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a Pleiades place resource

Creators: G. Wagner
Contributors: R. Talbert, Adam Prins, Jen Thum, Jeffrey Becker, Nicola Aravecchia, Tom Elliott, DARMC, Herbert Verreth, Anne User, Sean Gillies, Richard Talbert, Mark Depauw
Copyright © The Creators. Sharing and remixing permitted under terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License (cc-by).
Last modified Mar 03, 2023 09:52 PM History
Roman/late antique settlement, with substantial remains of public religious buildings, including a large temple, residential areas, tombs, and three churches.

25.5162351661, 29.0953873513

settlement, archaeological site

Barrington Atlas: BAtlas 79 inset Kellis

Kellis (modern Ismant el-Kharab) is located in the Dakhla Oasis of Upper Egypt, ca. 2.5 km southeast of the village of Ismant and ca. 11 km northeast of Mut, the capital of the oasis. The site, which is considerably widespread, is surrounded to the south and west –at a certain distance– by cultivated fields and to the northwest and southeast by dried up canals.

 Kellis was visited and briefly described by nineteenth- and early twentieth-century travelers. First scientific work at the site commenced in 1981-2, when the Dakhleh Oasis Project carried out a survey and preliminary test trenching in selected areas. In 1986, excavation began on a larger scale, under the direction of Colin A. Hope of Monash University.

Archaeologists investigated six different sectors throughout the site, which seems to have been occupied from the Ptolemaic period to the fourth-fifth century CE. An extensive set of buildings, surrounded by enclosure walls, was excavated in the west part of the settlement. The largest and most prominent structure is a stone and mud-brick temple complex dedicated to Tutu, Neith, and Tapshay. A smaller temple, dedicated to Neith and Tapshay, is located at a short distance to the west. Further north from the main temple complex are the remains of a funerary church with associated burials (the so-called West Church; cf. below).

In the southern part of the settlement, extensive vestiges of a domestic quarter, divided by a main street running east-west, were brought to light. Among the structures that were surveyed and/or excavated are five houses, a bathhouse, two churches (the Small and Large East Churches; cf. below), and possibly a nymphaeum. Of particular historical significance is the documentary evidence, in the form of papyri and wooden codices with Coptic and Greek texts, found in house 2, which revealed, among other things, the ancient name of the site.

To the north of the above-mentioned domestic quarter lies a remarkable group of buildings separated by narrow, east-west running passageways. The southernmost complex, whose function was preliminarily identified as administrative, includes more than two hundred rooms, accessed via a colonnaded hall. Further north is a wealthy residential building, whose layout focuses around two large open halls. Considerable evidence was gathered showing different phases of construction and alteration of this complex, whose most notable features are its well-preserved, high quality wall paintings. A large square building, consisting of four rooms, was also investigated in the immediate vicinities of the painted residence. Archaeological evidence and comparative analysis allowed its identification as a columbarium/pigeon tower.

Further investigation was carried out on three small mounds located in the northeast area of the site. Residential units and industrial installations, including a ceramic workshop, were excavated, pointing to an early chronology (first-second century CE, although ceramic evidence suggests an even earlier occupational phase dating to the Ptolemaic period).

About twenty mud-brick tombs, including some large and architecturally sophisticated mausolea, are located in the northwestern sector of the site, roughly aligned in a north-south direction. Additional burials were found in the vicinities, generally in a quite poor state of preservation. To the southwest of the site lie two other groups of burials, consisting of a set of five relatively-well preserved tombs and a row of several collapsed mausolea.

