History & Culture

Poles reconstructed houses of the first Egyptians

Source: J. Karmowski
Source: J. Karmowski

Virtual 3D model of more than 5 thousand years old Egyptian homes, discovered during the excavations at Tell el-Farcha in the Nile Delta, prepared by Jacek Karmowski, PhD student of the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University in Kraków.

"We associate the architecture of ancient Egypt primarily with stone construction - due to the most recognizable structures left by this civilization: the pyramids and monumental stone temples" - Jacek Karmowski told PAP. "In fact, the contemporary villages and towns were dominated by houses made of mud bricks" - he added.

Structures built with such bricks are not particularly durable, unlike to those made with stones. Durability of the building material ensured their present, in some cases very good state of preservation. "It must be remembered that the stone architecture is a special, cult type of Egyptian construction, associated with religion and belief in the afterlife" - explained Karmowski.

Work on the reconstruction of non-existent mudbrick structures really began during the excavations - the way of conducting excavations and documenting discovered layers is important. The scientist traced the visible relics of bricks and outlines of houses from the functioning of the settlement with a total station laser and imported to a computer with CAD software - although archaeologists still usually draw on excavations in the classical way, using pencil and paper. With specialized software, he combined these data with photographs taken during field work.

"But this is just the beginning. Then I went to the library and looked for other sources on possible reconstruction of houses. A big help are preserved models of houses from this period and dated a bit later depictions in painting and reliefs, showing different types of residential buildings" - described the archaeologist.

The researcher also studied the ancient Egyptian building tradition. In the Egyptian religious architecture of the Old Kingdom (2686 - 2181 BC), the builders of mirrored less durable materials in stone buildings - including wood and mud bricks. It was another clue. "An important role in the reconstruction had observations made in modern villages, including Gazala, which is near our site" - added Karmowski.

Detailed analyses made by the Polish scientist showed that Egyptians living in the Nile Delta approx. 5 thousand years ago, lived in houses made on regular, rectangular plan, with an area of tens of square meters. Structures were built tightly next to each other. The windows were small and located in the upper part of the wall.

"Their location was probably intended to protect the interior against unwanted intruders, such as scorpions and snakes. On the other hand, a small window clearance allowed for only the necessary amount of light entering the home, so that its interior would not get too heated" - explained the archaeologist.

Lintels and window had support beams - their task was to relieve the empty space, and to protect mud bricks against erosion of and mechanical damage. As is clear from contemporary analogies and archaeological documentation, the lower part of the door had a doorstep, probably placed above the ground level. This type of solution, according to the archaeologist, results from the need to protect homes from water during the periodic river flooding - these occurred in Egypt until the twentieth century, when the Aswan Dam was built. Houses did not have a door - Egyptians used mats to cover door openings instead.

"It was difficult for us to reconstruct the roof - excavations have not provided conclusive information. We turned to modern mud brick buildings again" - said Karmowski.

According to the researcher it should be assumed that the roofs were made of light materials such as boards, branches of small trees, reeds or straw. The roofs were flat.

In addition to the mud brick buildings, a number of other elements can be found in modern cities in the Nile Delta that have analogies in the historic materials and archaeological documentation. An example can be of various types of fences made of organic materials and property walls made of mud bricks. These elements completed the virtual reconstruction.

The site Tell el-Farcha has been studied for sixteen years by the Polish Expedition to the Eastern Nile Delta led by Prof. Krzysztof Ciałowicz of the Institute of Archaeology of the Jagiellonian University and Dr. Marek Chłodnicki from the Archaeological Museum in Poznań.

The settlement functioned in this place for almost 1000 years, from approx. 3700 to 2700 BC First, there was a strong Lower Egypt local culture centre, then an important centre of power during the formation of a unified Pharaonic state. Tell el-Farcha became famous a few years ago after the discovery of one of the world\'s oldest brewing centres, two gold statues of rulers dating back more than 5 thousand years, extremely rich temple deposits, which included masterpieces of early Egyptian art - some of them can be seen today in the famous Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

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