December 17, 2012

Back to Karanis

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 10:27 am

As promised (quite a while ago, sad to say), here is the second part of the earlier post on the Roman bath at Karanis.

Earlier, we had wended our way through most of the interior, finishing up in the laconicum or steam/sauna room. That was the penultimate room before entering the hot-water bath or the caldarium:
Desert Fox
Desert Fox
A few things to note:
– The large hole in the floor is again probably where they excavated to get into the hypocaust system beneath the floor.
– The only stone in the floor is the one near the foot of the tub, the other one next to it is now gone.
– In the top right there is a plastered brick surface which is, surprisingly, largely intact. It is believed that there was a cold water basin up against this wall.
– Note the cracks in the tub: one at the far (head) end, and one in the panel closest to the foot. Part of the reason these photos are so valuable is that we can assess what damage has been done in modern times; these cracks were at least there in 1975 so did not occur in the interim. Also note that part of the lower right corner of the tub was broken off, but has since been reattached (in 2001 by the SCA).
– The SCA also built up the steps on both sides and the “seat” of the tub.

As for the tub itself:
Desert Fox
Desert Fox
The rebuilt steps cover what was fired brick (presumably also plastered in antiquity). We’d thought these held up pretty well when we though it was done in the 1980s. But after only 11 years the plaster has been damaged, probably because of people getting into and out of the tub for photos. Also note the size of the end piece that was refitted. Unfortunately, the crack near the seat in the ‘now’ photo isn’t really visible in the old photos so we can’t tell if that one’s new or not (I think it’s not).

Now to the outside:
Desert Fox
Desert Fox
This is the northeast corner looking at the “boiler room” part of the structure. It is lower than the rest of it, obviously, but not like an entire lower floor; it’s not as tall as a full floor. Bear in mind that that this was all covered in sand almost up to the top when we got there (you can see the top of the sand on the right). We hadn’t actually planned on uncovering all of this, but the sand here is reasonably compact so you can make a pretty stable baulk out of it, so I decided we should try to expose it anyway.
Notice that it looks pretty similar with one major exception: the arch on top which is completely gone. This happened prior to the 2001 restoration as the tops of the walls where the arch sat are covered in plaster.

Otherwise, it’s nicely intact. I believe that they left this open in 1975 as the historic debris that we found in the sand is from the late 1970s, and one 1977 newspaper was found within the lower opening, suggesting it filled up rather quickly.

Lastly, the drainage system:
Desert Fox
Desert Fox

This is all off to the east of the rest of the building. The circular structure is the cistern into which drained the water. We’re still not sure about the opening in the side of the cistern. . . .it appears to have been designed that way as the one edge is nice and vertical, not broken off, and the bricks visible (not in the photo) seem to make a termination point there. It’s not plastered on the inside and isn’t really that sturdily built so it probably wasn’t designed to hold water for any length of time (the bottom is just dirt as well, though we didn’t excavate down to great depth). I suspect it was just there to allow waste water to collect and seep into the soil and direct any excess out away from the bath.

Also of note: the drainage channel in that old photo and others has it covered throughout its length by square fired bricks; we’d excavated down expecting to find those, but we didn’t: they were almost all gone. Only five remain, the three visible here and two more at the other end. But we were able to see how the channel was constructed because of it. Seems to have been a U-shaped channel made out of fired and plastered mud bricks and then covered over with the square bricks. No idea why they were removed, but there you have it.

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