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Soknopaiou Nesos - Report 2010

Directors’ Report on 2010 Season

The Archaeological Mission of the Centro di Studi Papirologici of Salento University, Lecce, directed by Mario Capasso and Paola Davoli, carried out its Eighth Season of Excavations at Dime es-Seba (El-Fayyum), the ancient Soknopaiou Nesos, from 26 October to 2 December, 2010.

Also taking part in the Mission were Stefania Alfarano (excavation assistant), Carolin Arlt (demotist, Würzburg Universität), Giada Bianco (student), Clementina Caputo (ceramicist), Mohammed Barakat (Directors’ assistant), Ludovica Gorla (archaeologist, Milano Bicocca), Sylvie Marchand (ceramicist, IFAO), Raffaella Milano (draughtswoman), Giuseppe Alvar Minaya (supervisor), Anna Chiara Muscogiuri (student), Simone Occhi (topographer), Elvira Pisanello (registrar), Carlotta Quarta Colosso (papyrologist), Borna Scognamiglio (archaeologist, Paris-Sorbonne), Martin Stadler (demotist, Würzburg Universität), Salvatore Taurino (archaeologist), Stefania Trizza (excavation assistant). The Supreme Council of Antiquities was represented by Samhan Mohammed Abd el Salam.

The Mission extends its thanks to prof. dr Zahi Hawass, President of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, to Mohammed Ismail, 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 and essential financial support, and to the supporters of the “Associazione Culturale Soknopaiou Nesos Project”. Particular thanks are also addressed to the Centro Internazionale di Studi Borgiani of Velletri and its President Rigel Langella, and to prof. Dora Liuzzi (Lecce), who awarded some scholarships to some students.

Special thanks to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its 2010 financial contribution and to the Archaeological Department of the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in Cairo, directed by dr R. Pirelli, which handled contacts with the Supreme Council of Antiquities.



2010 excavation

The Excavation Campaign was carried out within the large temple precinct, in the area situated at the centre of the temenos. The two excavated areas are East and West of the temple dedicated to the god Soknopaios (ST 20) 1, built during the Ptolemaic period.

East area 2: the excavation of the external eastern side of the temple began in 2009. The new sector measures m 13 x 5.50, about 2 m thick. The area was covered by blocks, lintels, several architectonic elements belonging to the temple itself, and by debris from the dismantlement of the building. An anthropic layer dated to 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, 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. Such facing had already been found along the wall, in the area excavated in 2009. It goes on along the whole eastern outside wall of the temple in its lower part; only three courses of it are preserved. Such facing was undoubtedly decorative, but it protected the lower part of the wall also, which was exposed to erosion.


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West area 3: the excavation of the area situated along the west side of the sanctuary started from its southern end. From North to South the examined area measures 16 m and it is, from East to West, 5 m wide. West of the mud-brick building ST 23 a dump, originated by the excavations carried out between the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century, was found. In such dump 150 Demotic ostraka, probably belonging to the same archive originally kept in ST 23 built during the Roman period in the West part of the courtyard C1, were found. In fact, during the 2005 Season, the same kind of ostraka had been recovered in room ST 23 D. Each ostrakon contains the name of a person and dates to the Roman period. Such finding is very important both for the amount of the recovered materials and for the contribution of these texts to the prosopography and to the religious history of the site.

In the area corresponding to the Southwest end of the temple the recovered stratigraphy was very similar to that one which was along the East side of the sanctuary. In its upper part it consisted of aeolian sand mixed with stone architectonic elements that covered a very compact concentration of materials originated from the dismantlement of the walls of the temple. Such layer sealed an anthropic layer dated to Late-Roman period, in which pottery vessels and fragments of objects belonging to the temple’s furniture – such as statues, lithic and wooden naoi – were recovered. In front of the side entrance of ST 20 there is a rough paving 3 consisting of blocks and different stones made in the Late-Roman period.

At the bottom of this stratigraphy the original external floor of the temple 4, built with grey limestone slabs, was found. It is very similar to the floors already found inside the temple and in the courtyard in front of it. A small broken stela of the Roman period with Greek inscription and a relief representing Soknopaios was found reversed on the floor.


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From November 7 to 10 Sylvie Marchand carried out a pottery survey inside the settlement and in some areas immediately outside it, already surveyed during the past seasons.

Thirty-five sectors were numbered and the surface pottery was collected and examined in order to establish the chronology of the residential areas (sectors 1-14) 5, the necropolis (sectors 15-25) and other interesting evidences, such  as  the  palaeolake’s  shores  which  is  West  of  Dime, the so-called “watch towers” and the “quays” (sectors 26-35) 6.  The pottery survey allowed us to identify new chronological periods: some pottery dated to the Old Kingdom 7, to the New Kingdom 8 and to the Late Period 9. The Ptolemaic and Roman pottery, well known thanks to the excavations carried out by our mission, was also present in great quantities in the surveyed areas; it gives us some additional and very interesting information.


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During the topographical survey it was possible to ascertain the presence of at least two staircases inside the West wall of the temenos. Such staircases, similar to the one, which is already visible in the South wall of the temenos alongside the doorway, led to West oriented observation points 10. Moreover, both the stratigraphic and pottery analysis carried out along the North side of the kom allowed us to identify a dismantlement phase that is probably due to sebbakhin activities.


Among the findings there are 180 ostraka, of which 177 are Demotic, two are Greek and one is Greek-Demotic 11. 26 fragments of Greek and Demotic papyri, a papyrus-amulet containing a figura magica, already discovered in another papyrus-amulet from Soknopaiou Nesos; a complete Demotic document and part of a tax receipt in Greek with its seal were also found. A consistent number of statues fragments has been recovered.


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