Mission Archéologique Française de Bouto Tell el Fara'in

Since 2023, Éveha International has been involved in the archaeological mission at Bouto Tell el Fara'in (Egypt). The project is led by Loïc Mazou (Éveha, UMR 7041 ArScAn and UR 15071 HeRMA) and P. Ballet (Professor Emeritus, Université Paris Nanterre - UMR 7041 ArScAn).

The excavation campaigns
(by years)


Loïc Mazou (Éveha, UR 15071 HeRMA / UMR 7041 ArScAn)
Pascale Ballet (UMR 7041 ArScAn)
Patrice Georges-Zimmermann (Inrap/UMR 5608 TRACES)

Location and historical summary

In the heart of the Delta, more precisely in its north-western part, some ten kilometers east of the Rosetta branch and some one hundred kilometers from Alexandria, Bouto is one of the oldest large-scale settlements in the Delta and stands out for the importance of its archaeological potential, covering a multimillennial period from late prehistory to the early Islamic period, the exploration of which is being carried out in close collaboration with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.

The urban area in its current perimeter, now delimited by a surrounding wall designed to protect the site from looting, occupies a surface area of 64 hectares, not counting occupation outside the walls, such as the kôm el-Dahab, located to the north of the site: the spatial hold is therefore significant. This is reinforced by the strength of the stratigraphy. The succession of levels at Kom A is characterized by a superimposition of strata, from the 4th millennium to the early Islamic period, with, admittedly, a significant gap from the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom.
Bouto is a city of cultic memory, whose main sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Ouadjyt (assimilated to Leto, Herodotus II, 152, 155) was still frequented in Ptolemaic times. Horus/Apollo (Herodotus II, 156) was also honored at Bouto itself or in the surrounding area, the marshes of Chemmis, where Isis and Horus took refuge shortly after his birth and which are mentioned in various textual sources since the Old Kingdom.
There are still many uncertainties as to when the sanctuary was abandoned. According to our Egyptian colleagues who are currently excavating the temple, under the direction of Hossam Mohamed Ghonim (Director of the Kafr el-Scheikh Inspectorate), cult activity seems to have diminished considerably during the Roman period: at the very least, baths and probable dwellings are located to the north and south of the sanctuary.
Very recently, but it’s not up to us to report on the results, the center of the temple has been explored by the Egyptian team. The sanctuary thus bears witness to a prestigious past, particularly during the New Kingdom (as witnessed by the stele of Thutmosis III, now on display at the Kafr el-Scheikh Museum) and the Late Period, since the enclosure dates back to the Saite period, as do some of the monuments recently uncovered.

We participate in this research, as our team is called upon to collaborate in the study of the furniture and provide targeted expert appraisals. This was the case with G. Lecuyot and L. Mazou for the small bath located south-east of the temple, published by Hossam Mohamed Ghonim.
However, and this is a major question for archaeologists working on the site, the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom are not attested on the two kôms (A and C) reserved for housing and industrial activities.

From an archaeological point of view, we can now be sure of the longevity of the settlement, which remained in operation until the Byzantine-Islamic transition phase, echoing the conciliar lists of the Coptic Church, since Bouto was the seat of a bishopric.
Indeed, systematic pedestrian surveys carried out under the direction of Gr. Marouard from 2012 to 2015 on kôms A and C have enabled us to assess the site’s main spatial mutations, from the end of the Late Period to the beginnings of Islam.
As far as the main kôm (kôm A) is concerned, occupation, albeit limited, is attested up to the Byzantine-Islamic transition.

Comparisons with the furnishings of the vast group of Kellia hermitages further west, on the edge of the desert, and with Alexandria, are striking and demonstrate the existence of a community of forms and techniques from the Kellia desert to the region of the Rosetta branch, i.e. the entire north-western delta.

Three sectors, corresponding to three clearly identified areas of activity, form the basis of our current program: the thesauros (storage building, mainly for cereals); the necropolis covering the western flank of Kom A, in which an imperial-period collective tomb with a dozen sarcophagi has been discovered; and the artisan quarter, which has reinvested an area of Ptolemaic settlement.

At the summit of Kom A, in 2016, the French mission discovered a large mud-brick building whose layout and construction phases were gradually revealed. The very good state of preservation of the plant remains littering the ground quickly led to the identification of a cereal storage building. Four campaigns, from 2016 to 2019, were devoted to the excavation and study of the building, calling on a multidisciplinary approach, from archaeology to archaeobotany, which the architectural organization and plant macro-remains allow to classify in the thesauroi group, identified particularly in Fayoum, thanks to archaeological discoveries, in Karanis, Backhias and more recently Tebtynis, and confirmed by papyrology. The term “thesauros” is used in the broad sense of a storage or processing area, designed to “store” or “preserve with care”, without however limiting this building to the sole function of a fruit reserve.

The results obtained from the excavation of the thesauros, as well as those delivered by the systematic pedestrian prospection carried out from 2012 to 2015, have encouraged us to pursue research into the organization of the city in the Imperial period. Thus, the current program “Living, producing and dying in Bouto, from Octavian to Diocletian” takes a synchronic approach to the occupation of Bouto (habitat, necropolis, production activities) during this period, from a regional and, where appropriate, Mediterranean perspective, while environmental aspects (archaeobotany, archaeozoology) are being carried out in conjunction with the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut.
The aim of the June and October-November 2021 missions was therefore to concentrate research on the Roman Bouto area, and in particular on Kom A, which in the center and north features dwellings and buildings indicative of urban occupation, and to the west and north, forming a ring, potters’ workshops and the necropolis.
While the settlements had been glimpsed, notably during excavations in and around the thesauros, the Roman necropolis had never been explored. It was against this backdrop that we decided to survey the area and excavate an Imperial-period funerary building, an exceptional structure for the Delta, located in sector P22 to the west of Kom A and excavated by Patrice Georges-Zimmermann, as well as a concentration of potters’ kilns identified not only by surface analysis, but also thanks to geomagnetic surveys carried out by Tomasz Herbich between 2001 and 2006.

