Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Weekly Websites - Faiyum part 2

New Kingdom

The New Kingdom is something of a black hole in the Faiyum. During the Middle Kingdom and the First Intermediate Period the Faiyum's vast lake was at around 20m above sea level but research has suggested that for a 200 period between 3100 and 2900BP the lake reached lows of 10m below sea level (Fekri Hassan 1986 - let me know if you want the reference). Perhaps the Faiyum was simply factored out of Egyptian economic thinking until the Ptolemaic period.


Digital Egypt

During the periods preceding the arrival of Alexander the Great in 332 BC, the Fayum was most prominent in the Middle Kingdom (2025-1700 BC). In the Ptolemaic Period, the Fayum was one of the main regions where Greeks settled.

The Ptolemies founded a number of towns around the Fayum lake. Although some of them are of considerable size, none of them had the administrative status of a city (polis). These sites continued to flourish into the mid and late first millennium AD. They are often well preserved (including organic material such as wood and papyrus), and therefore they are an important source for settlement plans and architecture, and daily life objects, especially of the late Roman and Byzantine Periods. However, many of these sites were excavated by researchers hunting exclusively for papyri; little attention was paid to other finds.


Crocodilopolis or Krokodilopolis (Greek: Κροκοδείλων πόλις) or Ptolemais Euergetis or Arsinoe (Greek: Ἀρσινόη) was an ancient city in the Heptanomis, Egypt, the capital of Arsinoites nome, on the western bank of the Nile, between the river and the Lake Moeris, southwest of Memphis, in lat. 29° N. Its native Ancient Egyptian name was Shedyet.

In the Pharaonic era the city was the most significant center for the cult of Sobek, a crocodile-god. In consequence, the Greeks named it Crocodilopolis, "Crocodile City", from the particular reverence paid by its inhabitants to crocodiles. The city worshipped a "sacred" crocodile, named "Petsuchos", that was embellished with gold and gems. The crocodile lived in a special temple, with sand, a pond and food. When the Petsuchos died, it was replaced by another. After the city passed into the hands of the Ptolemies, the city was renamed Ptolemais Euergetis. The city was renamed Arsinoe by Ptolemy Philadelphus to honor Arsinoe II of Egypt, his sister and wife, during the 3rd century BCE.

The Soknopaiou Nesos Project (Dimai)

The Soknopaiou Nesos Project can be defined as a complex idea that developed in the years. At the beginning the only aim of the Joint Expedition was to document the site with modern topographical and archaeological techniques of survey. The archaeological area was surveyed in two seasons (2001 and 2002). A preliminary record of all the visible buildings was also done. Contemporary, other two different researches were begun, one relating the record and study of the Greek literary papyri coming from Soknopaiou Nesos and one on the bibliography and old images of the site. For this last research a great help came from the Kelsey Museum of Ann Arbor that provided us freely many photographs from its archive. The collection of the bibliography is still in progress and it will be a long task especially because of the great number of papyri published. In fact, we would like to realize in Lecce an archive on Soknopaiou Nesos both digital and on paper.

As is well known, Soknopaiou Nesos is one of the most important source of information on the Graeco-roman society thanks to its excellent state of preservation and not only for the past findings of papyri. Still it is a very rich source of information for different scientific matter. For this reason we started to imagine a more complex enterprise that can involve scholars and specialists in an interdisciplinary and wide study.

Qasr Qarun (Dionysias) by Jimmy Dunn

Near the western edge of Lake Qarun in the Fayoum, Qasr Qarun marks the location of the ancient town of Dionysias, now located near the modern village of Qarun. During ancient times, it was the beginning (or end) of the caravan route to the Bahariya Oasis, and thus, of some importance. The town was cleared by a Franco-Swiss archaeological team in the 19401s and 1950s and an epigraphic survey was conducted in 1976, but has since been the subject of several restorations projects.

The town is spread out north and south and is mostly in ruins save for a few structures that are worth mentioning. The Roman bath is a mere outline on the ground as are most of the houses, but a few still sand, at least partially. Some even have fresco decorations on the interior walls. The most noteworthy of these is located just east of the Roman fortress. Thermal baths with frescoes were discovered here in 1948, but the desert has long since reclaimed them.

Here, we also find a most interesting temple dedicated to Sobek-Re, that is sometimes referred to as the "Temple of Stone", located in the middle of the ancient town. It dates to between 323 and 330 BC during the Ptolemaic period, but has not been dated more precisely due to the absence of inscriptions.

