Monday, April 21, 2014

Seven weeks in - Stela of Amenhotep IV, Easter daredevils and Sham el Nessim

A week has passed since we left London after a fruitful and interesting time at CRE XV – thank you again to the organizers for doing such a great job, to EES, Petrie Museum and its Friends, and to all the wonderful friends and colleagues that made the event so great!  

The CRE XV group at King's Collage, London. Photo from:

We returned to Silsila the day after our arrival back in Egypt and welcomed back to the site one of Silsila’s major devotees – Dr. Philip Martinez. We also welcomed to the team our two new inspectors, Mustafa and Sayed! The last week of work has included some daredevil moments as we had erected a monumental scaffolding system to reach the famous stela of Amenhotep IV on the East Bank. Without a proper ladder, safety measures were … well, let us say that we are all grateful for having survived the climbs up and down. 

Scaffolding comes up...

Almost done...

Certainly the sight and documentation of the stela was worth the trouble! With a clear due-north orientation and situated some 14 m above the current ground level, this piece has captured the interest of Amarna researchers and Akhenaten fans for generations, and thankfully it is one of few monuments that has been protected by any modern interference mainly due to its inaccessible location. However, as is the case with many pre-Amarna scenes of the Atenist ruler, the depictions of Amun, the king himself, and selected parts of the text have suffered from the doom of damnatio memoriae. Thankfully for us, some of the outlines of the previously deep carvings have survived the harsh treatment of atenists, and a full reconstruction will be possible due to our photographic documentation, acetate copies, and Dr. Martinez’ digital epigraphic skills.
Also, while being in this beautiful northern part of the site, it was natural to record in detail the gorgeous Predynastic rock art panels that are located nearby. Giraffes, hunter scenes, boats and other motifs that have captured the essence of our Predynastic ancestors’ everyday life, all came to life through the work of a good camera combined with acetate drawings!

John had his first view at the stela

and the team with the scaffolding workers

Our inspector Mustafa copying the lower hieroglyphic text

Maria climbing the scaffolding

and on top...

Another daredevil moment was experienced when John and I (Maria) finally suited up for the occasion of entering the not so famous bat-filled subterranean gallery on the East Bank. Several underground galleries (quarries) are preserved, some better than others, but this particular one has restrained most scholars from entering due to its enormous population of fruit-bats and smaller (regular) bats – and the smell that comes with such a populous, not to mention the possible risk of catching rabies. Well, indeed we dressed up for the occasion, not only to get the job done, but also in the colour of Easter as our suits were shiny chicken yellow. 

Dressed for Easter - or  prepared for bats?!

Fully suited and booted, and with respiratory aid and construction workers’ hats, we entered the cave of bats with great enthusiasm. In the extreme heat wave that we have experiences recently, you can all imagine what it was like to be trapped inside a rubber suit, needless to say a shower was welcome afterwards…Indeed it was worth our effort as a hieratic text emerged from the quarry walls, and which after some digital reconstruction (due to its poor state of preservation) may reveal the identity of responsible Pharaoh or vizier. Other than the text, well we learnt more in regards to the extraction methodology and got some more clues as to chronological issues that keep us busy in this respect.

Although difficult to photograph, notice the colony...

One flying friend

The last week has brought extreme temperatures to all Upper Egypt – naturally included Silsila – and with its strong wind and sense of being stuck inside a hot air dryer it has been somewhat difficult to concentrate (or to use the long-lens camera…). However, work must go on, and while the scaffolding came down on the East John and I moved into the Main Quarry of the West Bank in order to continue the study of quarry marks, extraction techniques, topographical features, and so on. While baking in the natural sauna (I know, I should be used to such as Scandinavian), some nice surprises revealed themselves to us, and it is with great excitement that we look forward to continue in this part in the following days.

Rock drawing

Documenting the quarrying technique

Southern side of the Main Quarry of the West Bank

Our last week of survey work at Silsila for this spring season are intended to be spent in the footsteps of the Prehistorics combined with a general topographic overview of the northern sections of the site, and with continuous recording, translations and understanding of dynastic textual graffiti. But for now – well today – the team takes a break from work in the field as Egypt and the Egyptian people celebrates Sham el Nassim.

