Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The New Kingdom Necropolis of Gebel el Silsila

As you may have noticed there has been no news from the field since the beginning of our spring season back in January. Indeed there were enormous amounts of historical and archaeological details to share with you all, but time slipped away from us combined with the demanding work related to our latest announced discovery - the Necropolis.

Obviously, we have been aware of the Necropolis' existence before, and it is certainly not a discovery that anyone will simply "stumble on". Instead it was a well structured plan, which was based on the increasing environmental threat to some of the tombs (rising ground water with highly destructive salt contents), combined with a larger team on site that enabled us to get started. Please see below for our (very) preliminary report on the tombs.

3400 year old necropolis discovered at Gebel el Silsila
Dr. Maria Nilsson and John Ward

During the spring season 2016 the Swedish archaeological mission at Gebel el Silsila, led by Dr. Maria Nilsson and John Ward, in co-operation with the MSA, as well as Kom Ombo and Aswan Inspectorates under General Directors Abd el Menum and Nasr Salama respectively, discovered a remarkable New Kingdom necropolis with archaeological material dating from the early 18th dynasty and indications of re-use throughout the 19th dynasty. 

So far, over 40 tombs have been documented, including a small shrine, many of which have suffered from heavy erosion and extreme decay due to the rising water table and its high salt contents. As part of exploring the best method to save the monuments, the team undertook the careful cleaning of a small selection of tombs, work that will continue during forthcoming seasons.

The tombs consist of one to two undecorated rock-cut chambers, with one or more crypts cut into the bed rock floors, some preserved with remains of their original lid. The entrance of the tombs consist of a squared semi-dressed aperture that incorporate a vertical slot to either door jamb that would have facilitated a portcullis type of closure. The tombs are generally accessed via a series of steps that descend into a rough-cut squared chamber. Due to the lack of exterior or interior decoration, the identity of the persons buried remains unknown at this time.

The general archaeology and the stratigraphy of the tombs suggest that they were plundered already during antiquity, and again during the 19th century, as well as affected by the annual floods and driven sand, resulting in disturbed layers containing foremost pottery, bones, some beads and Nile silt, mixed with animal remains including crocodile scutes. Similar composition of archaeology was documented outside the tombs.

The ceramic material has been identified by the team's ceramic expert, Dr. Sarah Doherty, as traditional New Kingdom funerary ware, including storage vessels, beer jugs, and a selection of votive vessels. Preliminary analysis of the bones, made by Prof. Salima Ikram, suggests burials of men, women and children of all ages. Importantly, this indicates a more permanent habitation at Gebel el Silsila than previously thought.

Among the more important findings was a reversible seal ring, which depicts the cartouche of Pharaoh Thuthmosis III “Men-kheper-re” (comparable with seal UC61144:, and a scarab also bearing the pharaoh’s name. Associated text on the seal's reverse is currently studied by the team's Egyptologists. 

Fragments of detailed, painted mud-plaster indicate decorated coffins, which together with fragments of mummy wrapping and various beads and amulets suggest individuals of considerable status.

The shrine that was included among the discoveries is a small rock-cut sanctuary located on the banks of the Nile. It consists of two open chambers facing the river (west), which partially retain architectural features, including dressed walls and an inner doorway crowned with the winged solar disc. Further analysis is required of its archaeology due to annual flooding and extensive tumble since antiquity.


The latest discovery as well as the season's work (with more news to come...!) was made possible by financial support from various foundations, including:

Magnus Bergvalls Stiftelse
National Geographic Grant
Enboms Stiftelse 
Helge Ax:son Johnsons stiftelse
Gerda Henkel Stiftung

and none of the work could have been completed without the most fabulous team ever! Thank you all for sharing the moments (hard work, blood, sweat and tears lol) and being part of this incredible journey that we are on!

Also, and with uppermost respect, thank you to the general inspectorates of Kom Ombo and Aswan, to General Directors Nasr Salama and Abd el Menum, and all the great inspectors of Kom Ombo and general inspectors of Gebel el Silsila, as each and everyone of you actively participate in changing history!

Maria and John 

Tomb 15 exterior

crypt with partially preserved lid inside Tomb 15

Tomb 14 interior, including entrance to second chamber

Doorway to Tomb 14, interior

Tomb 2, exterior

Seal: cartouche of Thutmosis III (Men-Kheper-Re)

Scarab with the cartouche of Thutmosis III

Portculis of Tomb 2, exterior

One of the crypts of  Tomb 14

Crocodile scutes

Bone fragment in mixed layer in Tomb 2

Steps inside Tomb 14

Shrine with winged solar disc and pillars on respective side

Friday, January 08, 2016

Returning after the holidays

First and foremost,

a truly happy new year, and best wishes for 2016 to be even more adventurous, successful, prosperous and joyful than years before!

How can one top a year that included three major discoveries, starting with the press release of the small Royal stele depicting Amun-Ra and Thoth,

followed by the re-discovery of the Temple of Kheny in May,

and now, most recently, the exciting discovery of six statues and relief scenes within shrines 30-31, previously thought to have been completely destroyed.

