poll-tax receipts, one datable to between 116-7 and 179-80, and the other to either 168-9 or 200-1 CE. Many various domestic objects were found amongst the wall and roof collapse that filled each room. The objects found included wooden writing boards of the type intended to be inscribed upon a wax base, wooden receptacles painted with bands of colour, the body from a rare terracotta female figurine, wooden spindle whorls, mud loom weights, wooden toggles, fibre shoes and mud jar sealings.

The excavations revealed sufficient-enough evidence to indicate that this structure had been used as a blacksmith’s workshop. As this is a rarity at Kellis, further work was conducted on C/2/7 after the initial investigations. The floor of Room 1 was chosen for closer examination in which the room was sub-divided into 50cm x 50cm units, floor deposits were excavated and an entire matrix was kept of each sub-unit. It was then possible to isolate and weigh the magnetic and non-magnetic components of each. The results showed that the upper deposits may derive from animal-keeping, while the main phase of activity definitely relates to the smithing of iron. Large quantities of micro slag were detected, but fragments from the bottom of smithing-hearths, vitrified linings and fuel as slag were also discovered, supporting this contention. Pottery associated with the slag deposits can be assigned a 1st-2nd century date, and appears to be a domestic assemblage which suggests a household workshop.

Post-excavation photos in the C/2/4 area

The floor deposits of C/2/8 and C/2/11

Rooms and architecture of C/2/8 and C/2/9

Ceramic material from C/2/8 and C/2/9

Artefacts and objects from C/2/8 and C/2/9

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Detailed Map of Area C, Kellis

area-c

 

Structure 1

This large structure lies very close to Area A and contains in excess of 216 rooms, several of which bear traces of painted wall plaster. Excavation of a 4m x 4m test trench was undertaken in the southwest corner of the large room (Room 1) at the southern end of the structure (B/1/1). The investigation of this area revealed this room to be a lofty colonnaded court, at least 8m in height, with elaborately decorated walls and ceiling. The columns were found to be quite elaborate.

They are constructed of fired mud-brick, were painted and stand upon modelled pedestals, and were also provided with Corinthian capitals crafted of plaster. Support for the columns is provided by a series of walls up to 1.2m wide and set into the bedrock. One of the walls was cut through a series of slightly earlier vaulted chambers. Importantly, the fill of these chambers contained many ostraka and mud jar sealings. On the basis of a palaeographic study, these documents indicate a period of use spanning the 2nd to late 4th centuries CE; a date also supported by the ceramics encountered.

A plan of Structure 1
A plan of Structure 1

During excavations, there were numerous indications as well as a body of evidence to suggest that the court witnessed several phases of reuse. The predominant of these secondary phases was its use as a stable for donkeys, goats or sheep and camels. From the layers above the stable deposit, the ceramics appear to indicate a mid-4th century CE date. A similar-dated inscribed wooden board found in collapse above the last occupation phase also helped to establish that the 4th century activity in this structure was contemporary with the occupation of structures in Area A.

Another and larger area (B/1/2) was opened up at the northern end of the same colonnaded hall in an effort to gain a firmer idea of the use of this important building. Extensive areas of wall collapse, some with sections of decorated plaster still adhered, were revealed and it was necessary to concentrate excavation in the northwest corner where the walls were better preserved. Work in this corner established that painted plaster survives upon the walls and elaborate herringbone coursing features in the brickwork. One of the decorative motifs included a painting of a female bust within a panel. In nearby rooms, clearance of the upper fill deposits revealed numerous black-ink drawings on the upper sections of walls. They include: a prostrate figure, presumably male, lying in an erotic posture upon a couch, a soldier with shield, several figures on horseback and a wheeled contraption. Additionally, several lines of Greek inscription were noted. Drawings at a similar height were also discovered in the southwest corner of Room 1 as well as a Greek inscription mentioning several persons with the name “Aurelius”, which indicates that it was written in the 3rd or 4th century.

