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False-colour Landsat satellite image of the Nile Valley, Amarna slightly left of centre. North is to the left.

Middle Egypt Survey Project 2004

Contents

Acknowledgements
Methodology
General survey results
Site Preservation in Middle Egypt
Survey results: free-standing tells
Survey Results: Tells beneath towns, cemeteries and in the Napoleonic survey Major finds in survey
Ceramic overview
Conclusions
Further reading

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Zahi Hawass, Director General of the Supreme Council for Antiquities in Egypt, and Mr. Samir Anis, Chief Inspector for all of Middle Egypt, for their support of this project.   The project could not have succeeded without the support and enthusiasm of the local Supreme Council for Egyptian Antiquities office, especially Inspector Attah Makramallah, who accompanied me during the survey.  Mr. Yahia Zahariya, head of the Mallawi office, Chief Inspector Helmi Hussein, and, all were very helpful with various aspects of my work.  My driver, Ha'adi Adu el Rachman and my policeman Ahmed Mohamed Osman made it possible for me to visit nearly every site on my survey list. Barry Kemp, Field Director of the Tell el-Amarna Project, encouraged this survey and allowed the use of his excavation house for post-survey processing of materials. For their generous funding of this project and support, the Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Preservation is to be thanked.

Methodology

This survey used Landsat and Corona satellite imagery to locate 70 archaeological sites in the survey area, which were then visited in a major survey. Without previous satellite imagery analysis, it is doubtful that the same results could have been achieved, due to a large survey area (450 kilometers square). Middle Egypt is an area that has not been surveyed with the same intensity as other regions in Egypt, especially certain parts of the Delta and Luxor.   The general lack of knowledge regarding existing sites on the west bank made it ideal for applying satellite remote sensing analysis in locating new and "lost" places of archaeological interest. 


Landsat satellite image used during the Middle Egypt survey
Landsat satellite image used during the Middle Egypt survey

After the initial computer analysis, each area was mapped that registered as an archaeological site.  Using modern site names, the Napoleonic survey and other place name studies, only 30 places which had appeared as potential archaeological sites in the Landsat and Corona images seemed to be genuine (a success rate of 50 percent for the initial analysis); actual ground-truthing would test the validity of the remaining 30+ sites.  Though other material from the west bank suggested that sites would be very late in date, it would be important to determine if any archaeological material remained from Pharaonic times and its nature and relationship to surrounding major sites such as Tell el-Amarna, Ashmunein and later sites like Kom el-Nana.

Close-up photo of the survey region. The red represents agricultural areas and the grey, towns.
Close-up photo of the survey region. The red represents agricultural areas and the grey, towns.

General Survey Results

Using a GPS to determine exact eastings and northings, a detailed site location log was created which would record site size, extent as well as any material culture remains.  Sites were visited in a systematic fashion, and locals were interviewed to gain site destruction histories.  Diagnostic sherds were collected for drawing and analysis where ceramic evidence existed (on 27% of the sites). Comparing the satellite images to modern maps allowed the exact placement of each potential site; subsequent location with GPS points made it possible to determine remaining site size.   This was important as many sites existed within small sections of large cities and towns, and without the precise coordinates of the site from the satellite images up to a week could have been spend in each town searching for them.  "Sites" were determined by the presence of archaeological material such as columns, capitals and column bases, as well as sharp increases in surface height.

Only one site out of the 70 surveys proved impossible to reach; this being due to no bridge across a lengthy canal.   Results from the ground-truthing survey have shown the increased archaeological importance of the area between Malawi and Dairut, namely during the Late Roman Period.

Satellite image of the survey area. The red areas represent archaeological places of interest and the circles mark the locations of the sites surveyed in the 2004 season. Satellite image of the survey area. The red areas represent archaeological places of interest and the circles mark the locations of the sites surveyed in the 2004 season.

Site Preservation in Middle Egypt

Overall site preservation on the west bank, especially with regards to architectural material and tells beneath towns, showed that long standing continuous site occupation could work to safeguard archaeological material.  10% of the sites visited represented open tells, 20% could be found beneath modern cemeteries, 13 % beneath modern agriculture and 63% below towns (6% of the sites had multiple classifications). 

