Sacral Topography of a Monastic Landscape

(FWF Project: I 3190-G25)

2017-2020

The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) have approved a three-year joint research project in Egypt, led by the Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture (IKAnt) at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, and the Cairo Department of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI).

The project entitled "Sacral Topography of a Monastic Landscape and its Development on the Hill of Dra 'Abu el-Naga / Upper Egypt: Deir el-Bachît and the Theban Paulos Monastery" was requested by both the IKAnt and DAI as part of the D-A-CH Lead-Agency process.

Deir el-Bachît: monk’s cell

The Monastery of Deir el-Bakhît (Paulos Monastery) is situated on the ridge of the Dra 'Abu el-Naga hill and comprises a detailed sacral topography which developed between the 5th to 10th centuries AD.

This  monastic landscape is, to date, unique in this form. It includes the compact main monastery, several associated outdoor structures inhabited by monks (hermitages and functional units, built within pharaonic tombs) and a branched ancient trail network with a feeder-trail to the caravan track.

The individual monastic units were hierarchically arranged and linked through a complex internal organization, as attested by papyri, ostraca and graffiti.

 

Deir el-Bachît: necropolis

The discovery of these closely linked structures establishes the starting point for new, extensive research issues. The newly approved excavation project will help to clarify queries such as: Which functional, social and religious-ritual connections exist between the monastic installations in Dra 'Abu el-Naga? What triggered the transformation and shifting of the monastic structures from anchorite  dwellings to a cenobitic community in the main monastery? Which hierarchies can be identified in the monastic community?

The new excavations are therefore focussed on the main monastery, its monks’ cells and its necropolis. These investigations will help gauge the social hierarchies within the monastic community, as well as the hermitages associated with monastery’s outdoor structures.

Excavations in Deir el-Bachît have been taking place since 2001. The new research project is directed by Ina Eichner of the Institute for the Study of Ancient Culture (IKAnt) at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna, and Daniel Polz, the Scientific Director at the Cairo Department of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI).