IV: El-Garayat in the Wadi Hilal

This season we conducted a survey at a little-known Late Roman site designated el-Garayat on earlier maps of the Wadi Hilal region. The site, the ancient name of which is unknown, consists of dozens of dry-stone structures scattered on the northern and southern sides of the east-west Wadi Hilal.

A modern road now cuts between the two halves of the site, although it does not appear to have disturbed any of the structures to either side. El-Garayat was constructed during the Late Roman/Byzantine Period, ca. 400-600 CE, and ceramic remains are predominately from Late Roman amphorae type 7 (LRA 7), amphorae manufactured in the Aswan region, and cookpots and other storage jars. A few sherds of Egyptian Red Slipped Ware are also in evidence at the site.

Figure 18 Map of the Late Roman structures at el-Garayat

Figure 19 Plan of Late Roman structures at el-Garayat

El-Garayat is paralleled by about a dozen sites, most of which are located deep in the Eastern Desert.1 These sites share the same style, size, and construction techniques of the buildings, and possess similar ceramic corpora, all dating to between the fifth and seventh centuries CE. The closest parallel site is located east of the site of Mo‘alla, in a north-south wadi branching off the Wadi Debabiya.2 Relocated by the Mo‘alla Survey Project in 2010, this site, designated M10-11/S1, contains the same type of buildings as el-Garayat, and both sites are located only a few kilometers from the Nile.

Figure 20 Late Roman structures at el-Garayat

The el-Garayat structures are more separate than those at the Mo‘alla sites, the latter often consisting of one or more larger rooms with subsidiary chambers and spur walls. The el-Garayat site also is unique in having one two-roomed structure at the east end of a long, low wall, probably representing a line, where pack animals could be tied up and loaded. Atop a hill to the south of el-Garayat is another unique feature of the site — the remains of two low, dry stone towers and a long wall, paralleling the course of the Wadi Hilal. Such towers, used in a network of signaling stations, are relatively well known on the Abu Sha’ar to Qena road,3 and other Roman watch towers are known from hills overlooking the east bank of the Nile between Luxor and Aswan,4 but the towers and wall above el-Garayat are the first evidence for such emplacements in the Wadi Hilal.

Figure 21 Late Roman structure at el-Garayat

Figure 22 Perspective view of Building 1 at el-Garayat

John Coleman Darnell with the assistance of Colleen Manassa Darnell

  1. 1. Compare S. Sidebotham, H. Barnard, and G. Pike, “Five Enigmatic Late Roman Settlements in the Eastern Desert,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 88 (2002): 187-225.
  2. 2. See C. Manassa, “An Enigmatic Site near Debabiya: Desert and Nilotic Interconnections during the Late Roman Period,” Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 5:4 (2013): 24-27, as well as idem, Moalla Survey Project (with links to additional pages on the site).
  3. 3. See S.E. Sidebotham, R.E. Zitterkopf, and J.A. Riley, “Survey of the Abu Sha’ar—Nile Road,” AJA 95 (1991): 571-622. Bibliography and description of much previously known Eastern Desert material of Graeco-Roman date appears in S.E. Sidebotham, Berenike and the Ancient Maritime Spice Route (Berkeley, 2011).
  4. 4. See H. Jaritz, Signaltürme Der frühen Kaiserzeit in der oberen ThebaÏs (Leuven, Paris, and Dudley, MA, 2006).