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Karanis, Gateway to the Fayum

Located at the edge of the Fayum basin next to the road from Cairo lie the ruins of Karanis (modern Kom Aushim), a Graeco-Roman town of mostly agricultural importance. It was founded by the king Ptolemy II Philadelphus as a settlement for Greek military veterans in the third century BC, as part of a systematic effort to develop the Fayum. Wheat and olives were the most important crops. The enormous granaries in Karanis and the many grinding and crushing stones indicate that production took place on a grand scale. The town was never particularly rich and was built mostly of unburnt mud bricks.


The city was eventually abandoned in the early sixth century AD. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, enormous amounts of sebbakh (agricultural fertilizer obtained from ancient mud brick) were removed from the site, resulting in widespread destruction of the ancient ruins. Nevertheless, important remnants have been partially preserved including houses, granaries, administrative buildings and bathhouses, as well as ruins of two stone temples.


First excavations in Karanis took place in 1895, and then from 1924 till 1935, the expedition of the University of Michigan initiated by Francis W. Kelsey explored the site. Focusing on common people with the purpose to "increase exact knowledge rather than the amassing of collections" was a novel approach at the time. Huge numbers of documents on papyrus were found, extremely valuable as source of knowledge of everyday life in Graeco-Roman Egypt.

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