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Place names
Arabicأم الدباديب
EnglishUmm Dabadib | Umm el-Dabadib
FrenchOmm Dabadib | Oum el-Dabadib
Site map
Site information
Trismegistos GeoID61709
Pleiades ID776237
Ancient name-
Modern nameUmm al-Dabādīb
Date from-100
Date to499
Dating criteria-

Umm al-Dabādīb is a remote site, located to the north of the Darb ʿAin Amūr and 45km N-W of the ancient city of Hibis (Rossi 2017: 20). It is also known as the ‘Oasis of Abbas’ and ‘Ain Elwan’ (Ball 1900: 53; Rossi & Ikram 2018: 205). It was probably inhabited since Ptolemaic times, with settlement intensification in the second/third century CE, with uncertain periods of occupation, and eventually being re-used and abandoned in the early twentieth century (Ghica 2012: 210; Rossi & Ikram 2018: 206). The site comprises a number of archaeological sectors divided into the Northern Settlement, the Eastern Settlement, and the ‘Fortified’ Settlement, with a number of cultivation areas in the west a number of aqueducts, some ten cemeteries and at least one hermitage (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 296).

Northern Settlement
As indicated by the name, this settlement is located in the northern area of the site. The ceramic assemblages in this sector lack fourth and fifth century indicators, subsequently being understood to date to the third century CE, making it the earliest of the settlements at Umm al-Dabādīb (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 283, 286, 299; Ghica 2012: 210). The architectural typology differs from that in the ‘Fortified’ Settlement, with the houses being constructed as architecturally independent entities (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 286). The settlement is located in a hollow near a well accompanied by a small temple (Rossi & Fiorillo 2018: 375). This well is understood to have been the origin of the entirety of Umm al-Dabādīb: a natural water source located on an ancient caravan route, between the main core of the oasis and the ‘tiny isolated water station of Ain Amur’ (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 283; Rossi & Fiorillo 2018: 374). The ceramic around this spring is the earliest of the site, tentatively dated to the Late Ptolemaic era (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 281, 293; Rossi & Fiorillo 2018: 374).

The Temple
Designated ‘Chapel B’, the Temple is located north of the Northern Settlement, adjacent to the aforementioned spring (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 293). At least three construction phases have been identified with the following chronology. On the west side of the temple complex lies a square room, designated section A, that is ‘covered by a shallow dome on pendentives, above which is a flat mud roof’. Immediately to the east of this western cluster of buildings lies section B, clearly the largest building of the complex consisting of an ambitious vault, the largest self-supporting vault thus found in the oasis (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 294). This has been classified as the main room of the temple. A number of additions were added to the complex around section A, consisting of a narrow barrel-vaulted room running E-W, as well as a second square domed space; together these additions comprise section C. After the completion of section B, the vault appears to have begun to spread, resulting in cracking in the perimeter wall. This was amended by the addition of a large buttress built against the perimeter wall, identified as section D. This structure appears to have been Roman, perhaps dating to the second century CE, based on parallels with the second century temples at Ismant al-Ḫarāb (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 283, 296). Further excavations would be necessary, however, in order to develop a more substantial chronology.

‘Fortified’ Settlement
This section is located to the south of the Northern Settlement and is a later construction. The ceramic assemblages from this area dates to the fourth century (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 281, 293; Rossi & Fiorillo 2018: 375). Despite its name, the perimeter wall enclosing the settlement is only one brick thick, indicating that it was not constructed to withstand actual assault. Rather, it was simply intended to have a defensible appearance. There are, nevertheless, attestations of the Roman army stationed in the area (Rossi & Fiorillo 2018: 389). The houses in this settlement were constructed without interruption, seemingly as part of the same architectural unit, differing from those of the Northern Settlement, which were architecturally independent. It is possible that these structures of the ‘Fortified’ Settlement were connected by narrow covered ‘streets’, as can be seen at al-Qaṣr in Dakhleh (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 286). The houses were well-constructed in a grid pattern, centred around the central ‘Fort’, with parallels seen in the settlements found at ʿAyn al-Labaḫa, Qaṣr al-Nisīma, Muḥammad Tulayb and Qaṣr al-Baramūnī (Rossi & Fiorillo 2018: 375).

The ‘Fort’
This structure is located in the centre of the ‘Fortified’ Settlement. Originally with five floors, it stands to a height of 10-13 meters in some areas (Wagner 1987: 169; Rossi & Fiorillo 2018: 376). Despite its domineering appearance, the ‘Fort’ is likely to have been an administrative building, rather than a proper military construction (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 281, 286). A cross has been found on the lintel of the structure raising questions about the nature of the building, with suggestions that perhaps it was originally a monastic building. This has been rejected, however, considering the strong parallels between Umm al-Dabādīb and Settlement A to the south of Qar al-Sumayra and ʿAyn al-Labaḫa, which are known military installations. It is more reasonable to view Umm al-Dabādīb in light of the same large-scale building program (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 291). This program is understood to be the result of Diocletian’s visit to Egypt at the end the third century, “which appears to have triggered the construction of several fortresses and forts all over Egypt” (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 284). It is more likely that the cross was a later addition, coinciding with the construction of the church (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 291).