Quarry Marks!


The Gebel el Silsila Survey Project team is honoured and delighted to express our deepest gratefulness to Jan & Bep Koek at the Mehen Study centre for ancient Egypt for their generous donation and support to the project! Thank you!

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Geology, quarrying techniques, lithics and rock art – week 5 at Gebel el Silsila

Another beautiful morning at Silsila
With time being short at present, this little update from Silsila will mainly consist of a photographic journal. Since our Sarah left and brought with her the desert sand to the UK, we have had the great pleasure of having Professor James Harrell with us on site. As always he provides us with great geological expertise, helping in the process of categorizing the various lithic materials used by our Prehistoric ancestors for tool making, and it goes without saying that we have had some wonderful hours of discussing quarrying techniques, transportation and the various elements that can help us in setting up a chronological system based on extraction methodology. Our hope for the future is for Jim to return and begin the (long) process of establishing the various geological aspects of Silsila, to figure out the various levels and orientations of the Nile (and its canals), and maybe learning more about the smaller geological differences that can aid us in confirming where the exact source was for the stone that now makes up some of Egypt’s most marvelous temples.

Jim, John and Mohammed discussing quarrying techniques;
with Bob, Shihad and Carter in the background

Jim and John looking closer at fossilized remains in the sandstone;
with our inspector Mohamed in the background

Fossilized wood

During our fifth week at Silsila, the rock art survey has continued and resulted in another couple of Prehistoric locations. More information was gained regarding the Middle Kingdom presence in the far south, and we were pleased to find another two cartouches belonging to the 12th dynasty (more on this eventually!). Lovely as it was, it was strange indeed to try to continue the recording process when the sky suddenly turned almost purple, once again being hit by a lightning and thunderstorm.

Carter remains happy regardless of the weather

For now, the Silsila team takes a break of one week in order to attend the upcoming event of CRE XV in London. The team will be represented by both John and Maria in accordance with the schedule embedded here. Once back from London the survey resumes for another two weeks; we hope you all join us (virtually) there and then!

Maria: ‘Multicultural commemorations: An epigraphic journey from Prehistoric rock art to Napoleonic signatures at Gebel el Silsila

Gebel el Silsila, with its series of cenotaphs, stelae, the speos of Horemheb and the grand sandstone quarries with majestic cathedral-like galleries on both sides of the Nile, has long attracted the attention of scholars, laymen and adventurers alike. Its quarry walls and cliff faces display with a great variety of graffiti ranging from Pharaonic hieroglyphic and hieratic texts to Ptolemaic and Roman demotic, Greek and Latin inscriptions; from stylistic Prehistoric rock art to elaborated figurative representations of later ancient periods: carved and painted commemorations that were recorded over a c. 15 000 year period by nomads, traders, workers, priests and rulers alike. This paper aims to present a visual and descriptive journey through a sandstone landscape bestrewn with pictorial and textual representations, opening with some of Egypt’s oldest illustrations and concluding with attestations of the more ‘modern’ records carved by scientists of the Napoleonic expedition, early explorers and adventurers; there between is presented a brief prosopography of workers and visitors that still today make their presence known in form of adoration and dedication texts once carved into the quarry faces after completing the season’s extraction work.

John, Sarah, Shihad and Mohamed discuss pottery while Jim views the landscape

John: ‘Mallets, Chisels, Sledges and Boats; The Art of Quarrying at Gebel el Silsila

This presentation will deal with the various extraction techniques and methods employed in the great sandstone quarries of Gebel el Silsila. Our time perspective ranges from the Middle Kingdom to the Graeco-Roman period as documented by the Gebel el Silsila Survey Project. We will explore the evolving technologies within the engineering processes, and pay particular attention to the trench styles and fracturing processes that were utilized to separate the pre-dressed blocks from their bedrock foundation. We will discuss the varied sizes of blocks and how these influenced the development of the individual quarries and subsequent transportation techniques, but also as part of chronological changes such as seen during Akhenaten. The preserved transportation devices at Silsila – from ramp systems, corridors, causeways and riverside quays – provide us with a series of windows into the ancients’ methodological work process and inform us of how the distribution of stone blocks played an integral role in the overall enlargement of the sandstone quarries. The material will be presented also in a more socio-anthropological perspective as we will consider the ancients’ greater understanding of the sandstone’s geological features in general and how this understanding led to an overall expansion of quarrying activity at Gebel el Silsila.

While Maria documents rock art, Shihad is kindly giving Carter some refreshing water

How can one do anything else than admire the beauty of a quarried gallery?

Our dear 'mascot' Carter

If the pottery expert leaves, then one has to take some photos when finding interesting sherds...

talking about quarrying techniques - which date would this be?!

some more modern graffiti

the beautiful landscape of Silsila

An Islamic game board still in use

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Reporting live from the sherd yard

As our dear ceramic expert has now left the team after 4 weeks work, we thought it would be appropriate for Sarah to summarize the last couple of weeks and her first season’s work here at Silsila. All images in this blog post were captured by Sarah herself: 

'Reporting live from the sherd yard' 
by Sarah K. Doherty

Hello from the sherd yard at Gebel Silsila, where I thought I would give you an update on our proceedings in understanding the complex, at times surprising but always awe-inducing Madam Silsila. Since the last blog we have been very busy working through all the material from the various sites identified by John and Maria to be of interest (which seems like almost everywhere!). As Silsila is a relatively untouched site, we are fortunate that there is a lot of potential material around to study. The difficulty lies with where to select first for analysis! Under main consideration, as mentioned in other posts, is the Main Quarry (Q34) on the East Bank of Silsila where I have concentrated my efforts in pottery processing. This is the area that Maria and Adrienn have almost finalised the inscription and quarry mark survey (undertaken in previous seasons), John and Maria in analysis of quarrying techniques, John in recording of the topographical features, and I hope to complete the story with what pottery was being used, where and of what date.

John and Sarah washing and analysing sherds
When not busy (ha!) with the Main Quarry, I have also been trying to compare it with other sites located on the East and West Bank and surrounding wadis (which we have had fun naming e.g. Wadi Tean or Mud Valley). On the West Bank at Pottery Hill the surface contained more pottery than I could handle in this season alone (including several complete bowls), so I've used it for the preliminary data as the basis for a pottery typology on the site. Southern Hill (above the Main Quarry on the East Bank) alone yielded 4,000 sherds... The pottery in and around the 18th dynasty quarries that Maria and John have documented during previous seasons have to wait until next season, and with them also Wadi Tean, GeSE RAS 18-19, and not to mention the other areas yet to explore sherd-wise.

Great view from 'Southern Hill'
Measuring the (men's) width of a Roman road

There is so much potential at this site, I can't wait for the next season to begin. Post (my) season, for the coming months, I will spend my time with the delights of database entry, digitising drawings and 3D imaging of some of the completed vessels. 

Sarah K. Doherty sherd_nerd

[The Silsila Survey Team will surely miss our already greatly beloved ceramic analyst, and we all look forwards to the upcoming autumn season when she will return to site!]

Yup, there was still some "spare" time to explore the site's prehistoric rock art
A quick visit to Aswan for the UNESCO organized conference 'Southern Gate of Egypt' where the Silsila Survey Team was represented by Maria
We were honored by a day's visit by Dutch scholars and friends


Friday, March 21, 2014

Three weeks in

Equinox sunrise over Silsila

Third week into the spring season and the current survey team has experienced everything and anything from nature’s great forces – with lightning and thunder storms, rain and sand storms at the same time – to great achievements in the (historical!) very first archaeological attempt of setting up a classification system on site for both pottery and lithic industries. It goes without saying that we all have had a fabulous time, busy and full of new important information, and fantastic because of the positive, energetic and knowledgeable combination of team members!

The survey team first half of spring season

Since our last blog post Sarah has continued with her ceramic analysis, not only recording material from the Main Quarry (which was the main aim for this spring season), but also from the area known to the Silsila team as ‘Pottery Hill’. This latter area has been a concern since we begun working on site back in 2012, mainly since it is constantly threatened by environmental forces (wind erosion, etc.), but also because it is a habit for tourists to pick up bits and pieces only to later drop them in areas out of context. As always the Romans made their presence known at Silsila, and at Pottery Hills they revealed a few interesting and intriguing new pieces to the large jigsaw puzzle that Silsila offers, but as expected Pottery Hill revealed also Ramesside activity, and bits and bobs from both later and earlier periods. The intention is to continue to explore this area in more detail in the near future, to clear some of the huts/stone shelters from blown in sand and thus learning more about the ancient quarrymen and their organization.