The investigators also decided to undertake excavation of an area (B/1/3) in the western part of Structure 1. A series of connected rooms containing niches features in this place and as a number of texts refer to storage of documents within niches, it was hoped that further written material would be found here, possibly the village archives. Unfortunately, nothing survived in the excavated area to confirm the supposed function of the rooms. Amongst the ceramics found at the floor levels there were sherds of 1st-2nd century CE date, but above this mostly stable matter occured with associated ceramics of the late 3rd and 4th centuries CE. 

Area B Structure 1: general views

Area B Structure 1: deposits exposed during excavation

Area B Structure 1: post excavation photographs

Area B Structure 1: artefacts and inscribed material

Area B Structure 1: surviving wall and ceiling plaster

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Painted Residence

B/3/1 is one among a number of other large residential complexes situated in the northern part of Kellis. In plan, the structure resembles that of a Roman atrium house. The first stages of excavation of this complex took place from 2005 to 2007. All of the rooms belonging to the structure appear to be decorated with varying designs and motifs executed in polychrome. A large central and open area (Room 1) was delineated by preliminary clearance and was found to have four large circular columns and two large square piers. Although treated as one space, it is actually two contiguous, yet distinct halls. The flooring of these areas was constructed with white gypsum laid onto a thin layer of coarse-grained sand and below this, brick platforms and mortar rubble.

This central space is flanked on the east and west by smaller rooms and by corridors on the north and south, though neither of the latter appears to communicate with the two halls. The central hall appears to have been entered originally from the northwest via a single room. There is, however, a long passageway located along the east and north of the hall which may have also served as an entrance. The precise layout is still undetermined and is complicated by various modifications made to the structure.

Many of the modifications were drastic and altered the internal arrangement significantly. Evidence of stabling activity was also noted in many of the deposits encountered during excavations. Minimal amounts of 4th century ceramics are associated with the excavated units, although late 1st to early 3rd ceramics form the majority of material found and are predominant, especially in the floor deposits. Trenches C and D produced important sub-floor deposits containing ceramics which indicate that the first phases of construction took place within a period covering the late 1st into the 2nd century.

A plan of the painted residence in 2007
A plan of the painted residence in 2007

Room 1 was filled with a substantial amount of debris and collapse. In the southern area the walls are decorated with panels on an overall green ground, the lower two of which remain mostly in situ: a dado of painted rectangles in which are floral sprays from the centre to each corner, and above this in a high panel, an intersecting circular pattern in black outline, of which the ellipses are filled with white dots thus converting the motif into on resembling attached four-petal flower, with rose petals between, all framed by a vine motif in white. Much decorated plaster from the ceiling, some containing images of Isis and Serapis-Helios, and plaster fragments with geometric design was also found in this area. In the northern area of the room the wall is decorated with rectangular panels containing figurative elements including a female bust and birds.

Rooms 2 and 3 are decorated with similar painted schemes incorporating circles or squares filled with alternating patterns of a chequerboard motif or a rippling in imitation of agate, all polychrome. Narrow columns with Corinthian capitals feature between these elements, in Room 3 supporting a short frieze of classic wave motif. Room 2 has a sturdy floor of gypsum plaster set upon stones overlaying brick rubble. Its wall design comprises alternately a yellow or pink square with black framing lines within a diamond within a large square. On the north wall the scheme is interrupted by a different design based upon intersecting circles with sections coloured pale blue and pink. Room 3 has a similar floor structure and its wall decoration is based upon circles on an alternately yellow or pink ground, within which are diamonds with scalloped sides; a lower dado contains octagons coloured alternately red with a yellow central square or yellow with a red square, on a black background.

Rooms 4 and 6 are decorated in a contrasting manner to Rooms 2 and 3. Both feature a panel design. In Room 6 the upper part of the wall was exposed to reveal a series of monochrome lines that form a square on a uniform green background below a modelled torus moulding. In Room 4 the west and south walls were exposed and revealed alternately red panels containing smaller central yellow squares of yellow panels with red squares; they are separated by double columns with Corinthian capitals, and above a modelled ledge, the wall is white. Substantial quantities of collapsed decorated plaster were found at surface level in these rooms and due to their great thickness probably derived from painted floors in upper levels.

