Excavations in Fayum, Middle Egypt, have discovered a large funerary building dating to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, as well as the first new examples of Fayum mummy portraits found in more than a century.
The Egyptian archaeological mission responsible for the discoveries has been working at the site in Gerza (previously known as Philadelphia village) in Fayum since 2016, and has recently uncovered the remains of a funerary structure built of large stone blocks, with a floor of coloured lime mortar decorated with alternating tiles in a chequerboard style, and the remains of four columns that were part of a colonnade on the building’s south side. Inside the structure were a number of rock-cut and stone-lined burial chambers containing a variety of burials, ranging from simple interments to examples of high-quality embalming and ornately decorated wooden coffins in both Egyptian and Greek styles. Mostafa Waziri, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, notes that these variations reflect the diversity present in the accuracy and quality of the embalming process during the Ptolemaic and Roman eras, as well as the wide-ranging economic statuses of the individuals buried here.
Many artefacts were found with the burials, including ceramics, an unusual terracotta statue of the goddess Isis-Aphrodite, and a group of papyrus records with inscriptions in Demotic and Greek script detailing the social and religious conditions of the region’s inhabitants. The most significant find at the site, however, was a number of painted panels known as Fayum portraits – a type of naturalistic portrait painted on wooden boards that were attached to high-status mummies in the Roman period in Egypt. Most known portraits of this type have come from the Fayum area, but no new examples have been discovered since the group found by Flinders Petrie during his excavation of Hawara in the late 19th/early 20th century.
According to Basem Gehad, head of the archaeological mission at Gerza, these finds are the latest in a series of discoveries made over ten seasons of excavation that are shedding light on the site’s architectural development and cultural influences throughout its use between the 3rd century BC and the 3rd century AD.