The Fayum Project

Season 2011


Our work in the Fayum started on November 19 and ended December 17, 2011. The purpose of the Fayum project is to gain an understanding of the landscape north and east of Lake Qarun and specifically of the land and water use in the Fayum over time in relation to the development of agriculture, as well as preserve and present the results of our research. In 2011 no permission was given for excavation. The team was, therefore, smaller than usual and work concentrated on survey, conservation and site management.


The total station survey of the remains visible at the surface at Karanis/Kom Aushim was finalized during this season. The plan of Karanis has been drawn in AutoCAD (see Figure 1). Comparison with the plans published by the University of Michigan in 1979, based on work finalized in 1934, dramatically shows how serious mud brick sites decay under influence of wind and occasional precipitation. Backfilling is the best means through which these vulnerable building remains can be preserved.

Karanis map

Figure 1: The plan of Karanis (drawing by URU Project/H. Barnard)

Site Management at Karanis

The Karanis Site Management project is an ongoing effort of research, publication and presentation to promote the preservation of the Greco-Roman site of Karanis and provide proper visitor management and information. This season two major components were the continuation of the degradation research of the exposed mud-brick buildings, and the development of Beyt Sobek into a visitor's center.

Degradation Research and Conservation

An inventory and condition report was made for a group of buildings excavated by the University of Michigan in the 1930's. Based on this report future intervention will be proposed, aiming to avoid further collapse of these buildings. For each wall the present condition and the immediate and long term threats were inventoried (see Figure 2). This will form the basis for proposals of preservational intervention.

wall condition report

Figure 2: Condition report of the East wall exterior of Michigan excavated House C50/51.

In addition detailed research and analysis was done on the various mortars and plasters preserved on the archeological site of Karanis/ Kom Aushim. First the characteristic material and technological features of the investigated mortars and plasters were examined in situ and sampling areas were recorded with photographs and differential GPS. The samples were mostly taken from fragments that had fallen through natural decay. In the excavation house the plaster and mortar fragments were studied visually and with a microscope, both the surface and cross section. The binding media and mineral components were identified through wet chemical staining methods and in selected cases by technical imaging methods. The results were incorporated in a database that include information about the archaeological context, the condition and the ancient technology of the preparation and application. Recommendations for conservation treatment of the studied plaster and mortar were included as well.

After the revolution some damage was done to the site, of which the Permanent Committee of the SCA has been informed. We have spent considerable time and energy backfilling robber trenches, both in the excavation area where we worked in 2010, and in an area excavated previously by the University of Michigan.

Visitor's Center Beyt Sobek

A collapsed section of the old excavation house, built between 1924 and 1934 by the University of Michigan, was cleared and two rooms plus a covered walkway between two courtyards were built. Furthermore the roofs over six spaces were replaced. Electrical wiring was renewed before the walls were (re-)plastered. The building does not have electricity at present. In a future season we hope to procure funding to install solar panels, but in anticipation the rooms that are finished have been prepared for when electricity becomes available.

Apart from work on the building the team created an exhibit of 23 panels which explain the history of the house, the history of Karanis and the work of our project (see Figure 3). This is the first phase of an exhibit which will include information on other historical, archaeological and natural sites in the Fayum. The exhibit, which is part of a long term plan, presented to the SCA in 2009, does not contain any objects from Karanis. It will gradually be expanded whenever further rooms of the building have been restored and become available.

Panels in Beyt Sobek

Figure 3: Panels in Beyt Sobek