I have spent the last few weeks working in Egypt at a site called Tell Timai. It’s a Greco-Roman city in the eastern Delta and it’s quickly becoming my second home.
I’ve been lucky enough to have been working at Tell Timai for 3 field seasons, come rain, hail, revolution or military coup. Every year I work with an amazing team of diverse people and learn so much from them.
This year I went from student to junior supervisor, and I was in charge of my own unit of excavation. My friend Colleen was also in her first year of being a junior supervisor and we worked side by side with Hal, who has been my mentor and supervisor since 2011 when we both started at the site for the first time. He kept a watchful eye on proceedings and together, the three of us uncovered the rest of a beautiful Hellenistic house in the north of the tell, which is currently threatened by the proposed construction of a soccer stadium.
In 2010 a magnetometer survey was conducted on a sparsely vegetated and relatively flat portion of the tell. The area was flat due to the activities of the sebbakheen, who take degraded mudbricks to use as fertiliser. This is why this area of the tell is Ptolemaic under the surface, with no evidence for Roman or Islamic occupation, it has been levelled by the sebbakheen. The survey revealed an unmistakeable structure, and work to investigate it began the same year.
In 2011 Hal, myself and two other students, Isabel and Melissa, further uncovered a portion of the building, revealing distinct rooms with distinct functions, several vessels broken in situ, and a hoard of 13 coins buried under the floor. We think they were placed as an offering, in the hopes of prosperity for whoever lived in or used the building.
This year, with a mammoth effort from Hal, Jimoh, Kelsey, Colleen and Nora, as well as Said, Shegawi and Mahmoud with our local workers, we uncovered the rest of the building. My unit, N7-9, contained an oven, built into a bench in a sublevel of the house. Leading down to this room were three steps and a stone which would have acted as a hinge for a wooden door. It was sort of eerie to be able to walk down the steps and place utensils (whether they be bowls and plates or trowels and dust pans) on the bench near the oven, just as people had done 2000 years ago.
The big mystery of my unit was the double wall. We found two mudbrick walls running parallel very close to each other and densely packed with broken ceramics.
Initial interpretation was that the outside wall was built to support something like a second floor addition to the building, or an external staircase. It was also thought that it could be a deliberate dump, or a way of building windows. The plot thickened when Nick the ceramicist informed us that 95% of the ceramics in the gap were from broken bread moulds. If you were just packing your wall to make it stronger, why would you use almost exclusively bread moulds? The mystery is yet to be solved, but I did have a dream while I was in Egypt, that I went back in time and explored the house. The internal wall was only about waist height, and the external wall held the roof up. The gap in between was a place to throw broken bread moulds from the oven in the next room, which was servicing something like a café outside, where people would come to eat bread and drink wine.
It’s possible, but I don’t think I’ll be referencing my own subconscious in the final report. Time to do some research into Egyptian house building techniques!