Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
On Wednesday Tony and I made a field trip to visit to another Palace City located about half an hour’s drive north from Malqata. The site of Deir el-Ballas was excavated at the beginning of the twentieth century by George Reisner, Albert Lythgoe, and F.W. Green under the sponsorship of Phoebe A. Hearst. These excavations uncovered a large royal palace, a settlement, and a series of cemeteries dating to the late Second Intermediate Period and the early Eighteenth Dynasty. The results of the Hearst excavations were never published, however, and so from 1980 to 1986, with grants from the American Research Center, National Geographic and private donors, I surveyed and mapped the site.
In many ways it is similar, and probably ancestral to, Malqata. However, the site was not built for a King’s Heb-Sed, but, instead appears to be a campaign palace built by Seqenre Tao (of Dynasty 17) for his war against the Hyksos. The ancient settlement at Deir el-Ballas is situated in a natural amphitheater formed in the limestone cliffs bordering the high desert on the western bank of the Nile. The two ends of this bay circumscribe the area of settlement, which ran along the desert edge of the cultivation for a distance of approximately two kilometers.
Situated at the approximate center of the bay are the remains of the largest and most prominent structure at the site, the North Palace. It is a large mud brick structure surrounded by a large enclosure wall, which measured approximately 150 meters wide by at least 300 meters long. The eastern end of the enclosure ran under the modern cultivation and has never been traced. A smaller walled court, roughly sixty meters square, is appended to the northwest corner of the main enclosure
The North Palace itself was built of large, unbaked mud bricks, which averaged 54 x 27 x 18 centimeters each. These bricks were made of a dense gray alluvial clay with a small amount of straw added and Tony estimated each weighed nearly 100 pounds. The whole complex was grouped around an elevated platform constructed on casemate foundations, which consisted of long mud brick chambers filled in with rubble and capped by a mud brick pavement. Some of these casemates are still preserved to a height of approximately three meters, and this core of casemates supported the raised private apartments of the palace. Fronting the casemate core was a long, columned hall 20 meters wide and over 60 meters long. Access to this central hall was by a long entrance corridor. To the east of the entrance corridor was a square columned hall and to the north of the central hall were two other columned courts.
Column bases found by Reisner in the North Palace
Surrounding the palace was a complex of houses, storerooms, administrative buildings, a workmen’s village and private chapels.
The most enigmatic of all the structures at the site is the large building termed the “South Palace” by the Hearst Expedition. In reality, the structure does not appear to be a palace at all. It sits atop a high hill that marks the southern end of the site and consists of a large rectangular platform built on casemates, and measuring l00 x 44 meters. The top tier reaches a height of twenty-five meters above the plain and commands a view of the Nile and surrounding territory. A broad stairway runs 5.5 meters from the top of the platform to the lower level of the building. This section was also erected on casemate foundations.
Atop the platform must have been an additional structure, and large quantities of mud brick rubble and gypsum plaster rise several meters above the top of the upper casemates In design, the structure most closely resembles the building of Amenhotep III at the Kom el-Abd. Just as it marks the southern extent of the settlement associated with the Malkata, so the South Palace marks the southern extent of the settlement at Deir el-Ballas.
Unfortunately, in the many years since I had worked at the site, what was a small hamlet has grown into a large town moving onto the site and destroying much of the ancient buildings. We were indeed fortunate that the Ministry of Antiquities constructed the protective wall around Malqata, otherwise it would have surely suffered the same fate.