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EES Members' Tour to Upper Egypt, November 2012

In November 2012 a group of EES members accompanied by Dr Chris Naunton, Director of the EES embarked on a tour of rarely-visited sites in Upper Egypt as shown in the interactive map below.

View EES / AWT Tour of Upper Egypt Nov 2012 in a larger map

Thanks to the Society’s connections and those of Ancient World Tours’ staff who organised the trip, the group were lucky enough to be shown around by the archaeologists working at many of these wonderful places. Chris Naunton's photographs of the trip are here and we are very grateful to member Colin Moffat who provided the following summary of his experiences.

EES Visit to Upper Egypt 5-18 November 2012 – by Colin Moffat

Under the leadership of EES Director Dr Chris Naunton, and Senior Guide Medhat Saad, the Society and Ancient World Tours organised a journey through Upper Egypt in November 2012, with the objectives of showing the major monuments to members, acquainting them with less well-known sites, and giving an opportunity to see the progress of work currently being undertaken by archaeological institutions. An early start on the first day was a visit to Gurna to see the tombs of Rekhmira and Sennefer. We observed that most of the ramshackle houses of Gurna had been demolished, and a team led by former EES staff member Dr Andrew Bednarski was working on the site, on behalf of the American Research Center in Egypt. Andrew told us that his mission was to clean-up, and to document all archaeology remaining on the site, especially the houses that had been demolished. He was taking oral statements from the local inhabitants, and hoped to make a computer reconstruction of one of the houses. This would be published, and thereby preserve the memory of 20th century Gurna.

Dr Andrew Bednarski describes the work of the the Gurna Site Improvement Project

Next morning we visited the Temple of Khonsu, in the southern part of Karnak. The Egyptian Ministry of State for Antiquities (MSA) in collaboration with ARCE was cleaning and restoring this temple, and what had previously been a soot-blackened shell had been cleaned, so the original pigments of red, blue and yellow gleamed with colour. We were then invited by Saleh El-Masekh of the SCA to view his recent discoveries in the platform outside the first pylon. He took us to the quay side, and mooring places used in the construction of the temple. He also showed a recently discovered false door of red granite of User-Amun, 18th Dynasty, re-used as building material. He next showed two important bathing complexes used by pilgrims visiting the Karnak Temple. One was Ptolemaic in date, and the other Roman. The essential components of Greek and Roman bathing establishments are all present, and on a huge scale. Saleh is now examining the ground between these two baths, and already a third bathing complex seems to be emerging.

Salah Elmasekh in front of an 18th Dyn false door he discovered during his excavations at the front of the Amun temple at Karnak

We visited Abydos, accompanied by local inspector Ayman Daramany, and our first stop was Beit Khallaf. This is a gigantic mastaba tomb for a king straddling the 2nd and 3rd dynasties, and the immediate forerunner of a pyramid. Next we drove to Umm el Qa’ab, the Mother of Pots. Massive heaps of broken votive jars abounded, probably in tens of millions. We picked up broken sherds of pottery to examine them, and then replaced them. At this point we met a team from the DAI excavating the area, and its Director, Prof Dr Gunter Dreyer explained the situation. His team was the third to analyse this area, after Amélineau and Petrie had already examined it. Dr Dreyer’s workers were sifting the sand meticulously, and finding artefacts missed earlier. With a smile, Dr Dreyer told us that “Amélineau was not as bad as Petrie painted him, and Petrie may not have been as good as he has led us to believe”. Dr Dreyer showed us the 1st Dynasty tomb of Djer, which was huge, and had been mistaken in antiquity for that of Osiris himself. We also saw the tomb of Den, which Dr Dreyer’s team had excavated and restored. This was a rare privilege, and maybe a unique one, as Dr Dreyer plans to backfill both tombs. We also saw the tomb of Khasekhemwy, and picked out in stones was the outline of the tomb Dr Dreyer believes to be that of Narmer himself.

Prof Dr Günter Dreyer describes his excavation of the Early Dynastic tombs at Umm El-Qaab for the EES group

The Temple of Seti is always a delight, in that the raised relief of the East Wall is probably the finest in all Egypt. Ayman then very kindly produced the key to the open-air slaughter-house beside the temple, usually off-limits to the public. One could see the tables where the slaughter took place. Finally Ayman led us to the Osireion, which Seti had commissioned as the tomb of Osiris. The central shrine takes the form of an island, whilst the rising ground water swirls around it. Ayman also took us to the long entrance shaft, in eerie gloom, with religious texts on the walls. After some 75 meters of tunnel, a left turn leads to the island where the tomb itself was situated.

