EES Delta Survey RSS

Jeffrey and Patricia Spencer will be working at Tell Buweib for the EES Delta Survey in March/April 2014 and Patricia will be posting regular updates here.

Further information on the Egypt Exploration Society’s Delta Survey, which is funded by a grant from the British Academy, can be found at



End of the season at Tell Buweib

This morning we finished work on site for our first season at Tell Buweib, which has been very successful. Our programme, as approved by the MSA, was to define the extents of and plan buildings which could be seen on the satellite image and, by carrying out limited excavation, try to find out more about them. The main buildings are the mud-brick temple, which our investigation has shown appears to have been constructed in the late Ramesside Period or the early Third Intermediate Period, and the mud-brick casemate foundation which is almost certainly Saite in date. For the last few days of work we have been carrying out surface clearance only of the buildings immediately to the south-west of the temple. Most seem to be foundations but one, the back wall of which is parallel to, and only about 2 metres from the temple wall, has clear doorways which should mean it is preserved above floor-level. Depending on the foundation level of the walls, this might suggest it was constructed as a part of the temple complex – we will investigate this possibility next season.

The side of one of the doorways in a brick building just to the south-west of the temple.

While our workmen were back-filling trenches this morning we had a walk along the ridge to the south-east of the temple and beyond it onto the surrounding low ground. The ridge contains substantial amount of well-preserved mud-brick and we are wondering if this could be the remains of an enclosure wall around the temple complex – something else to investigate next year!

Brickwork which might be part of an enclosure wall.

At the end of work we posed for the almost-obligatory group photo, with our six local workmen, our MSA Inspector and the granddaughter of the owner of the house we live in. It is her parents who generously vacated their flat, at very short notice, so that we could live in it. We are very grateful to the family here and to all the local people who have made us so welcome and enabled the season to run so smoothly.

At the end of work - our MSA Inspector, Hany Gomaa, is at the back.

Finally, here is gratuitous cat No.6, a particularly fine ginger one, outside a house between the site and the village

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Sham er-Nessim at Tell Buweib

We all had a day’s holiday yesterday for Sham er-Nessim when the tell attracted visitors from miles around. Among the first wave of arrivals was an ice-cream salesman, followed by several other sellers of snacks and drinks who set up make-shift stalls on the edge of the site.

Ice-cream salesman heading along the track to the tell.

Some of the first arrivals in the early morning.

The snack-food market on the edge of the site.

People started arriving from about 7.15am – mainly local children at first, then families carrying picnics and the crowds gradually built up during the morning despite a fruitless attempt by the police to clear the site between about 9.00 and 10.00, even though we had said we didn’t want people to be being prevented from coming on Sham er-Nessim, just because of our work. Eventually those wanting access to the tell became so many that the police had to give way, which they did gracefully, and people were able to celebrate the Spring festival here as they have done for years.

A family arriving with a picnic.

During the afternoon the mainly pedestrian traffic of the morning was succeeded by motorised transport of every description: motorcycles, tuk-tuks, cars, trucks and tractor-trailers. Each would drive up the gully to the north-east of the temple, onto the high mound of the sanctuary area, then hurtle down the steep slope to the bottom, before driving round the south-west side of the tell to repeat the procedure. All of this was done to the accompaniment of very, very, loud music (each vehicle had its own sound system!) and the blaring of many horns.

A tuk-tuk making the steep descent of the high ‘sanctuary’ mound with motorcyclists awaiting their turn on the top.

A tractor-trailer giving rides around the tell.

As sunset approached pedestrians and vehicles began to leave the tell, though others were still arriving, leading to several traffic jams on the narrow track which isn’t wide enough for two vehicles to pass. These were usually resolved by a lot of shouting and arm-waving, after which one vehicle would reluctantly reverse to the end of the track to allow the traffic coming the other way through.

A truck-load of jolly ladies who waved enthusiastically when they spotted us watching from the house roof in the late afternoon.

The same red truck having to reverse along the track, after having come up against traffic going the other way.

