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Magnetic and Electrical Resistivity Methods in Locating Ancient Waterways and Riverine Harbours in Egypt

Tomasz Herbich
p. 235-238

Résumé

– Geophysical methods in the study of waterways and harbours in Ancient Egypt.

– Geophysical methods in the reconstruction of paleolandscape in Egypt.

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1The case studies discussed in this paper are the result of many years of the application of two methods of geophysical prospection: magnetic and electrical resistivity, in archaeological research in Egypt. In the course of this work, ancient waterways and riverine harbours have become a major focus of the prospection at several sites, the results made credible by the large-scale operations: for the magnetic surveys, 30 ha at Medinet Watfa/Philoteris, 120 ha at Tell el-Dab’a/Avaris, 200 ha at Qantir/Pi- Ramesse; for vertical electrical soundings (VES): over 500 soundings along a combined total of 8 km of survey lines at Tell el-Dab’a.

2The electrical resistivity method had already been applied successfully for the purpose in some parts of the Nile Delta, as well as in Memphis and Luxor (El-Gamili & Shaaban, 1988; Jeffreys, 2007; Graham et al., 2016). The magnetic method proved its usefulness for locating waterways during surveys in the eastern Delta and in the Fayum oasis, in the late 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century, this because of the high magnetic susceptibility of silt carried by the Nile waters. The precise imagery of shorelines and reconstruction of settlement context enabled by these methods facilitated the location of ports and mooring places, as well as landing areas on the banks and shores (Herbich & Forstner- Müller, 2013; Herbich, 2020).

3The paper reviews the effectiveness of the magnetic method, used in conjunction with the electrical resistivity method for verification, in four case studies: Avaris (modern Tell el-Dab’a in the eastern Delta, important urban centre in the mid 2nd millennium BC), Pi-Ramesse (today Qantir, neighbor of Avaris, from the late 2nd millennium BC) and Philoteris (modern Medinet Watfa, in western Fayum, village in the Themistou Meris region, settled between the 3rd century BC and the 5th century AD), and Dahshur, an Old Kingdom funerary complex from the mid 3rd millennium BC (50 km south of Cairo).

Avaris/Tell el Dab’a

4The course of the lost Pelusiac branch of the Nile, where Avaris was located, was first reconstructed based on the results of auger drilling An informative mapping of the area inundated by the Nile flood, ensuing from a reconstruction of ground topography, also enabled the location of the city harbour.

5Magnetic research (project of the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo, survey by the author and Christian Schweitzer) revised the tentative course of the Pelusiac branch and the extent of the flooded area. VES soundings confirmed the shoreline in the settlement area. Surface deposits in the settled area mapped in the magnetic survey, turned out to have higher resistivity, contrasting with areas of lower resistivity corresponding to river deposits (Forstner-Müller et al., 2010). The combined results of magnetic mapping and VES, which showed the extent of the inundated area during the Nile flood, revealed the insular character of Avaris at this time of the year. The magnetic map also highlighted a structure about 30 m wide, separating the settled area from the river. The structure was characterized by uniform values of the magnetic field. It was interpreted as a mooring place with an open space next to it for reloading goods (Fig. 1). The anthropogenic nature of this structure was confirmed by VES research which demonstrated even higher resistivity compared to the results for the layers in the settled area. Drillings revealed the presence of brick with significant sand content. Magnetic disturbances in the area of the riverbed, evident near the bank, were interpreted as traces of dredging (Herbich & Forstner-Müller, 2013).

Figure 1. Avaris/Tell el-Daba’a. Magnetic map (fluxgate gradiometer) of the Ezbet Ezzawin region, VES location and resistivity pseudosection along line 1, superimposed on a satellite image (Google Earth). VES points marked with yellow dots. A – settlement; B – waterchannel with traces of dredging; C – waterfront prepared for mooring boats; D – small harbour (?).

