Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1319, (10 - 16 November 2016)
Wednesday,15 August, 2018
Issue 1319, (10 - 16 November 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Openings in Fayoum

The Kom Aushim Museum has been reopened after 10 years of closure and the Karanis archaeological site developed in Fayoum, reports Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

At the entrance of the ancient Fayoum village of Karanis, today’s Kom Aushim, stands the two storey edifice of the Kom Aushim Museum with its modern architecture and iron gate welcoming visitors.

Earlier this week, Minister of Antiquities Khaled Al-Enany reopened the Museum after ten years of closure, describing it as important for two main reasons. A new tourist attraction was being added to Fayoum and preserved for future generations, he said, and an entire neighbourhood revived and upgraded.

He announced that the museum would be open to the public for free over the next ten days and that the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square in Cairo would be open in the evenings as part of a message to the world that Egypt was a safe travel destination. 

The Kom Aushim Museum was originally built at the entrance of Karanis in 1974 to illustrate the history of Fayoum as well as the daily life and funerary practices of its ancient inhabitants from the prehistoric to the Islamic period.

The museum was originally a single storey building, but in 1993 a new floor was added. In 2006, it was closed for restoration.

“At the time of its closure in 2006, the museum was in a bad condition and was in need of restoration,” Waadallah Abul-Ela, head of the ministry’s Projects Department, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

He said the restoration project had cost LE650,000 and included the installation of new security and lighting systems, the replacement of old showcases, the extension of the museum’s external iron fence, and the building of new control towers.

The museum’s facade and walls were also polished.

Elham Salah, head of the Museums Department at the Ministry, said the museum now exhibits not only its previous collection but also other artefacts that were stored in Fayoum stores or on show at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The Museum now had some 320 artefacts on display, she said, adding that Middle Kingdom objects from the Hawara site, known in ancient times as Kiman Fares and located about nine km from Fayoum, were now on show.

These include a wooden model of a house and a funerary mask of a Late Period woman. The colossal head of a Roman god from Karanis and many items of pottery, coins, amulets, scarabs and ushabti figurines found in Fayoum are also displayed.

The Museum also contains a collection of Fayoum Portraits, personal portraits painted on wood or linen which covered the face of mummies towards the end of the Graeco-Roman period. A limestone statue of the ancient Greek goddess of love Aphrodite on a scallop shell is also on display, along with a collection of glass vessels of different shapes and sizes.

These vases were used as containers for oils and cosmetics. Clay burning incenses and wooden painted sarcophagi are also on show, as well as reliefs depicting handicrafts and other products. 

Coptic icons depicting the holy family and Jesus in his childhood with Joseph are also on display, as well as a collection of gilded jewelry decorated with semi-precious stones.

Behind the Museum lies the Karanis archaeological site, the largest Graeco-Roman town in Fayoum. It was founded as a military settlement by Ptolemy II Philadelphus in the third century BCE and was originally inhabited by mercenaries but flourished as a centre of agriculture and trade for more than 700 years.

At the time of its building, Karanis would have been on the shores of Lake Qarun, with the houses arranged in clusters around the two main thoroughfares running from north to south and ranging in style from simple mudbrick dwellings to more elaborate villas of top officials.

Today, visitors can see the remnants of this once-bustling rural community, including the foundations of mud-brick homes, courtyards, and the main avenues that once ran through the town. The remains of millstones and olive presses still lie on the ground, and there are six dovecotes in the ruins that are similar to those seen in the Fayoum today.

Two stone temples from the Ptolemaic period remain standing, one of which dates back to the first century BCE and is dedicated to the crocodile god Sobek.

Karanis was one of the first Graeco-Roman sites ever to be excavated in Egypt, and it has produced important evidence for what daily life might have been like for the average Egyptian living under Greek, and subsequently Roman, rule.

Mahmoud Afifi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Department at the ministry, said that the excavation of Karanis started in 1895 under the direction of British archaeologists Bernard Pyne Grenfell and Arthur Surridge Hunt. The excavation work continued in 1925 under the direction of the University of Michigan, the first to realise the potential of the study of Graeco-Roman sites in Egypt.

The town has provided valuable information on everyday life, religious cults, administration and industries during the Graeco-Roman period. A collection of papyri and documents were found in very good condition, and this has the special significance of being able to be read in context with the architecture and artefacts of the town.

The Michigan team found five datable levels of stratigraphy during excavations of the three main areas covered. The site has since been excavated by a team from Cairo University and more recently by the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology.

Fayoum has been an important cultural centre since the fifth millennium BCE, and it was occupied by two successive civilisations during the Neolithic era when people lived in huts or simple structures of wood, mats and twigs.

The remains of cooking fires have been found around the residential sites and in the middle of small huts. Rounded grain silos have been found buried in higher areas.

The inhabitants of Fayoum worked in jewelry production, animal husbandry and basketry. They made sophisticated stone tools like arrowheads and knives, as well as various types of pottery. They used various cosmetic materials and tools, and a lot of simple shaped palettes used to grind cosmetic materials have also been found.

Large quantities of fish bones have been found in the housing site, indicating fishing. The attractive nature of Fayoum also influenced the population, which used to hunt hippopotamus, antelopes, crocodiles, elephants and deer and domesticated sheep, cows and dogs.

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