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Soknopaiou Nesos - Report 2009

Directors’ Report on 2009 Season

The Archaeological Mission of the Centro di Studi Papirologici of Salento University, Lecce, directed by Mario Capasso and Paola Davoli, carried out its Seventh Season of Excavation at Dime (El-Fayyum), the ancient Soknopaiou Nesos, from 11 October to 23 November 2009.

Also taking part in the Mission were Stefania Alfarano (excavation assistant), Carolin Arlt (demotist, Würzburg Universität), Alessia Armillis (student), Mirjam Bruineberg (supervisor), Clementina Caputo (draughtswoman and ceramicist), Mohammed Barakat (Directors’ assistant), Mohammed Ahmed (restorer), Antonella Longo (papyrologist), Giuseppe Alvar Minaya (supervisor), Simone Occhi (topographer), Elvira Pisanello (registrar and papyrologist), Borna Scognamiglio (student), Ashraf Senussi (pottery draughtsman), Martin Stadler (demotist, Würzburg Universität), Aly Taha (Italian-Egyptian Restoration Center, Cairo), Stefania Trizza (excavation assistant). The Supreme Council of Antiquities was represented by Mustafa Feisal Ameda and Mohammed Regay.

The Mission extends its thanks to prof. dr Zahi Hawass, President of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, to Ibrahim Mohammed, General Director of the Foreign Missions, to Abd el Rahman el Aidi, Director of Middle Egypt, and to Ahmed Abd el-Aal Mohammed, Director of the Inspectorate of Antiquities of the Fayyum, for their support over the course of the Mission. It also expresses its gratitude to Luca Trombi, who – as every year – provided the Mission with generous financial support, and to the supporters of the “Associazione Culturale Soknopaiou Nesos Project”. Particular thanks also go to the Archaeological Department of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Cairo, directed by dr R. Pirelli, who handled contacts with the Supreme Council of Antiquities.



The 2009 excavation

The Excavation Campaign was carried out within the large temple precinct, in the area situated at the centre of the temenos. The excavation of the rooms located in the temple dedicated to the god Soknopaios (ST 20) 1, built during the Ptolemaic period, was finished. The excavated rooms are east of the naos and were used as side chapel (EE) and secret staircase (FF) leading to a crypt (GG) that is hidden under the pavement of the room EE. The “mysterious corridor” V gave access to the chapel (2,66 x 2,57 m), 2 which is 90 cm high; its original pavement, consisting of yellow limestone slabs, is preserved. A pavement gap corresponds to the crypt below (GG, 81 x 76 cm, h 95 cm), which is well preserved; only its pavement and ceiling are missing. A narrow opening at the base of the staircase FF gave access to the crypt, which was originally closed by three blocks, at least two of which were removable 3. The staircase is 72 cm wide and 3 m long; four of its steps are preserved. A trap door opened in the pavement of the upper floor gave access to it.


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The excavation of the external eastern side of the temple started. Blocks, lintels, and several architectonic elements belonging to the temple itself, and by debris from the dismantlement of the building covered the area. An area 29,60 m long, 5,40 m wide and about 2 m deep was excavated. An anthropic layer dated to Late Antique or Byzantine period, with Late Roman 7 amphorae, was partially preserved under these deposits. The original floor that surrounded the temple is not preserved in the excavated area.

The side of the temple was built in rustica masonry 4, as well as the façade of the same building. At the base of the wall there is a very unusual facing, consisting of six courses of grey-violet limestone blocks, whose face is smooth and tapering upward. The upper course ends in a slightly convex surface. Such facing was undoubtedly decorative, but it protected the lower part of the wall also, which was exposed to erosion.

During the restoration of the pavement of room A of the temple ST 20 and of the floor of the courtyard C 1 in front of it, two excavation tests were carried out. It was possible to ascertain the technique of the construction of the pavement of the room A: a course of yellow limestone blocks North-South oriented was set on the foundation sand of the room. On it a thick layer of white lime mixed with limestone chips was smeared in order to fix the paving slabs in grey limestone, which are oriented East-West. An ancient restoration had been discovered near the threshold.

