Area 2: The White Monastery Project
Area 2 is located to the west of the White Monastery church, in the center of the archaeological zone protected by the SCA. This area has been extensively excavated by the SCA over the last twenty-five years, and some of this work has been documented in publication by Peter Grossmann, Darlene Brooks Hedstrom, and others. Since 2005, the work of our team has focused on two primary locations within area 2. The first is immediately to the north of the church (units D and G2 on the plan). The second (unit Q) encompasses the majority of the area west of the church and features numerous architectural installations related to the daily life of the monastery during late antiquity and the medieval period.
Units D and G
Unit D, north of the main church, was the first area excavated in December of 2005, under the archaeological supervision of Peter Sheehan. Prior to the commencement of work, there were signs that a machine had leveled the area in the recent past. Post- and stake-holes suggested that the surface had been used by pilgrim encampments during the mulid festival (the feast day of the saint). The clearing of this area revealed a dump of building rubble and debris containing visible fragments of painted plaster (Figures 1 and 2).
Figure 1 (left): Unit D during preparations for backfilling, showing post- and stake-holes from pilgrim encampments. Figure 2: Painted plaster fragments discovered in unit D.
Initially, the archaeologists thought that this dump may have been a discard pile related to the church restoration work conducted by the Comité in the first decade of the twentieth century; however, this early hypothesis would later be disproven. In addition to this dump, excavations also uncovered a makeshift tomb containing the remains of an adolescent buried sometime after the late medieval abandonment of the monastery (Figure 3).
Figure 3 (left): Grave of adolescent discovered in unit D. Figure 4: Trench dug to the base of the church wall, at the time of the backfilling of the adolescent’s grave.
The following year (2006), our archaeological team continued to explore this location, opening up unit G to the east of unit D. Participating in this phase of the project were archaeologists Gillian Pyke, Louise Blanke, and Mohammed Khalifa, as well as art historian Elizabeth Bolman and archival historian Cedric Meurice. Their primary task involved extending a trench to the church wall (Figure 4).
The objective of digging this trench was to determine whether the church might have been built on the remains of an earlier Pharaonic structure, a hypothesis that was dismissed over the course of excavation. Gillian Pyke, Elizabeth Bolman, and Louise Blanke conducted an analysis of both the painted plaster in the excavated dump and the painted decoration in the church. Pyke and Sheehan, with the assistance of Mohammed Khalifa, also began an assessment of mortar and plaster types, noting their relation to architectural features in the church.
These remains in unit Q include structures used for food preparation and storage, residential buildings, and a major well. As this unit was already excavated extensively by the SCA inspectorate prior to the beginning of our work in 2005, the YMAP team has restricted itself to the task of conducting detailed surveys of these remains.