At the beginning of the 19th century Hawara was studied by Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous expedition in Egypt. The French expedition (1799-1801) described the Hawara pyramid, and the pharaonic temple south of it. The remains in the north and the west were wrongly identified as the labyrinth (Jomard-Caristie 31 December 1800) by Jomard who believed that he had discovered the ruins of the labyrinth.
The first excavations at the site were made by Karl Lepsius, in 1843. Lepsius was commissioned by King Frederich Wilhelm IV of Prussia to lead an expedition to explore and record the remains of the ancient Egyptian civilization. The Prussian expedition was modeled after the earlier Napoléonic mission, and consisted of surveyors, draftsmen, and other specialists. In Hawara K. R. Lepsius, carried out considerable excavations in the cemetery to the north and on the northern and south-eastern sides of the pyramid and in the area of the labyrinth and claimed to have established the actual site of the labyrinth (Lepsius 1849), attaching great importance to a series of brick chambers which they unearthed. The data furnished by this party, however, were not altogether of a convincing character, and it was felt that further evidence was required before their conclusions could be accepted. Lepsius thought that the structures excavated by his team were parts of the temple of King Amenemhat III, but later research showed that they belonged to Roman tombs. Since the expedition of Lepsius, the place came to be known as a findspot for some high quality royal statues.
The pupil of Lepsius, G. M. Ebers, who did much to popularise the study of Egyptology by a series of novels, said that if one climbed the pyramid hard by, one could see that the ruins of the Labyrinth had a horseshoe shape, but that was all.
In 1882 the Italian Luigi Vassalli (1855-1899) started his excavations in the area near the pyramid of Hawara, after having surveyed the site. Vassalli searched in vain for the pyramid's entrance. He also excavated across the Bahr Wahbi, in the village east and south of the labyrinth and in the necropolis to the north of the pyramid (Vassalli 1867, pp.62-65; Vassali 1885).
The pioneer of systematic methodology in archaeology, Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie undertook the first large-scale excavations at Hawara in 1888-1889 and 1910-1911. He revealed attestations of human occupation and activity dating back from the Middle Kingdom to Coptic times. The first object of Petrie’s archaeological work at Hawara was the study of the Middle Kingdom pyramid. On the second place he was interested in the labyrinth of the literary sources. Moreover he extended his activity area towards the area north of the pyramid where he discovered a huge cemetery. The most famous finds revealed by Petrie at the Hawara necropolis are the gilded masks and mummy portraits, which he found in the late-Ptolemaïc and Roman tombs, e.g. the wooden panel of Hermione, the schoolteacher, being among the very few surviving examples of painted portraits from Classical Antiquity, the "Faiyum portraits". In 1888 he first focused on the pyramid and the labyrinth. He divided the necropolis north of the pyramid in chronological zones ranging from the Middle Kingdom to Byzantine times. Here he found the first Roman mummy portraits and masks. In 1889 he identified the pyramid as that of the 12th dynasty pharaoh Amenemhat III and his daughter Neferuptah. He continued working in the burial area in the northern part of the site and cleared a Byzantine basilica north-west of the pyramid. His successful campaigns attracted other excavators, in search of papyri and mummy portraits.
The actual site of the Egyptian labyrinth was most important, finally identified by Professor Flinders Petrie in 1888. Sufficient of the original foundations remained to enable the size and orientation of the building to be roughly determined. Namely about 304 meters [997 feet] long and 244 meters [800 feet] wide. Large enough to hold the great temples of Karnak and Luxor. He found that the brick chambers which Lepsius took to be part of the labyrinth, were only remains of the Roman town built by its supposed destroyers. He concluded that the labyrinth itself being so thoroughly demolished that only the great bed of fragments remained on top of an artificial stone foundation. Anyway Petrie drew up a tentative restoration based upon the descriptions of Herodotus and Strabo so far as these tallied with the scanty remains discovered by him. He speculated that the shrines which he found formed part of a series of nine, ranged along the foot of the pyramid, each attached to a columned court, the whole series of courts opening opposite a series of twenty-seven columns arranged down the length of a great hall running east and west; on the other side of this hall would be another series of columned courts, six in number and larger than the others, separated by another long hall from a further series of six.
