Wednesday, March 11, 2015

First week

Well into the second week of an already incredible season of archaeological work at Silsila, we are overdue with another update. To welcome two new members to the team, this update will be written by Huib and Liz, with some nice images from our first week of fieldwork. With so much to report, so many interesting thoughts to share, and archaeology at its best, there is, of course, more to come shortly! But for now, here are their personal summaries (written 7 days into the season):


After my job as a salesman ended, I had the opportunity to join the archaeological expedition at Gebel el Silsila as a volunteer and this was a dream come true. I am now already six days on the dahabiya, this boat is the “dig house” of the mission of Silsila. I can only say one word: incredible.
The first days were very exciting for me, because I have never done this before. I was all new to me and I was curious what the expectations are, what our goals are and what tasks I will do. But right away the open and good communication with the complete crew, mend I found another home. The team consists at the moment of eight persons and there will be specialists coming and going the next six weeks.

As the archaeological site is so remote, it brings a lot of logistical challenges for the team. A lot of hard work had been going into organizing everything, from hiring the boat, buying food and drinks for staying seven weeks and bring the team to Silsila.

Day 1: The boat had a delay and arrived three hours later than we did, so there was nothing else to do than to wait for it. After the dahabiya arrived, the unpacking started and after two hours we had everything on the boat and then we needed another five hours to put everything on place. The first night sleep on the boat was fine. The engine for the electricity went off at ten o’clock, so it was an early sleep.
Arriving at Silsila

And the boat 'Tiye'

Day 2: The engine on for the electricity started at 05.35, so it was a very early wake. We went on the first day to explore the east-bank and get a general impression of Silsila. After a four hours walk we had a lunch in one of the quarries and discussed the work. We ate bread, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, eggs, paprika, carrot, and of course water. After talking and working out the best way to do everything, we went back to the dahabiya. Around three o’clock it is always dinner time on the boat. It’s great to have a head cook on board, who provides us with the best meals every day. Again I did some reading and then before you know it, the engine is off.

First day back on site is always spent walking the area to inspect the current state of preservation

Inside the largest subterranean quarry

The famous white stela in the gallery


Day 3: Here we go for the first day on the east bank. Everybody goes on board of the small motorboat we need to get to the east-bank. Exciting, curious, tension is in my body, because I can cross out one wish on my bucket list ………..the engine of the small boat won’t start……disappointment, what are we to gone do now? Will my bucket list have to wait another day? No way, there is so much to do. After a small talk between Maria and John there is a new target to go for. Here we go unpacking everything from the boat and we stay on the west-site. After a very exhausting day my bucket list did became smaller. YES I have joined a mission in Egypt. We made history like John said before leaving this morning. I feel blessed and happy that I was there today. Complete worn out I went into my cabin for a good night sleep.

New target

Day 4: I woke up very early again from the mosque on the other side of the river. I am doing my morning ritual, making a tea and bread with colored sprinkles and looking at sunset, wonderful. One on side of the Nile the quarry, on the other the Speos of Horemheb, what a magical place to have your breakfast. Taking all our stuff back of the boat again, we start for the second day of history. A lot lighter work than the day before but very interesting and what a patience they must have with me. Explaining everything and all the questions I am asking, thanking John and Maria for answering them all. One thing annoying me all the time: the flies. There are so many of them even the antispray can’t get them away from me.

Discussing the corridor

Day 5: We are relieved that the small motor boat is working again and we go to the other side. Here an even bigger task is waiting for us. This is really a very big one, but we don’t talk we just start and we will see how far we will come with it. After a very long and hard day of work, we did a very substantial deal of the work and what a start this was. I cannot walk anymore so tired I am, but what a satisfaction is gives me when I have been eating dinner and drinking my tea with the view over the Nile. My fingers are burning, but I have to do some washing of the potsherds. A toothbrush is a man’s best friend sometimes. Other skills they are learning me are cleaning, drying, counting, sorting, weighing, putting some broken potsherds together, photograph, drawing and then measuring them. Again much more work than I ever thought of.  Everything must be noted and put into a file.
Day 6: A very good night sleep. It’s a Friday, so a day off…….Just keeping into the same rhythm. Standing up at the same time and do the same rituals for the daily job. I hope to read a lot, but John gives a lot of his time to me and he wants me to learn more, so I started again with cleaning all the pottery and do all the things I just described above again. We went out for a short help on measuring some steles on the west-bank of Silsila. After a good diner my energy went down and I really felt the last five days inside my body. Joining a mission is much more tiring then I had ever expected. My mind is working like crazy but like I already said IT IS INCREDIBLE.



