Sunday, November 18, 2012

new popular scientific article on Silsila

Find our most recent article on solar symbolism in Gebel el Silsila in the archaeological magazine Ancient Planet Online (pp. 50-61):

A huge thank you to Ioannis Georgopoulos for all hard work in putting the magazine together!

Friday, November 02, 2012

Working with epigraphic material in Gebel el Silsila – Adrienn’s summary of the first season

The primary aim of the epigraphical work during the season 2012 - the survey of the main quarry of Silsila - has been accomplished and the inscriptions previously published by W. Spiegelberg and F. Preisigke have been localized and identified. As the first editor of the Demotic text, W. Spiegelberg never visited the site and used only the copies of G. Legrain, so one of our first steps in the recording process was to check and compare every inscription listed in the 1915 publication.

Some parts of W. Spiegelberg’s texts are not or only partly translated due to certain difficulties which G. Legrain must have encountered: many of the inscriptions are situated too high for the naked eye to record the details, and of course for copying by the help of acetate (transparent plastic paper), and the surface of the quarry walls consists almost everywhere of tool marks made by chisels used during the quarrying - naturally, this often makes the texts hardly visible.

These problems made also our work difficult and in many cases we could work with only a monocular/binoculars to create a preliminary drawing on site, which later is to be compared with, analysed and adjusted based on good quality photos (thanks to our good photographers), all of which help us to create a complete record and to translate the texts. For copying I sometimes used a ladder, and for taking photos Maria and John often climbed up on ledges and high ridges to be able to capture the highly situated texts and quarry marks (which were heroic deeds in certain cases). I am sure we will find during the analysis of the texts more interesting details and connections with other sites.

Besides checking and recopying the published texts we have found and recorded many unpublished inscriptions: more than half of them show no indication of having been discovered during the archaeological survey of G. Legrain, but others were not published by W. Spiegelberg in spite of being numbered or encircled by white chalk. These chalk-markings made us believe that G. Legrain probably planned to return to Silsila to complete the work.

If I must choose a favourite place in the main quarry I will choose Section D (south) with its corridor. The inscriptions of this section have a special interest. Some of them refer to a specific deity in adoration style, thus showing the religious importance of the site.

As most of the Demotic texts have a religious content (adorations) the epigraphical work of the site can contribute to the identification of role of the quarries in the religious life. Two types of divinities appear in these adorations: the main deities of the temples which were built by the stone blocks of Gebel Silsila (like Horus of Edfu, Isis, Khnum) and local protectors (like Pshaï/Psais, Min and Pachimesen - the protective daemon of the quarry). Revealing the identity of the local divinities will be an interesting aspect of the studying the texts and the role of the quarry.

written by A. Almasy, linguist and epigrapher specialising on demotic inscriptions

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Third week and a bit more

clouds over Silsila West and moving birds returning to warmer climate for the winter

The third week of surveying Gebel el Silsila continued with new exiting results and discoveries! To start off with we were visited by a smaller company of storks, stopping by at Silsila over the week, and together with the already gorgeous scenery giving us a splendid view to gaze upon! We have come to accept the fact that this season will focus entirely on the main quarry (with a small addition of Q35 directly attached to the south), hoping to continue with the quarries around it next season.

During this third week John and I completed photographing every inch (!) of all individual quarry faces, providing us photographic material of 1) full overview images of Q35 – the main quarry, 2) overview images of the seven sections within Q35, 3) overview images of each individual quarry face, 4) detail photos of pictorial and textual inscriptions, 5) contextual overviews of graffiti placed in groups or series. Puh!

