Neal Spencer, British Museum
In 2009, we excavated a relatively well-preserved large villa (E12.10) outside the western town wall. The magnetometry survey data (thanks to the British School in Rome team) had allowed us to identify the structure as a villa and see the layout of its room, and excavation progressed with few surprises.
Rooms appeared much as we expected: food preparation areas (ovens, grinding emplacements), a staircase, room with a central hearth, and more private areas at the back that included a paved room with a mastaba (low bench) and a small room with bed alcove. A sondage (small test excavation) through the floor revealed rubbish layers indicating the villa was of late New Kingdom date, probably built over a century after the walled town was first founded.
Villa D12.5 has, in contrast, been far from straightforward. Excavated under the supervision of Vera Michel and Rizwan Safir, the first weeks were filled with recording seemingly endless layers of roof and wall collapse. At the back, southern end, of the villa, deep pitting had destroyed much of the architecture, leaving us with the feeling of being condemned to an eternal sandpit (regularly topped-up courtesy of the north wind).
As the progress of excavation slowed, and more time was spent clarifying details and recording the architecture, a clearer picture started to emerge – sometimes through small areas of flooring or wall that survived the massive pitting. In discussion today, just before the workmen left, Rizwan, Vera and I sketched out a ‘story’ for the villa. The ‘story’ is likely to change, or be refined, but it’s an important starting point.
It is now clear that villa D12.5 has many of the same features as that we excavated previously. A long rectangular plan, dominated by a large courtyard. A suite of rooms dedicated to food processing and storage, though here the storage is in the form of circular silos not rectangular bins. A broad room in the centre of the house – perhaps once provided with a hearth. The back part of the villa is too damaged to reconstruct, but the other villa suggests we should expect a central reception room, perhaps with one or two rooms off it, including a master bedroom.
Two parts of the villa – greyed-out in the picture – are later additions – new walls which subdivided the large courtyard.
There are important differences between the two villas:
- The front door faces east. If it had faced north, the winds and sand would soon have become unbearable for those living inside (the other villa faces south, so does not have this problem).
- The food processing area is at the back, not near the front of the villa. Again, placing it in the south-eastern corner means any smoke, ash and rubbish from these rooms would not have blown into the villa itself.
Many questions remain unanswered. Is the staircase inside the front door – an unusual position – original? Were the additional rooms needed when the villa became home to several households or families? What are the buildings built against the west wall of the new villa?
In the coming days, we’ll look at the masses of pottery from a rubbish layer under the villa, which will provide a first hint at the date of this structure.
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