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DAYR ABŪ MAṬṬĀ

Place names
Arabicدير ابو مطا
EnglishDeir Abu Matta | Deir Abu Metta
Site map
Site information
DEChriM ID22
Trismegistos GeoID56763
Pleiades ID667956220
PAThs ID176
Ancient name-
Modern nameDayr Abū Maṭṭā
Latitude25.593813
Longitude28.912539
Date from-
Date to-
TypologyMonastic settlement
Dating criteria-
Description

The site of Dayr Abū Maṭṭā is situated in western Dakhla, 2.5km N-W of the modern town of Rašda. There are three distinct building areas on the site: that of the church, the structures to the north of the church, and the structures to the west of the church. As a result of the disturbance, however, determining the temporal relations between the features and a general sequence of occupation if a rather complicated task, with very few undisturbed contexts.


Northern Structures
To the area immediately north of the church, particularly the north-east, are several overlapping walls situated at oblique angles, comprising the ‘northern structures’. Four building/activity phases have been identified here, determined via difference in masonry properties and techniques (Bowen 2012: 439). The area pre-dates the construction of the church, indicated by the fact that all the N-S oriented walls were cut back in the south to accommodate the construction of the northern wall of the church. After the abandonment of the official use of the area it was utilised as a cemetery, with this being understood as the final phase of activity.  It is assumed that this cemetery was established while the church was operational, but this cannot be verified (Bowen 2012: 448). The exact number of graves is difficult to determine due to the considerable damage done to the floor, but of those that are identifiable, all were either cut into the fill of the floor and into, or against, earlier walls, indicating that they post-date the intended use of the north structures. Similarly, two were cut into the lower courses of the north wall of the church and so post-date the construction, but not necessarily the use, of the church (Bowen 2012: 439). All the identifiable interments were oriented E-W, and all but two were disturbed.


Church
The church is a three-aisled basilica with a triple apse constructed of mudbrick, with the walls built in sections. Remains of column plinths indicate a return aisle, typical of Upper Egyptian churches, also seen at the large East Church at Kellis which has been dated to the fourth century. It was built above pre-existing structures which continue to the north, as part of the northern structures mentioned above, which are understood to date from the fourth century (Bowen 2009: page). There is no indication that these earlier structures were of an ecclesiastical nature, however.


All contexts within the church are very disturbed, with the only sealed deposits being beneath the floor in space 1, that is the area in the north of the church, parallel to the east wall, and beneath the paved area in T15, west of the sanctuary. Ceramics from both these areas have been dated by C. Hope to the fourth century, and presumably relate to the early structures. Ceramics from the test below the western wall of the church date to the fourth and fifth centuries, indicating that the church was constructed during the fifth century (Bowen 2012: 449). Similarly, ceramic assemblages associated with the church date to the fifth and sixth centuries. A demotic ostracon was retrieved from beneath the church, which may attest a slightly earlier date for the occupation of the site, but this is very slender evidence and cannot be relied upon. It is relatively safe to assume that the church and associated structures were abandoned by the 7th century (Bowen 2012: 449).


There are several pit graves inside the church, predominantly in the west, which have been cut through the mud floor into the sand on which the church is built. Like in the northern structures, most of these burials are considerably disturbed. The one undisturbed interment was of an infant. It is difficult to determine the chronology of these burials due to the damage to the floor, but it seems unlikely that the church was built above a pre-existing cemetery. It is most likely that the graves were cut following the abandonment of the church for formal worship in the church (Bowen 2012: 448).


Western Structures: ‘Tower’, Eastern Extension & Area south of the E-E
Tower
The main western structure, henceforth referred to as the ‘tower’, is a substantial building with a suite of four rooms separated by an E-W running corridor, located to the west of the church, and built on the same alignment. The earliest phase of this space seems to pre-date the church and is apparently represented by the north and western walls of the tower, as well as some of the low walls encountered in T5 (reference). Several additional construction phases followed, with the final phase understood to be represented by the blocking of doorways, the insertion of graves and division of the eastern extension and may be contemporaneous with the domestic activity post-dating the intended use of the ‘tower’, indicated by the intrusive hearth in the corridor of the tower. The function of the western buildings remains unclear. Although it was used contemporaneously with the church, there is no direct evidence that they were part of a monastic complex.