John busy drawing and adding measurements to the notes

Exposing a demotic inscription on one of the fallen stone blocks

We have measured every quarry face, every engraving within reach, every extracted stone block and fallen stone blocks presented with some form of graffiti. In addition, we have measured the outlines/incision of all graffiti (and the tool marks made during extraction) and when possible the size of the chisel head. The preliminary results are very interesting! So, a lot of measuring and photographing with other words...

a post hole on top of the quarry overlooking the main quarry

John making notes 


After completing the photographic records, we continued into phase 2, the topographical survey, which John is responsible for. Thus, each stone structure, including supporting walls, and pathway were photographed, drawn, measured and noted on the general topographical map. Material visible on the surface provided us important information as to the function of huts and structures in the various locations. Results of that in good time!

every inch needs investigation!

Meanwhile, Adrienn, who completed her copying of the demotic inscriptions, was given the task to copy (plastic sheet tracing) also Greek inscriptions within reach. This task was followed by a little move over to Q35, the quarry which we refer to as the Situla Quarry, again with the task of copying the inscriptions. The information from within this quarry is so exciting and will give an important update on our contemporary knowledge of the site - but for this you will have to wait for our publication ;-)

Since this was Adrienn’s last week, we thank her for her great contribution on site and now look forward working with the material together! On behalf of the (wink wink) "managing department" and the "topographic department" - hank you “Mrs Spiegelberg of the linguistic department”!

one happy epigrapher!

The survey has taken a few days break as John went off to America, giving me the opportunity of writing our preliminary report to the SCA. Tomorrow we head back out in field for a last few days before finishing off this amazing first season of surveying Gebel el Silsila!

Oh, and for those of you who use Facebook, please visit and follow us on:

Friday, October 19, 2012

Some of Nature's inhabitants in Gebel el Silsila

Before sending a little week report from our week 3, we thought we could share with you some "natural" information about our site...

Any archaeologist who works out in the field soon has to come to terms with the various forms of wildlife that reside within the site. No different, Gebel el Silsila is mostly known from its earliest modern visitors as a home for horned vipers, of course described also by the quarries' previous surveyor R. Caminos:

"Yet working there [=Silsila East] will not be a simple matter. It will take careful planning, much equipment, and great determination and sang-froid to reach Amenophis IV's stela, which overhangs the plain at the top of a high, precipitous cliff, seemingly inaccessible. And clearly the place is the home of even more vipers than West Silsilah."

another viper eater at Silsila

Seemingly being a continuous threat, it is by no surprise to us to find ancient graffiti depicting the sacred Ibis standing upon a viper, a superstitious expression to keep away any dangerous creatures with the help of the ancient deities. We thank the ancients for making sure also our visit is kept safe from any closer encounters with these rather stunning snakes. Interestingly enough, the snake as an ancient carving appears only randomly in the main quarry, although references to the snake-headed local protective deities, Pachimesen and Psais (Shai) are more common.

Another common feature in the stone landscape of Silsila is the falcon, and at times, if lucky enough, we had the great pleasure of gazing upon a couple of great eagles as they were hunting for food either on land or in the Nile. Also this beautiful and magnificent creature is represented among the graffiti, pictorially depicted in full zoomorphic (falcon) form wearing the unification crown of Upper and Lower Egypt, and in text described as Horus Behutet - Horus of Edfu.

high up in the sky is the gorgeous falcon

Several other animals appear as pictorial graffiti on Silsila's various faces, but as a modern visitor to the site, we can count several that have no ancient representation. For Adrienn the camel spider was the biggest threat, which already upon arrival set her off running in any given direction away from the spider's "nest". For John, well his worst enemy must be the ant, which turns up around his feet with some hundreds of friends trying to clean up after lunch. For me, well I guess the most upsetting moment was to find the corner of our tent having been yellow-marked by one of the area's beautiful foxes or wild dogs...

lunch place with or without ants...

And then we have our nocturnal inhabitants of Silsila - the bats, which keep us notified of their presence in the crevices and under fallen blocks. Not bothering us too much usually, a colony of the larger fruit bats consisting of some thousands of individuals has turned out to cause us some problem as their dropping and protective behavior of their home force us to "dress up for the occasion", with us reminding more of figures investigating a quarantine scene from "Outbreak"...

entry to the bats' gallery!

inside the bats' gallery

smaller bat colony

An archaeologist knows no boundaries to reach the clues - right?!