His finding at Hawara included also scattered bits of foundations, a great well, two door jambs, one to the north and one to the south, two granite shrines and part of another, several fragments of statues and a large granite seated figure of the king, who is still generally recognised to have been the builder of the labyrinth. Namely Amenemhet (or Amenemhat) III of the XIIth Dynasty (also known as Lampares), who reigned twenty-three centuries BCE.
W.M. Flinders Petrie wrote (Ten Years Digging in Egypt, pp. 91-92):
"Though the pyramid was the main object at Hawara, it was but a lesser part of my work there. On the south of the pyramid lay a wide mass of chips and fragments of building, which had long generally been identified with the celebrated labyrinth. Doubts, however, existed, mainly owing to Lepsius having considered the brick buildings on the site to have been part of the labyrinth. When I began to excavate the result was soon plain, that the brick chambers were built on the top of the ruins of a great stone structure; and hence they were only the houses of a village, as they had at first appeared to me to be. But beneath them, and far away over a vast area, the layers of stone chips were found; and so great was the mass that it was difficult to persuade visitors that the stratum was artificial, and not a natural formation. Beneath all these fragments was a uniform smooth bed of beton or plaster, on which the pavement of the building had been laid: while on the south side, where the canal had cut across the site, it could be seen how the chip stratum, about six feet thick, suddenly ceased, at what had been the limits of the building. No trace of architectural arrangement could be found, to help in identifying this great structure with the labyrinth: but the mere extent of it proved that it was far larger than any temple known in Egypt. All the temples of Karnak, of Luxor, and a few on the western side of Thebes, might be placed together within the vast space of these buildings at Hawara. We know from Pliny and others, how for centuries the labyrinth had been a great quarry for the whole district; and its destruction occupied such a body of masons, that a small town existed there. All this information, and the recorded position of it, agrees so closely with what we can trace, that no doubt can now remain regarding the position of one of the wonders of Egypt."
In 1911, Petrie returned to Hawara to excavate in the labyrinth and to find more of the so-called Faiyum portraits on the Roman Period mummies. As usual, Petrie published his results soon after his work and also depicted partial reconstructions of the complex within his volumes. These were still mainly based on the classical authors, and only few points depended on the little evidence he found for the original architecture (Petrie et al. 1912). The crucial information Petrie knew ‘from Pliny and others’ about the disappearance of labyrinth as a quarry is unscientificly vague and even completly lost for contemporary researchers. That the whole of the structure of the labyrinth could have been carried away was certainly a possibility, but it would have been a Herculean feat considering its size and the mass of the stones used to build it. If this was indeed the labyrinth described in antiquity, no act of pillaging could match the total annihilation that should have occurred there. During Petrie’s absence at Hawara excavations were subsequently undertaken in 1892 by Heinrich Brugsch, J. von Levetzau and von Niemeyer and Richard Von Kaufmann, who all discovered Roman mummy portraits. In the same year R. von Kaufmann discovered the intact Roman mudbrick chamber of 'Aline' (see now Germer, Kischkewitz and Lüning 1993). A local dealer discovered four or five portraits and an unknown number of gilded masks (cf. Drower 1985, p.143).
In 1910, G. Lefèbvre excavated on the site (cf. Parlasca 1966, p.34; Grimm 1974, p.35) and Petrie resumed his work in the Labyrinth and in the Roman cemetery, again finding lots of mummy portraits.
Among other parts of the site the area east of the pyramid was further excavated in more recent times by the Inspectorate of Faiyum Antiquities worked in the necropolis north and east of the pyramid and by the Egyptian archaeologists by Fathi Melek and Hishmat Adib (1972), Motawi Balboush (1974) and el-Khouli (1983). (see the reports in Leclant 1973, p.404; Leclant 1975, p.208-209, and Leclant 1984, p.370) The entrance to the pyramid was cleared by A. Al-Bazidy in 1995.
The last survey before the Mataha-expedition of the site was undertaken in 2000 by a Belgian mission. From 5 to 23 March 2000 the Catholic University of Leuven mapped the architectural remains visible on the surface. The complementary study of the surface pottery resulted in a chronological framework of the different areas of the site and in a representative catalogue of the Hawara ceramics covering the period between the Middle Kingdom (ca. 2000 BCE) and the 10th century CE. Inge Uytterhoeven (field director Hawara 2000 survey) of the Leuven University expected to publish the survey report in fall 2008.
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