Figure 1. Avaris/Tell el-Daba’a. Magnetic map (fluxgate gradiometer) of the Ezbet Ezzawin region, VES location and resistivity pseudosection along line 1, superimposed on a satellite image (Google Earth). VES points marked with yellow dots. A – settlement; B – waterchannel with traces of dredging; C – waterfront prepared for mooring boats; D – small harbour (?).

Pi-Ramesse/Qantir

6A magnetic survey (Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim project, survey by Helmut Becker and Jörg Fassbinder) followed the course of the left bank of the Pelusiac branch of the Nile for a distance of 3.5 km (Pusch & Becker, 2017). A feature about 1 km long, separating the settlement architecture from the main river current, resembled a similar construction at Avaris, which was interpreted there as a waterfront for mooring boats and trade exchange (Fig. 2). Other anomalies observed on the map have been attributed to dredging activities, which were necessitated in this part of the river course where the current was slower (the main current hugging the opposite bank). The slow current would have led to more deposition in this part of the river, making regular dredging an absolute must.

Figure 2. Pi-Ramesse/Qantir. Magnetic map of the north-eastern part of the city (after Pusch & Becker, 2017; Hauptplan 1.1). Caesium magnetometer, dynamics -7/+7 nT. Arrow points waterfront prepared for mooring boats.

Figure 2. Pi-Ramesse/Qantir. Magnetic map of the north-eastern part of the city (after Pusch & Becker, 2017; Hauptplan 1.1). Caesium magnetometer, dynamics -7/+7 nT. Arrow points waterfront prepared for mooring boats.

Philoteris/Medinet Watfa

7Agricultural production in the Themistou Meris area was conditioned by the availability of water. The canal network was reconstructed provisionally, based on satellite imagery and ground surveying (Römer, 2003; project of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Cairo), followed by a second round of prospection, during which magnetic mapping produced a very precise delineation of the canals thanks to layers of Nile silt deposited between the banks. The map revealed otherwise invisible canals and facilitated a reconstruction of changing waterways (shifting banks). Careful scrutiny identified potential landing places and small port basins. A large canal cut in bedrock attests to the dramatic end of settlements in the region: the absence of any magnetic anomalies that could be related to the presence of residual Nile silt deposits inside the feature indicated that it was never used despite the considerable effort put in its cutting (Herbich, 2020).

Dahshur

8A magnetic survey around the Valley temple in the complex of the Bent Pyramid recorded the presence of a causeway leading to the Nile and a southern border wall of the river port basin (Alexanian, 2013; DAI project, survey by Helmut Becker) (Fig. 3). Drillings confirmed the location of this wall, as well as of walls on the western and northern sides of the basin, indicating the presence of remains at a depth of 3–4 m below the ground surface. The eastern extent of the basin and the wall on this side were confirmed in later geophysical research (conducted by the author).

Figure 3. Dahshur. Magnetic map of the area around the valley temple of the Bent Pyramid funerary complex superimposed on a satellite image (Google Earth). Caesium magnetometer (white outline; dynamics -8/+8 nT) and fluxgate gradiometer (dynamics -3/+3 nT). Caesium data collected and processed by H. Becker.

Figure 3. Dahshur. Magnetic map of the area around the valley temple of the Bent Pyramid funerary complex superimposed on a satellite image (Google Earth). Caesium magnetometer (white outline; dynamics -8/+8 nT) and fluxgate gradiometer (dynamics -3/+3 nT). Caesium data collected and processed by H. Becker.

9The approach to geophysical research demonstrated in these four case studies from recent years reflects on a general shift in egyptological investigations from a reconstruction of individual buildings or fragments of architecture to a reconstruction of whole landscapes and their evolution, encompassing waterways and riverine harbours which were always of crucial importance in the Egyptian countryside.

