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Bietak and Muller

Sep 23, 2014



The Topography of New Kingdom Avaris and Per-RamessesManfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Mller*1 Introduction

Kenneth A. Kitchen, who has the most intimate knowledge of Ramesside inscriptions, has repeatedly drawn pictures and accounts of the major cities of Ramesses II, including, of course, Per-Ramesses. Into these imaginative reconstructions, as Kitchen modestly calls them, a most valuable amount of information drawn from the texts has been absorbed which has not lost its value over time, despite the long standing research of the Austrian Archaeological Institute and the Pelizus-Museum Hildesheim in the region of Per-Ramesses in the last decades. We hope with this account, which is based both on surveys in the field and excavation results, to present some source of inspiration as a tribute to a great scholar for whom we have the highest admiration and to whom we owe so much. We need not repeat the long history of the search for Avaris and Per-Ramesses, since the identification with Tell el-Dabaa and Qantr is now common knowledge in Egyptology. What remains to be done is to reveal more and more of the details of the topography of this once important residence of one of the greatest pharaohs of Egypt. On the surface practically nothing can be seen of the former splendour of this city. From the point of view of an archaeologist however, one can reveal the remains of a very fragmented picture and try to understand and interpret the scanty remains. 2 The Primeval Landscape

Located east of the easternmost Nile branch, the Waters of Rea, a navigable river channel flowing into the Mediterranean, the site of the later Per-Ramesses was situated at the beginning of the landThe authors wish to acknowledge the assistance of Nikky Math for producing the illustrations, David Aston for reading the manuscript and Edgar Pusch for providing us with information on his research at Qantir.* A. H. Gardiner, The Delta Residence of the Ramessides, JEA 5 (98), 2738, 79200, 2427; A. H. Gardiner, Tanis and Pi-Raamesse: A Retractation, JEA 9 (933), 228; M. Hamza, Excavations of the Department of Antiquities at Qantr (Faqus District), ASAE 30 (930), 368; W. C. Hayes, Glazed Tiles from a Palace of Ramesses II at Kantir (MMA Papers 3; New York, 937); P. Montet, Le drame dAvaris (Paris, 94); L. Habachi, KhataanaQantr: Importance, ASAE 52 (954), 443562; L. Habachi, Tell el-Dabaa, I: Tell el-Dabaa and Qantr: The Site and its Connection with Avaris and Pi-Ramesse. Aus dem Nachla herausgegeben von E. M. Engel unter der Mitarbeit von P. Janosi und C. Mlinar, Redaktion E. Czerny (DGAW 23 = UZK 2; Vienna, 200), 6595; J. van Seters, The Hyksos: A New Investigation (New Haven, 966); M. Bietak, Tell el-Dabaa, II: Der Fundort im Rahmen einer archologisch-geographischen Untersuchung ber das gyptische Ostdelta, (DGAW 4 = UZK ; Vienna, 975), 2332; M. Bietak, Avaris and Pi-Ramesse, Archaeological Exploration in the Eastern Nile Delta: Ninth Mortimer Wheeler Archaeological Lecture (Oxford, 979), 283; M. Bietak, Ramessesstadt, L V (984), 2846; E. Pusch, H. Becker and J. Fassbinder, Wohnen und Leben oder: weitere Schritte zu einem Stadtplan der Ramsesstadt, &L 9 (999), 56.


Manfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Mller

Fig. . Historical Landscape of the Northeastern Nile Delta.

route along the northern Sinai to Palestine (fig. ). As such, the site was most favourably positioned for controlling traffic routes abroad.2 At the same time it oversaw the entrance into the eastern Nile Delta as the Horus road had to pass through a land bridge between the easternmost Nile branch and the natural Bahr el-Baqar drainage system which issued into huge overflow lakes and swamps protecting the approaches to the Delta. In the second millennium bc the northern coast of Egypt had a more southerly position and the site of later Per-Ramesses was still near the effects of the tides.3 This had the advantage that the channel was still navigable during the dry season in late spring and early summer, when the Nile was at its lowest. This is a prerogative for a seagoing harbour in a deltaic landscape. The landscape of Per-Ramesses as it is now observable to the modern viewer is very different to the primeval landscape (fig. 2).4 Nowadays completely flat,5 it was then a system of turtlebacksgezirasand eroded depressions in between them. Those extensive turtlebacks consisting of fine yellowish-whitish sand, easily recognizable during excavations, are the remains of older, partly early Holocene river sediments. They were not flooded during the inundation and are therefore ideal places for permanent settlement activity. The maximum flood levels during the Ramesside period were about 5 m above the modern sea level.6 In between those geziras in the lower parts of the Delta the Nile flood transported and deposited its mud and brought fertility to the whole area. These parts could only partly be used, mostly for agricultural purposes.2 3

For the topography of the eastern Nile Delta, see Bietak, Tell el-Dabaa II, 472.

