Mendes Preliminary Report (2013)


Donald B. Redford

ISBN 978-0-9811785-6-1

The 22nd expedition to Tel er-Rub’a (Mendes) occupied the period between May 23 and June 30, 2013. As in earlier years it was sponsored and funded by the Pennsylvania State University, to whom we offer our sincere thanks. In Egypt we tender our gratitude to Dr. Muhammed Isma’in Khaled, director of the office for foreign missions; Mr. Salim Boghdadi SCA director for Daqahlieh province, and our on-site inspector, Mr. Sayed[1].
Our goals this season were two-fold: 1. to continue excavation of the First Intermediate Period houses in Field AL, and 2. to investigate the rectilinear outline of a building due east of Temple T[2]. Additional areas of possible excavation were postponed because of lack of time and money to carry through the work. Nevertheless some gains have been made in interpreting the distribution of economies throughout the north-west temenos.

Field AL

In the early 90s of the last century, with the identification of the tomb of Neferites I (399- 393 BC)[3], it was decided to excavate a sequence of units beginning with the aforementioned tomb, and preceding westward the the great temple of Ba-neb-djed to establish the stratigraphy. Excavations had progressed halfway by 1995, and had revealed a more complicated stratigraphic history than had been foreseen. Unit AL-K, for example, had immediately uncovered the remains of a large lime-burning kiln, of a sort well known to the east and south of the main temple, and dating nom the period when local tombs and installations built of limestone had been pillaged for their lime[4]. The kiln’s foundations had been sunk through earlier strata to a depth of 2 meters, disrupting the sequence and playing havoc with stratigraphy. The kiln was sectioned, and appears to date to early Roman times (though this is little more than an educated guess, in the absence of numismatic evidence.)

The field AL had been a continuation of the line of units originating in the royal necropolis. The surface here showed an east-west declevity, suggesting the presence of a tomb, and it appeared as though some kind of an approach had been inserted here. Field AL has been apportioned among 7 excavation units: AL-K, AL-K(s), AL-J (central, north and south), AL-H and AL-H (S). To date, however, no intact tomb has been detected, although a worn sarcophagus at surface in the area might argue the sometime presence of such an interment. Two basic phases have come to light in each unit, AL-K being the only unit to date to reveal a third, underlying, phase.

Phase I.

To a depth of 1.50–2.00 m. in all units there occurred an overburden of mud-brick and earth debris, heavily larded with pottery sherds. Here and there slopes and conical piles of fine silt interrupted the stria of coarser earth. AL-H(S) contained a few, mostly shattered, limestone blocks, pulled fiom the south down an incline, but elsewhere only scattered small pieces of limestone occurred in some loci. Scarcely 8 meters to the south of Field AL the ground rose considerably to support the building labelled AK-E and tentatively identified as the “palace” of the Hor-nakht family[5].
It is tempting to interpret the debris from Phase I in Field AL as results of the demolition of AK-E in the Persian destruction of 343 BC. An east-west depression, possibly a water-course, running along a line north of AK-E, would account for the sharp decline of 2 meters on which Field AL was sited. If the mud-brick and stone debris of Phase I can with confidence be identified as coming from the AK-E building, it may be that the piles of silt (see above) attest to the sometime presence of a canal and turning basin.

The ceramic content of Phase I has yet to be studied closely, but a preliminary statement is certainly possible. Chronological parameters encompass the early Saite Period, perhaps with an occasional nod in the direction of the Third Intermediate Period, and the end of the 3rd Cent. BC. Hellenistic “markers” (drinking cups and less frequently cooking pots) occur sporadically in a few “upper” loci; and probably indicate the period of clean-up which took place around 300 BC, prior to the inspection of Ptolemy I[6]. If the debris of Field AL represents the scattered ruins of AK-E, then the pottery ratios in the average loci should approximate one another. In AK-E the average locus would contain a small number of simple jars, vertical neck jars, a large hole-mouth jar, one or two bread platters, perhaps a specialized form, and many conical drinking cups or “scoops” often at a ratio of 3:1 vis-a-vis jars. The loci in Field AL contained pretty much the same repertoire, without the preponderance of drinking cups.

