This week, the archaeological site of Soknopaiou Nesos in Fayoum was a hive of activity. Workers along with Italian and Egyptian excavators were busy brushing the sand off a large collection of 150 Roman Ostraca (a clay fragment engraved with ancient Egyptian writings) engraved with demotic text. Each ostracon is inscribed with the name of a priest who served in the Soknopaios Temple.
“It is really a complete archive that highlights not only the names of priests who served in the temple during the Roman era but religious practices and the prosopography of Greco-Roman Egypt as well,” said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA).
For his part, Mario Capasso, director of the Italian mission, from Università del Salento, suggests that the newly discovered ostraca were originally kept in a storeroom situated in a courtyard in front of the Soknopaios Temple, which makes him believes that it was thrown out of the temple during a clandestine excavation at the end of the 19th century.
Further studies on the newly discovered ostraca will reveal more of the site’s history and religious aspects. Soknopaiou Nesos is a very important site for the understanding of Greco-Roman society in Egypt because of its excellent state of preservation and the amount of papyri and other inscribed material found at the site.
Civilisation at the site reached its peak during the first and second century AD as it sat along a major trade route. In addition to the Ptolemaic temple of Soknopaios, the site is well known for a collection of sphinxes, as well as Roman and demotic papyri.