SCA 090175

The site of Tell Mutubis is located 1km east of the Rosetta Branch of the Nile, near the modern city of Metoubes and north of Disuk and Foua. The site covers an area of approximately 650 by 550 m and consists of a flat area with a mound covering the north-east part. The mound is a squat four-sided hill of about 280 m in length and 180 m wide, with a flat top which is 12m above the local ground level at its highest point.

The Delta Survey Project of the Egypt Exploration Society surveyed the mound initially in 1990, 2000-1, then again in 2012-14 and carried out drill augers around the area of the site in order to reconstruct the ancient landscapes. A full topographical survey completed a map of the site, a magnetic survey and GPR test area highlighted significant areas of disturbance and some sub-surface features and an extensive pottery survey enabled a corpus of surface material to be established for the whole site.

Red brick tank with related features at edge of mound in 2014. (Photo by Penny Wilson).

The mound has several areas of large walls in the sections on the western and southern sides. The walls are made of mud brick with an interleaving fired brick course every metre or so, and the disintegration of the brickwork means that there is a large amount of fired brick as well as pottery lying on the surface of the site. This means that the magnetic survey was not very effective in mapping structures and features, but when combined with visual ground-truthing and a systematic, quantitative pottery survey can indicate the possibility of specific areas of building activity. For example on the top of the mound there is an area covered by fewer pottery fragments, more mortar and plaster, as well as fragments of nails. In combination with the GPR and magnetic survey there seems to be a 40m long building here. Elsewhere on the mound raised areas of room-fill show building areas. On the western flat area traces of a bath-house with tholos circle can be seen, suggesting a Hellenistic or Roman date and there are substructure chambers also here, probably graves. On the southern side of the mound domestic structures can be seen in the section and a grinding stone was once here. There is also a small building with columns on the south side for which some of the column shafts survive as well as fired brick column bases and part of a plain mosaic floor. A large number of amphora fragments along the north side of the site combined with the geoarchaeological survey suggests that there may been a channel or access to the Burullus lake at this point and perhaps a harbour at the site.

The flat area to the south and west seems to have been created in the late 1950s or early 1960s when the railway line running to the south of the site was constructed. Plans of temporary accommodation structures can be seen on the surface in this area as well as embankments for light railway lines which enabled soil to be carried to build the embankment for the railway. Archaeological material found during this work is now stored in the Tell Farain magazine.

The pottery survey shows that the site was thriving during the Late Roman period (from 4th century to 7th century AD) and there is very little material at surface level from earlier or later. Most likely the mound conceals an earlier at least Ptolemaic settlement and perhaps earlier. The pottery includes finewares from Egypt, Late Roman D wares (possibly Cypriot) as well as African Red slipwares from the area of Tunisia. There are amphora fragments from the Aegean, Cilicia and Cyprus (LRA 1-7), Gaza and Tripolitania. The Egyptian pottery include many domestic coarsewares, cooking pots and casserole pots as well as local Egyptian red slipwares and fine jugs and bottles. There is also a large amount of glass fragments upon the surface from dishes, plates, jars, lamps and bottles, many of these are most likely of local Egyptian manufacture and slag and burnt material from the south-east side of the mound may indicate kilns for the production of vessels made from glass.

Pottery sherds at the site showing variety of wares and vessel types in 2014. (Photo by Penny Wilson).

In summary, the city at Tell Mutubis was a flourishing and important centre for trade during the Late Roman period (4th-7th c. AD) and perhaps earlier. It had some larger well-constructed buildings as well as many domestic buildings in antiquity.

Website: www.dur.ac.uk/penelope.wilson/Delta/Mutubis.html 

Publications

P. Wilson, 2002. ‘The Survey of Sais (Sa el-Hagar) 2000-01’ and ‘Tell Mutubis,’ JEA 87 (2001): 1-8.

P. Wilson & D. Grigoropoulos, 2009. The West Delta Regional Survey: Beheira and Kafr el Sheikh Provinces, EES Excavation Memoir 86 London: EES.

P. Wilson, 2014. ‘Living the High Life: Late Antique Archaeology in the Nile Delta’, in E.R. O'Connell (ed.), Egypt in the First Millennium AD Perspectives from new fieldwork, Peeters: 43-58.

P. Wilson, 2015. ‘Baltim, Parallos and Mutubis: Late Period and Ptolemaic Antecedents for Late Antique Ports and Settlements in Northern Egypt’, in ed. L. Hulin, Thonis and Heracleion in Context, OCMA, Oxford: 289-306.