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Predynastic and Pharaonic Egypt

Tell er-Retaba (Egypt)

Dates: 12-30 April 2007


Dr. Slawomir Rzepka, archaeologist, director of the mission

Dr. Jozef Hudec, archaeologist, deputy director

Dr. Anna Wodzińska, ceramologist

Prof. Vojtech Gajdoš, geophysicist

Dr. Kamil Rozimant, geophysicist

Mahmoud Galal Mokhtar Khattab, SCA inspector

Tell er-Retaba is a New Kingdom fortress sitting astride the route that led through Wadi Tumilat from Egypt to Syro-Palestine. W.M.F Petrie excavated the ruins in 1906, bringing to light the northern and eastern defense walls and leading him to comment: “The mound is not an accumulation of house ruins, as such mounds usually are; but large parts of it only contain a few enclosing walls, and the area seems to have been largely left open, and then gradually filled up with ashes and blown dust” (W.M.F.Petrie, J.G.Duncan, Hyksos and Israelite Cities, London 1906, 28). Other work, before and later (E. Naville, 1885; H. Goedicke, 1977-1981; German survey, 1930; Canadian survey, 1977; SCA excavations, seven times between 1972 and 1997), as well as salvage excavations necessitated by the various waterpipes, power lines and asphalt road built across the site have confirmed the site’s importance in the Pharaonic period, as well as revealing various other features, severely disturbed in the top layers by extensive sebbakhin digging in the past.

Fragment of the casemate structure of Petrie’s Wall 2 (Photo S. Rzepka)
Granary (?) in the center of the fortress (Photo S. Rzepka)

The present Polish-Slovak project aims at reconstructing the history of the settlement from the earliest times through the end of its existence. The first season at the site was devoted therefore to mapping the remains visible on the surface, fieldwalking the entire area and carrying out geophysical prospection using the dipole electromagnetic profiling (DEMP) and electric resistance tomography (ERT) methods. The end effect is a full plan of the site combined with features observed on a satellite photo and the architectural plan published by Petrie in 1906. These works have contributed significantly, clearly positioning the northern defense wall and suggesting places where gates could have existed in these fortifications.

Electrical conductivity map superimposed on a contour map of the site. Clearly visible northern defense wall of the Ramesside fortress (Processing K. Rozimant, S. Rzepka)

Fieldwalking yielded a number of small finds and a total of 608 ceramic sherds (only diagnostic pieces, that is rims, bases, handles, body sherds only for distinctive fabrics), all of which were carefully plotted digitally on a plan of the site. A provisional assessment of this collection by the team’s ceramologist has given a date most probably in the late New Kingdom and Third Intermediate Period/Late Period, confirming Carol Redmount’s dating (On an Egyptian/Asiatic Frontier: An Archaeological History of the Wadi Tumilat, Chicago 1989: 125). Plotting of the finds revealed certain trends, indicating a prevalence of sherds of Eastern imported ware in the northern part of the site, which points to a late New Kingdom date. On the other hand, the eastern part of the site where houses were excavated previously yielded more varied pottery forms, including bread trays, different bowls, jars and large basins typical of the Third Intermediate Period/Late Period. Imported vessels display the range of foreign relations: Greece, the Levant, maybe Cyprus. Further research and excavations should throw more light on this and other subjects.
The stone objects among the finds are in equal part testimony to the extensive trade patterns in the region. The various kinds of stone with the exception of locally quarried limestone, that is, red granite, quartzite, quartz and greywacke, all came to the site from distant places of origin. Other categories represented in the surface collection from the first season at Retaba include artifacts made of faience, copper and shell were also found. Among these is a fragment of a Ptolemaic goblet of small size with a floral pattern on the rim, well known from Egypt and abroad.

Fragment of a Ptolemaic faience vessel (Photo J. Hudec)

[Text based on original report by S. Rzepka, J. Hudec, A. Wodzińska]

S. Rzepka: s.rzepka@wp.pl
J. Hudec: kaorhudc@savba.sk
A. Wodzińska: aniawodzinska@yahoo.com