Some 21 Coptic ostraka were found in the tower, with a further seven found in the eastern extension. Those from the 2011 season are written in Sahidic dialect and can be dated from the latter part of the fourth through to the fifth centuries (Bowen 2011: page). Likewise, the ceramic assemblage from the early phase within the tower dates to the fourth and fifth centuries, with the ceramic from the modification phases dating from the fifth/sixth centuries. The interpretation of the structure belonging to a monastic community was based on the tower-like appearance (ğawsaq) of the structure, which is an integral element of monastic architecture.


Eastern Extension
The eastern extension was built between the eastern wall of the tower and the western wall of the church, with two identifiable building phases (reference). Five E-W oriented graves were uncovered here, cut through the rubble and into the low floor, three in the north ‘room’ and two in the south. One grave was undisturbed and contained the remains of an adult female, four had been desecrated and a few human remains were scattered throughout the area. To the east of this structure is a passageway, between the eastern extension and the church. At some point, the northern entrance to this passageway was blocked. Here, a well-preserved mud floor laid on sand between the walls of both structures was encountered. The excavators interpreted this floor as an indication that the church and the eastern extension were built at the same time, contradicting previously stated chronological conclusions (Bowen 2011: page). Sherds from beneath the floor date to the fourth and fifth century.


Additional evidence to take into consideration regarding the dating of the ‘tower’ and the church are the radiocarbon dates retrieved in the 2011 season. These results, which have not yet been published, were presented by Gillian Bowen at the Australian Egyptology Conference that took place on July 18th, 2014. The analysis was conducted on straw inclusions in the mud bricks of both structures, which provided a fourth century date (Ghica 2019: 136). Such a date is incredibly significant, as it would require the complete reconsideration of the development of architectural models in Egypt, specifically regarding triconch churches which are currently understood to not have developed until the fifth century, with the White Monastery Church considered the earliest example and thus the architectural model for all other occurrences (Ghica 2019: 136).


Area south of the Eastern Extension
The area comprises a series of basins, which post-date the construction of the eastern extension and underwent numerous modifications. Ceramics from this area date between the fourth and sixth centuries; those from the lowest fill (beneath a section of floor against the wall of the eastern extension, and from the sand on which the structures were built) date no later than the fourth century, with a few diagnostic sherds belonging to vessels of the third century, and some seventh century sherds also found in the upper deposits of the storage bins (Bowen 2012: 448).


Datable finds from the site, majority of which derive from disturbed contexts, include six identifiable coins: two issues of Constans, one as Caesar (330-37) and one struck between 348 and 350, one struck by Constantine I between 324-30, one dating to Valens sometime after 364, and two from the reign of Theodosius (379-83); as well as fragments of lamps/goblets, plates and bottles, which have been dated from the late fourth throughout the fifth centuries, as well as an ostracon ‘written in a 4th-5th century hand’, and a small mud seal with an impression of a crux ansata (Bowen et al. 2010: page; Bowen 2012: 442).

Archaeological research

E. Winlock visited the site in 1908, where he made a plan of the church and took a number of photographs, one of which was included (alongside the plan and a short description) in a book dedicated to his travels in Dakhla (Winlock 1936: 24). The site was then surveyed by members of the Dakhleh Oasis Project (DOP) in 1979 and 1980, when they exposed four burials outside of the north wall of the church, which were interpreted as being Christian (Mills 1981: 185). After an initial survey in 2007, led by Monash University, excavations of the site began in 2008, and continued until 2012.