The last people to leave were young men on motorcycles who took a last chance to ride down the steep slopes with lights on in the dark. This morning the site is criss-crossed by numerous tyre-tracks but it has suffered no real damage and our work area wasn’t disturbed at all. Given the very high number of visitors yesterday there was also surprisingly little litter left on the tell which has now resumed its normal peaceful state until Sham er-Nessim next year!

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Planning Late Period buildings in the wind!

We’re in our last few days of fieldwork now before we leave here next Saturday. I mentioned here that one of the things we wanted to investigate was why at Tell Buweib the pharaonic temple appears to be on top of the mound, while most Delta temples are on low ground since (the area being sacred) stratified settlements were not allowed to build up over them. The answer seems to be that the temple here is not on top of the tell, but is, in fact, the reason for the existence of the tell! Since it is founded so low and preserved so high, once abandoned it filled with dust, mud and other debris and the tell grew up around it. As we wind down this season’s work, we have returned to the buildings (probably Late Period) to the immediate south-west of the temple and are removing surface fill only to trace and plan their walls.

Detail of the satellite image showing the temple and the Late Period structures to its south-west. Copyright GoogleEarth.

For the past few days it has been very, very windy (it sounds as I write this as if there’s a howling gale outside!) so when our workmen cut into the surface dust it flies all over the place, and all over anything we have just cleaned. We’ve been marking the corners of walls with piles of potsherds so we can find them again more quickly as they soon disappear.

A corner of one of the Late Period buildings south-west of the temple.

The same corner a few hours later, gradually being buried again.

The windy weather meant I had to wear my woolly hat for only the third time this season, but one of the advantages of the wind (and the cloud we have had for the past few days) is that it has kept the temperature down so we still appreciate our coffee-breaks at midday!

Coffee-break this morning.

Tomorrow is Sham er-Nessim, the Egyptian spring festival, so we’ll all be having a day’s holiday as Buweib, like many Delta tells, is the focus for local celebrations and will be, allegedly, visited by around 3,000 people with picnics. We learned by experience at Balamun that it isn’t possible to work on site on Sham er-Nessim!

Gratuitous donkey for a change!

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Weather, work, a visit by Essam Nagy, and gratuitous cat No.5

We’ve had a lot of weather over the past few days – very strong winds, low temperatures and high temperatures, thunder, lightning and some rain. The general dampness of the atmosphere and the rain made the low parts of the tell, across which we have to walk to get to the work, rather treacherous with slippery mud which stuck to the soles of our boots, turning them into ‘high-risers’! Then this morning we walked to the site in very dense fog - it was amazingly quiet apart from the ever-present cheeping of sparrows and the calls of plovers who always sound on the verge of hysteria. Eventually we heard the sound of voices ahead and the figures of some of our workmen waiting for us became visible through the fog.

At the base of the tell which is totally invisible through the dense fog.

It took until around 8.30 for the fog to lift and then became rather hot and still – too hot for me! Having investigated some of the chambers of the casemate podium, we’ve now started to study the fill into which the base of the it was cut to try to refine the dating of the construction.

An internal corner of one of the chambers of the casemate podium.

As with the temple we can only access the lower levels on the edges of the tell where the brickwork has already been lost. On the south-west side, the foundation-trench of the podium is clearly visible as is the earlier settlement fill into which it was cut.

At the bottom is the outer brickwork of the casemate, then above it the top of the foundation-trench and above that earlier settlement fill with the remains of an oven.

We were very pleased that the EES Cairo Office Manager, Essam Nagy, was able to visit us today, making the long (four and a half hours by road) journey up from Cairo. Jeff and our MSA Inspector, Hany (whom Essam already knows from Luxor), showed him around the site and described the work before Essam left to go on to visit the EES team currently working at Tell Mutubis.

Jeff and Essam discussing the site.

With the Director of the MSA team, Sayed el-Talhawi.

Penny Wilson managed to get a gratuitous ostrich into her last blog post from Mutubis! We can’t compete with such an exotic offering but here is gratuitous cat No.5, exploring some rubbish in the village.

Most of the local cats are tabbies of various colours – this black cat is rather unusual.

