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DŪŠ (KYSIS)

Place names
Egyptian Kš / Gš
Greek Κυσις
Arabicدوش | قصر دوش | قلعة دوش
EnglishDush | Dosh
FrenchDouch
Site map
Site information
DEChriM ID1
Trismegistos GeoID2761
Pleiades ID776191
PAThs ID-
Ancient nameKysis
Modern nameDūš
Latitude24.580809
Longitude30.716849
Date from-393
Date to450
TypologyVillage
Dating criteria

Radiocarbon, numismatics, ceramic   

Description

The site of Dūš, known as Kysis in antiquity, is a large town located in the south of Kharga Oasis, 17.5 km from Šams al-Dīn. As the first site in the Western Desert to be systematically excavated, the archaeological research conducted here has been on-going and extensive. The current chronology of the site consists of four main phases of occupation: phase 0 (Ptolemaic period, but also including at least the beginning of the fourth century BCE based on a demotic ostracon); phase I (1st-2nd centuries); phase II (transition period, end of 2nd/beginning of 3rd – end of 3rd/beginning of 4th centuries); phase III (Lower Empire, end of 3rd/beginning of 4th – beginning of 5th centuries), finally ending with the abandonment of the site in the mid-fifth century CE (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 209; Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 287). Notable features include a structure denoted ‘the Fort’, a temple complex, and a residential area (‘the village’).


The 'Fort' (Kasr)
The most visible and domineering feature of the site, the so-called ‘Fort’ is a mud-brick structure situated west of the stone temple of Isis/Serapis. Despite the name, its architectural elements clearly indicate that it could not have been used as a defensive structure. As of yet, only a limited number of test trenches have been opened here due to the questionable architectural stability, with the walls, standing some 13 meters, predominantly supported by the extensive sanding, which if removed, could lead to collapse (Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 284). The lack of excavation and considerable complexity of the internal spaces perhaps mostly magazines) makes establishing a relative chronology considerably difficult. The most distinctively identifiable chronological marker is the primitive ‘nucleus’ of the kasr, located in the S-E corner (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 93, 121, 169). This structure, the so-called ‘old fort’, is characterised by yellow bricks, and acted as the kernel from which the current ‘Fort’ was developed. Carbon samples taken from here (as well as from the enclosure of the Temple of Serapis) testify to indisputable Persian and Ptolemaic occupation (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 121, 172). These carbon dates are also accompanied by the discovery of two bronze coins found in the western passage of the ‘Fort’, displaying the effigy of Ptolemy II (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 172).


All of the visible compartments inside the fort, however, are from a very late phase of occupation, understood to be contemporaneous with the use of the space by the Roman army (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 93, 170, 174). This military presence is attested to by the large number of military ostraca found both in the ‘Fort’, as well as the second courtyard of the temple (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 175). There is no papyrological evidence of the Roman military being present in Dūš prior to the fourth century CE, the period when the greatest expansion appears to have taken place (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 200; Gehad, Wuttmann, Whitehouse, Foad, Marchand 2013: 170). It was in fact, the departure of these soldiers which marks the abandonment of the site (Ghica 2012: 213). Considering the domineering appearance of the structure and the documented presence of the military, one understands the classification of the structure as a fort; however, the absence of towers, a solidly defended door, as well as the rarity of square forts, more likely point towards the use of the structure as perhaps a guard post, a granary, a group of magazines or a combination of all or some of these, as was probably the case with the old kasr, built some seven to eight centuries before its use by the Roman military (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 175).


Religious Complex
This complex, located at the S-E end of the tell, east of the ‘Fort’, is one of the main features of the site. Comprising a stone temple dedicated to Serapis and Isis, as well as a number of associated annexes, it offers a great deal of chronological insight through architecture, as well as inscriptions and graffiti. The complex is approached via the main N-S running dromos, next to which lie the excavated village structures. The first identifiable feature of the complex is a pylon built under Trajan, behind which is a back-to-back portico, then a first courtyard preceding a second monumental door built under Hadrian; this door leads to the enclosure surrounding the temple of Serapis and Isis (Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 284; Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 93, 177). This temple is built in stone and was constructed on top of an initial mud-brick building of which little is known (Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 284; Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 177). Radiocarbon dates of the enclosure in which the stone temple is situated indicate Persian and Ptolemaic occupation, while the cartouches found inside the temple show that it was erected under Domitian, with decorations being completed under Hadrian (Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 284; Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 121, 172, 229, 180). Within the same enclosure in which the stone temple is located, lies an additional courtyard which then gives access to a sanctuary that appears to have been established ‘partially on the layout of its own enclosure’ (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 168).