Sarah, Mohammed and our posted policeman on top of a spoil heap

Sarah and Mohammed sorting pottery

Sarah demonstrating the importance of pottery for General Director of Kom Ombo, Abd el Menum

With Sarah, John, Ahmed, Mohammed and Shihad working on recording pottery and general topographical features at Pottery Hill, I (Maria) continued the Rock Art survey in this area and was pleased to note how the Epipalaeolithic rock art locations expanded and revealed even more material this season! As part of this survey, lithic material was documented from a ground survey, and is currently cataloged, classified and studied with the hope of establishing a somewhat clearer chronological picture of how life was at Silsila for our Upper Palaeolithic and Epipalaeolithic ancestors. The wadis revealed more bushy tailed giraffes (Predynastic) and a preliminary pattern could be established for prehistoric activity in the area in and around Pottery Hill.

Morning haze over one of many Prehistoric rock art locations at Silsila

Acetate copying Epipalaeolithic rock art

sorting lithic material during a cold and windy afternoon
John and Ahmed discussing rock art

Before entering our fourth week of surveying Silsila, during which we will be joined by the great Professor James Harrell and his visiting archaeologist friend Robert Mittelstaedt, we now look forward to the upcoming conference in Aswan this weekend, organized by UNESCO and the Italian Embassy: The Southern Gate of Egypt, for which the preliminary schedule is found below the images.


The Silsilian survey home

Traditional Silsilian lunch - oh, what would we do without the eggs?!

happy lunch time!

field visit to Ras-Ras


Our Carter

the beauty of the Nile

Full moon rises


The Southern Gate of EgyptArcheology, Community Development and Conservation

22 & 23 March 2014, Aswan, Nubia Museum/Basma Hotel

Provisional Agenda

Saturday, 22 March 2014

8:30 a.m.                     Registration of participants

9:00 - 9:30 a.m.          Opening Session
Master of Ceremony: Hosny Abdel Rehim, Director of the Nubia Museum

9:00 – 9:10 a.m.          H.E. Prof. Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, Minister, Ministry of State for Antiquities (tbc);
9:10 – 9:20 a.m.          H.E. Maurizio Massari, Ambassador of Italy in Egypt (tbc)
9:20 – 9:30 a.m.          Bechir Lamine, Director of UNESCO Cairo Office and UNESCO Representative in Egypt (tbc)

9:30 – 11:30 a.m.       Plenary Session
Moderator: Franco Porcelli Scientific Advisor, Embassy of Italy

9:30 – 9:50 a.m.          Francesca Tolve, CNR, International Relations Office, “CNR and the International dimension: Strategies, Instruments and Actions for Cooperation”

9:50- 10:10 a.m.         Giuseppina Capriotti Vittozzi, Maurizio Fea, Stefano Gusmano, Chris Stewart, CNR, Institute for Ancient Mediterranean Studies, “The Southern Gate of Egypt: Advanced Technologies for an Ancient Crossroads”

10:10- 10:30 a.m.                   Mahmoud El Shendidy, Director of Nubia Fund, MSA, Mohamed Abd Elhady, Cairo University “Applying preventive conservation methodology in the management of archaeological sites in Egypt”;

10:30- 10:50 a.m.                   Fathi Abu Zaid, Head of Inspectorates, “Foreign Archaeological Missions: Integration or collision”

10:50 – 11:10 a.m.      Rageh Mohamed, Director of the Documentation Center “The future Role of the Documentation Centered at the Nubia Museum

11:10 – 11:30 p.m.      Overall discussion for the Plenary Session

11:30 – 11:50 p.m.     Coffee Break

11:50 – 13:50 p.m.     Session I: Management of Archaeological sites and the role of local community
            Moderator: Dr Ali Asfar, Director of the Department of Egyptology, Ministry of States for Antiquities

