Saturday, April 27, 2013

First two weeks

Time flies when having a great time, and indeed the two first weeks of our survey work passed so quickly. We were told that we are late during our meeting in Aswan, when there to fill in the last paperwork before heading up to Silsila via the Kom Ombo office. “Late” one may then ask. Well, easily understood due to the rising temperature we are late into the spring to start a new season, and apparently there are only two foreign archaeological missions out there in the field at this time, fighting back the sweat while appreciating the sun’s illumination of inscribed details of the quarry walls or rocks. Funny enough, both missions are headed by a Maria; alongside our work, Dr. Maria Gatto’s concession continues deep into the Aswan wadis, exploring the telltale signs of the ancients in the area. We very much look forward hearing about her and her team’s work in the end of the season!

Sunrise over Silsila

After last year’s somewhat dreadful choice of accommodation in Aswan, forcing us to drive the 1-1.5 hours back and forwards from site every single day, we are now more than happy about the choice for this season: we currently call a small, but sufficient dahabeya our floating survey home for the six weeks we are out there. This dahabeya made her first journey in 1906, built to carry stone for Edfu, and was not made into a more serene function until more recent years. Her name has brought us many smiles, and for sure will continue to do, as she is called “Rehab”. For any fieldworking archaeologist or surveyor, Rehab is of course a quite appropriate name as it offers a bit of relaxation and recuperation after a long day out in the sun. However, this British built boat, with a French description of her first day of setting sail, has a name which in Arabic is a common female name and relates to the garden of heaven, but which in common tongue also expresses a warm greeting. So, after all, we are happy to call the Rehab our floating home for this time, and for sure she enables us some more quality time away from the Aswan road and instead we can enjoy a spectacular view of the entire site of Silsila with its cenotaphs, stelai, shrines, quarries, and of course the Speos of Horemheb below which we anchored.


Our much appreciated view from our floating survey home

Moving on from last season’s work in the main quarry, Adrienn and I carried on with our documentation in the smaller quarry that is located directly to the south; a quarry which goes by the nickname “Situla quarry” after its more common depiction, or Q35 in topographical terms. Since Adrienn recorded almost all the inscriptions during our previous season, she stayed with me for only a day to go through it once again and make sure there were no details missing. Any epigrapher or rock art fantast will know too well the importance of light as texts, images, and even the smallest details can be fully visible in shade but not in sunlight, or more often, the other way around. Q35 held my attention for several days, almost the entire first week, as each quarry face was recorded separately with details of not only epigraphic material, but also quarrying techniques including tool mark patterns, block sizes, foot holes, rope holes, post holes, wedge marks, splitting marks, trench preparation, etc. etc. Our inspector, bless him, quickly moved on from my documentation to spend more interesting time with John who is responsible for the topographical data recording, and became engaged in John’s vivid description of the various transportation roads that had been in use during the time of quarrying.

Documentation in Q35

Documentation in Q35
blocks in the "graveyard"

After spending a lovely weekend strolling along the Nile, viewing and admiring the (for many of you well known) cenotaphs and stelai, we returned to our dahabeya where we were presented with a most action packed scenery. The guardians of Silsila had caught looters not only on one side, but both of Silsila’s banks. Due to the guardians’ fast actions, combined with the arrival of the entire director’s office of Kom Ombo, followed by the police, eleven men were arrested before our eyes, and we could not have felt any prouder of Silsila’s protectors!

John with one of our guardians

Encouraged by what we had seen during the weekend, we returned for a new week’s work, ready to take on the challenges of Q36 and Q37. Q36 received its nickname “the graveyard quarry” as it is embedded in an area with large stone blocks that lay scattered in a fashion reminding of a cemetery. These blocks had been extracted from the upper strata and consist of a rather poor texture quality, obviously of little use for the Romans who demanded top quality. Q37 is unofficially called the “Naos Quarry”, called so after a small rectangular room on top of one of a quarry wall and partially sitting on a large spoil heap. Although it is more likely that this room was used for storage or a more practical function, its location (surrounded with various adoration inscriptions) and its three megalithic roof blocks inspired to its nickname. Similar to the main quarry, many of the textual inscriptions were published in 1915 by Spiegelberg and Preisigke following the notes and drawings of Legrain. For sure, also Caminos and his students must have been captivated by the natural splendor that this large quarry presents, but as time moves forward so does technology and we are so pleased to be able to use great camera equipment that enables us to capture in detail every minor element of inscriptions and images that are located on the uppermost levels of the quarry walls. We very much look forward sharing some of these images with you eventually!

