The 2012 Campaign (17 February-26 April 2012)

The combination of detailed excavation, archaeological survey, and geomorphological analysis in and around Dayr al-Barsha was vigorously pursued in 2012. This led to several new insights that are crucial to understand the archaeology in the region as a whole.

Remote Sensing and Archaeological Survey

In order to understand the Dayr al-Barsha region within its ancient regional context, a large-scale project of remote sensing analysis based on satellite images, geomorphological and archaeological ground verification, and landscape reconstruction has begun, in collaboration with Gert Verstraeten's research group at Leuven University. An important part concerns the reconstruction of the ancient floodplain, interconnections between sites, and attempts to reconstruct the ancient settlement landscape.

This year, earlier attempts to locate ancient Nile beds on the east bank were continued, but research also targeted the western edge of the floodplain, west of Bahr Yusif. This area, characterized by sand dunes invading the floodplain from the Western Desert, has hardly been investigated. In this region, it could be shown that periods of dune activity were interrupted by periods when the area was reached by the Nile floods. In corridors between the sand dunes, agricultural zones with evidence of ploughing activities perhaps going back between 7000 and 5000 years were found. This is vital evidence to determine the width of the ancient floodplain and the kind of human activity.

Several settlements were also found. On the west bank, two tells were located in al-Rairamun and Dayr al-Mallak. Drillings at the latter site show that the settlement there goes back at least to the Late Period or Graeco-Roman period. Very simple settlements apparently going back to the Old and Middle Kingdoms and located on the plateau, far out in the Eastern Desert, were also found. These sites were found in the course of a remote sensing study of ancient road patterns by Véronique De Laet. Some of these sites were clearly connected to quarry activities. Others, where no evidence of quarrying can be found in the neighbourhood, are related to funerary activities, while a remote settlement on the plateau, for which neither explanation is likely, was perhaps rather an ancient hunting camp. The spacing of these settlements and of the roads probably reflect the settlement patterns in the floodplain.

In the Christian period, tombs and quarries were reused by monastic communities. At that time, human activity was concentrated at the front of the plateau and directed to the Nile valley. With the altered function, the nature of transport and thereby the criteria for roads changed: the network of existing tracks and paths was adapted to new needs.
Also with the help of remote sensing, new cemeteries were discovered. The most important is a vast third dynasty cemetery near Dayr Abu Hinnis. The tombs here are made of simple rock circles, of exactly the same type as those in a similar cemetery in Dayr al-Barsha itself. Since yet another cemetery of this type exists in Nuwayrāt, just north of Bani Hasan, we also carried out a survey there. This work helps to place the excavation of the rock circle tombs in Dayr al-Barsha by Bart Vanthuyne in perspective.
In part, this year's activities were a pilot project with the intention to develop strategies for future research, that may lead to the generation of proxy data for later palaeodemographic modeling.

Excavations in Dayr al-Barsha North (zone 8)

Bart Vanthuyne and his team continued his survey and excavation of the third dynasty cemetery in Dayr al-Barsha North. In this area, hundreds of rock circle tombs are spread out over the escarpment over a north-south stretch of 2.2 km. This season the southern part was surveyed, and excavations were carried out in the middle area of the cemetery. In previous seasons a number of graves in both the northern and southern end were already investigated. The pottery shows that the whole burial ground dates homogeneously to the third dynasty. Based on our improving knowledge of the density and spread of the tombs, the area holds great promise for future demographic modeling. Large uncertainties still remain in this regard, however: although the north-south extension is now clear, this is less so as regards the westward extension of the cemetery in the direction of the floodplain. Here, in the mildly undulating low desert, no rock circles are visible on the surface, but during geomagnetic research by Tomasz Herbich's team, several strong, small geomagnetic anomalies were picked up. These probably reflect the presence of pottery coffins such as also occur in the rock circle tombs.

During this season, 17 rock circle tombs were excavated. One undisturbed burial shows that these tombs are not always as poor as we had hitherto supposed, as this burial contained a (disintegrated) wooden coffin, numerous beads, and a collection of finely made vessels made of calcite alabaster. Although all were found in situ, they were all broken, suggesting that they were ritually destroyed during the funeral.