The Church
This is a later addition protruding from the eastern boundary wall of the Fortified Settlement, located directly to the east of the ‘Fort’. The complete plan of the church is not entirely readable, but it is possible that there were two construction phases (Ghica 2012: 211). It is “built of mud-bricks laid in mortar, aligned E-W with a trefoil apse slightly off the central axis of the building and covered by a semi-dome” (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 292). The church is decorated with a number of Greek and Coptic inscriptions, first reported by Blundell (1894: 237), much of which postdate the abandonment of the city in the fourth century CE (Wagner 1987: 169; Ghica 2012: 211). Three of these Coptic graffiti have been published in Rossi and Ikram’s 2018 publication North Kharga Oasis Survey: Explorations in Egypt’s Western Desert (Rossi & Ikram 2018: 241). Apart from this church, the ‘Fortified’ Settlement shows few signs of modification, indicating a relatively short period of occupation (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 284).

Eastern Settlement
Visibly smaller than the Northern Settlement, it is situated roughly at the same distance from the ‘Fort’ as the Northern Settlement (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 287). The ceramic assemblages from this area date to the fourth century, like those of the ‘Fortified’ Settlement (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 281). The same early fourth century ceramic assemblages found at the ‘Fortified’ and Eastern settlements indicate that the two were constructed as part of a single building project which can be seen as a sort of settlement intensification (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 283).

Like Dūš, Ismant al-Ḫarāb and ʿAyn al-Tarākwa, Umm al-Dabādīb was abandoned towards the end of the fourth century, after which point we see evidence of hermitic occupation (Ghica 2012: 211). Located in the very north, on the edge of the wādī containing aqueducts 4 and 5, lies a rock-cut cave that appears to have been used as a hermitage sometime in the fifth century (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 292; Ghica 2012: 211). The walls of the cave have been deliberately shaped to create somewhat vertical surfaces, into which a number of niches and emplacements for shelves were cut (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 293). The mud-plastered walls contain a number of explicitly Christian Coptic graffito (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 293; Ghica 2012: 211; Rossi & Ikram 2018: 268). Further up the cliff, near aqueduct 6, an additional installation has been identified, tentatively classified as a hermitage. No religious signs were found, however, perhaps suggesting that it functioned as a guard-post (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 281; Ghica 2012: 211). The ceramic assemblage from this guard-post/hermitage dates to the fourth century (Rossi & Ikram 2006: 281; Ghica 2012: 211).

Archaeological research

The site has been visited and surveyed countless times. Initially visited and briefly described by Cailliaud in 1821, it was then visited by John Ball in 1898, and again by H. J. Beadnell in 1909 whose focus was the subterranean aqueducts (Beadnell 1909: 57). H. E. Winlock visited the site but did not publish anything, instead simply mentioning the presence of a well in a personal communication (unpublished notes in the Metropolitan Museum of Art). Elinor Wight Gardner and Gertrude Caton Thompson then visited the site in 1932-22, conducting a number of geological surveys (Gardner & Caton Thompson 1933). Ahmed Fakhry also wrote about the site focusing on the aqueducts, similarly to Beadnell (Fakhry 1974: 34). Systematic and extensive investigations did not begin until 1998, when Corinna Rossi visited the area, which led to the creation of the North Kharga Oasis Survey (NKOS), co-founded with Salima Ikram. The first fieldwork conducted occurred in 2002, which was the third season of NKOS, and consisted of GPS and theodolite surveys. A number of additional theodolite surveys were carried out between 2001 and 2007. Rossi then founded the Old Agricultural Sites and Irrigation Systems (OASIS) project in 2012, in collaboration with the MUSA Centre of the University of Napoli Frederico II. A number of 3D surveys of the Fortified Settlement and the entire agricultural system were carried out as part of OASIS between 2013 and 2015. In 2014 and 2015, Francesco Fassi and Alessandro Mandelli performed a 3D survey of the entire Fortified Settlement. The work conducted, and the information collected eventually enabled the creation of the LIFE project (“Living in a Fringe Environment”) for which Rossi partnered with the Politecnico di Milano and the MUSA Centre (Musei delle Scienze Agrarie) of the University of Napoli Frederico II. Rossi received an ERC Consolidator Grant for the project in 2015, and activities commenced in 2016.


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In Proceedings of the 3rd IMEKO International Conference on Metrology for Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, Lecce, Italy, 23-25 October 2017. Budapest: Curran Associates, 139-44. 
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Italian Mission to Umm al-Dabadib, Season 2015 – Preliminary Report. Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo 74: 149-161.
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Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica , 2020
Suggested citation
Rhiannon Williams, Victor Ghica , 2020, "Umm al-Dabādīb", 4CARE database - Fourth-Century Christian Archaeological Record of Egypt,
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