11:50 – 12:10 p.m.      Massimo Cultraro, CNR, Institute for Archaeological and Monumental Heritage, “Narrating Archaeology: the Italian experience in the field of Virtual Museums and digital Cultural Heritage;

12:10 – 12:30 p.m.      Tamar Teneishvili, UNESCO Cairo, “Community based managements of World Heritage Sites – UNESCO cases studies and best practices”

12:30 – 12:50 p.m.      Heleni Porfyriou, CNR, Institute for the Conservation and Enhancement of Cultural Heritage, “Harmony between people, heritage and nature. The UNESCO Historic Urban Landscape approach”;

12:50 – 13:10 p.m.      Ahmed Ali, Nubian Union Federation Culture Center (to be confirmed the title);

13:10 – 13:25 p.m.      Ahmed Faraman, “Economic sufficiency of the archaeological sites in Aswan”

13:25 – 13:40 p.m       Dr. Abdou A.O.D. El-Derby, Conservation and Management of Ancient Egyptian Sites in Upper Egypt

13:40 – 14:00 p.m.     Overall discussion for the Session I

14:00 – 15:00 p.m.     Lunch Break

15:00 – 18:30 p.m.     Session II: Archaeological Sites and Environmental Challenges
            Moderator: Badawi Ismail, South Valley University;

15:00 – 15:20 p.m.      Dr. Wafaa M. Amer, Faculty of Science, University of Cairo, “Invasive plants to Philae Temple Complex: the current status and the future vision towards the temple conservation

15:20 – 15:50 p.m.      Dr. Magdi M.Ali, Aswan University, “Impacts of Dams and water level changes on archaeological sites in Egypt

15:50 – 16:10 p.m.      Marina Baldi, CNR, Institute of Biometeorology, “Assessment of weather-related impact on Cultural Heritage - The Aswan Tombs of the Nobles”

16:10 – 16:30 p.m.      Samir Ghabbour, Cairo University, “The Southern Gate of Egypt, Environmental Challenges:, two solutions”

16:30 – 16:50 p.m.     Coffee Break

16:50 – 17:10 p.m.      Andrea Angelini, CNR, Institute of technologies applied to cultural heritage, “Modelling the past through the digital tools: Herkuf's Tomb in Aswan

17:10 – 17:30 p.m.      Essam H. Mohamed, South Valley University, “Environmental study to affect deterioration factors on Nubian sandstone monuments in Aswan: “In situ damage diagnosis”

17:30 – 17:50 p.m.      Dr. Sayed Abdou A. Salem, Geology Department, Faculty of Sciences, Aswan University, “Rising Water Table Threatens El Fatimiyah Cemetery – Aswan City”

17:50 – 18:10 p.m.      Dr. Ali Abdel-Motelib, Abdel-Hamid El Manwi, “Some emphases on geological constraint and hazards affecting Philea Temple, Aswan

18:10 – 18:20 p.m.      Dr. Hagag Nasr, “Protective zones of Southern Egypt”

18:10 – 18:30 p.m.     Overall discussion for the Session II;

Discussion will be followed by Expert Meeting for the preparation of the Concept note “Environmental challenges in Archaeological sites”

Sunday, 23 March 2014

9:00 a.m. – 13:00 p.m.           Session III: Presentations by the archeological missions in the Aswan area.
Moderator: Tamar Teneishvili, UNESCO Cairo;

9:00 – 9:20 a.m.          Stephan Seidlmayer, German Archeological Institute, “Work of the German Archaeological Institute (Cairo) in the Area of Aswan

9:30 – 9:50 a.m.          Ralph Bodenstein, German Archeological Institute, “The tombstones of the Islamic necropolis of Aswan: A documentation and data-base project”

9:50 – 10:10 a.m.        Fahmy Mahmoud, Aswan Inspectorate, MSA, “Rescue excavation in the ancient city of Aswan: Area 25”

10:10 – 10:30 a.m.      Philipp Speiser, German Archaeological Institute, “The Fatimid Cemetery of Aswan

10:30 – 10:50 a.m.      Adel Kelany, MSA, “Archaeological Risk Map for the Aswan Area. Theory and Application”