And, we shall not forget the unique discovery that forever has changed the history of our Speos - the rock cut temple - previously regarded as the work of Pharaoh Horemheb, but now with a chronology that is pushed back to the times of the female Pharaoh Hatshepsut, and with restoration work carried out by the famous boy-king Tutankhamun. 

Detail from within the speos showing the left partition of the usurped boat scene. Notice the small, square apertures

Wow, what a year it was! And to those amazing finds, Madam Silsila has delivered so incredibly much more... Rock Art, (more) Quarry Marks, Texts, demotic ostraca... the list goes on (...and includes some that you will have to wait a bit for).

So, with this post we would like to express our gratefulness towards all people involved in the work here at Silsila; all our scientists, assistants, inspectors, friends and family! Let us hope for another year of fantastic news for Madam Silsila!

And a new and exciting season has already begun! Here are some captured moments:

moon over Silsila

the place where it all begun back in 2007

Horus, our protector!

learning how to use a camera starts in early years around here

photographing a beauty through a rope hole...
and there was the beauty...

lovely visit from Prof. Cruz

Mr. Mohamed Abdalla, our inspector

Shihat working the prism magic

Moamen and Shihat mapping out 'Elephant Rock'

can it get any better?!

oh well, we guess it can

and until next time, safe journeys friends!

Acknowledgements are here in order for our sponsors for this season, including NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY and Gerda Henkel Stiftung! We would also like to express our deepest gratitude towards the Glen Dash Foundation for sponsoring the Silsila Team with our Total Station!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Six NK Statues and Intact Relief Scenes Discovered in Gebel el Silsila!

This great discovery was made possible only through the active support and professional cooperation with the inspectorate of Kom Ombo, under General Director Mr. Abd el Menum, and the inspectorate of Aswan, under General Director Mr. Nasr Salama, and all their fantastic and hard working inspectors assigned to the project! Also, no work could have been completed without the entire Silsila team, with extremely hard-working archaeologists, dedicated Egyptologists, assistants and volunteers. Above and beyond the discovery is really the result of one man's dedication and understanding of the landscape and architecture - John Ward - who was convinced there was something hiding behind the Nile grass and spoil... Thank you all!

The official press release:
Ministry of Antiquities
Press Office
Six New Kingdom Statues Found in Aswan

Antiquities Minister Dr. Mamdouh Eldamaty announced today the
discovery of 6 rock cut statues inside the chapels 30 and 31
in Gebel Elselsela Area- North Aswan. The discovery was made
during the excavation works performed by Lund University
Mission - Sweden headed by Maria Nilsson and John

Eldamaty said that this is an important discovery because Gebel
Elselsela was subjected to an earthquake in ancient times
beside the erosion effects which made it completely covered
with huge blocks, a situation that lead "Caminos" an Egyptologist
to report Chapel 30 as totally demolished. However, the mission
succeeded in terminating the cleaning and survey works inside
the two chapels and uncover the statues.

On the other hand, Dr. Mahmoud Afifi, Head of the Ancient
Egyptian Antiquities said that the six statues date back to
the New Kingdom Era, two of them were found at the rear of
chapel 30 and they are the statues of the tomb owner and
his wife seated on a chair. The tomb owner is represented
in the Osirian position, his arms crossed over his chest
and wearing a shoulder length hair wig. The wife on the
other hand is represented putting her left arm on her
husband's shoulder while her left arm on her chest.

The other four statues, added Afifi, were found at the rear
of chapel 31 and they belong to "neferkhewe", Overseer of
the Foreign Lands during the reign of "Thutmosis III", his
wife, his daughter and son.
Finally, General Manager of Aswan Archaeological Area, Nasr
Salama said that the Swedish Mission which started its work
in 2012 will continue its excavation works in the area trying
to discover more inside the 32 chapels of Gelbel Elselsela,
emphasizing the importance of this area in particular because
it was where the blocks used in building the temples were
cut from.

© Ministry of Antiquities, Press Office
Wrote Asmaa Mostafa
Translated by: Eman Hossni

Monday, June 22, 2015

Digital documentation of the Speos at Silsila

inside the speos, looking south

Any visitor to Egypt who had the pleasure of sailing up or down the Nile past the river’s narrowest point has had the opportunity of gazing into (or even visit) the petite, but intriguing and stunning rock-cut temple on the west bank of Gebel el Silsila. This temple was epigraphically documented already during the last century by R. Caminos, who intended to publish the results as the second volume of his envisioned three monographs of the site. However, as many of you know, with his passing a large bulk of his work remained unpublished, and it was not until more recently – in year 2000 – that Ch. Thiem finally published preliminary results that supposedly were based on Caminos’ work.

the speos seen from the Nile

However, much remained to be done still, for which the current archaeological team’s Egyptologist and epigrapher – Dr. Philippe Martinez – returned to the rock-cut temple in 2014, and with results that forever would change our perception of the monument. Among the more important findings is a series of iconographic (illustrated) details that push back the chronology of the temple – with examples of images belonging to Tutankhamen, but also a Nile vessel of early 18th Dynasty date carrying an obelisk, comparable in size and style with the famous barque of Female Pharaoh Hatshepsut in Deir el Bahri – but also details that suggest a religious idiom very different from what has been proposed before. Now, this is not the place to go deeper into the various findings of Dr. Martinez, especially as a series of articles are currently prepared, but instead we will focus on the documentation that has allowed Dr. Martinez to take the epigraphic work one or a few steps further from the days of Caminos’ analogue recordings.

