Carol A. Redmount, University of California, Berkeley


The ancient site of El Hibeh, occupied from the Third Intermediate Period to possibly early Islamic times, lies on the east bank of the Nile in northern Middle Egypt, about 55 km south of Beni Suef. The University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) has been working at the site since 2001. In their 2005 field season, the Berkeley team focused on three major activities: salvage excavation of disturbed Late Roman/Coptic burials outside the city gate, excavation of an apparently industrial Third Intermediate Period complex on the low-lying western edge of the site, and geoarchaeological investigations, especially of mud brick at the site. In addition, the team, continued its site survey and mapping work and its study of material recovered in earlier field seasons.


El Hibeh, ancient Egyptian Teudjoi and Greek Ankyronpolis, lies about 55 km south of Beni Suef, on the east bank of the Nile (Figure 1).

Occupation at El Hibeh began and seems to have been most extensive during the Third Intermediate Period,  and the site is very important for our understanding of the archaeology and history of this era. It continued to be occupied into Byzantine and possibly early Islamic times. El Hibeh is also well known as the reported find spot of a number of important papyri, most notably the Tale of Wenamon and the Petition of Petiese (Papyrus Rylands IX), which appeared on the antiquities market in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.1  In addition, Sheshonq I, first king of the Twenty-Second Dynasty, built a small limestone temple at Hibeh to a local version of the god Amun.2 This temple is mentioned in the Petition of Petiese and still survives today, although its condition has deteriorated because of the fluctuating water table at the site and the poor quality of the local limestone from which it was constructed. El Hibeh is, like virtually all sites in Egypt today, endangered by a combination of factors, in this case the rising water table of the Nile, the increased planting and irrigation of local agriculture, the spreading land claims of the villages north and south of the site, and the completion of the new highway from Cairo on the east side of the Nile. Pressure on the site from these sources is already serious and will continue to worsen.
The site of El Hibeh consists of two main parts: an imposing walled town mound; and a series of outlying cemeteries with numerous burials, mostly disturbed, cut into the desert surrounding the site. Previous archaeological work was undertaken dominantly in the earlier part of the twentieth century. The pioneering Egyptian Egyptologist and archaeologist Ahmed Kamal was the first to work at Hibeh; he published his results in 1901.3 Kamal was followed by the Englishmen Grenfell and Hunt, who worked at Hibeh in 1902 and 1903, recovering enough papyri from mummy cartonnage to generate two monographs.4 The Austrian Junker excavated burials at the site for three days in 1911.5   Ranke conducted a German excavation at the site and completely excavated Sheshonq I’s modest limestone temple and explored some Graeco-Roman houses on the town mound in 1913 (trial excavation) and 1914 (main excavation).6 An Italian mission followed in 1934 and 1935, excavating still more burials and some additional Graeco-Roman houses on the tell mound.7 These earlier archaeological excavations concentrated heavily on mortuary material and/or the Sheshonq temple. With occasional exception, they were largely unscientific and only incompletely published. Almost fifty years would pass before another expedition would arrive at El Hibeh, the 1980 American mission from the University of Washington, co-directed by Robert Wenke and Cynthia Sheikholeslami, which worked at the site for one season.8 Most recently, the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) began a program of fieldwork at Hibeh in 2001.

The 2005 Fieldwork Season

The 2005 season at El Hibeh by the University of California, Berkeley, took place for five weeks between July 9 and August 11.9 Fieldwork focused on three major activities: 1) continuing the salvage excavation begun in 2004 of burials eroding out of the sides of a large pit (North Gate Looter’s Pit—NGLP) located outside of the north gate of the site; 2) expanding the 2003 excavations in NH2, one of the low-lying areas adjacent to the paved road that runs along the western edge of the town mound; and 3) continuing the on-going geoarchaeological investigations at the site, in this case focusing primarily on the study of mud brick. Additional activities, all continuing work begun in earlier seasons, included monitoring the condition of the Twenty-Second Dynasty temple and its temenos enclosure, still overgrown with vegetation due to the high and fluctuating water table caused by irrigation of nearby agricultural fields; and GPS mapping and surface survey exploration of the site and its environs. When time was available, we also continued to process and study finds from earlier excavation seasons, with the exception of all the material recovered from the 2004 salvage burial excavations at NGLP and BC-1 (Figure 1), which remained in storage because security denied our request to study this material.

