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 However, as many of you know, with his passing a large bulk of his work remained unpublished, and it was not until more recently – in year 2000 – that Ch.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.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Silsila goes TV (live)!

part of the Silsila team at the back of the Temple of Kheny

As part of the wonderful news coverage following the re-discovery of the ’lost’ Temple of Kheny, Maria has been invited – as the mission director and representing the Silsila team – to participate in Swedish Channel TV4 and a program called ‘Vardagspuls’ on Wednesday afternoon (at 17.55-18.55 local time). The show will be aired live, but you can also catch up with it later on via their webpage. For updates from Stockholm, please follow the twitter accounts of John and Maria respectively at @drjohnwardkt and @DrMariaNilsson.

John and Maria with the General Directors of Aswan and Kom Ombo - Mr. Nasr Salama and Mr. Abd el Menum respectively, and their inspectors

Maria and John photographed outside #Heagården #Halmstad for #Aftonbladet by photographer #MalinArnesson

recent interview in Swedish News Paper #Aftonbladet

Monday, May 25, 2015

Cenotaphs go 3D!

overview of the west bank with its 32 shrines

Other than the traditional Egyptologist, who per automatic knows the basics about Gebel el Silsila’s characteristic cenotaphs, anyone who has had the pleasure of sailing the magnificent River Nile could gaze upon these glorious shrines that lay scattered along the west bank to the south of the famous rock-cut temple and ends just north of the capstone. These cenotaphs – ‘false/empty tombs’ – were the object of extensive study by T. G. H. James and R. A. Caminos during an epigraphic survey conducted on behalf of the EES (Egypt Exploration Society) during the last century. James and Caminos published the shrines’ original epigraphy and iconography (hieroglyphic text and illustrations) and short comments on their layouts and style (James, T. G. H. and Caminos, R. A., Gebel es-Silsilah, vol. I: the shrines, London 1963). Since then, A. Kucharek has continued the study in her Master thesis Die Felskapellen der 18. Dynastie in Gebel es-Silsilah, followed by the article ‘Senenmut in Gebel es-Silsilah’ (MDAIK 66, 2010, 413-160).

photo by Scotty Roberts

Still, however, there are many aspects of these 32 shrines that await further study, including later additions (graffiti, quarry activity, reuse, etc.), for which we, as the current archaeological team, have taken on the task to re-document them. As part of this re-documentation more effort is placed on the monuments themselves, and making them available for the larger public also outside the academic world.

As such, we incorporate up-to-date digital technology in our work, such as 3D imaging/photogrammetry, which not only provides us with the most extraordinary ‘movable’ objects, but also the possibility to put fragmented/broken items back again without having to even touch the monument itself. As an example, we would like to share with you a preliminary reconstruction of three broken statues of shrine no. 4 (James and Caminos 1963, 16-18):  

shrine 4

The scanned monument is a room located on the southern side of shrine 4, with three statues that have been broken in three parts due to a fracture in the bedrock, plausibly caused by a natural catastrophe. The room initially measured 1.27 m deep x 1.50 m high. Three statues are seated on a bench, facing forward towards the northern-facing opening/door. The three figures depict two men (left/east and centre) and one woman (right/west). While there are no preserved inscriptions or decoration, it can be presumed that the main male figure depicts a man called Djehutmose, who was a scribe of the treasury during the 18th or early 19th Dynasty (based on an adjacent, plausibly associated hieroglyphic text) (James and Caminos 1963, 16). With the words of Stefan Lindgren, our 3D recorder from the Humanities Laboratory at Lund University: “At some point in time, the mountain where these three statues are carved, split in two parts and divided the group for a long time. But now, thanks to 3d-technology, we have been able to make at least a virtual reunion. I think they look happy about it.”

The southern group of statues

3D recorder Stefan Lindgren busy photographing an early Roman graffiti-panel

For those of you who want to ‘play around’ with the 3D image of the statues, you can find the movable object here, and below is a 'still' demonstration:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

And thank you all our Egyptian friends who work with us in the field!

We could not have done it without you!