At the angle at which the north baulk of AL-K meets the east baulk of AL-J, a depression occurs in the stratigraphy. It was at this point that nearly a dozen shawabtis (many in fragments) of the deputy high-priest Nesu-ba-neb-djed were found in our initial excavations[7]. It is tempting to postulate the sometime presence of a limestone tomb in the aforesaid depression, now wholly robbed out, belonging to this worthy whose floruit dates to the end of the Saite period[8].

Phase II.

At approximately 7.90 meters a.s.l. the rubble stopped abruptly and the texture of the soil, now lacking the admixttue of pebbles, became finer and moister. For the first time stray sherds of F.l.P. date began to intrude into scattered loci. In unit AL-K this change in soil texture and content was heralded by the presence of several whole wine-jars of a type indicative of the interface between the late Old Kingdom and the F.I.P. Under a very shallow series of stria (no more than 25–30 cm. deep), a domestic walling-system oriented to the points ofthe compass, was brought to light. The mud-bricks were of the “private” variety, 32 x 16 cm., but most of the walls were thin and insubstantial. The houses had undergone a single period of repair/addition before abandomnent. AL-J(S) and AL-H(S) were positioned so that they intercepted an east-west street 2.50 m. wide, with parts of two houses on the north and 4 rooms of a third on the south. At the west end the street in its final stage of existence had been narrowed, then turned into a cul-de-sac, by a thin wall one brick thick slanting across its course. A close examination of artefactual content of the rooms promises rich rewards in the study of room syntax. In one room in AL-H for example, the lithic content accounted for over 70% of all lithics found in the area!

Phase II may have ended in something more than simple abandonment. At widespread points a thin coating of ash seems to overly surfaces and human remains (see below). In AL-K the fire was hot enough to discolor the brickwork. In light of the manner in which the Old Kingdom met its end at Mendes[9], the evidence of firing may not be fortuitous. Since the ash is by no means excessive, the ruins may have been left open to the wind and other elements.

In the Field AL, so far excavated, over a dozen interments were recovered at the level of Phase II[10]. The question arises as to whether these burials were inserted after the houses were abandoned and lying derelict, or whether they are roughly contemporary with the occupancy. In AL-K three burials (all with head to north) seem to have been placed in shallow pits penetrating the underlying Old Kingdom strata (Phase III). In AL-H three adults and one sub-adult were crammed into a box-like “container,” of rectilinear shape, lined with a slender mud-brick wall, which seems to have been let into the underlying room. All the burials in Field AL strikingly resemble those of the same date on the west side of the main temple, in Field AJ-E, in that they are supine, covered with reed matting and contain few if any grave goods. The one exception is burial 3 in AL-K, that of an adult female, which contained 17 F.I.P. pots (on the west side of the corpse)[11]

Phase II can be identified as a relatively brief (perhaps less than a century) domestic occupation superimposed on the last phase of the Old Kingdom. It may have terminated in a conflagration. At certain points towards the close of Phase II, or more likely after its abandomnent, poor burials were inserted just beneath surface. In this practice Field AL parallels other parts of the site, like AJ-A/B and AJ -E where similar interments have been exposed (see below).

Phase III.

In the current excavations Phase III was encountered only in AL-K. The baulk separating AL-K from AL-J to the west shows that the domestic level of the F IP houses is approximately 40 to 50 cm. above the tops of the installations of Phase III. These date to the end of the Old Kingdom, and are reported on below by Gregory Mumford, the excavator.