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Bibliographie

Alexanian, N., 2013. Die Gestaltung der Pyramidenanlagen des Snofru in Dahšūr/Ägyptem. Einführende Bemerkunden zum Grabungsplatz von Dahšūr. In I. Gerlach, D. Raue (eds.), Sanktuar und Ritual. Heilige Plätze im archäologischen Befund, Rahden, 159-169.

El-Gamili, M., Shaaban F., 1988. Tracing buried channels in northwestern Dakhlia Governorate, Nile delta, using hammer seismograph and electric resistivity profiling. In E. van den Brink (ed.), Archaeology of the Nile Delta, Amsterdam, 223-229.

Forstner-Müller, I., Herbich, T., Schweitzer, C., Weissl, M., 2010. Preliminary report on the geophysical survey at Tell el-Daba/Qantir in spring 2009 and 2010, Jahreshefte des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes in Wien, 79: 67-85.

Graham, A., Strutt, K., Peeters, J., Toonen, W., Pennington, B., Emery, V., Barker, D., Johansson, C., 2016. Theban Harbours and waterscapes survey, Spring 2016. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, 102: 13-22.

Herbich, T., 2020. Magnetic method in the study of the influence of environmental conditions on settlement activity: case study from Fayum Oasis (Egypt). In M. Dabas, S. Campana , A. Sarris (eds.), Mapping the past. From sampling sites and landscapes to exploring the archaeological ‘continuum’, Oxford, 67-78.

Herbich, T., Forstner-Müller, I., 2013. Small harbours in the Nile Delta: the case of Tell el-Daba. Études et Travaux, 26: 257-272.

Jefferys, D., 2007. The survey of Memphis, capital of ancient Egypt: recent developments. Archaeology International, 11: 41-44, http://dx.doi.org/10.5334/ai.1112, accessed 3 March 2021.

Pusch, E., Becker, H., 2017. Fenster in die Vergangenheit. Eiblicke in die Struktur der Remses-Stadt durch Magnetische Prospektion und Grabung. Hildesheim.

Römer, C., 2003. Philoteris in the Themistou Meris. Report on the archaeological survey carried out as part of the Fayum Survey Project. Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik, 147: 281-305.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1. Avaris/Tell el-Daba’a. Magnetic map (fluxgate gradiometer) of the Ezbet Ezzawin region, VES location and resistivity pseudosection along line 1, superimposed on a satellite image (Google Earth). VES points marked with yellow dots. A – settlement; B – waterchannel with traces of dredging; C – waterfront prepared for mooring boats; D – small harbour (?).
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeosciences/docannexe/image/9840/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 4,2M
Titre Figure 2. Pi-Ramesse/Qantir. Magnetic map of the north-eastern part of the city (after Pusch & Becker, 2017; Hauptplan 1.1). Caesium magnetometer, dynamics -7/+7 nT. Arrow points waterfront prepared for mooring boats.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeosciences/docannexe/image/9840/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 2,9M
Titre Figure 3. Dahshur. Magnetic map of the area around the valley temple of the Bent Pyramid funerary complex superimposed on a satellite image (Google Earth). Caesium magnetometer (white outline; dynamics -8/+8 nT) and fluxgate gradiometer (dynamics -3/+3 nT). Caesium data collected and processed by H. Becker.
URL http://journals.openedition.org/archeosciences/docannexe/image/9840/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 3,1M
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Référence papier

Tomasz Herbich, « Magnetic and Electrical Resistivity Methods in Locating Ancient Waterways and Riverine Harbours in Egypt »ArcheoSciences, 45-1 | 2021, 235-238.

Référence électronique

Tomasz Herbich, « Magnetic and Electrical Resistivity Methods in Locating Ancient Waterways and Riverine Harbours in Egypt »ArcheoSciences [En ligne], 45-1 | 2021, mis en ligne le 16 août 2021, consulté le 30 janvier 2023. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/archeosciences/9840 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/archeosciences.9840

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Auteur

Tomasz Herbich

Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, Al. Solidarności 105, 00-140 Warsaw

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