Qarara is located in central Egypt, about 10 km north of el-Kom el-Ahmar / Šaruna, and was one of the first of late antique cemeteries, along with Antinoöpolis and Achmim, ever to be excavated on a large scale back when Egyptian research was getting started. Investigations were carried out in 1913-14 in the sprawling cemeteries of Qarara under the leadership of Hermann Ranke, who only briefly canvassed the neighbouring settlement. The finds yielded here, in particular the textile pieces, although not as abundant as those from Antinoöpolis or Achmim were not subsequently scattered but wound up for the most part in Freiburg and Heidelberg.
After this however the site enjoyed no more interest among academics until the end of the last century when, due to building activity in the village nearby, the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities canvassed the area and uncovered parts of an undedicated temple, built probably between the Third Intermediate Period and the rule of the Ptolemies, an animal cemetery and Roman and Coptic graves.
The renewal of archaeological explorations in Qarara is undertaken as part of a project with the aim of documenting the area of settlement between el-Kom el-Ahmar / Šaruna and Qarara / Qasr el-Banat (Aulad es-Sheikh) and recording its development over time and the changes in the economy and topography. The starting point in this project is the settlement complex of el-Kom el-Ahmar / Šaruna, which is currently the better researched both in terms of its history and archaeology. The finds so far have come from contexts that date all the way from the Old Kingdom to the Late Roman or Byzantine period. The monuments from each of these contexts are in great danger from plundering and the spread of the agricultural land which means that investigations in this area are urgently needed. As a first step, a survey of the area between Qasr el-Banat in the north and Maghayir el-Hib in the south was conducted in 2003 and 2008.
One objective of the research in Qarara is explaining the relationship of the finds to one another and the ties between the cemetery and the structures in the settlement nearby, and how this all developed over time. Areas that appeared relevant to this enquiry were canvassed in 2008 and 2009. At the same time a geological enquiry is being conducted into the original topography of the area, stretching up the the Nile. In the settlement an area 20 x 25 m² in size has been set aside to examine the structures and chronology within it (fig. 2).
The structures were built on the whole directly onto the level of the cemetery and show many phases. The finds and examinations do not yet allow any definitive conclusions to be drawn about the use of the buildings. A few different storage areas and thick layers of dung point to a small agricultural economy and the presence of livestock. Numerous ditches left by robbed out graves have been sunk over the expanse of the settlement and disrupt the progression of the architectural layers left by the development and the cemetery. Because of these ditches, burials in situ have only rarely been uncovered and most of the finds that have turned up are without context and shed little light on the chronology. However, the archaeology and coinage indicate the site was in use between the 4th and 9th centuries, and suggest the place was probably abandoned before 850 AD.
Béatrice Huber (beatrice.huber) @uni-tuebingen.de
Institut für die Kulturen des alten Orients (IANES)
Abteilung für Ägyptologie Universität Tübingen