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The expedition to Oxyrhynchus discovers paintings by the earliest Coptic Christians and the tomb of a scribe with his working tools

The working tools of the scriber.

The working tools of the scriber.

30/04/2014

The latest expedition of researchers from the University of Barcelona, the Catalan Egyptology Society and the University of Montpellier to the ancient city of Oxyrhynchus has enabled to excavate for the first time an excellent underground stone structure; researchers do not know which function it played yet. Once inside, archaeologists found five or six coats of paint on the walls, the last of which was from the Coptic period of the first Christians. Another exceptional find of the expedition is the tomb of a scriber who was buried together with his working tools: a metallic inkpot which is still full of ink and two new pens for the deceased to write during the eternal life.

“The archaeological site of Oxyrhynchus is known for the thousands of papyri found there, but any scribe was found to date”, explains Josep Padró, director of the expedition and emeritus professor from UB. There are no inscriptions or markings to identify the tombs, but archaeological remains enabled to conclude that it was a person aged around seventeen years buried during the Coptic Roman period (even if in that period burial rituals do not include grave goods so, in this sense, the find may be extraordinary). 

 
The expedition has achieved to excavate the underground stone structure located in the middle of a processional route that joins the Nile with the Osireion, the temple dedicated to Osiris which is one of the greatest findings of Oxyrhynchus. To get to this underground structure it was necessary to clear the site; to be exact, forty-five tones of stone were removed under the supervision of an architect and an engineer. Finally, experts were able to get into a great rectangular crypt which measures about 8 metres long and 3.75 metres deep. Experts are not sure yet, but it could be another temple, for instance a serapeum (the temple of the god Serapis, the Hellenistic form of Osiris).
 
In order to carry out future campaigns it is necessary to excavate an attached structure; some worn stairs give access to it, but researchers do not know its content yet. A project to preserve in the best possible way the paintings of the Coptic period of the first Christians will be set up in order to allow visiting them in the future.
 
A tomb full of Roman mummies was also found during the mission. Besides, researchers have continued to study the exceptional votive offerings of Oxyrhynchus fish, the sacred animal of goddess Taweret that named the city which was discovered two years ago.
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