Food Processing and Water Distribution Area

West of the Church of St. Shenoute, there are extensive archaeological remains associated with food processing and water distribution.

A large area of the White Monastery extending from the west end of the Church of St. Shenoute to the western enclosure wall was excavated by the Supreme Council for Antiquities (1989-1990, 2002, and 2011).[1] Further recording and interpretation took place under Peter Grossmann (2002-2003) and Darlene Brooks Hedstrom (2007), and was continued by Louise Blanke and Gillian Pyke in 2011-2012 as part of Yale’s ongoing work at the monastery.[2] Unit Q also contributed significant data to Louise Blanke’s doctoral research on the archaeology of Egyptian monasticism.[3]

The approximately rectangular excavation is bounded on its eastern side by a north-south thoroughfare. Traces of structures to the east of the thoroughfare, immediately west of the church, are very poorly preserved but include a pillared hall with a series of piers surrounding a central rectangular area. This building has been interpreted by Peter Grossmann as a refectory, which fits its location close to the church to the east and to the food processing area to the west of the thoroughfare.

Doorways in the wall on the west side of the thoroughfare give access to an east-west hallway separating the kitchen to the south from the food-processing area to the north, as well as to a storage facility. Differences in building materials and methods suggest four phases of construction and modification in the east-west hallway, which also gave access to the buildings in the western part of the monastery. The architectural features within the long room to the south of the east-west hallway point to its function as a kitchen, with storage bins built into the north wall, and bread ovens and water-heating installations into the south wall. A cistern is located in the area immediately to the south of the kitchen, presumably supplying its water needs.

The food-production and storage complex to the north of the east-west hallway also shows signs of multiple construction phases, suggesting a long span of use. Although the processes that took place in the western part of the complex are poorly understood, the architecture of the eastern part includes crushing basins and possibly also rooms for pressing and storage that point towards the production of olive oil. Ceramic evidence suggests that during the sixth to seventh centuries the complex housed three crushing basins and production was at its maximum. The later reduction to only one crushing basin might reflect a diminishment of the monastic and/or general population or an economic shift. Contemporary remodelling can also be seen elsewhere in this complex, with repurposing for domestic housing and animal stabling.

Figure 5. Crushing basin in the food processing complex, looking southwest.

To the west of the food-processing complex is a large open area with a plaster floor that is bounded by the kitchen to the south, a large free-standing building to the west and the well and related water distribution zone to the north. The well-preserved western building is of fired brick and limestone construction with three exterior doorways, two on the main east-west axis and one at the north end.  The main, eastern doorway faces the open area and this doorway and its northern counterpart gave access to a small entrance hall that could be closed off from the interior and which gave access to staircases leading to an upper storey. An east-west corridor links the two exterior doorways on the main access, from which a series of four long, narrow rooms open to the south. A set of three similar rooms are accessed from the north-south corridor leading to the northern exterior doorway, the northernmost room housing a large sub-floor cistern fed by a pipe through the north exterior wall. This large and sturdy building has been thought by some to be a granary or monastic residence, but it is more likely that it was the diakonia, a building for administration and storage, especially of food. A substantial wall, probably the western enclosure wall of the monastery, runs north-south immediately to the west of this building.

To the north of the possible diakonia, open area, and food processing complex is a large well the superstructure of which is built from fired brick and rests on the limestone bedrock, through which the shaft is cut. Transverse arches on the east and west sides of the superstructure show that the water was lifted using a saqiya drive attached to a pot garland. It was deposited into a channel and was further distributed via a system of pipes to a series of cisterns throughout the site. A second, smaller well was located in the southwest corner of the church of St Shenoute.


[1] M. A. Mohamed and P. Grossmann, “On the Recently Excavated Monastic Buildings in Dayr Anba Shinuda: Archaeological Report,” Bulletin de la Société d’archéologie copte 30 (1991): 53–63 and figs. 1 and 11.

[2] P. Grossmann, D. Brooks Hedstrom, M. Abdal-Rassul and E. S. Bolman, The Excavation in the Monastery of Apa Shenoute (Dayr Anba Shinuda) at Suhag, with an Appendix on Documentary Photography at the Monasteries of Anba Shinuda and Anba Bishoi, Suhag, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 58 (2004), pp. 371-382; P. Grossmann, D. L. Brooks Hedstrom, Saad Mohamad Mohamad Osman, Hans-Christoph Noeske, Mohamad Ahmad abd al-Rahim, Tarik Said abd al-Fatah, Mahmud abd al-Mugdi and J. Wolfgang, Second Report on the Excavation in the Monastery of Apa Shenute (Dayr Anba Shinuda) at Suhag, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 63 (2009), pp. 167-219; D. L. Brooks Hedstrom and E. S. Bolman, The White Monastery Federation Project, Survey and Mapping at the Monastery of Apa Shenoute (Dayr al-Anba Shinuda), Sohag, 2005-2007, Dumbarton Oaks Papers 65-66 (2011-2012), pp. 333-368.

[3] L. Blanke, The Archaeology of Egyptian Monasticism: Settlement, Economy, and Daily Life of the White Monastery Federation, PhD. Thesis, Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen, 2014.