Excavation in Egypt at Tell el-Balamun

The track leading to Tell el-Balamun. The high mounds of debris which mark the archaeological area are visible in the background

Project leader: Jeffrey Spencer

Department: Ancient Egypt and Sudan

Project start: 1991
Project end: 2010

External partners:
Dr Tomasz Herbich, Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology and Polish Academy of Sciences
Dr Patricia Spencer, Egypt Exploration Society

Project funded by:
The British Museum

Description:

This archaeological excavation in Egypt was designed to recover the history of a major site in the Egyptian Nile Delta. This region between Cairo and the Mediterranean is archaeologically rich but not as well known as the sites of southern Egypt. The excavation is one of a number which are bringing to light the lost ancient cities in this part of Egypt. 

The discoveries made by the project have changed the perception of the site from that of an unknown antique mound to the location of one of the main cities of Lower Egypt, occupied for over three millennia. The city of Tell el-Balamun was originally called Behdet but in the New Kingdom (about 1200 BC) it acquired another name, Paiuenamun, from which the modern ‘Balamun’ is derived. Fieldwork took place annually in Spring, and in the most recent seasons, magnetometer surveying has been carried out in collaboration with colleagues from the Polish Center for Mediterranean Archaeology. This technique is producing images of almost photographic quality showing buried architecture of all kinds. It provides an excellent guide for excavation to reveal the age and context of the buildings.

Discoveries made by the project since 1991 include the foundations of four pharaonic  temples, three mud-brick enclosure walls, a secure citadel and a small cemetery for important officials connected with the temples. The kings responsible for the construction of three of the temples have been identified from inscriptions found at the site. From later periods, a Roman street has been discovered, paved with limestone slabs, running through the centre of the town.Excavation in progress on the foundations of a temple of 370 BC

Objectives:

The excavation aims to illustrate the history and development of the major Egyptian city of Tell el-Balamun and its relationship to the surrounding environment. To better understand the site, the project seeks to discover how the ancient city was divided up into different areas for official use, public monuments or private housing. By identifying these zones the task of dealing with the large size of the site- it is over a kilometre in diameter – is made easier.

The southern half of the site has been identified as the location of a great complex of temples within massive enclosure walls of sun-dried brick, and it is in this area that magnetic mapping has revealed many new features. Some of these have already been investigated by excavation but others remain to be dug in order to establish their date, purpose and mode of construction.

The context of the pottery and objects found in the excavation often permits quite accurate dates to be given to this material. This is valuable information for the explanation similar antiquities in the British Museum’s collection, acquired in the nineteenth century from early excavations in Egypt. In this way the project can gain new knowledge about the site itself and about existing collections at the same time.

More information:

Publications:

'Tell el-Balamun: Geophysical and Archaeological Survey 2007-8', with Tomasz Herbich, Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean: Reports 2007 (Warsaw, 2010), 131-41.

A.J. Spencer, with T. Herbich, ‘Geophysical survey at Tell el-Balamun’, Egyptian Archaeology, 29 (Autumn 2006), pp. 16-19

A.J. Spencer, 'The Temple of Nekhtnebef at Tell el-Balamun’, in BMSAES, 4, (2005), pp. 21-38: www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk/bmsaes/index.html

A.J. Spencer, ‘Main Street Diospolis Inferior’, in N. Crummy (ed.), 'Image, Craft and the Classical World. Essays in honour of Donald Bailey and Catherine Johns', Monogr. Instrumentum, 29 (Montagnac, 2005), pp. 233-41

A.J. Spencer, Excavations at Tell El-Balamun, 1999-2001, (London, British Museum Press, 2003)

A.J. Spencer, 'An Elite Cemetery at Tell el-Balamun’, Egyptian Archaeology, 18 (2001), pp. 18-20

A.J. Spencer, Excavations at Tell El-Balamun, 1995-1998 (London, British Museum Press, 1999)

A.J. Spencer, Excavations at Tell El-Balamun, 1991-1994 (London, British Museum Press, 1996)

A.J. Spencer, 'Archaeology in Egypt', in Museums and Galleries of Britain and Ireland (Reed International, E. Grinstead 1996), pp. xiv-xvi

A.J. Spencer, 'Diospolis - Balamoun', in Les Dossiers d'archéologie, No. 213 (May 1996), (Editions Faton, Dijon), pp. 86-9

A.J. Spencer, 'Work of the British Museum at Tell el-Balamun’, Egyptian Archaeology 7 (1995), pp. 9-11


Images (from top):

  • The track leading to Tell el-Balamun. The high mounds of debris which mark the archaeological area are visible in the background
  • Excavation in progress on the foundations of a temple of 370 BC