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Soknopaiou Nesos - Report 2007



Directors’ Report on 2007 Season

 

Team 2007

Mario Capasso (director), Paola Davoli (director), Angela Cervi (recorder), Clementina Caputo (draughtswoman), Mauro Cremaschi (geo-archaeologist, Università Statale di Milano), Delphine Dixneuf (ceramologist, IFAO), Mario Fracasso (student), Antonella Longo (papyrologist), Melania Marano (student), Francesco Meo (supervisor), Giuseppe Alvar Minaya (supervisor), Simone Occhi (topographer), Jeffrey Pearson (papyrologist, University of California, Berkeley), Elvira Pisanello (papyrologist), Ashraf Senussi (draughtsman, SCA), Martin Stadtler (demotist, Würzburg Universität), Aly Taha (restorer, Centro Italo-Egiziano di Restauro, Cairo), Salvatore Taurino (student) and Stefania Trizza (excavation assistant). The Supreme Council of Antiquities was represented by Nabil Naum Sabit Sammaen.

 

 

Archaeological Report

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The Fifth Campaign of excavation was carried out within the large temple precinct, in the area situated at the centre of the 1. Excavation of the temple dedicated to the crocodile god Soknopaios (ST20) 2, constructed during the Ptolemaic period with yellow limestone blocks and architraves in grey limestone, was continued (fig. 2). Three central chambers, five lateral rooms, and a stairway were brought to light during the course of the preceding campaigns in 2005-2006. The new sector of excavation measures 16 x 10 m and includes the offerings chamber (L), a second staircase (N) with a corresponding room beneath the stairs (P), an underground crypt (Q), a lateral chapel (O), and the naos (M, S). The investigated stratigraphy was composed primarily of debris, blocks and large architraves, belonging to the original covering of the building and resulting from the collapse and dismantlement of the structure.

Much of this stratigraphy has been tampered with by excavations carried out at various times. Nevertheless, it was possible to securely identify signs of use of the structure in the late-Roman period.

The offerings chamber (L) was partially brought to light in the 2006 campaign. Leading off from it are two corridors, not yet excavated, which surround the naos. A door opens up on the west side flanked by a flat cornice and unfinished torus cornice. The door leads to a large chapel (O) (3.75 x 2.54 m), heavily damaged: the pavement has been completely removed, as well as the north jamb of the door. Inside there may originally have been a masonry structure, which completely adjoined the rear western wall. Stains and traces of mortar on the north and south walls attest that this structure must have had dimensions of circa 3.75 x 1.09 m, with a height of 73 cm. The door which gave access to the chapel was originally closed by two leafs.

To the north of this room was discovered an intramural crypt (R) (3.17 x 0.70 m), whose access was probably from above. Its pavement is partially preserved.

To the east of room L a second door opens up, leading to a stairway with central pillar (N), of which a room beneath the stairs and part of the stairs of a second flight remain. Below this second flight there was a crypt (Q) (3 x 0.76 m), to which a small door situated in the first landing gave access. A low passageway connected the crypt with a small hiding-place situated under the pavement of room P.

The naos (M), built as a separate entity, with walls inclined inward toward the top and with torus cornice on the four external corners. The door between L and M was flanked by a flat cornice upon which were registers of figures one upon the other; of these only the lowest part of the lower panel to the left remains, discovered in 2006. To the sides of these figures were false torus cornices, of which the imprints of the point of contact and the mortase remain. The naos is divided into two rooms, of which the first (M) is 6.18 m long by 3.60 m wide and is conserved up to a height of 1.30 m. Its walls were smoothed down, but no decoration is discernable. The pavement is completely missing in the centre of the room, but is preserved at the entrance and along the perimeter walls. It consisted of two series of rectangular paving stones in brown limestone and basalt which ran along the edges of the room and contained a pavement of square and triangular tiles. Some of these were in basalt and others in brown limestone. A door opening to the north led into the actual cell itself (S). The door, originally closed by two leafs, was flanked by a flat cornice on which are carved, respectively, two large male figures identifiable as the ruler stepping toward the entrance to the cell. Only the knee-length garment and legs of this figure are preserved.

A torus cornice delimited the flat cornice. The cell is 3.60 m wide and 2 m long and is preserved to a height of 1.30 m. The pavement in limestone blocks is preserved only at the eastern end. The walls are smoothed down, with the exception of a section, which was left rough at the centre of the wall in the rear. Here a masonry naos was originally placed.

Among the discoveries should be mentioned some blocks with low-relief decoration, which complete the scenes discovered in room F in 2006 3.

These depict a Ptolemaic ruler followed by a queen, though their names still remain unknown to us. Numerous decorated architectural fragments in basalt and limestone with cornices and with cavetto cornice were found in the explored area, as well as statue fragments.

Restoration and stabilisation of walls built with limestone blocks and of the grey limestone paving stones of the temple ST20 were carried out by Aly Taha.

