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Egypt Exploration Society

The University of Michigan's Excavations at Karanis: 1924-5 Author(s): A. E. R. Boak Source: The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, Vol. 12, No. 1/2 (Apr., 1926), pp. 19-21 Published by: Egypt Exploration Society Stable URL: . Accessed: 17/04/2014 22:59
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BY A. E. R. BOAK With Plate IX. During the winter season 1924-5 an expedition representing the University of Michigan dug at Kom Aushim, the site of ancient Karanis in the north of the Fayyum, to the east of the Birket Karun. Owing to unavoidable delays in selecting the site to excavate, in securing the necessary authorization, in preparing suitable quarters and organizing the force of native workers, the actual work of excavation did not begin until towards the close

A-A B, B C D E, E


Fig. I. Key to Air Photograph of Karanis. F, F Areas partly plundered. marking northern limits of town. G Site of new temple. Areas excavated 1924-5. H Central area cleared by sebbdkhtn. Light railway. I Irrigated area. Expedition H.Q. Areas spoilt for excavation.

of December. From that time it continued without interruption until the middle of April 1925. The expedition's staff consisted of Messrs. J. L. Starkey, S. Yeivin, 0. W. Qualley, and A. E. R. Boak. They were fortunate in receiving a great deal of helpful advice and practical assistance from Mr. G. Wainwright, late Chief Inspector of Antiquities, and the officials of the Department of Antiquities aided the work as far as it was in their power.

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Plate IX.

Air photograph of the site of Karanis.

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Twenty-nine years had elapsed since Grenfell, Hunt and Hogarth had last dug at Karanis. In the interval the mound had been subjected to the unceasing attacks of sebdch diggers, who had operated with light railways, as well as with the usual beasts of burden. The extreme eastern and western parts of the town had practically disappeared and the southern face of the mound had been plundered extensively. A great gap had been made in the centre of the mound stretching from its southern nearly to its northern limits. Around this irregular, crater-shaped, hole the remaining portions of the mound formed a sort of rampart, in some places thirty or forty feet high. See the air photograph, P1. IX, and the key to it, Fig. 1. Work on the present top levels brought to light foundations and, in some cases, the lower storeys and basements of houses dating from the fourth and fifth centuries A.D. These were carefully measured and a plan was made which showed both the streets or lanes and the ground plans of the houses in so far as these could be recovered. When this survey had been completed, the remains of part of this top level were removed to permit the examination of what lay beneath. It was then found that the fourth-century buildings in this section of the town had been built above the ruins of earlier structures in such a way that in some cases the foundations of the upper layer actually rested upon walls of the earlier, although built at an angle to these and not following their alignment. The ruins of this earlier level were in a better state of preservation than those above. The mud brick employed was of better material and more carefully made. In addition, the houses and streets were filled with sand and fallen brick and this support had kept many of the walls in position to a considerable height. Care had to be exercised in removing this filling in order to avoid the immediate collapse of parts of the buildings. In many houses the basements were intact, and above these the walls and stairways of two storeys were still standing, but the roofs and the ceilings of first storeys had fallen in. On the basis of coins and papyri the buildings of this level could be definitely assigned to the second and third centuries A.D. The interiors of many of these houses had been covered with a white plaster decorated with designs in colour. In one case this mural decoration was exceptionally well preserved. The east wall and the adjacent portion of the north wall of a room still retained their coating of plaster on which was painted a row of male and female divinities in a style which closely resembled that of the well-known Fayyum portraits. One, a male figure, was seated on a sort of throne, but the others were standing. A bull, a Cerberus with his three heads, and other symbolic figures accompanied the deities. Unfortunately, the heads of most of the figures were so badly defaced by the crumbling of the plaster that their identity is somewhat uncertain. However, it is probable that in its original condition this decoration extended all around the room, which may have been the chapel of some special cult. Towards the close of the season it was decided to thoroughly excavate a large stone temple, which had come to light in the previous year in the northern part of the central In clearing the approaches to this temple excavations were area dug out by the sebbadkhtn. carried down to the original ground level, and foundations belonging to the lowest layer, presumably Ptolemaic, were laid bare. The temple itself was carefully built of well cut local limestone, and rested upon a bed of rough stones which had been laid in the ruins of earlier buildings. The style of architecture is Hellenistic-Egyptian and the plan differs in many respects from that of the other temple, about a quarter of a mile to the south, which was studied by Grenfell and Hogarth's expedition in 1896. With its two advanced pylons it bears a great resemblance to the temple of Pnepheros at Theadelphia, now partly re-

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constructed in the courtyard of the Museum at Alexandria. However, there are many unique features about the design of the temple proper. Since no dedicatory inscription was found, it is not certain to what god or gods the temple belonged. An embalmed crocodile, a hawk-headed crocodile in limestone, a small incense altar, some pottery vessels, and the fragments of an enamelled pectoral were all that was found in the temple. But two large altars which lay outside the precinct obviously came from one of the outer courts. One of these altars bore an inscription to Sarapis, with a date no longer decipherable, while the other had on two of its four faces the head of a bearded divinity. It is possible that the temple was dedicated to Sarapis, whose cult had been grafted on to that of a local crocodile god. The fourth and fifth century houses had been plundered in great part and so did not produce any great wealth of coins, papyri, or household utensils. However, those of the lower level yielded a rich collection of objects of all sorts. The number of fine pieces of glass recovered in perfect condition was very remarkable. Two considerable hoards of coins were found, one containing about 1000 small bronze pieces, the other 860 tetradrachnms There were a good many ostraka, principally of the second and third centuries. Literary papyri were very scarce. The most important was the last column (23 lines) of a discourse on Homer by Alcidamas. Part of a roll of the Iliad contains several columns, beginning with line 308 of Book I. Documentary papyri were numerous. The most interesting were a group of petitions, in an unusually good state of preservation, addressed to strategoi, epistrategoi, and Prefects of Egypt, dating from Antoninus Pius to Caracalla. Possibly they represent part of the archives of the office of the komogrammateus of Karanis. They were unearthed in a courtyard into which they had doubtless been thrown as iubbish from one of the adjacent houses. No Coptic texts of any sort were found, but there were several fragments of a Demotic document, the verso of which contained Greek writing. Work at Karanis was resumed under Mr. Starkey's direction at the end of October 1925. It is hoped that it may be possible to continue the excavation until the site is thoroughly investigated, so that it may be possible to reconstruct the topographical and cultural development of this typical Greco-Roman town of the Fayyum.

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