The next day, Ayman took us to Akhmim, to see the giant statue of, supposedly a, daughter of Ramesses II named Meritamun – although we heard that some scholars believe it is more likely to be that of an earlier queen, possibly Tiye, the wife of Ay. And in the temple, many blocks were being unearthed, carved in the unmistakeable Amarna style. Across the road, the archaeologists had discovered colossal statues of Ramesses II, but needed to tread very cautiously, as they were right underneath a Muslim cemetery.

The lower half of an enormous statue of Ramesses II emerging from the ground, still upright, some 10 metres beneath the modern road surface in Akhmim

We then drove to Wanina, to see the Ptolemaic temple of Athribis, which was completed during Roman times. We rounded off the day with a visit to the White Monastery, built by re-using much material from Athribis, and possessing a black diorite naos of 29th Dynasty Pharaoh Achhoris (Hakor). Finally we visited the Red Monastery, where early Coptic Christian murals are being restored, again by a team from ARCE.

Leaving the area of Akhmim, we returned south to Luxor, with a diversion to Wadi Hammamat. These were quarries with high quality stone, and had been in use throughout the Pharaonic period. It seems that every expedition there had carved graffiti on the rocks commemorating their visit. Our group spread out, finding graffiti everywhere. In addition to the usual powerful kings, I observed one of 4th Dynasty Unas, and going on as far as the 27th Dynasty Persian kings Xerxes and Artaxerxes. Half way up the hillside was a sarcophagus broken in half. There were also workmen’s stone dwellings around.

Mr Mansour Boreik, Chief Inspector of Antiquities in Upper Egypt, describes the excavation of the avenue of sphinxes at Karnak to the group

Next day Mr Mansour Boreik, Chief Inspector of the SCA for the Luxor area, invited us to meet him so he could show us new work in the Avenue of Sphinxes linking the Temples of Karnak and Luxor. Although the pavement was present throughout, I fear the archaeologists were disappointed in that the sphinxes in that area were in poor shape, and even missing entirely. The avenue is much better close to the Luxor temple, and on the exit from Karnak. In this latter area Mr Mansour showed us how the avenue originally had featured Tutankhamun, but was usurped and re-carved by Horemheb. The ghostly image of Tutankhamun was visible behind the re-carving, and the re-cut cartouches were quite obvious. Mr Mansour then led us into the Temple of Mut – a special privilege, as the archaeologists and restorers were actively working on it. We even saw a new discovery, as a workman was gently dusting off sand from a Sekhmet statue appearing from the earth. The kidney shaped sacred lake had been drained, and a plastic sheet placed around its banks. The lake was then re-filled, and the plastic will inhibit it from becoming choked with weeds.

A wonderful walkway has been built by Mr Mansour and his colleagues around the edge of the sacred lake in the Mut precinct at Karnak

Next morning, we set off to visit the tomb of Ankhtify, a senior official in his own area. He took for himself all the major titles of state, and claims “I was the beginning and end of mankind; since nobody like myself existed before, nor will he exist. Nobody like me was ever born, nor will he be born.” It does rather seem as if a series of low Niles blighted the country at this time – and Ankhtify was sufficiently strong to ride out the period famine affecting his lands. “All of Upper Egypt was dying of hunger and people were eating their children [probably not to be taken literally], but I did not allow any one to die of hunger in my area.” As Ankhtify lets everyone know “I am a champion without peer”.

An image of the nomarch Ankhtify from his tomb at Moalla

Travelling south towards Aswan, we stopped at the Temple of Horus at Edfu, perhaps the most complete Ptolemaic temple in Egypt. The present temple owes much of its preservation to the fact that it became almost submerged to ceiling level in accumulated debris, and during the late 19th century Auguste Mariette had the temple and much of the forecourt cleared. Nevertheless there is a substantial area remaining untouched, and containing the remains of an Old Kingdom town. This is now being excavated by Dr Nadine Moeller of the University of Chicago, and we were privileged to listen to her explaining what she has achieved, the discoveries she has made, and her plans for continuing the excavation.

