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The Palatial District of King Khyan at Avaris
A Report on Season 2008 in Area F/II at Tell el-Dabca

by Manfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Müller


The excavations of The Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo were undertaken in co-operation with the Institute for Egyptology at the University of Vienna under its Director Manfred Bietak and Irene Forstner-Müller as co-director.
As usual, a spring (26th of february – 15th of May) and autumn campaign (beginning of September to 31st of october) with a break during summer - were organized.. Geophysical surveys also took place over the last few weeks of these campaigns.
The excavations at Tell el-Dabca and environment are a joint project of the Austrian Archaeological Institute in Cairo, the Institute of Egyptology of the University of Vienna and the Commission of Egypt and the Levant at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. It is financed by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Culture (BM:BWK), by the National Science Fund (FWF), by University of Vienna and the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Aegean Prehistory, Philadelphia. We are greatly indebted to all of those institutions and their representatives who were involved. In Egypt we enjoyed the support of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities under its Secretary General Zahi Hawass and of the Austrian Embassy in Cairo under Ambassador Kurt Spalinger.
We are very grateful for the onsite collaboration to the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities and its Secretary-General, Dr Zahi Hawass, as well as the Director-General for the Delta and Sinai, Dr. cAbd el-Maqsoud and the Director for the Eastern Delta area, Ibrahim Suleiman and our inspectors, Mahmoud Salem Ghanem and Risq Diab Raridi.

Bietak Manfred
Forstner-Müller Irene
Aston David
Bader Bettina
Collet Pieter
Escher Anne-Catherine
Hassler Astrid
Hendrik Uleners Hendrik
Höflmayer Felix
Kahlbacher Andrea
Kopetzky Karin
Kunst Günther Karl
Kurtze Christian
Krause Axel
Lehmann Manuela
Math Nicola
Martinez Maria Antonia
Müller Sandra
Müller Vera
Peintner Erico
Weissl Michael
Ownby Mary
Prell Silvia
Sartori Nicolas

Deputy Director
Minoan Frescoes

Callo Yann
Goiran Jean Phillipe
Tronchere Herve
Salomon Ferreol

  Research Scientist
Research Scientist
Environmental and Harbour Research

Morgan Lyvia
Von Rüden Constance
Irina Huller

  Minoan Frescoes
Magnetometer Survey

Buszek Artur
Hassler Astrid
Herbich Tomasz
Schweitzer Christian
Swiech Dawid
Weissl Michael



