Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sherdy Season

 “Wait a sec, I’ve got sherdy hands,” has been my favourite phrase this season. Occasionally, when John and Maria have been showing visitors around site, or just when it seemed a pity to disturb baby Freja’s slumbers, I have been called upon to be employed in a spot of babysitting. So, when Freja calls out, I’ve had to quickly dust the sherdiness from my hands before picking her up to soothe her. A new experience for me this season!

The rest of the time I’ve been working on the new inflow of ceramics from the different campsites around Silsila, and also working with John on how to plan and draw sections of the various dry stone walls we’ve been encountering. This season, we’ve focused more on the West Bank, including the infamous pottery hill, but also its sister sites Pottery Hill 2, Wadi Tean and Mo’s Tavern. Further North we have identified at least another 4 camps close to the New Kingdom quarries and cartouche of Tutankhamen, and I worked a bit on one of them Black Camp. On the East, we investigated some of the hut clusters above the main quarry. With each week, I’m adding to the site ceramic typology, which means that I can work even faster. I’m now starting to see the same types occurring again and again, which is brilliant as I can simply count the same types, record that I have for example, 4 rims type of 8.12 (which is a narrow necked direct rim storage jar in case you were interested).

What sort of things have we been encountering? Well, at Mo’s Tavern, which is across the Middle Kingdom road from Pottery Hill, we found some of our first complete pots, or at least complete profiles of vessels, including a rather fabulous 48cm diameter coil-built lid (Nile C GES14/MT/C5).

Large Lid reconstructed on my desk!

It took us 2 trips to find all the pieces scattered as they were down the hillside. The top of Mo’s Tavern is relatively sterile, with the remains of one hut and 2-3 possible hearths or beacons. It is likely that it was not in continuous use due to the infrequency of sherds, how little they had been moved or broken up, and the fact that most of the sherds uncovered were able to be fitted together cleanly. Most of the material from Mo’s Tavern, Pottery Hill, Wadi Tean and Pottery Hill 2 (all within a c200m radius) seem to be contemporary Early Roman (1-2nd Century AD). 

Maria and Reis Shihad collecting the remaining sherds of the lid that had fallen down from Mo's Tavern into Wadi Tean.

Some of the material from Pottery Hill may be a little later up to the time of Emperor Hadrian and comparable to the ceramics uncovered at the quarry site Mons Claudianus by Peacock and Tomber in the Eastern Desert. Pottery Hill is also interesting in that so far, no bread trays or cooking vessels have been uncovered there. The ceramic assemblage is in the main, amphorae, meat jars, storage vessels and water jars. All Roman period. The only finewares uncovered have been the Aswan-made Barbotine vessels, which are rich in Kaolinite and give a beautiful white appearance. So far we have no Samian or African Samian wares.

Aswani made Barbotine vessels from Pottery Hill. These could originally have been for drinking cups

The other campsites that we have been investigating include the huts above Corridor A in the main quarry. If you recall last season, we counted over 4000 surface body sherds in this very small 30m area. Here we are getting quite an interesting range of dating material (though mostly eating bowls and water jars) from the New Kingdom (18-20th dynasties 1550-1069 BC), then a jump to the Ptolemaic and Early Roman periods (323 BC - 117 AD). It seems that up on the escarpments above the working quarry faces, the quarrymen took their pack lunches to enjoy the view of the Nile and perhaps have a short nap in the huts in between shifts to get out of the hot sun.

A picture is starting to develop at Gebel Silsila that fits in quite nicely with the dates of the inscriptions with the last periods of occupation of the quarries, with the ceramics pushing back the dates a little. The latest dated Roman inscription names emperor Claudius (AD 41-54), whereas some of the pottery from Pottery Hill (e.g. the Barbotine) is perhaps a little later to the time of Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117). The Romans clearly spent quite a long time working at Silsila, as the various sandstone Roman temples testify to, but also to the great quantity of camps with lots of pottery dotted across Silsila. Next season, we plan to work quite solidly at Pottery Hill on the West Bank, which has c23 circular dry stone huts and a vast quantity of ceramics to be explored.

As always, Gebel Silsila is a remarkable place, with great beauty and wonders to behold across the whole site. There is so much to be learnt here about the everyday Egyptian, and I cannot wait to return to join with the team again. A small success, I managed to convince John to wash his feet and lucky socks!

     Sarah- @sherd_nerd

Sunday, November 16, 2014

2 weeks in photos

Sarah and Mohamed "enjoying" pottery hill

meanwhile at the "office"

Freja's enjoying the dahabeya

Mohamed Ibrahim, our inspector

TARA on visit



old fashioned surveying

Jumping into the Nile

Friends of Silsila

the MEHEN group on visit

Friends of the Petrie Museum and the Plymouth Egyptological society on visit

pointing at bushy tailed giraffes 

our one and only potnerd!

our Shihad


Moamen Saad documenting the Nile stelae

happy archaeology family

surveying workers' store rooms

the MEHEN group hearing the story of how John and Maria ended up at Silsila

Maria and baby Freja enjoying the company of MEHEN's founders!

Welcoming Visitors- TARA, MEHEN and Plymouth Egyptology Society

At Silsila, we are always so pleased when tourists’ boats moor up next to our Dahabeya and disembark with their guides to explore our fascinating site. There is so much to see on the West Bank including the Speos of Horemheb, Stele of Rameses III and Shoshenk, petroglyphs of bushy tailed giraffes and ostriches and lots of graffiti dating from the Predynastic through to the Modern day. All this is before you see the magnificent Roman quarries and the mini temples of Merenptah and Ramesses II just beyond them.   

