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Tell Basta Project (EES/ University of Göttingen/ SCA)

Tell Basta is the site of the famous ancient city Bubastis, one of the most important cities in the history of ancient Egypt, which functioned as a major religious centre for the cult of the lion goddess Bastet as well as a focal point of administration since the earliest times.  The site of Tell Basta is one of the few sites in the Delta where monumental superstructure can still be investigated with temple remains dating back to the Third Intermediate and Late Periods. 

Edouard Naville, excavated at Tell Basta (Bubastis) on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Fund (now Society) in 1888 but restricted himself to epigraphic documentation of the Great Temple and never carried out any systematic archaeological fieldwork.  The current Tell Basta-Project is an Egyptian-German Joint Mission between the Supreme Council of Antiquities (Egypt) and the University of Göttingen (Germany), directed by Dr Eva Lange, and in 2009 the EES first agreed to support an application from a team member, Dr Daniela Rosenow (University of Potsdam), for a geomagnetic survey and drill-augering work at the site.

Since 2008 the Tell Basta Project has explored the sacred area defined by the temples enclosure wall and that once comprised the subsidiary temple-buildings – an area that has not previously been the subject of systematic excavations or survey – to situate the temple in context. Fortunately, and in contrast to many other temple sites in Egypt, a big part of the area of the sacred enclosure and of the ancient city is still preserved.

The Project thus seeks to clarify aspects of the urban layout, the spatial context for the temple and the geomorphology of the site. A gradiometry survey and augering clarified the extent and layout of the urban topography of Bubastis and due to the special condition of the site – no electricity pylons in the vicinity and no fired brick, metal or rubbish on surface – Tell Basta has yeilded clear geophysical survey results.  This survey worked backed with the archaeological work at the site provides a unique chance to study the temple and city of Bubastis concurrently and to extend our knowledge about one of the most important cities of the ancient Egyptian Nile Delta.

A report by Dr Rosenow on the Project's earlier work at the site was published in Egyptian Archaeology 32 and can be downloaded here; whilst further discoveries including an article by Director, Eva Lange, which considers the role Bubastis played in the Twenty-Second Dynasty and publishes evidence for new kings named Shoshenq, can be found in EA37 here. You can follow the team's progress on their blog.

Spring 2011 Season (funded by the Amelia Edwards Project Awards)

The Joint University of Potsdam / SCA Tell Basta Project*, which was supported by the EES as an Amelia Edwards Project, completed its second season with the EES in Spring 2011. The team was among the first to return to work after the resignation of President Mubarak and below the Head of Mission, Dr Eva Lange, reports on a successful season in the 'New Egypt'.

"The Spring 2011 field campaign at the site of Tell Basta, the ancient city of Bubastis, commenced on 3 March. On 1 March, Daniela Rosenow and I arrived in Egypt; the other members of the team followed a few days later. The next day I went to the SCA-office, in order to sign the contract and to collect the necessary papers. Despite the unusual situation in Egypt, things went very smoothly and our Egyptian colleagues were very supportive. In the afternoon of the same day we headed to Zagazig, as one of the first missions to return to the Delta. We spent the following day, 3 March, the opening day of our campaign, on the site, checking the containers and the site itself. Fortunately, no harm had been done. We were welcomed by our Egyptian colleagues and friends at Tell Basta whom we have known for many years now. Needless to say, after the recent events, a happy reunion took place.

As planned, we undertook several tasks during this campaign. Firstly, in the entrance area in front of the temple (Area A), which is currently the focus of our archaeological investigations, a trench was excavated, to help us to answer some chronological questions.

Area A is situated within the sacred area of the temple of Bastet, which is defined by the enclosure wall of the temple. In this area, but outside the temple building itself, we would expect to find the necessary support buildings, such as living quarters of priests, archives (such as the famous “house of life”), workshops, as well as a variety of religious buildings attached to the great temple, such as chapels for minor deities.

Our excavations in Area A over the last two years have revealed massive walls, belonging to large installations, most probably to compartments of so-called ‘tower-houses’. Our investigations of the pottery and small finds last season showed that those walls on the surface date to within the Ptolemaic Period. These buildings must once have formed the support buildings of the temple and cannot be interpreted as ordinary living quarters. This is clear from the ‘Canopus Decree’, established in the reign of Ptolemy III, of which a copy was discovered within the entrance hall of the temple in 2004, proving that the great temple of Bastet continued to be one of the most important temples of Egypt into the Ptolemaic period. Therefore the temple area would not have been available for non-temple staff at this time.

Our work has raised the question of whether or not the Ptolemaic buildings have predecessors from the earlier, pharaonic period, or in other words, if thePtolemaic walls were built on top of walls of installations dating to the Late Period and how these buildings were related to each other. The northern part of grid-sqare Y/4 was chosen for the excavation of a trench (TB 4a Y/4.NS), using, as starting point, the preserved east-west oriented profile of a wall we had already documented in autumn 2010.  Surprsingly, under a thick wall of mudbrick, a very distinctive layer of smashed limestone came to light. Obvously it is aconstuction layer, used as a foundation for the Ptolemaic buildings. Below the limestone-layer, older walls dating back into the Late Period, came to light as we had expected. Especially remarkable were fragments of two or three Bes-vases which we discovered in the deeper layers of our trench. The season ended on the 4 April before we had reached the end of the Late Period level so we will continue working in this area in the autumn. 

The result of the excavation in Y/4 is very important, as it has given us, for the first time, a glimpse of the actual appearance of the Late Period architectural environment of the temple of Bastet. Of course, this is just the beginning. Area A needs much more investigation, but these early results are very promising.

Apart from excavation other research has been undertaken by several members of the Tell Basta Project. The pottery collected during this season and the last have been documented and studied by Mandy Mamedow.  Daniela Rosenow completed the epigraphic work on the reliefs of Nectanbo II in the sanctuary of the temple, and I myself started a database recording the reliefs of Osorkon I in the entrance hall of the temple and documented fragments of a shrine of Osorkon II dedicated to Osiris. Veit Vaelske documented and studied the numerous terracotta figurines,which came to light during our recent excavataions in Area A, and Theresa Steckel completed the documentation of the statue fragments in the temple.  Last but not least, preparation for the arrangment of objects from Tell Basta and the hinterland in the new site museum continued. Together with Mr Hisham Mohammad Abd el-Moaman el- Hefnawi (Deputy Director of the Antiquities of Sharkeya) I chose objects from the local magazine and we developed a concept for the exhibition. The new site museum will be dedicated to the local history of Bubastis as a metropolis of the Eastern Nile Delta. Here, many very interesting and extraordinary objects will be on display soon."

 *We are delighted that from the Autumn 2011 season onwards the project will be conducted under the auspices of the University of Göttingen, the SCA and also with the backing of the EES Excavation Fund. 

All images courtesy of Eva Lange.


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