Liz and inspector Hassan

The week began with an early morning journey to a place I had only visited as a traveller.  My first and only visit to Silsila was spent exploring the west bank, making a game of finding the marks and images carved into the stone that stool all around me.  At that time I enjoyed my time at Silsila.  It was a beautiful place then and now that I am working here, it is not only beautiful, but has filled my head with questions.  Still I am trying to find all of the images carved into the stone, but now I am wondering more about the “what” and the “why.”  As in, what was being done here and why?  Yes there was quarrying done here, but what more about the people.  The artefacts found here until present—ceramics, organics, carved stone, cenotaphs, temples and other building structures—show that Silsila was much more than “just” a quarry—which in itself is amazing to see, but that people were here.  Also, the number of time periods that are represented gives something for everyone.  Since being here I have been able to study a habitation dump and an area leading into a quarry that dates back to Ramesses II all the way into the Ptolemaic period.  I cannot wait to see what Silsila has in store for me in the next weeks.  Our days are spent hard at work always documenting.  I am still learning, but that is the best thing about this site, there is so much to learn and every day brings something new.   

Showing ancient images that previous visitors to the site have missed

And to add to their stories, some images of the first week:

The expedition boat, Dahabeya 'Tiye'

Baby Freja is an obvious member on board!

as is Carter!

Mohamed Mahmoud in his best form

Storks migrating north

what would the day be without some social life?

Birthday celebration of 'Nanny Sussie'

Another sunrise over East Silsila!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Back for a new season!

The Silsila Team has once more returned to site for another exciting season of fieldwork!

The spring season, which is expected to run from 1 March to the end of April, is hoped to result in more information on the 'stables of Tiberius', transportation aspects and pictorial scenes within Corridor A in the Main Quarry, further understanding of the infrastructure, chronological aspects based on ceramic material, rock art, geological features, digital archaeology, etc. etc.

So, with this brief note, please keep your eyes open for new updates within the coming few days with photos and personal blog entries from our members from our first week of fieldwork!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Gebel el Silsila in the news

As an answer to a general request to learn more about the recent press release regarding our finds at Gebel el Silsila, below will follow a short summary of the finds, as well as links to a selection of news articles that spread the word. Thank you all for your support and shown interest!

Press release 1: Unique stela discovered at Gebel el Silsila

the now famous stela

A small rock carved stela was discovered during the ongoing Swedish archaeological survey within the sandstone quarries at Gebel el Silsila, 65 km north of Aswan. The 46 x 38.5 cm round-topped stela was discovered to the east of the famous unfinished sphinx, overlooking the Nile from the East Bank by a team from the Gebel el Silsila Survey Project (Lund University) currently documenting the archaeology and epigraphy in the area.

The stela depicts an unidentified pharaoh presenting offerings to the gods Amun-Ra and Thoth, a unique combination rarely depicted as a pair. The combination of the pair may be due to a lunar aspect of the cult at Gebel el Silsila, a topic which is currently studied by the team. All three figures are rather poorly preserved, but some details can be made out, including the characteristic double feather crown of Amun-Ra, and the moon disc of the ibis-headed Thoth. The item presented by the pharaoh is no longer discernible. 

The readable inscriptions are merely titles of the gods, "Amun-Ra, King of the Gods, Lord of [-]", and "Thoth, Twice Great, Lord of [-]". Just below the winged solar disc (adorned with two uraei) the text reads “Lord of the Two Lands, Behedet (Horus of Edfu)”. The personal text of the pharaoh is limited to “Lord of the Two Lands” followed by a cartouche and short epithet. The royal titles and the single cartouche are poorly preserved.

The preliminary study suggests a later dynastic date, presumably para or post Third Intermediate Period (1069-664 BC). The team is currently working on the stela (photogrammetry and other digital forms) in order to retrieve more information.

at the time when we discovered the stela

Press release 2: Swedish archaeological mission rewrites the early history of Gebel el Silsila

Epipalaeolithic motif

Over 60 rock art sites were discovered during the ongoing Swedish archaeological survey at Gebel el Silsila in Upper Egypt. The rock art sites were discovered on both sides of the Nile and incorporate material from the Epipalaeolithic (c. 8500-6500 BP), Predynastic (c. 4000-3100 BC), and Early Dynastic (c. 3100-2686 BC), plus rock inscriptions from Early Dynastic and throughout the subsequent ancient periods.