Research in the cemetery at Dayr Abu Hinnis that we discovered this year, revealed that, while it is a different cemetery, it is one of exactly the same type. Since another such cemetery exists at Nuwayrat, it seems that we are facing a hitherto unknown type of burial ground, which was normal in this part of Egypt in the third dynasty. Based on remote sensing, we have reason to believe that more cemeteries of this kind exist in the region. This affords significant new indications concerning early Old Kingdom settlement spread (and perhaps size) in Middle Egypt.
Some years ago, remote sensing analysis by Véronique De Laet led to the discovery of an early Old Kingdom mastaba in Dayr Abu Hinnis. This year's season has shown that the mastaba lies on the top of a hill surrounded by a large rock circle cemetery, perhaps affording significant information on the social stratification of the buried population.

Excavations in Zone 7: the Courtyard in front of Old Kingdom Tomb 15I95/1

This sector was excavated by Marleen De Meyer, with the aim of (for the first time at this site) excavating an Old Kingdom tomb courtyard. In the top levels, remains of a burial that had probably been thrown out of the tomb by robbers were found, including a nice collection of faience amulets. In deeper levels, an artificially made platform of white limestone debris was discovered, covering the original rock surface in this area which is very uneven. This layer was created around the time of the construction/use life of the tomb as only a few small Old Kingdom sherds were found within it. On top of this courtyard floor and next to the door of tomb 15I95/1, a concentration of Old Kingdom potsherds was found. They consisted mainly of beer jars and a bread tray, and form the remnants of funerary offerings that were deposited at the tomb’s entrance.

Study of the Late First Intermediate Period-Middle Kingdom Cemetery

This cemetery occupies zones 1 and 2 on the north hill, large parts of zones 8 and 9, zone 10 in the village centre, and possibly zone 11. This year's aims were to define the limits of this vast burial ground, to study find material from zone 10 excavated long ago by an Egyptian mission which complements our own work there in 2006, and the continuation of the excavation of the nomarchal cemetery in zone 2.

The Egyptian finds from zone 10 were discovered by Mahmud Hamza and Osiris Ghubrial between 1968 and 1972, and are now stored in the central SCA antiquities storeroom in al-Ashmunayn.  In previous years, we had already worked in this storeroom, but in the course of the work, new material continued to turn up all the time. Meanwhile, we have complete knowledge of which objects are stored there, which number many hundreds. They mainly consist of funerary equipment: dummy vases in calcite alabaster, pottery, and copper objects. Since the SCA magazines do not store damaged finds, all these finds are intact, offering a rare opportunity to study the range of types that may be found. This year, Marleen De Meyer completed the photographic and graphic documentation of the finds and in future years we intend to write a publication of this fantastic material together with Mahmud Hamza.

We were joined this season by Tomasz Herbich and his team, who carried out an 8 hectare geomagnetic survey, complementing earlier surveys from 2002 and 2004.  During these campaigns he had already covered large parts of the site, but we could not yet determine where the northern and southern limits of the Dayr al-Barsha cemetery are located. During their survey, they were able to find the northern limits in due course (zone 8). The southern limit was found in zone 11, an open space at the outskirts of the village, which is now used as a waste disposal area. After bulldozing vast accumulations of dirt, the area was fit for investigation, and this produced very clear images of group burials arranged in 'streets'.
Based on these results, it will be possible to estimate the size of the cemetery. In combination with the information we have on the density of the tombs, and on their date range (almost all across, the tombs date to the early Middle Kingdom), this is precious information on the amount of burials that can be expected, an important demographic indicator.   
The excavations in zone 2, the area of the Middle Kingdom tombs of the nomarchs (provincial governors), were pursued in two areas. In front of the tomb of Djehutihotep, the westernmost of the five subsidiary shafts was re-excavated. Thus far a depth of 4m has been reached, but the main burial chamber has not been found yet.

A new excavation was begun inside the tomb of Ahanakht I, the first Middle Kingdom governor buried on the plateau. In one of the shafts of the outer chamber, a new burial was uncovered with a large amount of the funerary equipment intact. For this important find, see the press release.