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Casemate, flooded fields and bee-eaters

The flooding of the fields beside the track to the tell (in preparation for rice-planting) overflowed on Saturday over the track itself making it very muddy and slippery. Fortunately there is a much narrower ridge beside the unflooded fields on the other side of the track, along which we were able to get to and from the site.

Ploughing the flooded field which overflowed onto the track to the tell. The foal kept splashing into the water to join its mother and had to be ‘encouraged’ out again by the man ploughing!

Walking to the site along the narrow, but dry, ridge of earth on the other side of the flooded track.

By yesterday the track had dried up enough for us to be able to use it again. The investigation of the casemate foundation is going well, with all of the chambers now located and planned and we are going down to some extent in a few of the chambers to study the fill inside. At Tell Dafana Petrie cleared out each of the casemate chambers completely (and his were much deeper than ours!) but found nothing in them, other than bricks and ‘back-fill’, so we’re not expecting ours to produce much of interest, though they will hopefully have some datable sherds.

One of our local workmen defining the edges of a casemate chamber.

We’ve been visited most days on site recently by a flock of very noisy and busy bright green bee-eaters, and today some settled close enough for me to take a photo of them.

Penny Wilson also has bee-eaters at Tell Mutubis where she is currently directing a survey for the EES – see her blog.

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Friday update from Tell Buweib

Clearing the surface dust (which is some places is around a metre deep) from over the casemate foundation is going very well. We have the satellite image to guide us as to where the chambers are but even so some can still be tricky to define accurately if they are filled with bricks. Others are very obvious, having been back-filled during the construction with loose soil and whatever it contained, such as sherds of broken pots. Casemates are the usual form of foundation in ancient Egypt for buildings which needed to be raised up – for whatever reason. The Buweib one is only about half as big (in plan) as the three largest Delta casemate foundations known - at Naukratis, Tell Dafana and Tell Balamun - but must have supported a structure of some size. At Naukratis Petrie found remains of above-floor doorways and wall-footings but it looks like we have nothing standing above floor-level.

The fields by the side of the track to the tell were flooded yesterday prior to rice-planting, which meant the return of the egrets, lined up like soldiers along the ridges left by the plough.

The crops in other nearby fields are almost ready for harvesting – this scene reminded me of one from the tomb of Sennedjem!

Yesterday afternoon we had another walk to the shops in the nearby village which gave me another opportunity to photograph a cat or two, including this one which has a very ‘oriental’ appearance. 

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A temple, a casemate building and gratuitous cat No.3

Our attention was first drawn to Tell Buweib when Jeff was putting GoogleEarth location points on over 600 Delta tells and realised that the plan of a temple was clearly visible on the surface at Buweib.


Satellite image of Tell Buweib. Copyright GoogleEarth.

Before we started work this season we had assumed that we would find the typical sand-filled foundation trenches, and perhaps a large sand-filled box for the naos area, of a Late Period temple. Instead what we have are the mud-brick walls of an earlier temple filled (where we have been able to check) with layer upon layer of wind-blown dust and mud. Our aim this season was to plan the main structures at the site with only limited excavation to enable accurate planning, so, having finished the plan of the temple, we have now moved on to investigate the other major structure visible on the satellite image – the casemate foundation to the south-west of the temple pylon. We expect this to be a Saite construction but having been proved wrong about the dating of the temple, we’re keeping open minds! We’ve just started to clear the brickwork but it is already showing up very clearly, though the BIG WIND (which has returned with a vengeance) is making it hard to keep the bricks clean for more than a few minutes.


Detail of brickwork in the casemate building.

For those who prefer feline images to those of bricks, here is gratuitous cat of the season No.3 – a grey tabby who lives around this house.


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Hot day at Tell Buweib

We’ve been working for the past few days at the very top of the highest mound where we are attempting to locate the floor level in the sanctuary area (though it may be too deep for us to reach this year) and also to see if any of the original stonework remains. So far the fill has just been layer upon layer of wind-blown dust with very few sherds and no sign of anything remaining from the internal furnishings of the temple.