Early Dynastic motif

The more spectacular finds include a series of unique Epipalaeolithic “masterpieces” similar to those found in nearby el Hosh. Associated with those are two lithic surface scatters/workshops contemporaneous with the el Kabean industry, but also include examples of the Late Palaeolithic. The high concentration of rock art combined with the chronologically wide repertoire clearly establishes Gebel el Silsila as one of the earlier sites in Egypt.

Predynastic motifs

Other things that have been mentioned in the various international reports includes the find of a relief depicting two obelisks transported on a boat. This is a scene which Dr. Philippe Martinez discovered during his epigraphic work with us, and which we are preparing for publication, so no images of this yet. There was also reference made to two unfinished obelisks, which is based on two large sandstone blocks that we have documented in the Main Quarry of the East Bank. Contextual epigraphic material shows depictions of obelisks, combined with a technical sketch of how to lower an obelisk, which indicate that these blocks may have been extracted to be sculptured as obelisks. The topic will certainly be further explored.

Maria and John showing the technical mark to Mr. Nasr Salama
(General Director of Aswan) and Mr. Abd el Menum (General Director of Kom Ombo).

The large sandstone blocks, possibly extracted to be carved into obelisks.
The block shown here contains a graffito of an obelisk



Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Digital recording of and at Gebel el Silsila

One and a half year ago I was contacted by Maria who told me about Silsila and the projects that is running there. She asked me if I was interested in joining them and thereby bringing in the technology we are working with in the Humanities Laboratory at Lund University where I am working as a research engineer. This technology is focused on 3d data and we mainly apply it on archaeological research where we help to develop methods of using it in smart ways and incorporating it into the archaeological workflow. For that reason we are always interested in case studies, so Marias initial mail excited me. After a lot of planning, I and my colleague Giacomo Landeschi finally had the opportunity to visit the site and make a first study of it to find out if it is a site that would fit our line of research.

First fixed point established

The warmth that met us, not only temperature wise (having left a very cold Sweden behind us), but also from the very nice members of the team on site was a very good start. And I must say it only got better as the days passed. Gebel el Silsila is a really fascinating site and most of our techniques and methods could easily be used there. But for this first visit we decided only to bring a differential gps, since careful mapping of the site of course is a priority. During the week we managed to set up a number of fixed points to be used in the future either with the gps or a total station. We also mapped the perimeter of the main quarry and some other interesting details spread over some parts of the area. During the coming weeks we will post process the data and set up a basic 3d-GIS system that can be built on in the coming seasons.

Giacomo records a point at the top of the main quarry

We also work quite a lot with 3d-models in our lab and one technique for this that we used during the week is called structure from motion, in which a big amount of ordinary 2d photos is taken from a lot of different angels of an object and then processed in special software to create a 3d-model. You can see one such example here, where a 3d-model was made of a sphinx that is close to one of the quarries on the east side. It might take some time to load since it is rather big, even though its resolution is reduced quit a lot from the original 3d-model.
Since it is possible to move around the light source in most 3d visualizations systems, this technique also is good to apply to rock carvings or quarry marks. When the light hits the model of these from different angels, features in the carving can be more pronounced. One example of that is here (to move the light click on the light bulb to the left and then move the mouse over the model with the left mouse button pressed).

Photos been taken to make a 3d-model.

Silsila is definitely a site where we will like to do more work. We will be back next season and I already look forward to meeting Madame Silsila and also the wonderful team there again. I would like to thank Maria and John for their hospitality and generosity.

Stefan Lindgren

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sherdy Season

 “Wait a sec, I’ve got sherdy hands,” has been my favourite phrase this season. Occasionally, when John and Maria have been showing visitors around site, or just when it seemed a pity to disturb baby Freja’s slumbers, I have been called upon to be employed in a spot of babysitting. So, when Freja calls out, I’ve had to quickly dust the sherdiness from my hands before picking her up to soothe her. A new experience for me this season!