News on the Industrial Site at al-Shaykh Saʿid/Wadi Zabayda

This year no new excavations were carried out at this site, because the vast amounts of finds of the 2008-2010 seasons needed processing. Lucia Kuijper documented the stone tools and other objects from the vase production site. The effort mainly went to the remains of calcite alabaster vases, ear rings, and other objects that broke during production. Much of this material derives from surface deposits, but in 2010, for the first time, we discovered the same material in stratified contexts, between house floors. This year, David Aston joined our team to analyze the pottery from these contexts. He was able to afford a far more accurate date range for this material, but in fact for the later occupation of the site as a whole. It now appears that the settlement must be dated to the eighteenth dynasty roughly between Thuthmosis III and Akhenaten. This means that (different from our earlier expectation) the site already existed before the Amarna period, but also that it continued to exist during it. This has the likely implication that the site supplied the town of Amarna with calcite alabaster luxury objects. Also, it seems to have stopped functioning after the Amarna period.

Although hardly any work had been carried out on the large cemetery in the Wadi Zabayda, we had always thought that this cemetery belonged to the settlement. However, the pottery profile shows that the cemetery dates to the late New Kingdom. This means that we have so far no cemetery that belongs to the industrial site, and no settlement belonging to the cemetery. This raises interesting new questions about the New Kingdom settlement dynamics in the region.

Anthropological Research

Tosha Dupras' team again investigated the human remains found during the excavation, on the one hand by restudying human remains found in earlier seasons, but most importantly also by directly investigating the fragile human remains excavated in Dayr al-Barsha North. Unfortunately many of the bodies are so badly preserved that it is still far too early to deduce general trends from the determinations of individual bodies. One exception to this rule is that the dentition shows that the third dynasty population had unexpectedly healthy teeth, which of course is an important pointer to the ancient diet.

Research of New Kingdom Quarries in Dayr Abu Hinnis and their Early Christian Occupation

The investigations undertaken under the direction of Athena Van der Perre in the Dayr Abu Hinnis quarries were continued this year. Much of the season was spent mapping the site and a number of its quarries. In view of the extremely hard wind in this rough landscape, this was no easy task. Also, the evidence for the quarry exploitation was documented. Hitherto, most of the quarry inscriptions we found date to the Amarna period, with the implication that Dayr Abu Hinnis was a very important source for talatat blocks for Amarna―and probably the most important source. This general conclusion still stands, but a newly discovered hieroglyphic inscription suggests at least some activity in the Ramesside period. The picture of how the quarrying process functioned is becoming clearer by studying the chisel mark patterns on walls and ceilings.

A major problem, however, remains: documenting the inscriptions on the quarry ceilings in such a way that their spatial distribution is easily (and correctly) surveyable. The extremely irregular form of the quarries makes it almost impossible to map them accurately and in detail. Part of the season was spent developing adequate documentation methods. New photogrammetric software, used for the first time in this context, seems to be the solution to this problem.

In the Early Christian period, the quarries were re-used by monks. Gertrud van Loon's study of this cultural phase was continued. A very interesting new addition to our knowledge of the site is that one of the monastic habitations was a weaving workshop, which can be reconstructed in some detail. This adds a fascinating aspect to our knowledge of the living conditions here.

Participants of the 2012 field season

Project Director
Harco Willems

Marleen De Meyer (Zone 7 + Ashmunayn)
Athena Van der Perre (Dayr Abu Hinnis)
Amina al-Baroudi (Zone 8 + DAH survey + Ashmunayn)
Gina Laycock (Zone 2)
Megaera Lorenz (Zone 8 + DAH survey)
Leire Olabarria (Zone 8 + DAH survey)
Tanja Pommerening (Zone 2)
Sonja Speck (Dayr Abu Hinnis)

Lucia Kuijper
Bart Vanthuyne (Zone 8 + DAH survey)
Hanne Creylman (Ceramics + Zone 2)

Stefanie Vereecken
David Aston
Dina Faltings

Physical anthropologists
Tosha Dupras
Lana Williams
Sarah Kindschuh (Zone 8 + DAH survey)

Gertrud Van Loon (Dayr Abu Hinnis)

Birgit Schoer (Dayr Abu Hinnis)

Gert Verstraeten
Bastiaan Notebaert
Mohamed Ihab Nafie Lotfy
Koen D'Haen
Leen Reynders
Maarten van Loo

Remote sensing (geophysical)
Tomasz Herbich
Marcin Ordutowski
Dawid Swiech

Remote sensing (satellite)
Véronique De Laet
Rudi Goossens
Marijn Hendrickx
José Manuel Delgado Blasco

Laurence Blondaux
Adam Zielinski

Alessia Cipolleti
Sanne Van Hoof