A small portion of Room 7 was cleared and found to contain well-preserved wall plaster on all four walls. The gypsum plaster was painted with a decoration comprising a foliate scroll above rectangular or square panels and areas with various flora, executed in light colours on a dark background. Rooms 9 and 10 (originally one room) are also decorated in a restrained manner: Room 9 in pink with an ashlar masonry design and Room 10 with a monochrome green. Room 9 was found to contain many fragments of sculptural and architectural stucco and plaster work. An oval clay tablet inscribed with Greek was found in Room 10 and contains a list of several names.

Plan of the painted residence in 2010
Plan of the painted residence in 2010

 

Excavation of B/3/1 resumed in 2010. The northwest corner area of Room 1 was cleared and Trench E, located to the west of Trench D in 1b, was excavated. Clearance and excavation within Rooms 5-8, 11-13 and 18-20 also took place. The excavations exposed major parts of the main living areas, private rooms and parts of two of the entrance systems. Decoration of the rooms is consistent with the rest of the structure that has been investigated thus far. Most are elaborately painted with classical themes and the architectural details are also classical.

This suggests that the owners of the residence, though possibly Egyptian, wished to emphasize their adoption of contemporary styles prevalent throughout the Mediteranean as well as their conformity to classical ideals. Further information about the layout and elements of the complex were dicovered: the main entrance terminated at a recess with panel design, a shell motif and probably once housed a statue. Three doors connected the living area with a side chamber that were closed by folding wooden doors with latticework; other rooms have small faces depicted in the middle of elaborately-coloured panels. Surprisingly much of this was preserved under the collapse of the roofs, which themselves were well preserved. Unexpectedly, the intact burial of an adult, lop-eared Nubian she-goat was discovered below the floor in front of a doorway in the service apartments of the structure. It has all of the appearance of a sacrifice – though it has not yet been determined how the animal died – possibly to ensure the protection of the residents. 

Room 1, Trenches A-D

Rooms 2-10

Objects 

The 2010 Excavations 

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Columbarium

The structure B/3/2 is located a short distance from the Painted Residence (B/3/1), at the north-west corner of an open court that links these two structures with others on the west. To the southwest of B/3/2 (due west of B/3/1) is yet another structure similar in plan to B/3/2. The overall dimensions of the four-roomed building are 11.2m x 8.95m. It actually comprises two separate structures adjacent to one another, each consisting of two rooms on a north-south axis. The eastern structure (8.95m x 6m) is built from reddish mud brick and has rounded corners; the western structure (8.95m x 5.2m), is in greyish mud brick, and was built against the eastern one.

Both were originally barrel-vaulted with an upper storey but the vaults were clearly breached in the past and the two northern vaults did not survive particularly well. During excavations it was necessary to remove portions of these vaults in order to avoid their collapse. Some external clearance was undertaken and the mass amount of pigeon nesting pots collected from the rubble collapse around structure B/3/2 permits identification of it as a columbarium or dovecote. The presence within this rubble of fragments of mud-plaster still attached to brick that preserved the impression of such pots provided clear evidence that the structure of the upper storey incorporated these vessels.

Room 3 (2.8m x 2.6m) and Room 4 (2.8m x 2.7m) were excavated during 2006. They are connected by a door at the eastern end of their common wall. Both were cleared down to floor level. Room 3 had been filled in by windblown sand and structural collapse. At levels 30-40cm above the original floor, evidence of stabling was found in conjunction with a secondary partition wall that divided the room in half and remains of palm roofing which had covered over the western part of the room. The vault of Room 4 remained relatively intact except for small breaches.

It was found to be filled with predominantly windblown sand. Stable use also became apparent approximately 30-40cm above the original floor, as was the case in Room 3. At these occupation levels varied artefacts were encountered including several baskets, pieces of leather and a few animal straps/harnesses. Diagnostic ceramics from these levels indicate a 2nd to 3rd century CE date. 37 inscribed jar dockets, either still set within mud-jar seals or detached from their sealings, were also found, especially below the stable level in Room 4. The orthography of the writing indicates a date within the 2nd or early 3rd century for this material.