Trying to establish a comprehensive chronology of the complex is a difficult task considering the many and diverse architectural modifications carried out over an extensive period of time. There are, none the less, a number of significant chronological markers. The first pylon, restored in the early 1990s by M. Wuttmann, is attributed to Trajan, but it is clear that this was only the last in a series of modifications, while the construction of the monumental door that follows is dated to Hadrian (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 94). The foundation of this latter feature cuts an even earlier foundation, and the current temple is situated on top of remains of an earlier mud-brick structure, clearly indicating that the current structures are the result of a series of alterations (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 168; Gehad, Wuttmann, Whitehouse, Foad, Marchand 2013: 159). It appears that from the fourth century CE onwards, a number of areas of the temple were modified and compartmentalised in order to be re-used in contexts different from their original purpose, including their reoccupation by the military (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 93). It has also been theorised that the temple was transformed into an early Christian church (Sauneron et al. 1978: 31-33; Reddé 1999a: 80; Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 75, 94). This hypothesis is substantiated by the presence of Christian graffiti and dipinti, indicating the decommissioning of the temple (Wagner 1987: 57-58, 358; Ghica 2012: 214). A number of Greek ostraca found in the first and second levels of occupation, both dating from the end of the fourth century, ‘testify to the rapidity of the floors and support the hypothesis of a continuous redevelopment of the premises’ (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 98).


The Village
Excavations in this area took place from 1985 until 1990, with four structures being investigated, numbered I to IV (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 25). Three of these initially investigated structures were situated on the eastern side of the N-S running dromos leading to the temple enclosure, with another on the western side (Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 285). A campaign in 2008/2009 uncovered an additional house situated on the western side of the dromos, which boasted a number of wall paintings. This area appears to show an extended period of occupation. Each of the buildings excavated so far showing various phases of construction and modification, with a consistent representation of a final stage of agrarian re-use/occupation indicated by a layer of animal feces and fodder (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 69).


Building I
One of the main areas of note is Building I, excavated in 1985/86, understood to have originally been a domestic structure. This building shows clear signs of modification in its final stages of use, with the original plan being noticeably interrupted by the erection of 11 columns in the centre of the building, arranged in two N-S parallel lines consisting of five columns each, and one situated in between these rows at the northern end and creating what could be identified as a return aisle  (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 29). Traces of polychrome painted decoration were preserved on two of the columns and several arch fragments were also found (Gehad, Wuttmann, Whitehouse, Foad, Marchand 2013: 159). A number of loculi were then created, and a low wall in the “shape of an arc of a circle” was erected in the center of the space delimited by the columns, “resting on columns 3 and 9, and closing the median nave to the north” (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 30). The occupation level associated with the construction of these columns contained a coin of Constantine, as well as a coin struck under Valentinian between 364 and 378, testifying to the use of the modified space in the second half of the fourth century (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 32, 72). This structure, tentatively identified as a domus ecclesiae by Ch. Bonnet, appears to have been abandoned less than a century later, with the associated ceramics of this late occupation phase dating to the end of the fourth-middle of the fifth century CE (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 32, 72, 74, 77; Ghica 2012: 214).


Building IV
Another structure of significance is Building IV, specifically room 1. In the N-W corner of this room, a small mud-brick C-shaped construction has been uncovered, with the stratigraphy identifying it as one of the latest installations. “In the center of the C, a small, almost square occulus is formed by four mud-brick walls; the very particular shape of this construction is reminiscent of an early Christian stibadium with a table in the center” (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 54). Direct parallels of this can be seen at Ismant al-Ḫarāb, Amḥayda (next to the so-called ‘House of Serenos’), Šams al-Dīn, al-Baǧawāt and Dayr al-Baǧawāt. This ‘sigma bench’ was subsequently considered the most explicit architectural evidence of the Christian population of the site. The stratigraphy clearly indicates re-use of the space after the relatively quick abandonment in the fifth century by a pastoralist community (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 76, 79).


The Painted House
This structure is located on the western side of the dromos, “on the plateau between the two temples” (Gehad, Wuttmann, Whitehouse, Foad, Marchand 2013: 158). In the S-E corner of the central room, excavators found a square space, the northern and western walls of which were painted. Unfortunately, only the lower portion of the walls remain. None the less, three figures are discernable, including one clothed in military dress. Analysis of the organic material found in the room in conjunction with the ceramic assemblage provides a date from the first quarter of the fourth century (Gehad, Wuttmann, Whitehouse, Foad, Marchand 2013: 161). For a full (preliminary) analysis of the possible interpretation of the figures, see Gehad, Wuttmann, Whitehouse, Foad, Marchand 2013.


Christian Presence
The presence of Building IV, as well as the columns in Building I, have been interpreted as evidence of informal Christian worship (Ghica 2010: 214). In relation to formal Christian worship, however, the architectural evidence is considerably limited, with no official church building having yet been identified. Cailliaud mentioned a church he saw during his visit, which included an elaborately painted scene of Saint George, but this structure remains unidentified to this day (Cailliaud 1821: 90; Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 181, 206). It has, however, been tentatively associated with a structure located to the East of the stone temple among a number of annex buildings (perhaps shops), which are associated with a fourth century level of abandonment (based on coins minted between 363 and 395 (Grimal 1994: 398-399; Grimal 1995: 567, 583; Grimal 1996: 519; Reddé 2004a; Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 93). The classification of the structure as a church is uncertain, though painted scenes, including the depiction of a human figure and a crux ansata, potentially argue in favour of both its Christian nature as well as its association with the building described by Cailliaud (Grimal 1994: 339; Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 75).