The Churches of Kellis

The D.O.P. survey of 1981-82 found consistent traces of three mud-brick churches, one located along the west edge of the site and two at its south end. The West Church, excavated in 1992-93, measures ca. 15 m east-west by 7 m north-south and consists of two rooms, one to the west, possibly functioning as a narthex, and one to the east, with a passageway centrally placed within the shared wall. An apse with a raised floor, that can be accessed via a step, is located along the east wall. The conch is flanked by engaged semi-columns and in front of it is a raised platform, accessible from the west through a couple of steps. Two doorways, placed to the north and south of the apse, open onto small side-rooms. Mastabas (low benches) run along the walls of the two rooms forming the main body of the church, the only access to which is through a doorway located in the south wall of the narthex. This opens onto a cluster of seven rooms forming an architectural complex together with the church. The area covered by these spaces, whose function is unclear, roughly equals the church in size. The only entrance to the complex is located in the southwest corner; it opens onto a large rectangular room with mastabas, possibly functioning as an anteroom. Two Christian burials were found against the east wall of the church and others in its proximity. These discoveries led the excavators to identify the complex as funerary. According to documentary and numismatic evidence, the foundation of the complex occurred around the mid-fourth century CE.

The two churches built in the south periphery of Kellis were once part of a large complex. The so-called Small East Church is located near the southeast corner of its enclosure, built against the east wall. It was partially investigated in 1981-82 by J. E. Knudstad and R. A. Frey and fully excavated in 2000 by Gillian Bowen. The church, the overall dimensions of which are ca. 10.5 m north-south and 9.5 m east-west, consists of two rectangular, interconnected rooms oriented east-west. To the north is a large hall, originally barrel-vaulted, that was originally accessible through a doorway placed in the middle of the north wall (bricked in at some point in antiquity), and another door in the south half of the west wall. Only from this room could one enter the church to the south via two doors, one (larger) located in the middle of the walls separating the two rooms and one (narrower) at the west end of the same wall. Archaeological evidence showed that the room had not been built originally as a church, and its conversion into an ecclesiastical building entailed several alterations. The most significant was the addition of a raised, tripartite sanctuary set against (and partially into) the east wall, with a central apse, delimited by two pilasters and richly decorated, and two side rooms. According to ceramic and numismatic evidence, the Small East Church, which shares considerable similarities with the church of Ain el-Gedida, was in use during the first half of the fourth century.

The Large East Church, built against the southeast enclosure wall of the complex, is a rectangular building, measuring ca. 17 m north-south by 20 m east-west and oriented east-west. Access was originally through three doorways located along the western wall and connecting the church with the larger ecclesiastical complex. The main body of the church is divided into a central nave and two side aisles by two rows of six columns. The base of the two columns at the west end of both colonnades show that they originally had a trefoil shape. A west return aisle (a common feature of Upper Egyptian Christian architecture) was created by adding an additional column between the north and south colonnades, against which is a mud-brick stepped platform. To the east, a transverse aisle with four columns completes the ambulatory, which runs along the four walls of the church and surrounds a central area paved with flagstones. Mastabas are built against the north, west, and south wall. The north and south intercolumniations were originally sealed with wooden screens, as well as the northwest intercolumniation of the return aisle. The sanctuary consists of a raised apse centrally placed against the east wall, framed by two engaged pilasters and with a floor of triangular mud-bricks. A rectangular bema, accessed by two steps at its north and south ends, is located in front of the apse and protrudes into the transverse aisle. The apse is flanked by two small pastophoria, accessible from the transverse aisle; the south room is also directly connected with the apse via two steps. A set of four rooms is located to the south of the church, accessed through the south aisle. The function of three of these spaces is unknown; a staircase and two ovens were found in the westernmost room, which likely served as a kitchen for the baking of bread used in the liturgy. Sub-structures were found predating the construction of the church, which, on the basis of numismatic analysis of the coins found in it, occurred under the reign of Constantine I.

Nicola Aravecchia


Bagnall, Roger S. (1997). The Kellis Agricultural Account Book: P.Kell. IV Gr. 96. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Bowen, Gillian E. (2007). “Ismant el-Kharab, Ancient Kellis, in the Dakhleh Oasis,” The Numismatic Chronicle 167: 260-63.

― (2001b). “Texts and Textiles: A Study of the Textile Industry at Ancient Kellis,” The Artefact 24: 18-28.