Adrienn in Q37

Talking about photographs, we must share with you our sunshine story of true modern heroes! If it was not for the great deeds of Dyan Hilton and Peter Allingham our photographic work at Silsila would have been forced to an end already before it really got started. One afternoon both our canon battery chargers blew due to an electric problem on the dahabeya. Panic did not wait to make its entry, emphasized even more by the fact that these chargers were not to be found within Egypt (although Peter, Adrienn’s husband, managed to locate a universal charger eventually). Searching for chargers online came to a dead end too, as none of the international companies offered express delivery. So, following John’s advice a cry for help was sent out on Facebook, asking if anyone was coming in to Egypt from Europe or America. Dyan Hilton kindly reposted and with her help Peter Allingham came to our rescue, having a group arriving the day after as part of the Ancient World Tours! With pure persistency, patience and the great will to help a fellow in need, Peter’s kindness resulted in two brand new chargers arriving in Luxor, saving the continuation of our work! So, thank you Dyan and Peter, and to the AWT group, for being true saviors!

still morning water

Returning to work; while Adrienn and I were enjoying at least partial shade in the naos quarry, John spent most of the first two weeks up on the very top of Silsila, documenting the ancient pathways, huts, ramps, transportation roads, and of course, the very informative spoil heaps. Of the more interesting findings were included two causeways that presented valuable information in terms of temporal work continuation and the change in work structure from one period to another. Other findings include prehistoric rock drawings and a pathway paved with carved feet; the latter soon received the nickname “commemoration road” due to the significance of foot graffiti. On our last day before breaking up camp for the weekend, we all joined up and walked off in a northern direction to spend the day surveying different quarrying techniques, aiding us in how to plan for our autumn season.

John in the "fallen monuments" area with his favorite piece:
the naos of Amenhotep son of Hapu

Before letting you go, I would like to continue on the note of gratitude, this time directed to Barbara O’Neill and the Egyptological team for giving me the honor of talking a bit about Silsila under “Egyptologically speaking”. Barbara interviewed me back in December, aiming to include her piece in the December journal, but as many of you know, Egyptological was hacked and forced to shut down temporarily. Thankfully Egyptological is now back up and running, stronger and more interesting than ever, and we would be so happy to support their great work!

With this been said, we thank you for your support in following us and our survey work at Silsila!


Sunrise over the speos

Friday, April 12, 2013

Start of a new season!

As the Khamseen howls around us and bringing summer and heat to our door step from the western desert we prepare ourselves for our next field season at Silsila. This year our season will be divided in two blocks of six weeks each, with a spring season beginning now on Monday 15th of April and planned to proceed until the end of May – probably a bit on the hot side towards the end, but we are pretty sure our love for archaeology and Egyptology will keep us going!

Still being a rather small team (although we look very much forward to welcome some new members for the autumn season) it is our aim to pick up where we left off last year and to continue to work in the smaller quarries that surround the main quarry. We will continue to carry on the overall photographic documentation of the individual quarry sections as part of the long term objective in creating a comprehensive topographical map of the area, labelling each individual quarry section and all epigraphic and archaeological material.

From an epigraphic perspective the documentation of the quarry mark system will continue along with other pictorial graffiti (Dr. Nilsson), Dr. Almasy will continue working with the textual inscriptions; from a general archaeological aspect, Dr. Ward will proceed in the topographic data recording (of course, once on site we will introduce you also to our inspector). In addition, we will look closer at the various extraction techniques by studying in more detail the tool marks, grooves and trenches, hopefully adding to the already very interesting information that has been brought to the table by Prof. Harrell and Dr. Storemyr

Proud followers in the footsteps of Ricardo Caminos and his students at the time we hope to contribute to previous epigraphic recording by including some more technologically developed techniques and to bring this material into its greater archaeological context. For sure, the team is very excited about our latest additions to the camera equipment and recording devices which will enable us to document in close-up details inscriptions and pictorial graffiti that are located at the highest levels of the sometimes 40 meter high quarry walls!

With that being said it is time to return to packing and preparations, but we hope that you will all join us by following us online during our work! Do not forget to follow us also on Facebook!

Thank you!