The rest of the time I’ve been working on the new inflow of ceramics from the different campsites around Silsila, and also working with John on how to plan and draw sections of the various dry stone walls we’ve been encountering. This season, we’ve focused more on the West Bank, including the infamous pottery hill, but also its sister sites Pottery Hill 2, Wadi Tean and Mo’s Tavern. Further North we have identified at least another 4 camps close to the New Kingdom quarries and cartouche of Tutankhamen, and I worked a bit on one of them Black Camp. On the East, we investigated some of the hut clusters above the main quarry. With each week, I’m adding to the site ceramic typology, which means that I can work even faster. I’m now starting to see the same types occurring again and again, which is brilliant as I can simply count the same types, record that I have for example, 4 rims type of 8.12 (which is a narrow necked direct rim storage jar in case you were interested).

What sort of things have we been encountering? Well, at Mo’s Tavern, which is across the Middle Kingdom road from Pottery Hill, we found some of our first complete pots, or at least complete profiles of vessels, including a rather fabulous 48cm diameter coil-built lid (Nile C GES14/MT/C5).

Large Lid reconstructed on my desk!

It took us 2 trips to find all the pieces scattered as they were down the hillside. The top of Mo’s Tavern is relatively sterile, with the remains of one hut and 2-3 possible hearths or beacons. It is likely that it was not in continuous use due to the infrequency of sherds, how little they had been moved or broken up, and the fact that most of the sherds uncovered were able to be fitted together cleanly. Most of the material from Mo’s Tavern, Pottery Hill, Wadi Tean and Pottery Hill 2 (all within a c200m radius) seem to be contemporary Early Roman (1-2nd Century AD). 

Maria and Reis Shihad collecting the remaining sherds of the lid that had fallen down from Mo's Tavern into Wadi Tean.

Some of the material from Pottery Hill may be a little later up to the time of Emperor Hadrian and comparable to the ceramics uncovered at the quarry site Mons Claudianus by Peacock and Tomber in the Eastern Desert. Pottery Hill is also interesting in that so far, no bread trays or cooking vessels have been uncovered there. The ceramic assemblage is in the main, amphorae, meat jars, storage vessels and water jars. All Roman period. The only finewares uncovered have been the Aswan-made Barbotine vessels, which are rich in Kaolinite and give a beautiful white appearance. So far we have no Samian or African Samian wares.

Aswani made Barbotine vessels from Pottery Hill. These could originally have been for drinking cups

The other campsites that we have been investigating include the huts above Corridor A in the main quarry. If you recall last season, we counted over 4000 surface body sherds in this very small 30m area. Here we are getting quite an interesting range of dating material (though mostly eating bowls and water jars) from the New Kingdom (18-20th dynasties 1550-1069 BC), then a jump to the Ptolemaic and Early Roman periods (323 BC - 117 AD). It seems that up on the escarpments above the working quarry faces, the quarrymen took their pack lunches to enjoy the view of the Nile and perhaps have a short nap in the huts in between shifts to get out of the hot sun.

A picture is starting to develop at Gebel Silsila that fits in quite nicely with the dates of the inscriptions with the last periods of occupation of the quarries, with the ceramics pushing back the dates a little. The latest dated Roman inscription names emperor Claudius (AD 41-54), whereas some of the pottery from Pottery Hill (e.g. the Barbotine) is perhaps a little later to the time of Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117). The Romans clearly spent quite a long time working at Silsila, as the various sandstone Roman temples testify to, but also to the great quantity of camps with lots of pottery dotted across Silsila. Next season, we plan to work quite solidly at Pottery Hill on the West Bank, which has c23 circular dry stone huts and a vast quantity of ceramics to be explored.

As always, Gebel Silsila is a remarkable place, with great beauty and wonders to behold across the whole site. There is so much to be learnt here about the everyday Egyptian, and I cannot wait to return to join with the team again. A small success, I managed to convince John to wash his feet and lucky socks!

     Sarah- @sherd_nerd

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2 weeks in photos

Sarah and Mohamed "enjoying" pottery hill

meanwhile at the "office"

Freja's enjoying the dahabeya

Mohamed Ibrahim, our inspector

TARA on visit



old fashioned surveying

Jumping into the Nile

Friends of Silsila

the MEHEN group on visit

Friends of the Petrie Museum and the Plymouth Egyptological society on visit

pointing at bushy tailed giraffes 

our one and only potnerd!

our Shihad


Moamen Saad documenting the Nile stelae

happy archaeology family

surveying workers' store rooms

the MEHEN group hearing the story of how John and Maria ended up at Silsila

Maria and baby Freja enjoying the company of MEHEN's founders!