Roman Karanis: Discoveries of the University of Michigan Expedition to Egypt (1924-1935)

This web site is an on-line version of the 1983 Kelsey Museum of Archaeology exhibition catalogue of the same name by Elaine K. Gazda. For the purposes of the electronic version, text has been abridged and some illustrations omitted; full text and illustrations can be found in the print version of the catalogue, which is still available for purchase from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology (Go to Kelsey Museum Publications).

Faiyum Mummy Portraits

Mummy portraits or Fayum mummy portraits (also Faiyum mummy portraits) is the modern term for a type of realistic painted portraits on wooden boards attached to Egyptian mummies from Roman Egypt. They belong to the tradition of panel painting, one of the most highly regarded forms of art in the Classical world. In fact, the Fayum portraits are the only large body of art from that tradition to have survived.

Mummy portraits have been found in all parts of Egypt, but they are especially common in the Faiyum Basin, particularly from Hawara and Antinoopolis, hence the common name. "Faiyum Portraits" should therefore be thought of as a stylistic, rather than a geographic, description. While painted Cartonnage mummy cases date back to pharaonic times, the Faiyum mummy portraits were an innovation dating to the time of the Roman occupation of Egypt.

They date to the Roman period, from the late 1st century BC or the early 1st century AD onwards. It is not clear when their production ended, but recent research suggests the middle of the 3rd century.


I couldn't find anything very useful about the history of Coptic monasticism in the Faiyum - there are photographs and bits and pieces of information but nothing detailed. This seems surprising to me, as some very famous Coptic saints are said to have come from the Faiyum, and there is a long tradition of Coptic monasticism in the area.


UCLA Fayum Field School

Reports for three seasons of survey and excavation in the Fayum by the UCLA, who run a field school for Egyptian archaeologists. This is seriously well worth a look if you want to get a feel for how this sort of field operation works. The seasons covered are 2002-2004 inclusive.

Faiyum Tourism (E-C-H-O)

In early September 2005, the Minister of Culture - Farouq Hosni, approved an LE 3 million Egyptian-Italian project to renovate and develop archaeological sites in the area of Medinet Madi, located in Gharaq Depression in the Faiyum. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities said that further excavations would be conducted in the Temple Area, dating to the Middle Kingdom and Ptolemaic period. Hawass added that the aeolian sand presently covering the cemetery adjacent to the temple would be removed, and the whole site would be renovated. This project is expected to be completed within 12 months, and aims at providing the facilities required to put this area on the local and international tourist maps.

The government has launched a development project of the Wadi al-Hitan (aka Wadi Zeuglodon or Whale Valley) Protectorate (nature reserve) in the Wadi Rayyan, Faiyum Governorate. The project aims at placing the area, newly inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, on the eco-tourist map.

The Endangered Faiyum (Geoffrey Tassie)

It is uncertain what form the development of the northern shore of the Faiyum will take, but it is certain that watching briefs are essential for any development in the area. Consultation with archaeological bodies such as the EAIS, the SCA and CultNat are crucial if the destruction of major settlements such as Kom W are to be avoided.

Tragically, it seems that it is already too late for some sites, such as Kom K, that are already in the midst of modern agricultural development projects. Moreover, the bringing of any tourists to the area puts not only the known sites at great risk, but may destroy evidence of sites which are yet to be discovered. Unless the tours are strictly managed and all the tourists are carefully briefed and monitored it could result in lithics and potsherds being removed (which is a criminal offense) by unsuspecting tourists who want a souvenir of their visit. Taking tourists to fragile sites in the Eastern and Western Deserts has resulted in appalling intentional vandalism as well as the careless and harmful handling of rock art. Rather than preserving the past, the opening up of the north shore of the Faiyum to eco-tourism may have the opposite of the desired effect, for it may destroy the very thing that the tourists want to see and archaeologists wish to preserve: the origins of one of the world’s earliest and greatest civilisations.

Lake level changes throughout the prehistory and history of the Faiyum

Archaeologists and geographers at UCL got together with a GIS expert to recreate the lake levels of the Faiyum Depression over a long period of time. The Faiyum's lake was fed by a run-off of the Nile called the Bar Yusef. This means that the lake reflects the Nile's flood levels and its annual fluctuations. This is a super visual indication of the area which could have been settled and farmed in the Faiyum at different times.

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