Dr. Martinez in action

Since 2014 Dr. Martinez has worked with traditional analogue recording methods by means of very thin acetate copies combined with digital photography and layer drawings in illustrator software. These traditional methods laid the groundwork – and still make up the larger part of the data – for the digital recording that was initiated earlier this year (2015). Thus, when Kevin Cain from American INSIGHT joined the team on site, Dr. Martinez had more or less completed the analogue 1:1 copying of the detailed illustrations and texts that decorate the sandstone walls of this small sanctuary. The main aim of Mr. Cain’s work is to complement that of traditional analogue recording methods – not only in the speos, but in various areas of the site – and the first step in their documentation of the speos was to re-photograph each and every wall and detail using both natural light and special studio lights on loan from MAFTO. 

Dr. Martinez and Mr. Cain within the speos

The idea was to build so called ‘fronto-parallel orthomosaic views’ of the inscribed walls, which allows us to view an entire wall – regardless of how wide – as one combined image. Also, such photography ‘photogrammetry’ enabled Mr. Cain to produce 3D images, to complement and aid Dr. Martinez in finding further finer details also of older, superimposed scenes.

Mr. Cain photographing inside the sanctuary

Dr. Martinez and Mr. Cain doing their magic

Below are shown some examples of Mr. Cain’s 3D reconstruction of a scene from the south jamb leading into the inner chamber of the sanctuary. 

Shown here, the 3D models incorporate 1/8 of the full image resolution, based on approximately 500 photographs in –m full, -s3, and –F3. Mr. Cain describes the images:

a) The surface re-lighted without colour: the raking lighting angle is a familiar one used frequently in     epigraphic documentation
b) The surface without colour, lighting 180^ offset from above
c) ‘X-ray’ view, highlighting mesostructured. Note that the surface carving is accented in this view.
d) ‘Radiance scaling’ shading, in which the reflected light intensities are dependent on the surface           curvature and material characteristics (INRIA). This view is intended to help represent the 3D
    surface with characteristics of a 2D line drawing.
e) The surface, re-lighted, with colour extracted from studio light photography.

Similar resolution images were produced also of one of the criosphinxes in the 18th Dynasty workshop within Quarry 15. Since the sphinx is partially hidden below sand, a complete reconstruction is not possible at this present time. 

The reconstruction(s) is based on there about 40 photographs in 1/8 source –m full, -s3, and –F3.

Key to the images:
a) Plan view, criosphinx, shaded with photography
b) Left view, criosphinx
c) Right view, criosphinx

d) Detail of head, without colour
e) The surface, relighted, with colour extracted from photography
f) ‘Radiance scaling’ shading, in which the reflect light intensities are dependent on the surface curvature and material characteristics: note the detail made visible in the shoulder area
g) ‘X-ray’ view indented to show surface curvature

The digital documentation will continue on site as a perfect complement to the archaeological work carried out in the field. Other examples of already recorded features on site include the stela of Amenhotep IV, the fallen naos of Amenhotep III, the re-discovered Temple of Kheny, an administrative building in Quarry 24, etc. Stay tuned for more!

Want to learn more about the awesome work of the INSIGHT team? See here or continue reading for a short summary:

INSIGHT is a California non-profit organization dedicated to documenting the human record for the benefit of researchers and the general public.  We currently focus on bringing computer vision techniques to the work of archaeologists and other researchers in the disciplines that comprise the world heritage field. INSIGHT provides a practical framework for the intelligent application of visualization for sciences and the humanities.  While INSIGHT’s foremost responsibility is to researchers, educational and museum work also an area of interest.

Cultural Heritage Visualization
Recording the past with the tools of the future, INSIGHT was founded to extend the visualization capabilities of scientists and foster education in visualization, with an emphasis on digital cultural heritage.  INSIGHT provides visualization and documentation tools to scientific fieldwork.  Staffed with specialists in both archaeology and visual computing, the INSIGHT team fills the useful role of “translator” between the normally exclusive worlds of technology and heritage.  INSIGHT provides relevant digital tools to researchers and work with specialists to develop visualizations.  Since current technologies are often too expensive for research budgets, INSIGHT believes it is crucial to provide free access to equipment and techniques on a 'pilot' basis.  INSIGHT also provides a research lens through which these digital tools can be profitably viewed.
In a world where time is running out for many heritage sites, INSIGHT is working to speed the process of site documentation.  INSIGHT both develops new tools and adapts digital documentation methods for archaeological use.  Innovative use of space sampling is at the core of all INSIGHT project work, including the use of digital photography, computer modeling, and laser scanning.