We'll be back soon with some more reports from our work in the main quarry!

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Second week at Silsila

The second week surveying Gebel el Silsila had a somewhat unusual start to say the least. Driving down from Luxor Saturday morning (since we return to the house each weekend) all seemed normal except for a few weird noises from time to time combined with an unusual smell in the mini-bus. Arriving at site we all jumped out ready to get started with another week, and the few remains of sleepiness in our eyes soon came to an abrupt end as John opened up the back of the car, jumping back a good meter while screaming out WHAT IS THIS?!? Adrienn and I thought of spiders, snakes, scorpions, what have you, but out of the mini-bus came a large chicken/hen, a winged hitch hiker without any idea of what was going on. The chicken must have sneaked into the bus as we were packing in Luxor since it stood parked next to our landlord’s chicken pen. So there we were, at Silsila, John holding the poor little thing while looking at Adrienn and I, and as he is fully aware of what we are like with animals he let it go loose for nature to decide its fate. So, imagine this chicken sitting in the bus all the way down from Luxor to Silsila, being met by a man initially screaming at it, then being picked up and released in the wild... little did it know the reaction of the guardians when they saw John releasing the bird – four persons who just woken up, completely forgot all about what they were doing at the time and simply run out in the bushes, all running around in the same style as the poor chicken – convinced they would catch it to have some nice lunch. At this point, Adrienn and I left the base camp and walked off to our second camp to start our work – some things an animal lover do not like to see. The chicken, though, did its very best and still in the afternoon when leaving site, she was a free bird!

Adrienn recording demotic inscriptions in Section D

the oh so important ladder...

During this second week, our surveying continued in the main quarry, with sections C-E. Adrienn could pretty much continue according to plan with the copying of demotic inscriptions, but for John and I each day presented new difficulties due to the position of many of the quarry faces in Sections D and E, never being fully exposed by the sun and during midday having to deal with a too strong backlight to capture any details of the inscriptions with our cameras.

of course, climbing is a part of recording too

not necessarily for those who fear hights

We are very pleased to find that a clear pattern is emerging as to the identity and socio-religious positions of the men who engraved their names onto the quarry faces in Silsila. A clear distinction is made between the different sections and we learn more details as each day comes to an end. The amount of inscriptions still amazes us and we have come to terms with the fact that the main quarry will keep us busy for yet some time before being able to move on to the next.

From a more personal point, which many of you already know, September 29 was a very special day at Silsila. Early morning John and I set off to measure for large Greek inscriptions that we found the other day on a ledge in Section D. While I am the one who is usually quickest to get up, John seemed to half run to the quarry face where the ladder stood ready for us to climb up. Inspired by his enthusiasm I started to climb the ladder too, but when I was two steps from the top, instead of finding John holding the ladder for me, he stood on one knee presenting to me a desert stone – a hollow one which he opened and within which was the most gorgeous diamond ring any girl could ever ask for! Completely taken by surprise I must have spent a few moments simply staring at John, then the ring, John again, and then of course being the happiest woman in the world to accept his proposal! So, he let me up on the edge where we stood and sat for a long moment just taking in the fantastic experience, being in our most favourite place in the world, on a cliff ledge high up in Gebel el Silsila overlooking the most beautiful part of the Nile, perfectly mirror reflecting the cenotaphs on the west bank... what a start of the day! Admittedly, it was very difficult to concentrate on any form of work – even with almost three meters of Greek inscriptions behind us!

one happy couple!

one happy girl with the most beautiful ring!

As if this day was not perfect enough anyway, we had a very nice visit from the general inspector of Kom Ombo, with whom we discussed our findings so far and the main questions we are working with currently. We very much look forward continuing these discussions as work progress!

