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Memphis Faience Project, Egypt

A kiln for the manufacture of a specific type of glazed ceramic known as faience (dating to the early Roman period) was recently excavated at Kom Helul, Memphis under the direction of Paul Nicholson of Cardiff University. The site, which was first identified and investigated by Petrie in 1888, provides a key for understanding an industry whose luxury products were exported all over the Roman world. The recent excavations have made it possible for Petrie's finds, many of which are currently held by museums throughout the UK, to be put into a reliable archaeological and technological context.

The kiln has an estimated total height of about 10 metres and is one of several in evidence, suggesting that the site as a whole was an industrial complex of great size. A vast quantity of domestic ceramic material is associated with the kiln, providing evidence on the firing of faience as well as a date for the structure (tpq late 2nd century AD). In fact, this domestic pottery provides the first well dated assemblage of this period to have been discovered at Memphis. It helps to characterise the community working in or close to the industrial complex and contributes towards a wider study planned on the distribution of Ptolemaic and Roman pottery within Egypt and beyond.

The archaeological report on the excavations was published in 2013 entitled ‘Working in Memphis; the Production of Faience at Roman Period Kom Helul’,as the One Hundred and Fifth Excavation Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society. It includes an illustrated Appendix by Peter French on a selection of the domestic pottery. Janine Bourriau and Peter French are currently working on the final publication of the domestic pottery, which is also due to be published by the EES.