NGLP Salvage Excavations and Site Survey Finds of Mortuary Material

When we examined the NGLP looter’s pit (Figure 1) in 2005, it became clear that burial material was continuing to erode out of the sides of the pit. Robert Yohe and his palaeo-osteological team therefore excavated two more endangered and damaged bodies from this location.10 These two mummies, dated to the Later Roman/Coptic eras, were part of a series of burials, some of which were salvaged in 2004, that originally had been buried in trenches cut into earlier Roman era rubbish piled outside the northern city gate. No burial goods were found with any of the excavated bodies. At some later time, possibly in conjunction with one or more of the earlier archaeological excavations at El Hibeh, the area was badly disturbed and a large circular trench was dug into the burial area, leaving portions of a number of the mummies eroding out at the edges of the trench. Both of the mummies salvaged in 2005 were incomplete: the feet of the first (NGLP Mummy 7, Figure 2) had been lost, and only the upper half (pelvis to skull) of the second body (NGLP Mummy 8, Figure 3) was preserved.
Both were young males (aged early twenties for the body without feet, and fifteen to seventeen years old for the half body). The first mummy resembled those excavated in the same general area in 2004, with outer wrappings of coarse linen and multicolored cordage (red, black, natural or beige and black mixed with beige, Figures 4, 5) around the entire body.

Like one of the mummies from 2004, it also had considerable facial padding made of a bundle of fine grass bound by coarse cordage. The body had been packed in large quantities of raw natron, and the cause of death was likely a blow to the back of the skull with a blunt instrument. The second body, only lightly sprinkled with natron, had been wrapped in three embroidered tunics (Figures 6-9), all poorly preserved, but each with intricate embroidered patterning, including birds, vines, and geometric shapes. These three tunics appear to date to a different, somewhat later time period than the textiles associated with the other burials in the area; the birds, flowers, and abstract figures and the lack of human figures and Roman deities are more consistent with post-5th century CE than earlier designs.11

While continuing surface survey activities, we discovered and explored a disturbed tomb that had been cut down into the limestone desert bedrock east of the approximate middle of the tell. This rock-cut tomb produced, in addition to a considerable amount of secondary rubbish, several pieces of an incomplete and poorly preserved painted coffin and three rough-hewn limestone sarcophagi (Figure 10).
The palaeo-osteological team investigated this burial cave and noted that it is a square room with two galleries, each with enormous piles of sheep and human bones. The wooden coffin pieces were removed; the limestone sarcophagi were left in situ.

NH2 Excavations

Our second major activity in 2005 was the continuation and expansion of the 2003 excavations in NH2 (Figure 1), a low-lying area adjacent to the paved road that runs along the western edge of the tell. One of the 2003 probe trenches, NH2B, had produced mud brick walls and an associated floor, with copious amounts of Third Intermediate Period pottery, belonging to what we first thought was a domestic structure. We expanded the original 2 m x 1 m probe trench, initially into two 5 m x 5 m squares (NH2.1 and NH2.2; Figure 11). Subsequently we added two additional 2.5 X 5 m excavation areas, one (NH2.4) to the east of NH2.1, and one (NH2.3) to the west of NH2.2 (Figure 12).
The northern portion of NH2.1 came down almost immediately on bedrock, which continued to slope down to the southeast; by the time we had finished excavating the square was almost entirely bedrock. In the eastern area of NH2.1, not far below the surface, we encountered a feature consisting of a large limestone bowl or vat placed within a work area defined by mud brick walls and large irregular limestone blocks (Figures 12, 13).  Since the limestone vat extended into the east balk of NH 2.1 we opened NH2.4 to the west hoping to define better the mud brick and limestone feature. Unfortunately, the feature did not seem to extend into NH2.4.
In NH2.2, bedrock was not as close to the surface as in NH2.1 and we were able to excavate further. By the end of the excavation season we had not yet encountered bedrock here, although we think we are very close. In this square a series of mud brick walls defined a clear room, whose rear, northern wall was founded against bedrock (Figures 14-16). This room is part of a larger, possibly much larger, structure, which includes the limestone vat feature of NH2.1, since walls extend into NH2.1 and NH 2.3 (Figures 12, 15-16), and we removed the balks between NH2.1 and 2.2, and NH2.2 and 2.3 to trace the walls.
The main finds in the NH2.2 room consisted of one standing, broken pot (Figure 14), a large number of Third Intermediate Period pot sherds, a few chert tools, animal bones, and some slag and crucible fragments (Figures 17-18).
A series of ashy deposits and ash layers also were found throughout NH2.1-4 (one example may be seen in Figure 14). It therefore appears that the area was used for some kind of industrial purpose, possibly metal or faience production, although we do not yet have enough evidence to be sure exactly what kind of industry was involved. The architecture uncovered in NH2.1-4 in 2005 appears to have had two building phases. Preliminary ceramic analysis indicates that both phases belong to the Third Intermediate Period. The only other pottery found in the area dated to Roman times and seems to have accumulated long after the industrial complex went out of use. Due to time constraints in 2005, only a very cursory examination was possible of the pottery from NH2.1-4. A study season is therefore planned in the near future to study the ceramics in more detail.