The last day of the second week we took some time off the regular work in the main quarry and explored instead the area to the north, as a little preparatory “field trip” for later work. The information we collected during the morning hours was beyond any expectations and we realised even more how much the site has to offer its visitors! More about these findings in good time people!

discussion on the tombs in the northern part of Silsila

one of the famous criosphinxes

heading towards one of the galleries

The latter part of the day we spent at Silsila West, enjoying a wonderful afternoon in the Speos of Horemheb, visiting a few cenotaphs, and taking more overview photos of the landscape in preparation for future work on the quarry graffiti. Driving back to Luxor Thursday afternoon we were all exited and full of energy to return for yet another week on Sunday! Next week includes, for Adrienn to continue copying the Greek inscriptions, for John and I to complete Section E and Corridor F, and all the stone blocks (extracted and fallen) on the floor level, and from a topographical point of view to do a closer documentation of the pathways and huts that are scattered on top of the spoil heaps and the plateau surrounding the main quarry.

cenotaph at Silsila West

our hard working men!

scene from the Speos of Horemheb

Speos of Horemheb

Adrienn enjoying the day at Silsila West

view from one of the cenotaphs

With best and warmest greetings, hope to have you with us for next week’s little update!

the glorious Sudan!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

First week at Silsila

overview Sections C and D in the main quarry

Ten days in on our epigraphic survey journey we could not have asked for more of Gebel el Silsila than has been presented to us so far! Among us, our great inspector and the helpful guardians Silsila is now referred to as the mother of the temples, and she has presented new material in form of not only a huge amount of quarry marks (of course), demotic and Greek inscriptions, but also a few hieroglyphic graffiti and insights into the day-to-day work of “her” visiting workers.

arriving at site, ready to unpack and set up camp tent 1

orientation from the guard house

first tent is being set up

second tent with all work material being transported the old fashion way - by donkey

one happy epigrapher - Adrienn\s first day at Silsila!

So far, we concentrate our work in the main quarry – the largest and central quarry at Silsila East, which has been divided into six sections following a clock-wise orientation. Thus, this main quarry now is labelled with the sub-titles Section A-F, starting and ending with its two corridors. 

epigraphic documentation - everything is to be recorded with camera and drawings on paper and plastic film if on accessible height

Last week’s work completed the epigraphic documentation of the northern corridor – Section A, the northern section – Section B, and work is currently conducted in Sections C and D, which are alternated based on the position of the sun: while photos in the shade can provide highlighting of certain elements, we do prefer when the quarry faces stand in full sun light, illuminating the details more clearly and creating a better contrast towards the diagonal tool marks that form the most common background for the inscriptions. 

epigraphic work requires some ladder climbing...

Work begins at 7 am each day - although we are up already at 4.30, to be picked up at 5.30, continuing all day through until 4-4.30 pm with rest for lunch and then back to a oh so needed nutritious refuel at the hotel we are staying. Unfortunately, we cannot stay on site as there is no access to electricity on the east bank – a problem that we hope to sort with time – so at the moment we travel some time each day from our hotel to the site – not to mention the 25 minutes walk each morning and afternoon to get to the main quarry... 

view from Silsila East

overlooking Silsila West

For John and myself there have been many highlights and we have been able to complete a comprehensive documentation of those quarry faces we had documented already during previous visits. For Adrienn, however, this mission is her first visit to the site, and it has struck her with quite a surprise, and to be able to work with such a great amount of previously unpublished material is a dream for any linguist who specialises in demotic inscriptions! Most scholars who have visited Silsila refer to the East as published by Spiegelberg, true of course, but this great demotic expert in fact did not visit the site in person, but based his translations of the text on the notes provided by Legrain. Legrain, who we believe planned to return to the site, was instead caught up with the cachet at Karnak, leaving the great material for us to work with now! 

Hopefully we will be able to provide updates more regularly from now on, with some personal notes from also John and Adrienn. Until then, we thank you for following us on our survey of Silsila!