Bibliography

• Aravecchia, N. 2015. “Christianity at Trimithis and in the Dakhla Oasis.” In An Oasis City, edited by R. S. Bagnall, N. Aravecchia, R. Cribiore, P. Davoli, O. E. Kaper and S. McFadden, 119-148. New York: NYU Press.
• Bowen, G. E. 2008. “The Church of Deir Abu Metta and a Christian Cemetery in Dakhleh Oasis: A Brief Report.” Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 19: 7-16.
• Bowen, G. E. 2009. “The Church of Deir Abu Metta, Dakhleh Oasis: A Report on the 2009 Excavation.” Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 20: 7-25.
• Bowen, G. E. 2011. “The 2011 Field Season at Deir Abu Metta, Dakhleh Oasis.” Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 22: 7-16.
• Bowen, G. E. 2012. “The Church of Dayr Abu Matta and its Associated Structures: An Overview of Four Seasons of Excavation.” In The Oasis Papers 6: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of the Dakhleh Oasis Project, edited by R. S. Bagnall, P. Davoli and C. A. Hope, 429-50. Oxford: Oxbow Books.
• Bowen, G. E. 2019. “Christianity in Dakhleh Oasis: An Archaeological Overview.” In The Oasis Papers 9: A Tribute to Anthony J. Mills after Forty Years of Research in Dakhleh Oasis. Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference of the Dakhleh Oasis Projects, edited by Gillian E. Bowen and Colin A. Hope, with the assistance of Bruce E. Parr, 373. Oxford and Philadelphia: Oxbow Books.
• Bowen, G. and T. Dupras. Forthcoming. “The Christian Burials at Dayr Abu Matta, Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt. Bioarchaeology of the Near East.“
• Bowen, G. E., L. Falvey, C. A. Hope, D. Jones, J. Petkov and L. Woodfield. 2010. “The 2010 Field Season at Deir Abu Metta, Dakhleh Oasis.” Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 21: 7-20.
• Ghica, V. 2012. “Pour une histoire du christianisme dans le désert Occidental d’Égypte.” Journal des Savants 2: 189-280.
• Ghica, V. 2019. “L’archéologie du monachisme égyptien au IVe siècle: État de la question.” In Nag Hammadi à 70 ans, qu’avons-nous appris? Nag Hammadi at 70: What Have We Learned? Colloque international, Québec, Université Laval, 29-31 mai 2015, edited by E. Crégheur, L. Painchaud and Tu. Rasimus, 135-137. Leuven-Paris-Bristol: Peeters.
• Grossmann, P. 1989. “Neue frühchristliche Funde aus Ägypten.” In Actes du XIe congrès international d’archéologie chrétienne. Lyon, Vienne, Grenoble, Genève, Aoste, 21-28 septembre 1986. Rome: École Française de Rome, 1989: 1897.
• Grossmann, P. 1991. “Dayr Abu-Matta.” In The Coptic Encyclopedia, vol. 3, edited by A. S. Atiya, 522. New York: MacMillan Publishing Company.
• Mills, A. J. 1981. “The Dakhleh Oasis Project: Report on the Third Season of Survey September–December, 1980.” Journal of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities 11: 185.
• Turney, C., G. E. Bowen and C. A. Hope. Forthcoming. “Dating the Triconch Church, Monastic Complex and Burials at Dayr Abu Matta, Dakhleh Oasis, Egypt.” Journal of Archaeological Science.
• Winlock, H. E. 1936. Ed Dakhleh Oasis: Journal of a Camel Trip Made in 1908. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Authors
Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica, 2020
Suggested citation
Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica, 2020, "Dayr Abū Maṭṭā", 4CARE database - Fourth-Century Christian Archaeological Record of Egypt, https://4care-skos.mf.no/places/22
Site area: Sub site
Area nameSub site
DescriptionDescription of subsite field
BibliographySub site bibliography
Json data
Maps
© R. Williams 2020, after Bowen 2012
© H.E. Winlock 1936
© P. Grossmann 2002
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