Survey Results: Free standing tells

One of the rarities in Middle Egypt is the existence of free standing archaeological tell sites: out of 70 sites visited only six could be categorized as such. The largest of the free-standing tells visited, Kom el-Ahmar, is located on the desert edge. Once, the site existed as a massive mound, some 1500x1500 meters, but now tells measuring 400x400m remain in an area now protected by the Supreme Council for Antiquities.  The second largest free-standing tell, Tell Sheik Masara, is located in the midst of agricultural fields.  The actual size dimensions are 80mx80m and up to four meters tall at its highest point.  Hod el-Hofra,  is located to south of Nazlet Tanda, measuring only 30x40 meters and rises 1/2-1m above the sugarcane fields which obscure it from sight.  The dense mud brick debris which makes up the remaining core of the tell is covered in date palms, with only a few sherds left on the surface and in the sections. In past times, the tell measured three meters tall, and five to six feddans in size according to the local men who showed the site to us.  Another site that at one time must have been much larger in size is Nag el-Sheikh Shibeka, a 100x150m Late Roman Period cemetery and settlement. Surrounded by fields reclaimed from the desert and the desert itself, this ovular tell rises three to four meters above the fields and oriented North-South. Some sites have very little remaining, especially the site of Kom el-Rekab.. A 40x20m part of the tell remains in the fields, while another section 100m x 5m x 1/2 remains as a road extending to the north. The site of Tell el-Sebak, also located along the desert edge, has long been covered over by sand in the past 40 years.  The former tell measures 500x150m, and extends east to west.

Survey Results: Tells beneath towns, cemeteries and in the Napoleonic survey

The survey found a majority of archaeological sites beneath towns; 49 or 70% of the sites in the survey can be placed in this category.  Out of the 49 sites beneath towns, 22 contained no architecture and 27 did. Tells beneath cemeteries composed 13% of the total sites within the survey. Some cemeteries appeared on tells which appeared as leveled, while other cemeteries lay atop massive tells. Out of all the towns listed in the Napoleonic survey (which corresponded to my survey area), 27 out 36 towns listed had archaeological remains beneath them.  Combined with then known tells, the survey listed a total of 39 places out of the 70 from at least Late Roman times, but only recognized 17% as archaeological sites.

Major Finds in Survey

At Ezbet el-Malik, many fired red bricks could be observed in the sections beneath the town, along with ancient walls and lots of ceramic material. The tell itself is four meters above the surrounding fields, where many bricks and pot sherds litter the area.  In Nazlet el-Badramin is a tell measuring two to three meters tall, with the tell running beneath a large portion of the town. In the town, I found 15 limestone blocks, limestone column base partially in the soil, 1 column measuring 3.72 meters long, .4 meters wide, one decorated column base .5 meters long and one limestone capital decorated in floral motifs.  Mallawi represents one of the largest archaeological sites found during the 2004 survey season. The rise in the surface is quite apparent, and there are architectural fragments of all types littering the surface: three limestone column bases, capitals, columns of all sizes, two limestone basins, and many limestone blocks, as well as what appears to be a statue base with worn down feet. The most striking feature of Mallawi is the Sheikh Josef Mosque, whose lower interior is composed entirely of ancient architectural fragments.  Supposedly these fragments come from Antinoöpolis, Ashmunein and Amarna; and there are eight pink granite capitals found that appeared to be from the Amarna period. In total there are 64 columns with many different capitols.

Interior of the Sheikh Josef Mosque in Mallawi showing re-used columns.
Interior of the Sheikh Josef Mosque in Mallawi showing re-used columns.

Ismu el-Arus has the largest preserved definable archaeological feature found during the Middle Egypt survey. The area is roughly 100x100m in size is all that remains one the once expansive tell. There is evidence of limestone paving, still in-situ, 5cm below the surface. Mudbrick buildings are visible on the surface, as well as the remains of a mud brick enclosure wall, some three meters thick and one meter tall, to the south and west.   The remaining walls of the complex are raised slightly.  It appears to be some type of large complex, with rooms or chambers of 10mx10m, covering the majority of the exposed area. 