Dr Nadine Moeller of the University of Chicago describes her excavations of the Old Kingdom - First Intermediate Period tell at Edfu, with the famous temple of Horus in the background

The following morning we visited the complex of the Temple of Khnum at the southern end of Elephantine Island. We were privileged to listen to Dr Felix Arnold as he outlined the achievements of his DAI team. They had found an enormous number of stone blocks scattered throughout the site, and had sorted them between several different temples and shrines. Already they had used these blocks to reconstruct a temple to Satis, commissioned by Tuthmosis III.

Members of the team at Elephantine moving some of the massive stone blocks from the temple of Tuthmosis III

There were other buildings from the time of Senuseret and Pepi II. There was also a shrine to Hekaib, as well as the remains of a pyramid dating from the time of Djoser. We finally climbed to the temple of Khnum itself, of which the central pylon has been reconstructed. The dedication texts for this pylon give the name of Alexander – not Alexander the Great, but his infant son, Alexander IV. The evening was occupied with a visit to the Nubia Museum, housing artefacts and sculptures from areas of Nubia now submerged by waters from the High Dam. One particularly interesting piece was the statue of Harwa, a 25th Dynasty official of Nubian appearance, with whom we would meet up later (see below).

Statue of Harwa in the Nubia Museum, Aswan

Back in Luxor, next morning we journeyed to the Valley of the Kings, where we were met by local Antiquities Inspector Aly Reda who had the keys to KV5, which is by far the largest tomb in the valley. James Burton had entered the tomb in 1825 - it was choked with flash-flood debris, but even so he managed to produce a surprisingly perceptive sketch of the first few chambers. Thereafter the tomb was ignored, its entrance covered, and spoil from other excavations dumped on top. It was Prof. Kent Weeks who, in 1989, wanting to complete his Theban Mapping Project, re-opened the tomb, and slowly and carefully removed much of the debris. To his surprise, the tomb was much larger than had previously been suspected and Prof. Weeks found numerous chambers in addition to those Burton had seen. To date some 80 chambers are known, and yet more are awaiting discovery. We made our way through two entry chambers into the 16-pillared hall. We saw James Burton’s candle-wax signature on the ceiling. We passed onwards into then deepest recess of the tomb. This was a long passage corridor into the mountain, with 8 chambers on either side. At the end of the corridor was a niche, containing a shadowy figure. It was a standing statue of the god Osiris, but its face had fallen away in antiquity. To both left and right of the statue were two further corridors, each with 16 side chambers. It is an enormous privilege that EES members were permitted access to this tomb, and we are grateful to the MSA for making this possible.

Our expert guide in the Valley of the Kings, Aly Reda, Deputy Chief Inspector of Antiquities on the West Bank in Luxor. Here Aly giving the members a brief tour of the temple of Amenhotep III at Kom El-Hetan

Our final morning in Luxor took us to the west-bank tombs at Asasif, in order to view the tomb of Harwa, whose statue we had seen in the Nubia Museum in Aswan. It is being excavated by Dr Francesco Tiradritti of the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor, and we were privileged to hear him describe his work. Much decoration had fallen from the tomb walls, but was still present as spoil on the floor. Dr Tiradritti and his team are collecting these fragments, and attempting to solve the exceedingly difficult jigsaw puzzle of re-assembling the fragments. He had also uncovered some text in raised relief, perhaps the most beautifully carved hieroglyphs we had seen. He showed us further inside the tomb, where Harwa stated that he too had fed the hungry, and clothed the naked. Dr Tiradritti invited the party back to the Italian rest house, where he invited us to lunch. We are most grateful to him, and wish his project a successful outcome.

Dr Francesco Tiradritti provided the EES group with a wonderful tour of the tomb of Harwa

This was an amazing journey to Egypt. We re-visited some of our favourite existing sites and we saw many sites not open to the general public. We were met with open generosity by the directors of excavations who sacrificed some of their valuable time to talk to us. We give our most grateful thanks to the archaeologists who talked to us, the inspectors who showed us round, and to the officials who granted permission, as well as to Dr Chris Naunton and Medhat Saad for explaining everything, and to AWT and the EES who made it all possible.

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