Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt

(ORDO NEWS) — Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed a large burial structure and a number of Graeco-Roman burials at Fayum. They found grave goods and papyri with Greek and Demotic texts, as well as mummy fragments with Fayum portraits dated to the second half of the 2nd century AD.

The findings are reported by the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities of Egypt and described in an article in Bulletin de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale.

The Fayum oasis is located about 100 kilometers southwest of Cairo, in a natural depression of about 2,000 square kilometers.

The oasis has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and its economic and cultural development began at the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC, when, under the pharaohs of the 12th dynasty, a new capital of the country, the city of Iti-Taui, was built in the Fayum region.

Thanks to the canals and dams built at that time, the water of Lake Merida, connected to the Nile, began to be used to irrigate a large area, and the oasis turned into the richest region of Egypt.

The next heyday of Fayum fell on the Hellenistic and Roman eras. Due to the favorable climate and fertility, the first rulers of the Ptolemaic dynasty were already interested in it as an important source of income, and in order to expand agricultural land, they began major hydraulic works here.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus (285-246 BC) paid particular attention to Fayum. He renamed both the nome and its capital Crocodilopolis (ancient Egyptian Shedet) in honor of his sister and wife Arsinoe II, and founded a number of cleruchias in Fayum – settlements for soldiers who were provided with land plots.

Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 2
Map of excavations on the territory of the Fayum oasis

Foreign artisans and merchants began to settle in the actively developing area. Most of them were Greeks, but Syrians, Jews and other immigrants also settled in Fayoum. In 30 BC, Egypt became part of the Roman state.

Fayum became part of the province of Arcadia, and a Roman population appeared in it: veterans, merchants, officials. As a result, this area became one of the centers of cultural synthesis, which was clearly manifested, for example, in burial practice.

The descendants of immigrants adopted the ancient Egyptian tradition of embalming the dead, but instead of a voluminous mask, the mummy’s face was covered with a portrait painted on a board or on fabric primed with glue.

These images are in the Greco-Roman style and are often very realistic; they were called “Fayum portraits” – it was here that they were found most often.

Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 3
Philadelphia Necropolis Site

A large number of Fayum portraits were found at the end of the 19th century in the necropolis of Philadelphia, one of the first settlements founded under Ptolemy II. Its ruins lie near the modern village of Kom el-Kharaba el-Kebir (or Kom Darb Gerza), a few kilometers from the city of El Fayoum.

Archaeologists have discovered in the settlement the remains of regular buildings, a temple, public buildings and a pottery workshop, as well as a whole archive of papyri that belonged to an official named Zenon.

Philadelphia existed for a long time, until the 5th century AD, and, unfortunately, the age of the portraits from its necropolis is difficult to establish, since their discovery was not clearly documented, and these monuments came into scientific circulation from a private collection.

Excavations in the necropolis have not been carried out for more than 100 years, and only since 2016 scientists have been constantly working here.

Egyptian researchers from the archaeological mission, led by the representative of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities Basem Gehad, finally had the luck to make a long-awaited find in the Philadelphia necropolis – Fayum portraits in the context of other artifacts.

The portraits come from three catacomb tombs carved into the rock mass, the interiors of which are lined with raw brick. In addition to graves with a large number of various implements, scientists unearthed the ruins of structures with stone vaults and the remains of a large building.

The floors in it were decorated with polychrome tiles laid on a colored lime mortar, and on the south side a colonnade adjoined the building, from which the bases of four columns remained.

Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 4
Remains of a building with a tiled floor
Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 5
The interior of the catacomb tomb
Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 6
Ruins of the vaulted tomb

Only one of the portraits is relatively well preserved, as all the tombs have been visited by robbers. It depicts a young woman holding a vessel in one hand (probably with incense) and a flower garland in the other.

A real similar garland was found nearby, and an examination of the skull fragments under the portrait confirmed that the remains belonged to a woman who died between the ages of 17 and 22.

According to the hairstyle depicted in the portrait, scientists dated the burial to approximately the second half of the 2nd century.

Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 7
Fayum portrait from the Philadelphia necropolis depicting a young woman
Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 8
Fragment of a Fayum portrait from the Philadelphia necropolis

From the other three portraits, only fragments have survived, but in terms of stylistic features they are similar to the surviving image and, like it, were applied in tempera. It began to spread from the middle of the 2nd century, replacing the early wax painting using the encaustic technique.

Findings in one of the tombs speak in favor of the supposed dating: a bronze coin minted during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (117-138) and a piece of papyrus. It turned out to be a receipt for agricultural seeds written in the middle of the 2nd century.

Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 9
Bronze coin of Emperor Hadrian
Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 10
Fragment of a flower garland

Focusing on the descriptions of the Fayum portraits found in the Philadelphia necropolis in the 19th century, scientists came to the conclusion that they come from the same catacomb tombs common in the area.

Therefore, the dating of new finds is especially important: it will help to establish the age of similar images from the old collection.

In other parts of the necropolis, archaeologists have found papyri written in Greek and Demotic (Late Egyptian) languages, ceramic vessels and burials arranged in the traditional Egyptian manner (in anthropomorphic sarcophagi with a face mask) or in Greek wooden coffins.

One of these coffins contained a rare terracotta figurine of Isis-Aphrodite, a syncretic deity revered in Greco-Roman times.

Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 11
Anthropomorphic coffin lid from the Philadelphia necropolis
Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 12
Anthropomorphic coffin with an overlay for a mummy from a necropolis in Philadelphia
Archaeologists have unearthed burials with Fayum portraits in Egypt 13
Rectangular coffin from the Philadelphia necropolis

Online:

Contact us: [email protected]

Our Standards, Terms of Use: Standard Terms And Conditions.