10:50– 11:10 p.m.       Maria Gatto and Arturo Curci The Aswan-Kom Ombo Archaeological Project: archaeology, heritage management and the local communities”

11:10 – 11:40 a.m.     Coffee Break

11:40– 12:00 p.m.       Pamela Rose, British Mission, “Qasr Ibrim: a site on the verge of destruction” & “Recent work at Hisn al-Bab, Aswan

12:00– 12:20 p.m.       Maria Nilsson, “Gebel el Silsila: challenges, awareness and management”

12:20– 12:40 p.m.       Cornelius von Piligrim, Swiss Mission, “Ancient Syene - Archaeology under the shadow of modern town development

12:40– 13:00 p.m.       Alejandro Jimenez Serrano, presented by Kathryn Piquette, University of Jaen, “The Spanish Mission in Qubbet el-Hawa: archaeology, conservation and site management project”

13:00 - 13:10  Kathryn Piquette, “At a Crossroads: Planning a Joint British-Egyptian Rescue Mission in the Aga Khan-Wadi Samaan Area

13:10– 13:30 p.m.       Wolfgang Müller, Swiss Institute for Architectural and Archaeological Research on Ancient Egypt in Cairo “The Birket Damas Area (Area 2) – All the history of Aswan in one place”

13:30 – 14:00 p.m.      Ahmed Mansour, “Philae Island, Open Museum of Writings, Survey of Ancient Writings Heritage in Egypt”;

14:00 – 15:00 p.m.     Lunch Break

15:00 – 15:20 p.m.      Essam Elsaeed, “Vision for Digital Documenting Rock Inscriptions in Aswan

15:20 – 15:50 p.m.      Dr. Hisham Elleithy, General Director of the Scientific Publication Department, Ministry of Antiquities (title to be confirmed)

15:50 – 16:10 p.m.      Dr. Amer El-Ahraf , Dr. Shokry El-Kantiry, , “Description and Analysis of Environmental and Public Health in Ancient Egypt:  Implications for the future of Egypt and a Call for Indigenous Egyptian Scientific and Social Bases for Action”

16:10 – 16:30 p.m.      Linda Borrmann (DAI), Heba Saad Harby (MSA) and Mahmoud Mamdouh Mokhtar (MSA), “Survey and salvage epigraphy of rock cut graffiti and inscriptions in the area of Aswan – A co-operative project of the Ministry of State for Antiquities and the German Archaeological Institute”

16:30 – 16:50 p.m.     Overall discussion for the Session III

16:50 – 17:00              Coffee Break

17:00p.m. – 17:45 p.m.          Session Reports by Rapporteurs

17:45 – 18:30                          Conclusion and recommendations
Moderators: Ali Asfar, Franco Porcelli, Tamar Teneishvili

Poster’s Session:

Medhat Ibrahim, National Research Centre of Egypt – “Spectroscopy Department, Effect of salinity on the molecular structure of soil of Archaeological Sites: spectroscopic and modeling approach”;

Nageeb Rasheed, Abdo A. O. D. El-Derby, Atiat A. Montaser, Fatma A. E. Abdallah, “Environmental Pollution in Egyptian Ancient Epochs”;

Hassan Khesbak, Ahmed Kamel and Kamal Tolba,Applications of FTIR Spectroscopy/Raman Microscopy in Archaeology and Art Preservation/Restoration”;

Mohamed Hassan, Radwa Zaki “Dr. Soad Maher’s Efforts in Reading and Documenting the Islamic Tombstones in Aswan

Mishael S.M. Morkos: “South Valley University The Impact of environmental factors on Coptic Icons in Upper Egypt”

A.M. Sallam a M.F.Ali, B. Ismail “Diagnosis and investigation strategies in the Coptic mural paintings IN QUBBET EL HAWA MONASTERY in Aswan

Mohamed A. Hamdan, Giulio Lucarini, Barbara Barich, Geology Department, Cairo University, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research Cambridge University, University of Rome La Sapienza”, “Source of pigments of Neolithic rock art of Wadi Sura area, Gilf Kebir, South Western Desert, Egypt