The Christian population at Dūš is discreet, but the evidence is undeniable. The most distinctive markers are onomastic; for example, among the soldiers stationed here for several decades, 361 of the 1843 had supposedly ‘Christian’ names (Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 287; Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire and Bonnet 2004: 206; Ghica 2012: 215). An additional key feature regarding the Christian presence at Dūš concerns a papyrological record of necrotaphs, indicating Christian presence at the end of the third century CE (Reddé, Ballet, Lemaire, Bonnet 2004: 206). While informative, this document has led to the potentially skewed interpretation of the Christianness of those working in the necropolis. Consequently, the necropolis has become a key area of focus.


Necropolises
There are a number of necropolises on the site, located to the north of the settlement area. The use of these necropolises appears to span some five centuries, starting at the end of the first century BCE and extending to the end of the fourth/beginning of the fifth century CE (Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 294). A total of 95 tombs and some 700 individuals have so far been uncovered, providing a great deal of anthropological, ethnographic and cultural insight into the population of the site. The certified Christian presence at Dūš, and the information contained in the collection of papyrus concerning the necrotaphoi, have somewhat coloured the investigations of the necropolises, with an aim of the excavators seemingly being distinguishing Christian from non-Christian graves. As of yet, only Tomb 1 of the necropolis ‘of the pigeonnier’ has been classified as Christian (Reddé, Dunand, Lichtenberg, Heim, Ballet 1990: 294, 295; Dunand, Heim, Lichtenberg 1998: 131-132; Lichtenberg Dunand, Heim, Henein, Lichtenberg 2005: 4, 6). Most of the Christian material from the necropolises, has, however, not yet been published. None the less, the (ongoing) investigation of these necropolises has provided detailed insight into developments in funerary practices in antiquity, specifically pertaining to tomb typology, mummification practices and the inclusion/exclusion of particularly grave goods.

Archaeological research

While having been visited by some European travellers in the 17th century, namely missionaries, the first description of the site was not provided until 1821 by Cailliaud. Herein he gives a brief description of the village and the temple, including copies of a number of inscriptions from the vault. This work was then followed by that of Hyde (published by Salt in 1819), Hoskins (1835), and Wilkinson (1843). Unlike Cailliaud, Hoskins offers a precise and accurate depiction of the temple, while also recognising the dedications to Trajan, Domitian and Hadrian. While Wilkinson identifies the dedication of the temple to Serapis and makes the correlation between Dūš and the ancient city of Kysis. Keeping with the times, the site was visited by those in search of papyrus, at which point the “Dossier of the Necrotaphs” was uncovered and published in 1897 by Grenfell and Hunt. The turn of the century made way for more scientific investigations to be carried out, with John Ball conducting the first survey in 1898. This was followed by the instigation of hydrological studies initially carried out by Beadnell, who was the first to describe the qanāt. A. Azadian (1927 & 1930) continued with these hydrological studies, and R. Naumann (1939) published a dimensional plan and section of both of the temples. The two world wars somewhat immobilised scientific investigations, but work was initiated again in the 50s by French scholar Serge Sauneron who published a number of works in 1954 and 1955. Sauneron, who went on to become the director of l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale (IFAO), then led the first proper excavation campaign on the site in 1976. A second campaign was planned for the same year but was prevented by Sauneron’s death. A second campaign was carried out in 1978-9 directed by Jean Gascou where the surroundings of the sanctuary were cleared and the first exploration of the necropolis was undertaken. Gascou maintained directorship for five seasons, throughout which time were the beginnings of the study of the ‘Fort’, surveying of the site (and the oasis in general), and the systematic epigraphic studies of the walls of the temple. In 1982, Guy Wagner was appointed director and fieldwork was put on a two-year pause while a number of scientific studies were conducted. In 1985, the management of the site was handed over to Michel Reddé who directed five campaigns (Reddé 2004: 9). From 1992, conservation and restoration work began to be conducted under the supervision of Michel Wuttmann, while the focus of excavators shifted to the site of ʿAyn Manāwir, 3.5 km to the west. Although limited, excavations were then again carried out at Dūš between 2008 and 2009 by Basem Gehad, under Michel Wuttmann's direction. Following a fortuitous discovery, the dig was restricted to a mud-brick house on the western side of the dromos, which features a number of wall paintings (Gehad, Wuttmann, Whitehouse, Foad, Marchand 2013: 158). After eight years of interruption, IFAO's mission at Douch has been relaunched by Victor Ghica in 2022, with a first season dedicated to the reconstruction of a collapsed wall in the western part of the first court, next to Trajan's gate, and the anastylosis of the columns in the portico behing Trajan's gate.

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Authors
Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica, 2020
Suggested citation
Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica, 2020, "Dūš", 4CARE database - Fourth-Century Christian Archaeological Record of Egypt, https://4care-skos.mf.no/places/1
Site area: North church
Area nameNorth church
Descriptionxxx
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© M. Reddé 2004
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© M. Reddé 2004
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