The test trench in courtyard C 1 was carried out in a pit dug by clandestine excavators in 2005 and in 2007. It allowed us to examine the complex stratigraphy below the floor of the courtyard: three walls in mud bricks belonging to a building of unknown function (ST 204) were brought to light. Two paving phases were recognized in one room 5. This building abutted the North wall of the Ptolemaic temple ST 18, and therefore it was active before the construction of the second temple ST 20 and its courtyard C 1 and even before the opening of the North door of ST 18. The stratigraphy in the trench is composed of debris from the destruction of parts of the building ST 204. It was used to fill the lower part of the rooms of ST 204. Such filling, consisting of mud bricks and plaster, had been cut by two foundation trenches: the first one was cut for the building of the door and the threshold in the North wall of ST 18, which had been necessary at the time of the enlargement of the temple towards North (ST 20); the second one relate to the foundation of the auxiliary structure ST 23 of Roman period.

At least two rooms of building ST 204 were identified; one of them is plastered with a thick lime plaster painted yellow 6. A previous construction phase has been identified thanks to the presence of few mud brick courses of a wall of which about 1 m in length survives. The building ST 204 is undoubtedly contemporary or not much later than the temple ST 18; however, none of the few objects found, that belong to the Ptolemaic period, gives us precise information about its dating.


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During the topographic survey ancient dumps were identified, as well as dumps from excavations carried out in the past, such as those of the German Mission directed by F. Zucker and W. Schubart in 1909 and 1910. The dumps from Zucker’s excavations of the area West of the temenos are in a depression, whose nature is very interesting for the comprehension of the topography of such area. Here a westward opening of the settlement was supposed to be. Therefore we decided to begin an excavation in this area too 7. The trench labelled Saggio 2 (m 5,20 x 6,50) was cut in one of the Zucker’s dumps, while a second one, labelled Saggio 3 (m 4,50 x 6) is located just west of two buildings already named SN 29 and SN 33. It was possible to ascertain that in this depression the dune – that surrounds the settlement on its West side– was lower and narrower than elsewhere. In Zucker’s dump, which is at least 1,80 m deep, several ostraka –missed by German papyrologists – were found. Among them 27 were Demotic, one Greek and one figured. The second trench showed a natural thick sand deposit in its upper part, untouched by previous excavations and covered by a second Zucker’s dump. An organic sediment 1,70 m thick, probably originated from frequent discharges of organic sediments from courtyards, was found under the sand layer. The presence of ash, charcoals, straw and animal coprolites in consistent quantities are worth of mention. Such sediment abuts the West walls of houses SN 29 and 33, which are 3,70 m deep and consist of local un-worked stones. Only the top parts of the surviving walls were in mud bricks, of which three courses are preserved. The objects coming from this trench suggest that the organic sediment should be dated to the Ptolemaic period.

Among the findings of the season, 40 Demotic ostraka, 6 Greek ostraka, 2 Coptic and one figured ostraka 8, 11 fragments of Greek and Demotic papyri, a papyrus-amulet still closed and containing a figura magica consisting in two palm branches 9 – already recovered in many other papyri-amulets from Soknopaiou Nesos – are worth of mention. A portion of a Demotic inscription carved on a temple’s piece of furniture in grey limestone, was brought to light along the East side of ST 20. Among the remarkable objects, we should also mention a pendant in faïence representing Bes 10, a small bronze statue representing a leopard 11, several fragments of statues, three gargoyles from the temple’s roof, architectonic elements belonging to the eastern staircase (N) and to one or more windows sloping sills of the temple itself.


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The 2009 restoration

In addition, the Mission carried on the restoration of the objects recovered during the previous Excavation Campaigns, which are kept in the SCA Storehouse at Kom Aushim, and of parts of the temple ST 20.

Mohammed Ahmed continued the restoration of the Sphinx, which was brought to light in 2007 along the dromos 12. Such restoration is very complex, as the Sphinx was broken into many fragments, often very small. Thanks to the restoration we are going to entirely recover an important monument, whose presence contributes to explain the modern name of the site. At the same time it testifies to the monumental feature of the sacred road, which, from the southern suburbs, led to the entrance of the main temple. Moreover, several wooden planks, plastered and painted, and bronze objects – among which coins and fishhooks – were cleaned and consolidated.

Aly Taha carried on the consolidation of some torus cornices of the temple ST 20, replacing them in their original position by means of copper wires and Paraloid 50% 13. The pavement of the room ST 20 A, which had been partially pulled off and destroyed by a clandestine excavation in 2007 14, was restored too. The foundation in yellow limestone blocks and the grey limestone slabs of the floor were replaced according with the original assessment.

The floor in courtyard C 1 has been also replaced according to the original layout, using grey limestone slabs and gypsum mortar 15. The slabs have been located on a layer of clean sand.


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