Objects from the Kharga Oasis

Selected Objects

Objects from the Kharga Oasis

August 14, 2012–August 4, 2013

In 1907, the Egyptian government granted The Metropolitan Museum of Art permission to survey and excavate in the northern district of the Kharga Oasis. Campaigns, which continued through the early 1930s, focused largely on the Temple of Amun-Re, known as the Temple of Hibis, constructed mainly under Darius I (after 500 B.C.); Ain et-Turba, part of the ancient city of Hibis, whose structures have been dated by coin finds to the third and fourth centuries A.D.; and the Bagawat Necropolis, the cemetery of Hibis, in use perhaps as early as the second century through the sixth or seventh century A.D.

Kharga Oasis (approximately 400 miles southwest of Cairo and 150 miles west of the Nile Valley at Thebes) and the neighboring Dakhla Oasis form the Great Oasis of Egypt's Western (Libyan) Desert. Archaeological work in the oases has yielded evidence of human habitation in the area at least as early as the Middle Paleolithic period (300,000 to 30,000 years ago); the densest concentration of well-preserved material dates to the Roman and Byzantine periods (ca. 30 B.C.–A.D. 642). Oasite communities sustained close contacts with the Nile Valley as far back as the Old Kingdom (ca. 2649–2150 B.C.) and continued to do so during the Roman and Byzantine periods while maintaining distinct identities. Their towns were vital to Egypt's trading network. The Great Oasis hosted important frontier posts and was home to some of the earliest documented Christian communities in Egypt.

Located on the numerous caravan routes that traversed the region, Kharga was an access point for Saharan and sub-Saharan trade, as well as for interaction with the Nile Valley. Kharga's deep wells and fertile land made its communities agriculturally self-sufficient. Numerous crops including grains, sesame, olives, and grapes were cultivated, and wine from Kharga was exported to the Nile Valley. A thriving manufacturing economy produced ceramics and a range of glassware (examples of both are on view). Alum was mined in the region.

This selection of late Roman and Byzantine period objects from the Metropolitan Museum's excavations at the Kharga Oasis includes textiles, ceramics, and grave goods from an intact tomb. Also on view are facsimiles of the painted interiors of several of the Bagawat Necropolis tomb chapels and excavation photography.

Image: Bagawat Necropolis, Chapel of Peace, view of paintings in the dome. Photograph: Egyptian Expedition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art