Dayr Abu Hinnis

 Dayr Abu Hinnis is located on the east bank of the Nile, a few kilometres north of Dayr al-Barsha and to the south of the well-known archaeological site of Antinoopolis (Shaykh ‘Ibada). The extensive archaeological site of Dayr Abu Hinnis, located east and south-east of the village, is divided into three wadis, which contain more than two hundred limestone quarries. The first exploitation phase started in the New Kingdom, but then, apparently after having fallen in disuse for a long time, new quarries were opened in the Late Period. Both subterranean galleries and open air quarries are present in the area. The gallery quarries were re-used by monks and hermits in the Early Christian Period as living- and working quarters. Dayr Abu Hinnis is mostly known for the rock church dedicated to Saint John the Baptist, which is installed in one of the old quarries.

The objectives of the project are twofold. The first goal is to document the New Kingdom exploitation of the quarry complex in all its aspects (inscriptions, exploitation techniques, social structures). Secondly, the material remains of the Early Christian Period in this area will be documented and studied.

The Amarna Period (ca. 1353-1336 B.C.)

 Thousands of unpublished hieratic inscriptions can be found on the ceilings of these quarries: names, graffiti, dates, and quarry marks. Moreover, many ceilings are covered with yellow or red ochre lines. In conjunction with quarry marks and dates, these lines give information on quarrying techniques, work progress and -organization. The names and graffiti add a personal touch by telling about the people who worked here.

 Some of these lines mark a rather small rectangular space, matching blocks with dimensions of approximately 55-60cm x 25-30cm that can be found in situ. These are so-called talatat blocks that were used during the Amarna Period. These blocks, with inscriptions referring to Akhenaten and the Amarna temples, and the vicinity of the city of Amarna, strongly suggest that the main exploitation phase can be narrowed down to this period and that limestone from Dayr Abu Hinnis was used to build Egypt's new capital at Amarna.

The Early Christian Period

 From ca. the fourth century onwards, monks and hermits converted the gallery quarries into working and living quarters and also for liturgical purposes. Doorways, windows or cupboards were cut or carved, stone walls were built to divide spaces into smaller units, and outside structures were added. Plaster fragments show that most of the living spaces were well finished and that there was a certain degree of comfort. Paintings and sculptures preserved show care and attention to detail.

 In the south-western corner of one of the largest quarries (DAH 12) a church is located that is dedicated to Saint John the Baptist. The unique wall paintings in the church and the adjacent baptistery depict saints and scenes from the Life of Saint John the Baptist (sixth-eighth century). Apart from church and living quarters, a communal centre (DAH 33) and a weaving workshop (DAH 16) could be identified.

Hundreds of inscriptions, incised, engraved, or painted, mainly in Greek and Coptic but also in Syriac, testify to monks and their function in the monastic community, to visitors, to prayers and memorials.



Read more?

DELATTRE, A. (2003), 'L'apophtegme de Grégoire de Nysse au Deir Abou Hennis', Aegyptus 83, p. 223-227.

VAN DER PERRE, A. (2011), 'De vergeten steengroeven van Achnaton', Ta-mery 4, p. 112-121.

VAN LOON, G.J.M. and DELATTRE, A. (2004), 'La frise des saints de l'église rupestre de Deir Abou Hennis', Eastern Christian Art 1, p. 89-112.

VAN LOON, G.J.M. and DELATTRE, A. (2005), 'La frise des saints de l'église rupestre de Deir Abou Hennis. Correction et addition', Eastern Christian Art 2, p. 167.

VAN LOON, G.J.M. (2011), 'Priest and Father, Prophet and Martyr: Zacharias, parent of Saint John the Baptist, in: EATON-KRAUSS, M., FLUCK, C. and VAN LOON, G.J.M. (eds.), Egypt 1350 BC AD 1800. Art Historical and Archaeological Studies for Gawdat Gabra, Sprachen und Kulturen des christlichen Orients 20 (Wiesbaden), p. 87-108.

VAN LOON, G.J.M. and DELATTRE, A. (2006), 'Le cycle de l'enfance du Christ dans l'église rupestre de saint Jean Baptiste à Deir Abou Hennis', in : BOUD'HORS, A., GASCOU, J. and VAILLANCOURT, D. (eds.), Études Coptes IX. Onzième journée d'études (Strasbourg 12-14 juin 2003), Cahiers de la bibliothèque copte 14 (Paris), p. 119-134.

WILLEMS, H. and DEMARÉE, R. (2009), 'A Visitor's Graffito in Dayr Abu Hinnis. Remarks on the Source of Limestone Used in the Construction of al-Amarna', Revue d'Egyptologie 60, p. 222-226. (DOI: 10.2143/RE.60.0.2049286; link Peeters Online Journals)