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Soknopaiou Nesos - Report 2011

Directors’ Report on 2011 Study and Restoration Season

The Archaeological Mission of the Centro di Studi Papirologici of Salento University, Lecce, directed by Mario Capasso and Paola Davoli, carried out a study and restoration Season on the numerous objects found during the past eight excavation Seasons at Dime es-Seba (El-Fayyum), the ancient Soknopaiou Nesos, from 11th November to 1st December 2011.

Also taking part in the Mission were Clementina Caputo (ceramicist), Giuseppe Alvar Minaya (archaeologist), Elvira Pisanello (registrar), Borna Scognamiglio (egyptologist, Paris-Sorbonne), Basem Gehad (restorer, Grand Egyptian Museum, Cairo), Mohammed Ahmed (restorer), Moataz Abu el-Nil (assistant to Directors). Mohammed Regay represented the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The Mission extends its thanks to dr. Mustafa Amin, 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 2011 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.

Following the events that occurred after the Egyptian revolution of last January 2011 and the isolation of the archaeological site of Dime es-Seba, located north of Lake Qarun, the Supreme Council of Antiquities did not give permission to excavate during this year for security reasons. Given the situation, the work was then confined to the study and restoration of numerous objects and materials found from 2001 to 2010 and collected in the General Storehouse at Kom Aushim. Moreover, an emergency intervention was necessary to secure some walls and structures in Dime, due to their dangerous situation caused by the illicit excavations.



Study and restoration of the objects

Several typologies of objects have been studied and documented with new photographs and drawings, in order to prepare the catalogue for a future publication. All the ostraka found have been examined from the point of view of the writing support, to determine the kind of vessels used for this purpose. Infrared photos were taken of the 150 ostraka found during the 2010 Season and probably belonging to an archive.

The Greek epigraphy has been reconsidered and two fragments from one stela were matched. Cretulae and clay stoppers with impressed seals have been studied as well as rings, beads, amulets, coins, thymiateria, stone and pottery vessels.

The restoration focused on a group of 70 bronze Ptolemaic and Roman coins, that were cleaned and consolidated, and on the statues found in the temple 1. Hundreds of fragments of statues in local fossiliferous limestone and basalt were recovered during the previous excavation Seasons. Compositions of many of the fragments allowed us to recognize about ten statues, of which two are female, one probably regal and seven of priests 2. They are in Graeco-Egyptian style, of various dimensions and without any inscription. One of the female statues represents probably the goddess Isis, 1.70 m ca. height, with curled hair and long dress. The restoration of the statues will continue in the next season.


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Emergency interventions at Dime

Several illicit excavations were carried out in Dime starting from February 2011 inside and outside the temenos and in the vast cemetery around the settlement. Due to the short time at our disposal to work at the site, it was not possible to check the damages occurred in the cemetery 3.

Inside the temenos 4 a pit was dug in a building completely buried by sand and located in the southwest corner. The function of the building is still not clear: it was built in mud brick but the floor and the doors were made with grey limestone slabs.





Major damages were caused to the temple: the west jamb of the south gate in ST 18 (beginning of the Ptolemaic period temple) was demolished and the blocks left scattered. A wall and the floor in mud brick in room A of building ST 200 were completely removed as well as the small cellar D located below the floor. A deep hole was also excavated in the south east corner of the same room A and extended towards east. The already restored floor in the centre of the courtyard C1 was damaged: the slabs of the restoration 2009, following an illicit excavation, were removed. Debris from these demolitions is collected in the east half of the courtyard and inside room ST 200B.

The floors in room A and F inside the temple ST 20, made in yellow limestone blocks, were heavily damaged. One block of the relief on the north wall in room F was removed but left beside the wall. It has been recovered and transported into the SCA storehouse. Also the painted relief on the doorjamb in M was slightly damaged 5. A hole 3 m deep was dug in the naos M and its foundations were exposed causing a dangerous situation for the stability of the walls and the gates. Thanks to this pit we were able to document the foundations of the building and the gebel below them. An anthropic deposit rich in potsherds, ash and carbons was probably artificially levelled on the gebel. Clean sand was used for the proper foundation of the temple, which is ca. 2 m deep, with a dry-stone first course of irregular blocks. Below the thresholds of the gates in M and S the walls are continuous.


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Sand and debris excavated from room M were deposited to the west of it and now cover the corridor U and the lateral chapels T, Z and Y.

The emergency works done by the Mission were merely devoted to outstanding security measures: the relieves in room F and on the jamb in the door leading to M were protected by means of a dry-stone wall and clean sand. The foundations of the walls in M have been supported with blocks and sand to prevent collapses. Blocks and sand were also used to support the floor slabs in A and F and prevent their collapse. The ramp in front of the door between A and F was found almost completely destroyed. Some objects have been recovered during these works, like glass inlays for wooden naoi, probably buried in the sand below floor level in the naos M 6.


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Two major excavations were carried out in two houses south of the temenos, to the east (SE 93) and to the west (SO 129) of the dromos 7. In both cases they are deep excavations that exposed rooms and staircases, still in good condition with wooden poles and doorjambs still in place and well preserved. Minor excavations have been localized together with the traces of the passage of motorbikes and cars all over the site.

An offering table with two lines of Greek inscription was recovered on top of the embankment west of the site. It dates to the Roman period 8.


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The guards’ house built by the Mission in 2009 was also destroyed. Thus it is has been necessary to rebuilt and restore it to allow the guards to live on the site for its safeguarding.



Report on the restoration of the statues (Basem Gehad)

The fragments of the statues recovered during the Season 2003-2010 excavations at Dime es-Seba were classified according to the kind of the stone, style, dress and parts of the body. The identified statues differ in size and subjects, male and female, while the stone is basically limestone and basalt. Based on this classification, about 10 statues has been identified and partially restored. The best items are a female and a priest statues. The lower part of the female face, the curls of the hair and parts of the body were assembled. It possibly represents the goddess Isis. The lower part of the body of the priest is almost complete with the assemblage of several fragments. Other parts of male statues have been assembled, but still we need to find more pieces to complete them.

The electric drill was used to insert fibreglass bars in order to assemble the largest fragments. The fiberglass bar was preferred to the iron bar to avoid corrosion that can affect the stone during the time. Paraloid (acryloid) B-72 was used with the bars in concentration of 20% in acetone (wt/vol). The smaller fragments were adhered and glued using pure transparent Epoxy Resin (araldite) by a syringe in chosen spots. In some cases paraloid was also used with araldite.

The work of restoration will continue in the next Season. The fragments that have still to be assembled are stored according to the classification.