A plan of the columbarium
A plan of the columbarium

Externally, an almost complete stairway abutting over half the length of the west wall was revealed, as well as an unusual floored surface situated above straw layers extending westward well above the surface (i.e., basal clay) upon which the structure was built. The stairway met ground level in line with a mastaba along the front (north) of the building and would appear to have provided access to the upper storey, from which much of the surrounding rubble likely derived. The mastaba continued along the west of the columbarium, behind the stairway, where ground level was also reached. It is probable that the walls contained cavities into which the nesting pots found in large quantities around the building were once set. It was likely open to the sky to enable easy access for the birds, which would have provided a convenient source of food and fertiliser. Similar structures are found in various parts of the oasis, especially in the western half. It is of interest to note that the only two dovecotes noted at Ismant el-Kharab are in close proximity to the complex of painted buildings of which B/3/1 is part.

During the 2007 field season, Rooms 1 and 2 on the east of the building were examined. The dimensions of the two rooms appear identical at 3m x 3m and both incorporated barrel vaulting (the vault of Room 2 is 90% intact). Room 1 contained much windblown sand that was deposited on rubble from structural collapse and this covered the entire room for over one meter depth. Below the rubble in Room 1, stable matter, indicating the presence of donkey and camel, and flooring was revealed. Within it, pockets of ash as well as a pocket of yellow-red ochre mixed in with the stable matter were also encountered.

This particular room fill at these levels was artefact-rich, containing much ceramic, complete and semi-complete pots, and items of glass, faience, textile, worked wood, flora, fauna, leather, basketry and footwear. Importantly, 19 fragments of Greek papyri, 6 Greek ostraka, 1 jar sealing with docket, a child’s silver ring decorated with an image of Nefertum, and a wellpreserved mud sealing with and impression representing Herakles and the Nemean lion were also discovered. Diagnostic ceramics included 2nd-3rd century and 4th century material. Below this deposit, similar secondary flooring occurred and a further 8 fragments of Greek papyri and three Greek ostraka were found amongst items of glass, faience, worked wood, leather, textile, basketry, flora and fauna. Underneath these deposits, the original mud-plastered floor remained in very good condition across the room. A test cut revealed it to be approximately 4cm thick, laid directly on the basal clay surface of the site.

Section profiles of the columbarium
Section profiles of the columbarium

 

Excavation of Room 2 could not begin until a section of the wall and doorway between both rooms was secured and rebuilt. Once this was completed work continued and Room 2 was found to contain windblown sand for approximately 2m. Below the sand, stable flooring was encountered as well as a significant coverage of ash and soot indicating that fires had been set. These deposits, occurring 25-30cm above the remnants of the floor level, contained ceramic, glass, faience, textile, fauna, leather and basketry artefacts. Diagnostic ceramics indicate a 2nd-3rd century date. Only one Greek ostrakon was found in the room, yet surprisingly, three deposits of a yellow-green mineral (possibly jarosite) were encountered within the stabling deposit. The traces of original flooring found in conjunction with the wall foundations revealed that the height of the room reaches 3.3m at the vault peak.

An examination of the foundations in both rooms indicated that the walls sat directly upon the basal clay surface of the site in a few places, but in others clearly were constructed upon foundation cuts and foundation coursing. A mastaba was found along the north outer face of the structure. This appears to be consistent with the previous season’s find around the western side. The external rubble here appeared to cease at a point level with the threshold and doorway into Room 1. Below this point hard compacted layering mixed with clay occurred. The composition of the doorway itself (i.e., door jambs and plastering) suggests that it underwent secondary modification. It is also evident that the outer east wall is a separate construction which butts the south and inner east walls. Moreover, it consists of predominately grey brick as opposed to the red brick used throughout the south, west and north walls.

Columbarium

Publications

An extensive list of publications relating to Ismant el-Kharab is available for consultation.

 

 

Detailed Map of Area B, Kellis

area-b

 

Detailed Map of B/3/1 and B/3/2 in Area B

b31-b32

 

Houses 1, 2 and 3

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.

A plan of Houses 1, 2 and 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

Houses 1-3: general views

Houses 1-3: rooms and architecture

Houses 1-3: floor and other deposits

Houses 1-3: the ceramic and material corpus

The inscribed material