Roman-era ceramics workshop uncovered in Egypt's Alexandria

Archaeologists unearth coins, worship room with an altar and 13-chamber complex

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An Egyptian archaeological mission working at a site west of the Mediterranean city of Alexandria has unearthed a ceramics workshop dating to the start of Roman rule there.

The team found kilns, two of them carved into the rock, said Dr Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.

One of the kilns was remarkably well preserved, said Dr Waziri, with an entrance believed to have been used by workers who would enter and lay out the clay to be baked.

Ceramics workers would have sealed the door with clay and pottery sherds then fire up the kiln by inserting fuel through a slanted chamber just beneath the door.

Though the site dates to the Roman period of Egypt’s history, which began around 30 BCE and lasted for about 600 years, there is evidence that points to its use during the later Byzantine period.

Also uncovered at the site were two burials, believed to date from the later Middle Ages when the site was used as a cemetery. One of those buried was a pregnant woman, the ministry said.

There was evidence of up to 100 graves, some of which were hewn into the rock.

Further excavations by the mission will continue at the site to ensure nothing valuable is left uncovered.

"Alexandria was very significant during the Ptolemaic era because it was founded by Alexander the Great," said Dr Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo.

"It is wonderful to have a whole industrial section of the ancient city, as it tells us about the daily workings of Alexandria, its people and its economy."

Also discovered was a structure to the south of the two kilns, said Dr Ayman Ashmawy, head of the Egyptian antiquities sector of the Supreme Council of Antiquities. It is believed to have been a storage room for the workshop’s finished ceramics. A large group of pottery items, including ones used to cook and serve food, were found inside.

The mission also discovered a group of 13 rooms built from limestone. The rooms are believed to have been built during the Ptolemaic period (305-30 BCE).

Inside one of them, believed to have been used as a food preparation area, a large number of animal bones were found, including ones belonging to pigs, sheep, goats and fish. This room also houses several stoves.

Another of the rooms reportedly served as a separate workshop for ceramics. Inside, archaeologists found grinders, pestles, amphorae and a variety of other tools used in fashioning ceramics.

Inside another room, clay containers had animal remains inside them which led the mission to believe that this had served as a pantry for the workshop’s residents.

On the floor of the pantry, the mission also found a large number of coins. Most of the coins date to the Ptolemaic era. After minor restorations, the faces of Alexander the Great, the Greek god Zeus and Egypt’s final queen Cleopatra were found inscribed on the coins.

Another of the rooms is believed to have been used for worship, with an altar and a number of poorly-preserved terracotta statues.

Some of the statues were made in the image of the god Harpocrates, the Greek adaptation of the ancient Egyptian child god Horus, a symbol of the daily rebirth of the sun.

Harpocrates emerged as a god during the Ptolemaic period when Greek culture began to take hold in Egypt, especially in Alexandria, whose relics are deeply associated with the Greco-Roman period.

Updated: April 13, 2022, 3:06 PM