Saturday, May 11, 2013

Halfway into the spring season

Gebel el Silsila Survey Team spring 2013

Madam Silsila, mother of a vast amount of Upper Egyptian sandstone temples, keeps opening her box of secrets to us as each day goes by. Like Adrienn briefly reported last week we were thrilled when John and Ahmed Sayed (general inspector from Kom Ombo and a good friend who made us the honour of joining in this specific day) found two intact oil lamps and another fragmentary one; this as part of making some great progress in locating another living/workmen’s quarter embedded within the huge spoil heaps. As part of the survey of this area John and Mohamed (our inspector) documented a small stone structure on top of one of the hills that had captured our interest already before. Working on top of a small hill in constant sunlight in the middle of May is not always an easy task, but our brave and persistent topographers made their best effort and soon presented great results! John will tell you more about this work in a few days, but even before that I would like to praise both John and Mohamed for their great work, which has resulted in important information about Silsila not only from the ancient side of things, but also from the continuation of the site and more interestingly the continuation of religious practice! Since I have not written a blog post myself lately, I would like to take the opportunity to say thank you to our previous inspector, Mohamed Abdulla, and at the same time welcome our new inspector, Mohamen Mohsen to the team.

John and Ahmed Sayed very happy over their oil lamps!

Mohamed Mohsen in photo action

recording of a fallen wall

Roman red bricks

For Adrienn and me, this fourth week meant returning to the main quarry where we worked last year. From a very personal perspective returning to this large quarry always brings with it an emotion similar to returning home, and regardless of how many times one has viewed the details of the gigantic quarry walls, there is always more to find! This fact is known to almost every epigrapher and rock art recorder out there and the importance of returning to a site during different hours (and even seasons) and in different light cannot be stated enough (yes, I know I have said it before). So, Adrienn’s “harvest” of this week contained another few interesting inscriptions and for me I was happy to locate some painted pictorial graffiti as well as various etchings that had escaped me previously. Also, it was not only our topographic “department” that was successful in finding interesting items this week. Four sandstone fragments were found with pictorial representations; one of which depicted an armed soldier holding a shield and spear! More information about these findings will be revealed as soon as we can!

one of many quarry marks recorded

As many of you know, Egypt celebrated Sham el Nessim this week and it was a pleasure hearing and watching all families that came to visit Silsila to swim, enjoy each other’s company and mark the beginning of the summer. Meanwhile we took the opportunity of enjoying the beauty of Silsila West’s many monuments, strolling along the riverbank and appreciating the environment in which we work. Returning to Silsila East again on Tuesday I was once again reminded of Silsila’s beauty and still so untouched natural surroundings as I was joined in the main quarry by not only one, but four (!) absolutely gorgeous owls (type Pharaoh’s eagle owl, I believe). It was an entire family with two very fluffy youngsters, with their nest just in front of one of my personal favourite quarry walls. The first day of my “arrival” Mother Owl looked at me with suspicion in her eye, but somehow I caught her interest since she and one of her youngsters kept following me from one place to another, usually with some 15-20 meters between us and at a safe high location. On the third day she felt relaxed enough to introduce also the second youngster, at the same time as she no longer felt the need of keeping watch all the time, allowing herself a nap in front of me. For some of you, you already know of my love for animals and how much I appreciate these moments when nature present herself in her most beautiful way, so I need not say how much these three days meant for me!

Adrienn and her husband enjoying a day off at Silsila West during Sham el Nessim

Also I loved our stroll on the West Bank

one of many beautiful scenes from our floating survey home

Pharaoh's Eagle Owl, youngster

"My" Owl family with mum and youngster to the left, daddy and another sibling well hidden behind a rock to the right

Anyway, I will end my little week report inspired by the words of Cruz-Uribe as he expressed it in his April fool email (on the EEF List/forum): much of the work was the same from one day to another, maybe there will be more to report next time... ["I looked at some Demotic graffiti. My inspector refused to climb the ladder up to the top so I had to go by myself.  Nice views and so good shots of some graffiti."  Maybe next field season will be a bit more exciting.” EEF: An April 1 Report of News From Egypt]

Thank you as always for doing us the honor and following our work!


our new generator is delivered!

four souls with the wish of being remembered 

one of the youngsters

fluffy young owl

mummy owl

third day in an mummy owl starts to relax having me around

another fluffy image 

Silsila at its best!

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Silsila from a topographer’s perspective

Blog entry by

Dr. John Ward

As some of you may already know, I spent the last 3 weeks not only working with the topographic material on site, but also tried juggling with the last remaining chapters of my forthcoming book. Thankfully, the book has been sent in for the editors to work with, which now gives me the opportunity to write a small blog entry on the current topographic recording on site.

During the first three weeks of this our second season at Silsila, I completed the first phase of the topographic visual survey. This entailed three hills that rise above and beyond the Main Quarry where we worked last year, as well as the Situla Quarry, Graveyard Quarry and Naos Quarry (all our personal and thus unofficial quarry labels). These four named quarries have been the focus of both Adrienne and Maria as they continue to record and document the inscriptions, quarry marks and other graffiti that line and mark the quarry faces.

Starting with the area that I refer to as ‘Situla Hill’, which rises to the south of the Main Quarry and contains within its upper section the Situla Quarry (hence its name), I first began by observing the block-storage that is located at the summit of the hill as it meets the ancient pathway/trade route that runs from the north to the south of the mountain. Since there are various block-storages in this area, I numbered this particular block-store ‘1’. Already during our last season it had become apparent that I had to separate the stores to correspond not only with the respective hills, but also their respective quarries. Recording the block-storage and its immediate surroundings was a labor intensive task, especially as I was situated on top of the mountain without the otherwise optional shade of the quarry faces or the benefit on being on the level ground. Each morning I had to climb up and down the hills, focusing my attention to the details, some that are sometimes hidden within the eroded and occasionally interfered landscape.

