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Objects from the Kharga Oasis

August 14, 2012–August 4, 2013

Bagawat Necropolis, Kharga Oasis

Bagawat is the predominately Christian necropolis of the ancient town of Hibis, in use perhaps as early as the second century through the sixth or seventh century A.D. As one of the earliest and best preserved Christian cemeteries, it provides considerable information about early Christian burial practices in Egypt and the relative wealth of the town of Hibis during the late Roman and Byzantine periods, or the late third through the mid-seventh century A.D.

The cemetery preserves 263 mud-brick tomb chapels. Most are single rooms with flat, domed, or barrel-vaulted roofs. A few have multiple rooms. The facades of most chapels are decorated with arches, niches, and engaged columns; others, with crosses or the crux ansata (ankh). There is evidence of plaster and some paint on the exterior of many tombs. Interiors were decorated with narrative scenes, symbols, and architectural ornament; almost all painted decoration is lost. The graves are either flat, oblong hollows cut into the ground, some with low superstructures of brick or quarrystone, or subterranean pits accessible by a vertical shaft, sometimes containing several chambers. Most contained multiple burials. The elaborate tomb chapels were used for rituals commemorating the dead.

Interspersed among the mausolea are hundreds of pit graves, aligned on an east-west axis. Each has a low superstructure—either rectangular in form with outer courses of mud brick and a filling of gravel or rubble, or an oval mound of loose stones covered with a coating of mud plaster—over the mouth of the grave. Graves were usually provided with sandstone head- and footstones. The headstone bore the name of the deceased, which was engraved into the stone itself or into mud plaster with which the stone had been covered.

Bagawat Necropolis

Bagawat Necropolis from the southeast. Photograph: Egyptian Expedition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bagawat Necropolis

Bagawat Necropolis, row of tombs in the central wadi (tombs LXXXIII, LXXIX, LXXX, LXXXI). Photograph: Egyptian Expedition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bagawat Necropolis

Bagawat Necropolis, pit grave (85). Photograph: Egyptian Expedition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bagawat Necropolis

Bagawat Necropolis, Chapel of Exodus, view of painted marble paneling on the walls. Photograph: Egyptian Expedition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bagawat Necropolis

Bagawat Necropolis, Chapel of Exodus, view of painting in the dome. Photograph: Egyptian Expedition, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Bagawat Necropolis

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