The excavations within AL-K begun by Susan Redford (1992) and continued by this writer (1993–1994), discovered the remnants of First Intermediate Burials and Occupation ( c. 2181 – 1985 B.C.; Dyn. 7–11), which had been set within an earlier, Late Old Kingdom (Dyn. 5–6) mastaba field. The earliest phase within square K contains portions of 2 small, late Old Kingdom mastabas …. The eastern mastaba (no. 1) is 4.3 meters wide at the top, up to 5.2 meters wide at its base, by at least six meters in length (both the northern and southern ends extend beyond the current boundaries of square K), and is preserved to a height of two meters. The exterior walls both slant inwards at their tops, enclosing two longtitudinal, parallel vaults which extend the length of the mastaba. The exterior walls contained the remnants of a 1 cm. thick coating of mud and grass plaster, which had been burnt red to a depth of 1–2 mm. Both interior vaults of Mastaba no. 1 were built above a set of parallel, vertical inner walls, which had been set into the 3.2 meter wide, longtitudinal space between the exterior walls. Vault no. l was excavated to a point where part of its ceiling had collapsed, and yielded a body set within the remnants of a reed(?) coffin, with three pottery jars placed beyond the head (to the north).

The south-east corner of a western mastaba (?) (No. 2) was also revealed, and had been partly cut by a later Third Intermediate period pit. The plaster coating on both its exterior and interior walls had also suffered extensive burning, being burnt red to a depth of l–2 mm. On the exterior wall face to a depth of 2–3 mm. (burnt plaster). Possibly as a result of this intensive burning the eastem wall of Mastaba no. 2 had seriously buckled outwards. Both Mastabas no. 1 and no. 2 were connected by a thin burn layer surface. The narrow interior space of Mastaba no. 2, which was available for excavation, yielded multiple layers of accumulated debris with a small pottery jar and a bread mould. This western mastaba also yielded a small, exterior clay bin with pottery vessels, and a dividing wall between it and the eastem mastaba.

The burn surface between the two mastabas yielded three smashed pottery jars and one bowl (late Old Kingdom), above which lay 5 to 6 layers of debris with potsherds from bread moulds, bowls, jars, platters and other vessels. Above the sixth layer of debris the northem end of a small mud-brick mastaba (No. 3) was revealed. This third mastaba was about 1 meter high, and was roofed with a longtitudinal barrel vault. This mastaba was subsequently covered by accumulating ash and soil debris layers with First Intermediate Period potsherds.

G. Mumford

  1. Our staff numbered the following: D.B. Redford, director; A.F. Redford, co-director; A. Hirsch, metrologist; A. Lopinto, bioanthropologist; V. Woelfel, illustrator; S. Lopizzo, registrar; J. Newman, J. Galczynski, V. Agudelo, L. Flores, E. Palatics, L. Murray-Walker – all site supervisors.  ↩

  2. Temple T, under excavation for 5 years, will be published in Delta Reports 2, which is shortly to appear.  ↩

  3. The Excavations at Mendes I. The Royal Necropolis, Leiden, 2004.  ↩

  4. The precise date of these depredations can only be guessed at. The disposition of the surviving kilns, down-wind from the main temple, suggests the latter was still in use of some sort when the ravaging of the site was under weigh. The pillaging may have extended over centuries and begtm with minor buildings and tombs. Certainly in early Mamluk times Alkashandi describes the main temple virtually intact, with a pylon gate above which is the tell-tale hint of a fired brick look-out (P. MacKay, Mendes II {Brooklyn, 1982}, 6). One wonders whether the major quarrying of the temple took place after.  ↩

  5. Gomaa, Die Libyschen Fürstenrtümer des Deltas (Wiesbaden, 1974), 74–89; D.B. Redford, City of the Ram-Man. The Story of Ancient Mendes (Princeton, 2010), 95–110.  ↩

  6. W. Clarysse, “A Royal Journey in the Delta in 257 B.C., and the Date of the Mendes Stela” CdÉ 82 (2007), 201–6.  ↩

  7. “Interim Report on the Second Campaign of Excavations at Mendes (1992),” JSSEA XXI/XXII (1991–1992), 8.  ↩

  8. I am indebted to the late Professor H. De Meulenaere for sharing his thoughts on this priest and his date.  ↩

  9. City ofthe Ram-man, 46–50  ↩

  10. See the report of A. Lopinto.  ↩

  11. See G. Mumford, “A First Intermediate Period Cemetery and Late Old Kingdom Mastaba Field at Mendes,” The Akhenaten Temple Project Newsletter, May, 1996. (Drawing in The Akhenaten Temple Project Newsletter, June, 1998, fig. 5).  ↩

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