Bowen, Gillian E., and Colin A. Hope, eds. (2003). The Oasis Papers 3. Proceedings of the Third International Conference of the Dakhleh Oasis Project. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Bowen, Gillian E., Colin A. Hope, and Olaf A. Kaper (1993). “A Brief Report on the Excavations at Ismant el-Kharab in 1992-93,” The Bulletin of the Australian Centre for Egyptology 4: 17-28.

Bowen, Gillian E., Thomas Chandler, Colin A. Hope, and Derrick Martin (2006). “Reconstructing Ancient Kellis II,” Buried History 42: 17-24.

Bowen, Gillian E., Thomas Chandler, and Derrick Martin (2005). “Reconstructing Ancient Kellis,” Buried History 41: 51-64.

Churcher, C. S., and Anthony J. Mills, eds. (1999). Reports from the Survey of the Dakhleh Oasis Western Desert of Egypt, 1977-1987. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Gardner, Iain (2000). “He has Gone to the Monastery..,” in Studia Manichaica. IV. Internationaler Kongress zum Manichäismus, Berlin, 14.-18. Juli 1997. Edited by Ronald E. Emmerick, Werner Sundermann, and Peter Zieme. Berlin: Akademie Verlag: 247-57.

― (1997a). “The Manichaean Community at Kellis,” in Emerging from Darkness. Studies in the Recovery of Manichaean Sources. Edited by Paul Mirecki and Jason BeDuhn. Leiden; New York; Köln: Brill: 161-75.

― (1997b). “Personal Letters from the Manichaean Community at Kellis,” in Atti del Terzo Congresso Internazionale di Studi “Manicheismo e Oriente Cristiano Antico.” Arcavacata di Rende, Amantea, 31 Agosto-5 Settembre 1993. Edited by Luigi Cirillo and Alois van Tongerloo. Leuven: International Association of Manichaean Studies in conjunction with the Center of the History of Religions; Turnhout; Brepols: 77-94.

― (1996). Kellis Literary Texts: Volume I. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Gardner, Iain, Anthony Alcock, and Wolf-Peter Funk, eds. (1999). Coptic Documentary Texts from Kellis. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Hope, Colin A. (2007). “Report on the 2007 Fieldwork by the Monash University Team as Part of the Dakhleh Oasis Project.”

― (1999a). “Dakhleh Oasis, Ismant el-Kharab,” in Encyclopedia of the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Edited by Kathryn A. Bard. London; New York: Routledge: 222-26.

Hope, Colin A., and Anthony J. Mills, eds. (1999). Dakhleh Oasis Project: Preliminary Reports on the 1992-1993 and 1993-1994 Field Seasons. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Hope, Colin A., and Gillian E. Bowen, eds. (2002). Dakhleh Oasis Project: Preliminary Reports on the 1994-1995 to 1998-1999 Field Seasons. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Hope, Colin A., and Helen Whitehouse (2006). “A Painted Residence at Ismant el-Kharab (Kellis) in the Dakhleh Oasis,” Journal of Roman Archaeology 19: 312-28.

Marlow, C. A., and A. J. Mills, eds. (2001). The Oasis Papers 1. Proceedings of the First Conference of the Dakhleh Oasis Project. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Winlock, Herbert E. (1936). Ed Dakhleh Oasis, by H. E. Winlock. Journal of a Camel Trip Made in 1908. New York: 20-22.

Worp, Klaas A., ed. (2004). Greek Ostraka from Kellis: O. Kellis, nos. 1-293. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

― (1995). Greek Papyri from Kellis: I. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

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G. Wagner, R. Talbert, Adam Prins, Jen Thum, Jeffrey Becker, Nicola Aravecchia, Tom Elliott, DARMC, Herbert Verreth, Anne User, Sean Gillies, Richard Talbert, and Mark Depauw, 'Kellis: a Pleiades place resource', Pleiades: A Gazetteer of Past Places, 2023 <> [accessed: 13 April 2024]

            {{cite web |url= |title=Places: 776189 (Kellis) |author=Wagner, G. |accessdate=April 13, 2024 8:17 am |publisher=Pleiades}}