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: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/museums-static/digitalegypt/seals/archive/uc61144.jpg), 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

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