Byzantine Ghost Town Found in Egypt

USA TODAY, August 1993 | Go to article overview

Byzantine Ghost Town Found in Egypt


A team of University of Chicago archaeologists working in Egypt has discovered what is believed to be the remains of a major goldmining operation for the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine period was a transitional time between the fall of the Roman Empire and the emergence of Islam. The site, Bir Umm Fawakhir, is a remote desert ghost town that may have been home to several hundred miners and related workers, located in a valley surrounded by deep granite cliffs that hide it from a nearby road between the Nile and the Red Sea. The location is about 62 miles east of Luxor. Although the site has been known to travelers, it never has been studied before by an archaeologist. Until Carol Meyer of the university's Oriental Institute began her work there, many scholars assumed that the village was from Roman times.

The discovery gives a rare look at the conditions of ordinary people during that era. "From Byzantine Egypt, we have tax rolls, legal documents, textiles, art, churches, and information on religious controversies. But we had virtually nothing on the ordinary people. Most of the towns were built of mud bricks and are long gone," Meyer points out.

The houses are two- or three-room dwellings built of granite cobblestones, and are clustered together to form complexes with as many as 19 rooms, a number with benches built of stone. The wooden doors and roofs probably were removed after the village was abandoned. Despite its remote location and its distance from the Nile, the settlement was large. …

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