Our police guards on the top of the mound, silhouetted against the sky first thing in the morning.

The MSA team is currently investigating the only area of later settlement that we’ve found so far within the temple, inside the interior of the south corner. There are the remains of mud-brick walls and mud-brick paving, and the densest concentration of sherds yet encountered on the site.

One of the MSA team members discussing the dating of sherds found during their work with Jeff.

Today was the first hot day we’ve had on site though fortunately there was an on-and-off breeze footling around to prevent the heat getting too unbearable. We’re still taking our thermos of coffee with us for the midday break but if it continues to be hot, or gets even hotter, then we’ll probably switch to taking a cold drink in the flask instead. For the first time ever in over 30 years of working in Egypt, we have a fridge so (provided the electricity stays on!) we can have cold drinks when we need them.

Patricia at coffee-break time.

The fields immediately in front of the house where we are living, and which belong to the family who own the house, have just been planted with rice and the water-level in them raised, attracting the usual egrets who eat insects and grubs and so are popular with the local farmers.

Planting the rice by walking along, making holes with a stick.

The rice-field with egrets. Our flat is on the first floor (with yellow-walled balcony) behind the palm tree.

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Dating the Buweib temple, baking bread and gratuitous cat No.2

Friday again and end of our second week of work. By investigating the ground on which our temple is founded and looking at deposits which have accumulated over the temple after it fell into disuse, we can now say that it was probably built no earlier than the Ramesside Period and no later than the early Third Intermediate Period, though it would be good, eventually, if we could refine the dating. The outer (back) north corner of the temple had been cut off by the slope of the mound and eroded away, which is how we were able to check the fill, and sherds, beneath its foundation level.

Settlement remains below the foundation level of the north corner.

While we were working yesterday morning a tractor-trailer passed by carrying workers (mostly women) who were on their way to harvest the sugar-beet crop in fields north of the tell. For the rest of the day trailers passed by regularly carrying away the harvested crop and returning empty to be filled up again.

Today being Friday the ladies of the house where we are living have been baking bread at the outdoor oven in the area just below our bedroom window so we had the very tempting aroma of newly-baked bread coming into the flat.

This was closely followed by a delivery of hot loaves straight from the oven – looking rather like an offering from an ancient tomb-scene!

Yesterday afternoon we went for a walk (about 15 mins each way) to the closest shops in the village of el-Mahasna, to stock up on some preserved foods. There were quite a few cats prowling around the streets and investigating rubbish dumps - including his fine tortoise-shell and white cat (gratuitous cat of the season No.2).

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Defining the Buweib temple’s sanctuary

For the past few days we’ve been working on defining the walls of what we are optimistically calling the temple’s ‘sanctuary’ area! Like the main outer wall it is made of mud-brick and is preserved in places several metres above the ancient ground level. It has a doorway on the temple’s axis, but again we have found no indication, so far, of any stonework associated with it. The strong winds we have had for the last two or three days had finally died down by this morning so we were able first thing today to clean the walls properly for planning and photography.

One of the brick jambs of the sanctuary doorway being cleaned.

Our daily timetable on site is to work from 7.00am to 9.00am, then have an hour for breakfast - we have to walk back to the house, cook ours and wash up afterwards – and then work again from 10.00am until 1.30pm, with a short break at around midday when we drink coffee from a thermos and our workmen and the MSA team have tea made on site.

The tea-making equipment on site.

After lunch, we sometimes go back to the tell to do levels and/or planning as this is easier when the site is quiet in the afternoons. Since we arrived the fields to one side of the track have been occupied by two herds of sheep, grazing on left-over vegetation from the last crop, but the fields were being ploughed today for the next crop so the sheep have disappeared for the moment. The horse and cart that passes by the site every day had stopped on the track this morning so I was able to get a close-up of the very attractive foal that accompanies its mother and her cart.

Our electricity is still being very unreliable and (although it is now back on) we had over 24 hours without it, apart from a few short bursts yesterday evening. It’s also become a bit cloudier and chillier so we’ve been having to wrap up a bit more!

Just to show that it isn’t always hot and sunny in Egypt!

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