The area, named F/II, is located between the Austrian excavation house and the Didamun channel. The geophysical survey which had been undertaken in 2004 north of the modern village of Khatacna (fig. 1) showed a vast complex of buildings which extended from the South to the edge of the village, to the North until area F/I.1 A palatial district with several rooms and courtyards was inferable from the general picture.
The aim of 2008 excavation was partly to investigate the architectural remains partly to get a better idea of its dating.
The Palace is orientated North-South (local North), exactly like the 18th Dynasty Palace at cEzbet Helmi.2 Perhaps we see here the starting point of the tradition to build the Royal Residence in this part of  Avaris.
The complex is of enormous extensions and covers an area of ap. 8000 sqm (fig. 2). Excavations, which have been conducted since 2006,3 confirmed the impression that the precinct is a palace dating to the Middle of the Hyksos Period (beginning of Tell el- Dabca Stratum D/3). Several seal impressions found in the compound allow us to connect the palace to Khyan, one of the major Hyksos kings (fig. 3).
The main part, A, is a building in its own, two wings with several rooms and courtyards are attached to its north and east. The main access to the building was most probably from the north-east. The southern part of Building A comprises a group of three rooms of equal size (ap. 11.7 x 2.5m) with a smaller room (8.9 x 1.58m) to its north-west. The central room can be entered from the North via a door which connects then to the other rooms. In all rooms the original mud-brick pavement has survived. This room concept of four rooms seems to be copied in the west on a slightly smaller scale. In the northern part of Building A, which will be excavated in future campaigns, 5 to 6 rooms can be identified on the magnetometry image. Here the walls are significantly narrower than in the southern part of the building, probably due to a different roof construction: while a flat roof may have covered the northern rooms, vaulted roofs the rooms in the south.
The northern wing of the complex has been barely excavated, in one of its open areas, perhaps a courtyard; several pits were found which are of the typical "offering pit" type, well known from elsewhere at Tell el-Dabca. Their filling consists mostly of broken pottery such as ring stands, beaker jars, cups and animal bones. One pit that contained only a hind leg of a male calf has a parallel within the Syro-Palestinian/Egyptian temple precinct of the Late Middle Kingdom and Second Intermediate Period in area A/II.
The southern wing consists of a group of rooms and courtyards in an irregular pattern. This part is connected to Building A via a platform that was reached via a staircase in the south. A second platform, also with a staircase, is recognisable in the southern part of this wing. At least two floors may thus be reconstructed for the palace. Some of the rectangular areas were actually used as rooms, while others, mostly situated around the courtyards, represent the denuded remains of casemate structures. A floor in one of the actual rooms was painted red.
In a courtyard, situated in the southern wing, remains of meals were deposited in pits during the palace's period of use. The round pits contained primarily pottery, mostly common shapes of the Second Intermediate period, but also peculiar ones, not known until now from the repertoire of this time. Besides the pottery a lot of animal bones (cattle, sheep/goat, fish, birds and hippopotami) were found in the pits. Benches running around the courtyard were probably used for the temporary deposition of objects or as seats for the participants of these repasts.
It is not clear on which occasion these meals took place and in which sequence the the objects were deposited in the pits. The reoccurring appearance of hippopotami either in the pottery corpus, both as pteromorphic vessels (fig. 4), or depicted on Marl-C fish dishes (as a female demon raised on hind legs with a knife in her hand (fig. 5), or actual bones of the animals point to a fecundity aspect of the feast and or deposition.
In the north of building A the space was used for intensive ritual activity. A group of pits were discovered4 (fig. 6). All of them are round shaped, some are densely filled with mainly beaker jars, cups, ringstands, and animal bones5, and two are empty. It occurs from time to time at Tell el-Dab’a that pits were dug but not filled with objects, the reason for this is not known to us.
One pit had as a single find the hind leg of a male calf (fig. 7). An exact parallel to this kind of pit is known in the temple area A/II. As a general rule those kinds of pits are usually associated with temples. These are the classical offering pits known in abundance from all areas at Tell el-Dab’a. The main content of such pits are as in our example dishes, cups, ring stands, beaker jars and miniature cups, thus ordinary household ware.6 Not all of the vessels found in the pit are complete, possibly as was pointed out by Vera Müller had been intentionally broken during a precedent ritual activity.7 In one of these pits, L8038, a sealing impression with the name of an unknown king was found. It is not clear whether this is part of the original deposition or belongs to the refilling of the pit.
For the first time these kind of pits are found within a palatial area, however not necessarily in a purely domestic context. Perhaps this part of the palace was used as a sacral area.
By the excavation in area F/II for the first time in the more than 40 years excavations at Tell el-Dabca a royal building of the 15th dynasty has been investigated. The building consists of an unusual layout with several rooms and courtyards. Part A is an composite unit and could have been used for administrative purposes. The architecture and material culture of this complexcan be found within the Egyptian cultural sphere and in the Ancient Near East.

1 S. Bietak/Herbich/Forstner-Müller 2007
2 Bietak/Dorner 2001; Bietak 2005
3 S. Bietak/Forstner-Müller 2006, 2007
4 Detailed description s. Bietak/Forstner-Müller 2008
5 The first impressions during the excavation hint to an abundance of cattle bones. The animal bones are being   analyzed by Karl Kunst
6 Müller 2008: 216-219
7 Müller 2008: 220
8 Sartori in print

Bietak M.
2005 Neue Paläste aus der 18. Dynastie, in: P. Jánosi (Hg.) Structure and Significance, Bau und Bedeutung, (Festschrift für Dieter Arnold), Vienna 2005, 131-168
Bietak M., Dorner J., Janosi P.

Ausgrabungen in dem Palastbezirk von Avaris, Vorbericht Tell el-Dabca/cEzbet Helmi 1993-2000, mit einem Beitrag von A. von den Driesch. Ä&L 11,  27-129

Bietak M., Forstner-Müller I.

2006 Eine palatiale Anlage der frühen Hyksoszeit (Areal F/II). Vorläufige Ergebnisse der Grabungskampagne 2006 in Tell el-Dabca, Ä&L 16
2007 Ein rituelles Mahl und die Aufgabe eines Palastes, Festschrift Hermann Hunger, WZKM, Wien 2007, 211-34

Bietak M., Forstner-Müller I., Herbich T.

Geophysical Survey and its Archaeological Verification. Discovery of a new palatial complex in Tell el-Dabca in the Delta, in Z. Hawas, J. Richards (eds.), The Archaeology and Art of Ancient Egypt: Essays in Honor of David. B.  O’Connor, Cairo, 141-147
Müller V.

Tell el-Dabca XVII. Opferdeponierungen in der Hyksoshauptstadt Auaris (Tell el-Dabca) vom späten Mittleren Reich bis zum Frühen Neuen Reich. Teil I: Katalog der Befunde und Funde; Teil II: Auswertung und Deutung der Befunde und Funde, Untersuchungen der Zweigstelle Kairo des Österreichischen Archäologischen Instituts 29

Sartori N.

Die Siegel aus Areal F/II in Tell el-Dabc‛a. Erster Vorbericht, Ä&L 16, in print