Brackwater fish such as dorados were found in the osteological material of Tell el-Dabaa, see J. Boessneck and A. von den Driesch, Tell el-Dabaa, VII: Tiere und Historische Umwelt im Nordost-Delta im 2. Jahrtausend v. Chr. anhand von Knochenfunden der Ausgrabungen 19751986 (DGAW = UZK 0; Vienna, 992), 423.4 Bietak, Tell el-Dabaa II, 490; K. Butzer, Studien zum vor- und frhgeschichtlichen Landschaftswandel in der Sahara, III; Die Naturlandschaft gyptens whrend der Vorgeschichte und der Dynastischen Zeit (AAWLM Math-Nat 959/2; Mainz, 959); K. Butzer, Delta, L I (975), cols. 04352.

The intensive agricultural use of the land and the sebakh-activity has destroyed most of the tells in the Nile Delta. At the end of the nineteenth century Griffith (F. Ll. Griffith, The Antiquities of Tell el Yahudyeh, and Miscellaneous Work in Lower Egypt (MEEF 7; London, 890), 567) was able to walk on top of the tell between Khataana/Tell el-Dabaa and Qantr which is a distance of 2 km. In 2007 only a small part of this tell, north of the village of Tell el-Dabaa, is still visible.5 6

J. Dorner, Die Topographie von Piramesse-Vorbericht, &L 9 (999), 78.


The Topography of New Kingdom Avaris and Per-Ramesses


Inundation Area Fig. 2. Primeval Landscape of Avaris/Per-Ramesses (adapted from Dorner, &L 9, map ).

Most of those topographic features are no longer visible due to agricultural levelling and modern irrigation engineering. The main components of the ancient topography, the Nile channels, the lakes and the artificial channels which cut through the ancient settlement and the turtlebacks were, however, made visible by the study of the sedimentation ridges caused by active Nile branches, and the depressions according to the contour maps of the Survey of Egypt7 and by investigating the nature of the sediments by7

Bietak, Tell el-Dabaa II, 67.


Manfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Mllercore drilling.8 The former is a good tool for assessing the water courses on a larger scale, the latter is suitable to probe water courses in a more restricted area but provides much greater precision. In recent years geomagnetic surveying has also revealed the position of the Nile branches since they show where settlement abruptly stops along the Nile branches, channels and former lakes.9 The colours of such Nile branches show a darker hue than the surrounding land. Where modern housing does not cover ancient features, this most recent modern surveying tool shows the uppermost stratum of ancient settlements and buildings. Thus the ancient Nile branches in the area of Avaris and Per-Ramesses can be assessed fairly accurately for the second millennium bc with the understanding that their date is provided by the settlements along their banks and by the sherds obtained from their sediments. The river branches during their normal water regime can be roughly estimated to have been 200 to 300 m wide. Josef Dorner has revealed the easternmost Nile branch west of the villages of Khataana and aEzbet Helmy in a south to north stretch of .5 km (branch F1). North of aEzbet Helmy the river splits into two channels, forming islands after the point of bifurcation. Qantr, the centre of Per-Ramesses, is situated at the southern part of a major Nile island. It is thus provided with protection and river transport at the same time. Remains of branch F1 were observed by Edouard Naville in 895 when it was still distinctly east of the Roman Tell Abu el-Fils and it can still be recognized between aEzbet Rushdi el-Nimr and west of Tell Abu el-Shaf aei northwards beyond Qantr, visible by the Bahr Faqs drain and the borders of land reclamation towards the former riverbed.0 It is very obvious that modern irrigation engineers placed the feeder channel Bahr Didamn (called incorrectly Samaana channel by the Survey of Egypt) along the eastern levee of the branch F1, which was in antiquity artificially heightened by settlement activity. In addition to the Nile branches, Josef Dorner was also able to discover artificial channels by core drilling. K1 cuts south of the temple of Tell Abu el-Shaf aei and leads probably to a lake (S1) in front of the reconstructed temple of Amun-Rea-Harakhti-Atum (see below). The direction of the channel has to be revised most probably due to the different orientation of the temple of Tell Abu el-Shaf aei. Another channel (K2) was observed along the direction of a modern channel leading from aEzbet Silmy northward, passing the Ramesside horse stables at area Q IV,2 issuing, according to Dorners reconstruction, into a lake (S2) in the north of the town. Surely there were more channels within the northern part of Per-Ramesses, which remain to be discovered. One wonders if the depression associated with a sub-turtleback G2 southeast of aEzbet Silmy was not another channel