 

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Topographical Survey

The Mission continued the topographical documentation of the site. The dromos, the monumental street leading from the southern end of the town to the temple of Soknopaios, was cleaned and photographed from above using photogrammetric techniques for 265 m of its length. Thus, a mosaic of photographs was put together which enabled us to execute a drawing of the entire pavement with extremely detailed precision 4-5. The pavement is not well-preserved everywhere and is not uniform: sectors of pavement with different materials were identified, perhaps corresponding to different periods of construction or re-paving, perhaps connected with the progressive expansion of the area of habitation toward the south. In the northern stretch of the dromos was discovered a pavement in yellow limestone later covered by a resurfacing using paving stones of grey limestone. A pavement executed in tiles of basalt and limestone, similar to that discovered inside the naos (M) of the temple of Soknopaios, is apparently contemporary with the first pavement in sandstone. Unfortunately, this is currently in extremely poor condition. To the east of this sector of the dromos a statue of a lion was discovered; it had been deliberately smashed up at an unknown point in time. It has been recovered and stored in Kom Aushim storehouse.

 

 

Pottery Report

The season of ceramic recording took place under the responsibility of Delphine Dixneuf, ceramicist and scientific member in the Institut français d’archéologie orientale in Cairo. During the season a list of the main fabrics has been established, the catalogue has been re-organised and most of the ceramic finds from the 2007 excavation and the survey of the temenos studied 6.

The finds coming from the temple area are characterised by ceramics dating from the Roman and the Byzantine periods: Egyptian amphorae (AE 3 and LRA 7 in a brown Nile clay); jars and flasks (in Nile or marl clay); cooking pots (in Nile clay); and open forms such as bowls, cups and dishes, some of Egyptian Red Slip Ware B (ERSW B).

Imports from Aswan were also noted: a sherd of a beaker with white dots in clay as decoration (Roman period), and rims and bottoms from kegs dating from the Byzantine period.

The ceramic vessels coming from the temenos survey are very similar, in form and fabric, to the other finds of the excavation, but the chronological sequence ranges from the Hellenistic to the Byzantine periods and we could identify some imported sherds coming from the Mediterranean Sea and especially from North Africa.

 

 

Survey of the territory Report

Prof. Mauro Cremaschi conducted a preliminary geo-archaeological survey and study of the area surrounding Soknopaios Nesos, with the aim of testing the potential of the area for paleo-environmental research focusing on changes in lake level fluctuations, water availability, and soil use from the early Neolithic age to the Roman period. A dense dispersal of clusters of sherds of the Greco-Roman period in the area surrounding Dime, specifically on the former lacustrine deposits, mainly to the NW of the town, suggest that this was the area exploited and possibly cultivated during the time of the site’s inhabitation, as indicated in the written sources. Several stone structures (walls, enclosures, stone circles) observed on satellite images were checked in the field. While their actual use is still uncertain, they may represent structures for animal husbandry or soil management. Funerary structures (cairns) of uncertain age have also been located. The stone structures are hanging on mounds, more than one metre above the present topographic surface, an effect of the differential erosion, which lowered the surrounding soil, and in many cases uncovered the bare bedrock.

The means of obtaining water to sustain life in the town is still an open problem, but a wetter environment may be suspected for the Greco-Roman period, as suggested by the large quantity of vegetal remains trapped in the masonry of the temple.

 

 

Papyrological Report

During the season 9 documentary ostraka have been found. Of them, 5 are Demotic, 3 Greek and 1 figured. 13 documentary papyri were found also: 2 Demotic, 1 Greek-Demotic, 3 figured and 7 Greek.

On the three figured papyri the so-called “fish bone” drawing is traced. It was found on some other small papyri coming from previous seasons at Soknopaiou Nesos and they should be considered as amulets. On one Demotic ostrakon is the name Satabous, well known at Dime. Other two names are written on one of the three Greek ostraka. The text on Greek papyri is very small. Both papyri and ostraka can be palaeographically dated to the Roman period.

Also notable is a lintel fragment in sandstone with part of a Greek inscription discovered in the topsoil corresponding to the staircase (N). ]ASILI[ is legible, probably the mention of a queen 7. On palaeographic grounds, the text can be dated to the end of the Ptolemaic period.

 

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Immediately upon verifying that several instances of clandestine excavation had occurred after closure of the site following the 2006 campaign, the Mission effected, at the request of the SCA, the construction of a structure for housing police and guards assigned to the protection of the site. For the same purpose, the Mission has hired two private guards, as suggested by the SCA.

 

Fig. 1: Plan of temple ST20 (seasons 2005-2007).

Fig. 2: Temple of Soknopaios from the south.

Fig. 3: Detail of relief.

Fig. 4: Plan of the town with pavement of the dromos.

Fig. 5: The dromos after cleaning viewed from north to south.

Fig. 6: Figured lamp.

Fig. 7: Fragment of a Greek inscription.