The site of Dalga is the largest of all the sites visited in the survey . This massive tell extends beneath central part of Dalga. There are large numbers of blocks visible; in total we located three pink granite columns, four limestone column bases, three limestone columns, nine limestone blocks, two capitals, two querns, and nine decorated blocks. In a three meter deep recess next to the modern Coptic church, a Coptic church dating to 400AD(?) can be seen. Even during Late Roman times the site would have been significant, and probably a major center for commerce in the region.

Column shaft found during the survey at Umm Qummus
Column shaft found during the survey at Umm Qummus

Ceramic Overview

On sites where large amounts of ceramic material remained, such as Kom el Ahmar and Ismu el Arus, sherds were collected that appeared the most diagnostic (i.e., decorated or painted), or earlier than the Late Roman Period.  Initial analysis revealed that some sherds thought to be modern could possibly be medieval in date or Islamic period; helpful for showing the continuous occupation of some sites. Many types of ceramic vessels appeared in the survey, including African Red Slip ware, Egyptian fine wares: Aswan, Egyptian red slip A and B, numerous course wares, several types of imported amphorae and numerous bowls, dishes, storage jars and cooking pots. Unusual sherds drawn include a number of blue and green faience vessel fragments from Kom el-Ahmar. The earliest ceramic material came from the site of Kom el-Ahmar, where the survey located three "early" sherds: a Levantine IB amphora, a Ptolemaic cooking pot and an early Roman bowl. Sites that could be seen largely beneath fields or had not been entirely covered over by towns had the greatest concentration of ceramic remains.  Out of seven sites beneath fields, five had pottery, while five out of the six open tells had ceramic material.  Nine sites below towns had some ceramic evidence; some towns (El Masara, Ezbet el-Malik, Ismu el-Arus) could be dated to the Late Roman Period with certainty, while others have remains from later and require additional analysis.  Overall, 243 diagnostic sherds were drawn from the surveying efforts.  Analysis of the sherds will give a more complete picture of the history of the west bank during the Late Roman Period, which up to now has not been understood due to a lack of proper survey.
Figure 6 near here
Caption: Ceramics from the site of Kom el-Ahmar, which date to the Late, Ptolemaic and Roman periods. This was the earliest material collected during the survey.

Conclusions

Remote sensing and subsequent ground-truthing revealed a wealth of information about Middle Egypt during Late Roman Period times and earlier; future coring work will show how many newly discovered sites date to earlier time periods and how they could potentially relate to Tell el-Amarna, Ashmunein and Deir el Bersha.  The survey had an overall success rate of 98% in terms of locating sites using both the remote sensing analysis, maps and questioning locals as to the exact locations of archaeological sites;  using only the remote sensing would have given a success rate of approximately  95%.

Seven new archaeological sites made up a part of the survey; out of the seven new sites, one can be found beneath fields and had not been known previously, thusly above-ground remote sensing analysis could not have located it.  Sand has covered the sites of Tell Sabbaq and Tell el-Ghull: strange spectral signatures denoting potential sites could be found in the general vicinity of the tells, yet the actual GPS points proved to be one kilometer off in both cases. Additional remote sensing analysis will be required for these and several other sites whose coordinates were not exact.

Long-term plans involve a survey of a much larger region in the Nile Valley, and using coring at new sites as well as in the cultivation areas to gain a sedimentation record for the Nile Valley.  At present, this record does not exist, and would help us to understand overall settlement patterns during different periods and the accompanying environmental trends. With future work, we will gain a much better understanding of the archaeological significance of the west bank, and how it relates to the east bank and other parts of the Nile Valley.  So much new information has been revealed archaeologically about the area in between Akhenaten's boundary stele, with little time and money spent in relation to other major surveys in different parts of the world. Given the large number of sites found in later times, and given the size of such sites as Tell el-Amarna and Ashmunein, a number of smaller towns, villages and cemeteries must have previously existed. During the Late Roman Period, the area was a center for commerce and trade, based on preliminary analysis of the architecture and the ceramic remains. How it can be perceived during earlier times must wait for future work.

References

Parcak, S. forthcoming. Results from the 2004 Middle Egypt Survey. The Egyptian Museum Bulletin.

Parcak, S. 2004. Finding Egypt's lost sites using satellite remote sensing. International Conference for Remote Sensing Archaeology. Beijing, 136-40.

 
 

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