This season, we have been delighted to welcome a great variety of special guests including David Coulson chair of The African Rock Art Association (TARA), and other members of the group. Naturally, they were particularly keen to view some of the rock art sites that Maria has been documenting and so I stayed on the boat with baby Freja to hone some of my babysitting skills while John and Maria brought the group to view some of the choicest Epi-Palaeolithic sites that we have at Silsila. TARA has been documenting the rock art of Africa for over 20 years and so they have brought us a great deal of interesting insights to understanding the different patterns and rock art styles that we are seeing at Silsila, including geometric patterns, bovids and humans.

Next, we were joined by the Plymouth Egyptology Society who was being guided by our good friend Lucia Gahlin, Chair of the Petrie Museum Friends. They arrived in the late afternoon at Silsila, so we had only a little time to show them what our site has to offer. The various graffiti and petroglyphs can be best seen at different times of the day, so with the increasing shadows, a new range of images are revealed. We enjoyed particularly spending time viewing the Roman quarries, and admired the East Bank that glowed orange with the setting sun.

We were thrilled to be able to welcome back MEHEN under the expert tutelage of Jan Koek and Huibert who had been touring the wadis of the West Bank of Luxor in search of graffiti. MEHEN spent an hour (!) enjoying the Speos of Horemheb before joining us for lunch. We then spent a happy couple of hours talking to the group about each of the special interests that we have on the West Bank site for this season (1) Rock Art Documentation (Maria) (2) Quarrying, Road Access and Transportation (John) and (3) Recording and planning the huts of Pottery Hill and its Surfaces Finds (Sarah). We then took the motor boat in order to visit the small temples of Merenptah and Ramesses II as we were a little short on time as there was so much to see and talk about.      

At Silsila, we are always very keen to welcome any interested visitors who wish to tour the West Bank with us. We plan soon to be able to receive a group of Egyptian tour guides to talk to them about the site, which is not generally very well known. We are currently designing a multilingual guidebook in order to increase understanding about Silsila and highlight the spots of interest, but also to indicate which areas should be avoided, both for safety and conservation reasons as much of the rock art in particular is under threat from trampling and wind erosion. If you or your group would be interested in visiting us while we are working, please do get in touch!

Twitter: @sherd_nerd  


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

10 days into the new season – a poetic captivation by our topographer

Although five months have elapsed, governments have fallen, whiles others have risen from their ashes, wars continue to be fought over mundane issues, geopolitical instability and economic pressures continue to rise; and on the positive side, the amazing arrival of our wonderful daughter Freja Elizabeth Hypatia Nilsson Ward; Silsila has remained the same! Her golden sands continue to migrate across her ancient landscape, the Nile continues to rise and fall with its somewhat automated seasonal change, and yet amongst this orchestrated symphony of harmony and balance the ‘Mother of Temples’ still captivates us as we walk once more along her well-trodden pathways.

We look forward to the arrival of new and old members of the team; Sarah Doherty returned once more to continue her ongoing documentation of pottery from various locations around the site. She is building a corpus of ceramic material and data, which will enable us all to reach a better understanding of the day-to-day living on site by its historical occupants.

Philippe Martinez once again leaves the comfort of France and his family to continue his recording of the Speos of Horemheb and other Egyptian epigraphy, bringing with him a wealth of experience and knowledge to the rest of the team.

Joining us for the first time this season is Moamen Saad, who conducts his doctoral work on the famous Nile stelae of the west bank. Not only will this grand undertaking serve his own needs, but it will also contribute towards the ongoing process of fully recording Silsila, and bring to our attention areas that are under direct threat environmentally and by other forces.

The digital recorders Stefan Lindgren and Giacomo Landeschi from Lund University also join the team for the first time this season in order to begin the lengthy process of digitally surveying both the west and east banks of Silsila.

We must also take this opportunity to extend our sincere gratitude to the Dash Foundation for their extremely generous donation of a Total Station to the Silsila Survey Project, which we hopefully will begin using in the spring season of 2015.

And of course our own Dr Maria Nilsson will continue her ongoing documentation of the symbols of Silsila along with her exhaustive cataloguing of the rock art sites, while continuing her role as the project manageress, and most importantly as a new mother to Freja, who also joins us this season, strapped to her mum as she meanders around the ancient quarried landscape of Silsila. I will also continue my topographical documentation of site as well as the various quarrying techniques employed within the ancient quarries, combined with my own special role as new father to Freja.

Overall this season is already proving to be as action-packed as previous seasons and we hope we will reveal yet more of Silsila’s hidden secrets and her role in Egypt’s enigmatic history.


[images to be uploaded shortly]

Friday, November 07, 2014

A new season!

The Gebel el Silsila Survey Team is back on site for yet another, hopefully, great season's work.

Work this season includes some new exciting features, such as 3D-scanning, GIS recording and the setting up of a proper archaeo-geographic gridwork for the first time, and of course the continuation of our previous recording including Sarah's pottery analysis, John's study into extraction methods and transportation, Maria's project on quarry marks and petroglyphs, Philippe's epigraphic work on Egyptological matters, as well as the documentation of prehistoric rock art sites and lithic industries. This season we are also delighted to have with us the splendid Egyptian scholar Moamen Saad, who is currently collating material for his doctoral thesis on the Nile Stelae here at Silsila. Of course, this season brings also another member; one who has become famous among most of you already - Lady Freja! She expresses her warmest gratefulness to her favorite friends of the Petrie Museum for bringing her some most wonderful gifts! We also give a warm welcome to Mohamed Ibrahim as our inspector!

Keeping this post short (another one will be posted by John tomorrow, giving you a description of our first week on site, including some prominent visits by TARA (Trust for African Rock Art) as well as Friends of the Petrie Museum and the Plymouth Egyptological group), we wish to welcome you once more to join us here virtually on our work at Silsila!