Similar to ‘Situla Hill’ the other explored and recorded hills were (nick-) named after their respective quarries and landscape features; thus, we have Graveyard Hill and Pigment pit Hill. In-between these three hills I also had the pleasure of recording the valleys or ‘wadis’ as we know them here in Egypt. Corresponding with the hills’ names, these wadis were divided into manageable workloads:

1: Situla Hill

2: Block Store 1

3: Situla Quarry (Upper Section)

4: Situla Wadi

5: Graveyard Hill

6: Block Store 2

7: Graveyard Quarry (Upper Section)

8: Graveyard Wadi

9: Block Store 3

10: Block Store 4

11: Pigment Pit Hill

12: Block Store 5

Now, within these 12 sections there were various areas that had received specific interference, either contemporary with the quarries or at a later date. This plateau landscape was mainly made up of the blackish, loose top-stone (a familiar sight for anyone who walked in any of the mountainous areas across Egypt) interspersed with heaps of spoil that once came out of the below situated quarries. There at the plateau I numbered and recorded the numerous minor surface quarries; areas where the ancients had taken advantage of exposed sandstone outcrops. These were usually quarried in an ad-hoc manner, but the ancients effectively removed any and all useful stone from its protruding location.

Amongst these open surfaced quarries and the pathways that meander throughout the hills, I also recorded the innumerable amount of what I first thought were ‘camel troughs’, but later turned out to be pigment pits; these are strewn all over Silsila landscape. The ancients had obviously taken advantage of the upper natural veins of the surface, which provided them with a white substance that as yet I have to identify (possibly chalk, lime, or in fact a dioxide, similar to titanium). After conducting a few on site archaeological experiments using the white powder on the surface, I was able to determine that its application to a sound surface was an effective pigment that completely whitened the surface. If it was mixed with a little bit of water it became more paste-like and not as easy to apply to a surface, similar to a plaster for instance. So, finding the white pigment clearly solved my previous conundrum over these pits that litter the landscape.

Overall the topographical visual survey has highlighted many manmade features that have been installed to benefit the extraction of stone and their subsequent removal from site, which I am sure we will publish in due course. The relationship between the three hills and the surrounding quarries was a delight to understand and evaluate. Equally it is great how one is able in essence to understand the various periods of quarrying just by reading the landscape, explaining how the work was carried out and how overlapping work periods have affected the obvious landmarks that we see today; each detail, each element provide us with a tangible timeline of events.

Unfortunately, I still have no main shelters or an infrastructure to present to you that would suggest permanent habitation or a community living and thriving above the quarries. Thus, the quest for that particular question still remains. Hopefully I will be able to bring you something in the near future.

Thank you


ps. images will follow during the weekend... 

Saturday, May 04, 2013

A week report from the “linguistic department”

Although the summer arrived this week to Silsila, bringing almost extreme heat and making our work harder also because of the strong direct sunlight on the quarry faces, the first morning provided us with a good omen: we saw a scorpion in the camp! The little green creature was hiding in our folded camping chair left overnight in site, but following the ancient Egyptian tradition, we thanked Ma’at for bringing us this sign of fortune!    

As John had urgent work on the boat (will be reported on in more detail in the weekly report from the “topographical department’s” point of view) the first two days us girls spent some quality time in the quarry. I continued the documentation of textual inscriptions while Maria measured and photographed the southern section of the quarry with all its quarry marks and technical remains from extraction.
This was our last week in this particular quarry so I had to double check that I had documented every inscription properly. Since the changing of the sunlight (with its shades or direct sunlight on the surface) often makes texts invisible I was not surprised when I found new (mostly painted) inscriptions especially in the corridor. These are (unfortunately) fragmentary and blurry; however, one demotic inscription contains the word Caesar combined with numbers written after the noun “stone”. In my opinion it is another dedication to Isis, who was the protector-goddess of this quarry and with various similar texts in the immediate surroundings, and with the author’s personal comment telling us how many blocks he extracted that specific day.

As known before and now confirmed in more detail than previously, the extraction for the Esna barrage in 1906 destroyed a few ancient inscriptions and quarry marks, but to our relief the number can be limited to only six now missing inscriptions based on the documentation of Legrain, Spigelberg and Preisigke. Comparing the current layout of the quarry with the accounts of Legrain, two ancient quarry faces were removed between 1906 and 1909. We are still searching for Legrain’s reference of a few-lined text curved next to an Isis figure in the quay; a search made more difficult due to the incorrectness of Legrain’s map. I hope we will find it soon.

This week we welcomed our new inspector to our site; Mr. Mohamed Mohsen! He is a nice man and enthusiastic about the work in Sislila and he is the youngest inspector at Kom Ombo. I think he finds the topographical work more interesting than the epigraphical since he assisted John in the open sunlight during the last days in spite of the heat.   

The best event of the week, when we were all “on top of the world” (Imagine Dragon’s song that Maria plays for us each morning to keep the spirit up) was when John and Ahmed Sayed found two Roman oil lamps tucked in between two stone blocks in the ruins of a collapsed building. They are intact and beautiful having even the wick inside (more reports on these later).

Living on a dahabeya is an elegant adventure taking us back to the beginning of the 20th century, but it includes an interesting wildlife experience as well. The boat has been anchored next a reed-bed populated by animals. Birds are flying over us, picking up crumbs from the floor and unknown quadruped eats from our garbage during the night.           

Thank you

Dr. Adrienn Almasy