Geoarchaeological Investigations

Geoarchaeological research into the different types, compositions and sources of mud bricks and mortar found at El Hibeh continued in 2005, along with a program of augur coring and sampling to trace the ancient course of the Nile River near the site. The investigation of the ancient river course is still only in its infancy, however, and no conclusions are yet possible.  
A surface survey study of a series of ovens or kilns was undertaken in 2005. These kilns were built against a massive mud brick wall in the low-lying area of the site adjacent to the paved road that we called CH (Figure 1). We photographed the kilns (Figures 19, 20) and undertook non-destructive chemical analysis of the walls of the best preserved kiln (Kiln A) using a NITON XLt­793W portable EDXRF unit. Results of the analysis indicated unusually high values for chromium, copper, and strontium.
The main focus of mud brick study in 2005 was the Square Enclosure, a large, clearly defined and isolated mud brick structure that lies in the desert just west of the north gate of the ancient town (Figure 1). Although once a massive construction, the Square Enclosure today has been reduced to rubble as the bricks with which it was constructed have degraded and disintegrated. We do not yet have a firm date for the structure. Given the history of the site, however, our current hypothesis is that it was constructed in the Third Intermediate Period for some kind of funerary purpose, since concentrations of burial shafts may be identified in the interior of the northeast corner of the structure and along both sides of the south wall for its entire length.

A detailed analysis of the mud brick in the Square Enclosure was undertaken by Virginia Emery under the direction of Maury Morgenstein. I summarize here the results of Emery’s work. The walls of the Square Enclosure average sixty-five meters in length and are oriented facing the cardinal directions. Individual bricks averaged 10.5 cm in height, 19.7 cm in width and 24.75 cm in length. The entrance is a clearly delineated gap in the west wall. It is possible only in a few places to identify the original wall faces, and the current state of the walls does not allow for a secure estimate of the structure’s original height. A total of fifty mud brick samples, taken every ten meters along the walls of the enclosure (Figure 21) was tested for chemical composition using the NITON XLt­793W portable EDXRF unit. Results of the chemical analysis indicated that there were two closely related but different geochemical groupings of mud brick in the Square Enclosure. Ten of the brick samples, five each from the two geochemical groups, were selected for wet grain size and mineralogical analysis. The bricks from geochemical group one had more coarse fraction components that those from geochemical group two. Coarse fraction components in both mud brick groups are dominated by organic temper and clastic limestone debris. The fine fraction (fine sand to clay size) is dominated by silt-sized quartz with supporting heavy minerals and feldspars. Charcoal such as that found in the bricks also may be found in the nearby Nile floodplain bottomlands that are used to support agriculture.
            When the location of each brick sample was plotted by its geochemical group on a plan of the Square Enclosure, a clear pattern emerged (Figure 22). The division between the twogeochemical groups roughly bisected the enclosure on a northeast-southwest diagonal, with a smaller northwestern portion built from geochemical group one bricks and a larger southeastern portion constructed of geochemical group two bricks. Such a division suggests that the material used to make the bricks in each group comes from two different locations. In order to investigate potential sources for mud brick, a total of twenty-three surface sediment samples also were geochemically analyzed with the NITON Xlt-793W and subjected to the same mineralogical analyses as the mud brick samples. Two sediment groupings could be identified, comprised of seven samples in total, which had geochemical characteristics similar to those of the two mud brick groups. Both of the sediment geochemical groups were located west of and fairly close to the Square Enclosure. These two areas are the most likely source areas for mud procurement for the mud brick used to construct the Square Enclosure. The clear geochemical division in the mud brick and the sediment suggests that at least two groups of workers were employed in both manufacturing and laying the bricks in the Square Enclosure, with each group taking material from slightly different sources (mud pits) in close proximity to each other. To our knowledge, this is the first clear archaeological evidence from the mud bricks themselves for reconstructing ancient work organization practices.

Additional Activities in 2005

We continued to monitor and record the condition of the Twenty-Second Dynasty limestone temple (Figure 1) built by Sheshonq I. Ground water level remains a serious problem in this area, with the water table at or close to surface level for much of the summer due to the irrigation of nearby agricultural fields. Because of the high water table, copious vegetation continues to grow inside and around the temple. We also plotted the 2005 work areas on our GPS map of the site, as well as refined the mapping of specific areas on the tell. We continued our surface exploration and overall observations of the condition of the site, taking note of several sink holes on the top of the tell apparently caused by winter rains; these will likely need some salvage interventions in the near future to mitigate further erosion in the areas where they are located. Finally, we worked on processing the finds from the 2005 season, mostly pottery and animal bone, and continued to study material from earlier seasons. A small amount of the pottery from the 2005 and earlier seasons was studied, drawn and subjected to non-destructive chemical analysis using the portable Niton EDXRF unit to determine chemical composition and sourcing data. Due to time constraints, however, only a very small portion of the pottery could be studied and analyzed, and at least one study season, and possibly more, will definitely be necessary to process all of the material.


