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Coptic Thebes and TT99

[Taken from Heike Behlmer,'Streiflichter auf die christliche Besiedlung Thebens--Koptische ostraka aus dem Grab des Senneferi (TT 99)', Hallesche Beiträge zur Orientwissenshaft 36 (2003), 11-27, summarised in English with the author's permission.

Heike Behlmer taught Coptic at Macquarie University and is now professor in Göttingen; she worked on the Coptic ostraka from TT99 during the 2001 season (see her report).]

The West Bank at Thebes in the sixth to eighth centuries AD was a hive of activity, with various very active monastic communities. Traces of their existence were in very many cases sacrificed in the 19th century AD in the search for remains of pharaonic architecture. Nevertheless, recent research has shown that careful excavation and analysis of material can reveal much fascinating information.

The main settlements in the sixth to eighth centuries AD were at Djeme, the town which grew up in and around the mortuary temple of Ramesses III at Medinet Habu, and in the area of the monastery of Phoibammon on top of the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari. An unusually well-documented site is the nearby monastery of Epiphanios.

There is also evidence for other larger and smaller communities, and one of these was at the southern end of the hill of Sheikh Abdel Qurna. Excavations in and around many of the tombs in this area (including TT99, TT29, TT87, TT84, and TT85) have revealed vast numbers of ostraka. TT29 has in addition produced remains of weaving workshops and leather working, and TT85/87 parts of structures, while in the forecourt of TT97 are the remains of a church. It would appear that the greatest period of activity here was around the end of the sixth and beginning of the seventh centuries AD. Certain individuals appear in the ostraka from several tombs, indicating that these are not isolated individuals. Some can also be associated with monks known from the monastery of Epiphanios. The picture is of a hillside populated by monks, with associations with smaller local monasteries rather than just the major ones.

© Heike Behlmer 2003

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