October 31, 2012

Notes from the field bath house

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 8:15 am

[EDIT: photos loading slooooowly]

First full day in the Roman bath house! I’m thoroughly enjoying this little project, although it’s turning into something of a major project the more we uncover and find that needs doing. As a bit of history, it was cleared and restored somewhat in the 1970s, so all you see in the following photos has happened since then.

Our first thought was to remove the trash and windblown sand that had accumulated in order for the conservator to get some plaster samples and attempt fixing some to the wall better. There turned out to be more sand than expected, and also of a different consistency than we’d initially thought: There was some loose sand, but under it was an uneven layer of compact. . .something. . .of unknown depth. Actually, I didn’t know what it was at first and just cleared down to the compact stuff. I soon discovered that it was just the same sand but very compacted due probably to rain and trampling by visitors. So, a couple-hour project turned in a couple of days and perhaps several more to go.

First up, another serene sunrise over Karanis:

Next, here’s the overall view of the bath building:

That first area is the frigidarium or cold-water bath. To the right of that you enter into the tepidarium or warm-water bath. From that room you exit to the left into the laconicum or steam room, and thence into the caladarium or hot-water bath. You would go into each in a particular sequence, but I don’t know which at the moment.
Here’s a closer-up view of the frigidarium:

The tub is on the left there and you can see a step next to the tub for entry and exit. Just right of the step you can kind of make out a dropoff: that’s the compact sand we’d been removing from the back wall out (towards the camera). It’s about 40 cm thick there and the floor underneath is of large paving stones. Most of the mud bricks you’ll see in here are fired rather than just dried to provide some moisture resistance, hence the red color.

Next is the doorway from the tepidarium into the laconicum:

This was also covered in about 30-40 cm of compact sand and fallen bricks and plaster. The large paving stones are the floor surface and comparing to photos from the 1970s work, one is missing and the first one there has been broken in half and one part is now missing. The three small brick structures were for a bench — it’s a steam room after all.


A couple of niches in the laconicum. The semicircular one is where I first discovered that the compact sand was the same as the loose sand (just more compact): it was the same stuff and also had recent junk in it, mostly cigarette butts and styrofoam.


One corner of the laconicum with some plaster still attached and some that has fallen.


And here we are in the caldarium with its nice stone tub. Note the spout coming out of the tub in the middle. There was a deep pit just to the left of where that is, but it has been filled in.


Lengthwise view of the tub. It was partially filled with sand when I got to it and the interior was a bit surprising: it’s three stone pavers with plaster around the edges. The near side has been broken off at some point, probably before the last century. Again, note the drainage hole in the center right.


Finally, a small platform outside of the frigidarium. This was in photos from the 1970s project and it’s still in halfway decent shape, although the wall behind it has deteriorated markedly. Actually, much of this building has deteriorated quite a bit since then. Some of the wall parts are now just plain gone, at least one wall is visibly bowing out and could really collapse at any time, and the stone lintel above the tepidarium-locaonicum doorway is now cracked, apparently all or most of the way through. Once I saw that I became somewhat concerned as it’s a pretty serious crack.

Really, at this point nothing much can be done to save the structure from ultimate destruction apart from perhaps reconstructing every single by encasing them in concrete or filling the entire thing with sand up to the tops of the walls. Were I God-Emperor of Egypt I would immediately do the latter. But I’m not, so we do what we can.

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