History of research

For the earliest phases of its history, the 4th millennium, Bouto’s position and status are pre-eminent, as revealed by the first British investigations of William M. Flinders Petrie, who made a rapid passage to Tell el-Fara’in/Bouto in 1886, followed in the early 20th c. by those of Charles Trick Currelly, who carried out a few test pits in 1904, and from the 1960s onwards, the research carried out under the aegis of the Egypt Exploration Society (EES). In the early 1980s, these were followed by intensive research by the DAI (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut). At the time of the formation of the Pharaonic state, towards the end of the 4th millennium, the settlement of Bouto was the north-western gateway to Egypt and led to the Mediterranean via waterways, the precise route of which is difficult to trace.

The Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, which holds the concession, has been working at Bouto since 1983. Near the modern village of Sekhmawy, the work covers an area of around 2,000 m2 and has revealed levels dating from the early 4th millennium that are characteristic of the Bouto-Maadi culture up to the first dynasties, as highlighted by the work of T. von der Way, D. Faltings and U. Hartung. While vestiges of the southern culture of Nagada are notable at Bouto, regional differences faded over time, indicating a gradual hybridity and fusion of cultural influences. The buildings from the early dynastic period (c. 3000-2800 BC) show the transition from an economic complex to a palatial structure; the presence of a vast tripartite complex, comprising production, storage and residential functions, is one of the most obvious signs of this. At the time, Bouto was a temporary royal residence and played a key role in the administrative and economic organisation of the region. The Deutsches Archäologisches Institut is now focusing its research on the Old Kingdom, on the initiative of Clara Jeuthe, director of the German mission, particularly in the north-western part of the site.

While human presence is attested until the end of the Old Kingdom, there is a lack of documentation until the Third Intermediate Period.
Echoing this work, which has made it possible to classify pre- and protodynastic Bouto among the major sites in the formation of the Egyptian state, the French mission is interested in the late city and its place in the urban network of the Delta.

How do you approach a settlement for which, in the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, textual sources are scarce, as is the case for most of the sites in the Delta? The town was both close to and outside the Alexandrian chôra and Alexandria, capital and city, at the heart of the Ptolemies’ strategy for controlling the eastern Mediterranean, from the Levant to Asia Minor, and then the Empire, with Egypt joining the ranks of the imperial provinces, a strategy that was essential for Octavian’s accession to the principate.

Because of the scarcity of texts, although not entirely absent as shown by the research of one of the members of the mission, Å. Engsheden, archaeology is called upon to reconstruct the place and status of this settlement within an urban network on a regional and Mediterranean scale. It is therefore on the basis of the resources of material life, the urban fabric, its buildings and furnishings that we can appreciate the potential of this settlement.
The recent results of our excavations, following the current guidelines of our programme, Living, Producing and Dying in Bouto, from Octavian to Diocletian, are leading us to new areas of human activity, a thesaurus and a necropolis, compared with what was traditionally known at Bouto, and, once again, the ceramic industry, as the very latest discoveries have brought to light, in an exceptional way.

How Eveha International Participates



University of Paris-Nanterre, UMR 7041 ArScAn (ESPRI-LIMC; GAMA; Archaeology of Central Asia)
German Archaeological Institute (DAIK, Cairo)
Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, Kafr el-Scheikh Inspectorate
Éveha/Éveha International
University of Poitiers, HeRMA (UR 15071)
CEALex (UAR 3134)
University of Cologne
University of Toulouse, UMR 5608 TRACES
University of Aegean (Izmir, Turkey)
Laboratoire Archéomatériaux et Prévision de l’Altération: LMC IRAMAT UMR5060 CNRS and NIMBE UMR3685 CEA/CNRS
Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
Brussels Museum of Art and History – Egyptian antiquities section

Translated with (free version)


BALLET P., MAZOU L., « Bouto (Tell el-Faraʽin, 2022) : « Vivre, produire et mourir à Bouto (Tell el-Fara‘in). Une lecture archéologique de la ville à la période romaine d’Octavien à Dioclétien », Bulletin archéologique des Écoles françaises à l’étranger [En ligne], Égypte, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2023.

BALLET P., MAZOU L., « Bouto (Tell el-Faraʽin, 2021) : « Vivre, produire et mourir à Bouto (Tell el-Fara‘in). Une lecture archéologique de la ville à la période romaine d’Octavien à Dioclétien », Bulletin archéologique des Écoles françaises à l’étranger [En ligne], Égypte, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2022.

BALLET P., MAZOU L., « Bouto (Tell el-Faraʽin, 2020) : « Mutations d’une ville du nord de l’Égypte, de la
Basse Époque à la période byzantino-islamique » , Bulletin archéologique des Écoles françaises à l’étranger [En ligne], Égypte, mis en ligne le 30 mai 2021.

BALLET P., MAZOU L. et al., « Bouto (2019) : « Le Delta et les marges septentrionales », Bulletin archéologique des Écoles françaises à l’étranger [En ligne], Égypte, mis en ligne le 05 octobre 2020, consulté le 08 octobre 2021.