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!

Welcoming Visitors- TARA, MEHEN and Plymouth Egyptology Society

At Silsila, we are always so pleased when tourists’ boats moor up next to our Dahabeya and disembark with their guides to explore our fascinating site. There is so much to see on the West Bank including the Speos of Horemheb, Stele of Rameses III and Shoshenk, petroglyphs of bushy tailed giraffes and ostriches and lots of graffiti dating from the Predynastic through to the Modern day. All this is before you see the magnificent Roman quarries and the mini temples of Merenptah and Ramesses II just beyond them.   

This season, we have been delighted to welcome a great variety of special guests including David Coulson chair of The African Rock Art Association (TARA), and other members of the group. Naturally, they were particularly keen to view some of the rock art sites that Maria has been documenting and so I stayed on the boat with baby Freja to hone some of my babysitting skills while John and Maria brought the group to view some of the choicest Epi-Palaeolithic sites that we have at Silsila. TARA has been documenting the rock art of Africa for over 20 years and so they have brought us a great deal of interesting insights to understanding the different patterns and rock art styles that we are seeing at Silsila, including geometric patterns, bovids and humans.

Next, we were joined by the Plymouth Egyptology Society who was being guided by our good friend Lucia Gahlin, Chair of the Petrie Museum Friends. They arrived in the late afternoon at Silsila, so we had only a little time to show them what our site has to offer. The various graffiti and petroglyphs can be best seen at different times of the day, so with the increasing shadows, a new range of images are revealed. We enjoyed particularly spending time viewing the Roman quarries, and admired the East Bank that glowed orange with the setting sun.

We were thrilled to be able to welcome back MEHEN under the expert tutelage of Jan Koek and Huibert who had been touring the wadis of the West Bank of Luxor in search of graffiti. MEHEN spent an hour (!) enjoying the Speos of Horemheb before joining us for lunch. We then spent a happy couple of hours talking to the group about each of the special interests that we have on the West Bank site for this season (1) Rock Art Documentation (Maria) (2) Quarrying, Road Access and Transportation (John) and (3) Recording and planning the huts of Pottery Hill and its Surfaces Finds (Sarah). We then took the motor boat in order to visit the small temples of Merenptah and Ramesses II as we were a little short on time as there was so much to see and talk about.      

At Silsila, we are always very keen to welcome any interested visitors who wish to tour the West Bank with us. We plan soon to be able to receive a group of Egyptian tour guides to talk to them about the site, which is not generally very well known. We are currently designing a multilingual guidebook in order to increase understanding about Silsila and highlight the spots of interest, but also to indicate which areas should be avoided, both for safety and conservation reasons as much of the rock art in particular is under threat from trampling and wind erosion. If you or your group would be interested in visiting us while we are working, please do get in touch!

Twitter: @sherd_nerd  


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

10 days into the new season – a poetic captivation by our topographer

Although five months have elapsed, governments have fallen, whiles others have risen from their ashes, wars continue to be fought over mundane issues, geopolitical instability and economic pressures continue to rise; and on the positive side, the amazing arrival of our wonderful daughter Freja Elizabeth Hypatia Nilsson Ward; Silsila has remained the same! Her golden sands continue to migrate across her ancient landscape, the Nile continues to rise and fall with its somewhat automated seasonal change, and yet amongst this orchestrated symphony of harmony and balance the ‘Mother of Temples’ still captivates us as we walk once more along her well-trodden pathways.

We look forward to the arrival of new and old members of the team; Sarah Doherty returned once more to continue her ongoing documentation of pottery from various locations around the site. She is building a corpus of ceramic material and data, which will enable us all to reach a better understanding of the day-to-day living on site by its historical occupants.

Philippe Martinez once again leaves the comfort of France and his family to continue his recording of the Speos of Horemheb and other Egyptian epigraphy, bringing with him a wealth of experience and knowledge to the rest of the team.

Joining us for the first time this season is Moamen Saad, who conducts his doctoral work on the famous Nile stelae of the west bank. Not only will this grand undertaking serve his own needs, but it will also contribute towards the ongoing process of fully recording Silsila, and bring to our attention areas that are under direct threat environmentally and by other forces.

The digital recorders Stefan Lindgren and Giacomo Landeschi from Lund University also join the team for the first time this season in order to begin the lengthy process of digitally surveying both the west and east banks of Silsila.

We must also take this opportunity to extend our sincere gratitude to the Dash Foundation for their extremely generous donation of a Total Station to the Silsila Survey Project, which we hopefully will begin using in the spring season of 2015.

And of course our own Dr Maria Nilsson will continue her ongoing documentation of the symbols of Silsila along with her exhaustive cataloguing of the rock art sites, while continuing her role as the project manageress, and most importantly as a new mother to Freja, who also joins us this season, strapped to her mum as she meanders around the ancient quarried landscape of Silsila. I will also continue my topographical documentation of site as well as the various quarrying techniques employed within the ancient quarries, combined with my own special role as new father to Freja.

Overall this season is already proving to be as action-packed as previous seasons and we hope we will reveal yet more of Silsila’s hidden secrets and her role in Egypt’s enigmatic history.


[images to be uploaded shortly]