1H. Goedicke, The Report of Wenamun (Baltimore, 1975); F.L. Griffith, Catalogue of the Demotic Papyri in the John Rylands Library Manchester, Vol. III (Manchester, 1909); G.A. Wainwright, ‘Studies in the Petition of Peteese,.’ Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 28, no. 1 (1944), 228-271; M. Smith, ‘Papyrus Rylands IX,’ Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, Vol. II (New York, 2000), p. 24; G. Vittmann, Der demotische Papyrus Rylands 9, ÄAT 38 (Wiesbaden, 1998)

2 H. Ranke, Koptische Friedhöfe bei Karâra und der Amontempel Scheschonks I bei El Hibe: Bericht über die badischen grabungen in Ägypten in den wintern 1913 und 1914 (Berlin-Leipzig, 1926); D. Arnold, Temples of the Last Pharaohs (New York, 1998), 33-36

3 A. Kamal, ‘Description générale des ruines de Hibé, de son temple et de sa nécropole,’ ASAE 2 (1901), 84-91

4 B.P.Grenfell, ‘Excavations in the Fayum and at El Hibeh,’ Egypt Exploration Fund Archaeological Reports 1901-02 (London, 1902), 4-5; B.P. Grenfell, ‘Excavations at Hibeh, Cynopolis and Oxyrhynchus,’ Egypt Exploration Fund Archaeological Reports 1902-03, (London, 1903), 1-3; B. Grenfell and A. Hunt, The Hibeh Papyri, Part I, Graeco-Roman Memoirs 7 (London, 1906); E.G. Turner, The Hibeh Papyri, Part II, Graeco-Roman Memoirs 32 (London, 1955). The earlier volume consisted entirely of Ptolemaic Greek papyri dating to the third century BCE from their first season. The later volume included other Ptolemaic as well as Roman papyri.

5 H. Junker. ‘Die Versuchsgrabungen in El Hibeh und bei el-Fashn,’AÖAW, Phil-Hist. Klasse, 49 (1912), 98-101

6 Ranke, Koptische Friedhöfe; for objects and relief from the excavations, see E. Feucht, ‘Zwei Reliefs Scheschonqs I. aus el Hibeh,’ SAK 6 (1978), 69-77; E. Feucht, ‘Relief Scheschonqs I. beim eersclagen der Feinde aus El Hibeh,’ SAK 9 (1981), 106-117; C. Nauerth, Karara und El-Hibe: Die Spatantiken Koptischen Funde aus den Badischen Grabungen 1913-1914, SAGA 15 (Heidelberg, 1996)

7 E. Paribeni, ‘Rapporto preliminare su gli scavi de Hibeh,’ Aegyptus 15 (1935), 385-404; G. Botti, Le casse di mummie e i sarcofagi da El hibeh nel Museo Egizio di Firenze (Florence, 1958)

8 R.J. Wenke, Archaeological Investigations at El Hibeh 1980: Preliminary Report, ARCE Reports 9 (Malibu, 1984)

9 Members of the 2005 UC Berkeley Mission were: Carol A. Redmount, Director; Maury E. Morgenstein, Associate Director and Science Director; Robert Yohe, Senior Palaeosteologist;  Joan Knudsen, Objects Registrar; Jon Frey, Senior Archaeologist and GPS mapping specialist; Jean Li, advanced Egyptology graduate student and archaeologist; Virginia Emery, advanced Egyptology graduate student and geoarchaeologist; Elizabeth Minor, Egyptology graduate student and archaeologist; Krystal Lords, Egyptology graduate student and archaeologist; Lisa Overmeyer, anthropology and archaeology student; Lenka Kuliskova, Egyptology and archaeology student; Jill Gardner, assistant Palaeo-osteolgist; Deanna Heikkinen, assistant Palae-oosteologist; Susannah Van Horn, illustrator; Belinda Yohe, assistant registrar; Jason Morgenstein, geoarchaeological assistant. Accompanying the mission from the Beni Suef Inspectorate was Inspector Mohammed Ibrahim Mohammed. As always we are grateful to the Supreme Council of Antiquities, especially Zahi Hawass, Secretary General, Magdi Ghandour, and Sabry Abdel Aziz for permission to work at El Hibeh. We are also grateful to the Beni Suef Inspectorate for their support during fieldwork, especially Mme. Nadia Ashour, the Director of Inspectorate, and Chief Inspector Atef Helmy.

10 The following account summarizes the findings of the palaeo-osteology team, directed by Robert Yohe of California State University, Bakersfield.

11 Thanks for this information are due  to Deanna Heikkinen of California State University, Bakersfield, who is undertaking study and analysis of the textiles.


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