Institut für die Kulturen des Alten Orients

Sharuna/el-Kom el-Ahmar

El-Kom el-Ahmar is an archaeological site in central Egypt, 3 km south of the village of Sharuna in a relatively archaeologically unexplored area. Written records record it as the capital of the 18th Upper Egyptian nome with its name, Hw.t-nsw, documented up until the Ptolemaic period. The Coptic name for this settlement however is unknown, but the archaeological records show continual habitation of the area from the Old Kingdom up to the late Roman/Byzantine period.

The aim of this project, which is kindly supported by the DFG and since 2006 the Museu Egipci de Barcelona, Fundaciò Arqueològica Clos, is investigating the structures of the buildings and classifying the settlement chronologically, economically and topographically. Excavations will mainly be focused on the settlement mound, the cliff necropolis and the late Roman/Byzantine sacred complex, the latter of which is comprises a tomb church in the valley and hermitages in the desert. The geological investigations which will be carried out at the same time are also a fundamental part of this project.


One settlement has been discovered through now closed investigations on the mound, which was occupied from the beginning of the Old Kingdom until the First Intermediate Period or possibly the start of the Middle Kingdom. The location of the settlement from then on until the Roman Period is yet to be uncovered, but the mound was populated again Late Roman/Byzantine period, at which point the cliff necropolis was inhabited as well. This necropolis was used from the 6th Dynasty until the Ptolemaic or Roman period. Numerous tombs have already been uncovered here of which only a few are decorated. More recent excavations in 2009 lead to the exploration of the subterranean rooms which were originally used as burial chambers for more than five hundred mummies of birds.

Since the discovery of a funerary church and its monastic complex the focus of the research has shifted to the largely neglected Late Roman / Byzantine period. Digs at the church, one of the few fully excavated funerary churched in Egypt, are now completed. The foundations were laid on top of a saint’s grave, which made it very desirable for believers to be buried nearby - ad sanctum. Accordingly, the inner rooms are densely paved with over two hundred graves and the surrounding cemetery reaches two hundred metres in each direction. In total over a thousand graves have been excavated, and the density of burials suggests that originally the cemetery would have encompassed as many as ten thousand.

Accompanying the church is a monastic cloister, located in the desert not far away. The arrangement is that of a laura and consists of over twenty dwellings. The religious and economic centre of the laura was the cloister complex of Der el-Qarabin, which was divided into two parts with clearly differentiated functions. In the north stood a large tower with the economic facilities, in the south a sacred area focused on a church and its cemetery. It is possible here to clearly trace the previously described progression from the tomb of a saint to the church on top and the following burials nearby (ad sanctum). The cemetery has been completely looted but there were originally at least 30 individual burials here, of which only fragmentary grave goods, including an immense amount of textiles, remain. Researching these fabrics led to a specialist programme examining textiles in the Late Roman / Byzantine period. The excavations here were completed in 2010.

Project management:

Béatrice Huber (beatrice.huberspam

Institut für die Kulturen des alten Orients (IANES)
Abteilung für Ägyptologie Universität Tübingen
Schloss Hohentübingen
72070 Tübingen