Our right hand, Reis, everything (!) Shihad Mohammadin

Abdallah John (Ali) - "son", brother, friend and master chef!

Abdul, chef 2013

Mohamed Mahmoud and Abdallah Ali!

Shihad and baby Freja autumn 2014

what would we do without you guys?!


true humor is a must!


measuring the width of the Roman road - Ahmed Sayed, Prof. James Harrell, John, Mohamed and Mohamed


Ismael (2013)

great friends

...sing and celebrate the birthday of Nanny Sussie!

Abdallah and Sarah!

Support our work and become a member of Friends of Silsila!

A thank you to all our great inspectors and general directors!

Following the relatively new find of the unique stela of Amen-Ra and Thoth, and of course the latest news on the discovery of the temple, we would like to express our deepest gratitude to all the inspectors who have been assigned to the project so far, and of course to the General Directors of Aswan - Mr. Nasr Salam (and previously Mr. Hakim Karar and Mr. Fathy Abuzied) - and Kom Ombo - Mr. Abd el Menum. We could not have achieved such success without your support and cooperation, and we consider it a true honor working side-by-side with you all.


Mr. Nasr Salama, Abd el Menum, Ahmed Sayed, Mohamed Ali, Khaled Shawky, Hassan Mohamed, Mustafa MohamedMohamed Ahmed, Mohamed Mohsen, Essam el-Deen Mahmoud, Mostafa el-Far, Mohamed Hamdy, Mohamed Hassan,  Mostafa Mohamed, Sayed Mahmoud, Mohamed Ibrahim and Ashraf Mohamed!

Noble visit to Silsila by the Swedish Ambassador, Charlotta Sparre, with husband, and embassy colleague Radoslav Zivkovic, greeted by Aswan General Director Mr. Nasr Salama, and the Kom Ombo Inspectorate represented by General Director Abd el Menum, Ahmed Sayed and Khaled Shawky, and the team members John, Maria and Moamen Saad.

Front figures: General Directors Abd el Menum (left) and Nasr Salama (right)

Great colleague and dear friend, Ahmed Sayed

Mustafa Mohamed, Inspector 2015

Hassan Mohamed, Inspector 2015

Mostafa el-Far, Inspector 2013

John and Ahmed Sayed after the discovery of the cartouche of Ramses II at the temple of Kheny

Mustafa Mohamed and Ashraf Mohamed

Ahmed Sayed

Mohamed Ibrahim (alas Hamada), Inspector 2014

Mohamed Mohsen, Inspector 2013

Mustafa el-Far, Inspector 2013

Essam el-Deen, Inspector 2013

Essam el-Deen

Khaled Shawky, Inspector 2014

General Director of Aswan, Mr. Nasr Salama

Maria (and Carter) with General Director of Kom Ombo, Mr. Abd el Menum

Mr. Nasr Salama in the Main Quarry

Great friends and colleagues in the Main Quarry

Mohamed Hamby, Inspector 2014

part of the team 2014 including ceramic expert Sarah K. Doherty

Mohamed Mohsen

Hassan Mohamed

Essam el-Deen

Mohamed Hassan, Inspector 2014

Ashraf Mohamed, Inspector 2012

Mustafa Mohamed

Mohamed Hamdy

Sayed Mahmoud, Inspector 2014

Mustafa Mohamed, Inspector 2014

Mustafa Mohamed

Mohamed Hassan

Mohamed Ibrahim and Hassan Mohamed

Mr. Nasr Salama greeting Swedish Ambassador Charlotta Sparre

Khaled Shawky

Mohamed Ahmed, Inspector 2013

Mr. Abd el Menum with Egyptologist Dr. Philippe Martinez

Mr. Abd el Menum greeting Swedish Ambassador Charlotta Sparre

Mr. Nasr Salama and Maria

Ahmed Sayed, Khaled Shawky and Abd el Menum

Our General Directors with the lovely and wise Swedish Ambassador 

Maria and Ahmed Sayed

Abd el Menum with Charlotta Sparre in the speos

Join the Friends of Silsila!