The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Today's discussion on white symbols

As always please keep on commenting, discussing, putting forward your thoughts, ideas and questions on these symbols!


Theban Mountains day 13

Right guys, although we've just started to put up previous blog posts here for you on our previous adventures, we will post the most recent ones too. That means that the chronological order initially will be a bit mixed up, but as each day is an adventure in itself, more or less independent on previous, you will hopefully be able to enjoy it anyway! With this said, here is the latest write up on our 11 hours walk from earlier this week, written by Dr. John Ward.


One of the quarry rooms in the area
Due to financial and work load constraints, we have been unable to continue our weekly expeditions into the Theban Mountains since November of 2010. So it has been a while since we had prepared our kit for a day’s walking and endurance. Having said that though, thankfully, we had carefully stored all the equipment after our last expedition back in November  This time we were not going by horseback, so everything had to be carried by both Maria and I, so streamlining and bare minimum was the order of the day.

It was decided in advance that we would retrace our steps from the limestone quarries opposite Wadi Maluk and make our way through the Wadi that stretches towards Thoth Hill, home to Mentuhotep III Sankhare’s Temple, which we had investigated thoroughly in 2008/9. We had previously, in 2008, made our way approximately half way along this particular wadi, having taken the decision that due to its apparent closed heads, it was not worth exploring any further than we had done so already. But, as we wished to examine the limestone quarries in light of the recent unrest here in Egypt, especially with the ongoing damage being inflicted unchecked upon the antiquity of Egypt, we felt that while we were there in the vicinity that we would take advantage of the situation and explore the wadi further, well, at least as far as we could accomplish in a day’s walk given the inevitable stops for documenting graffiti etc and other unplanned investigations.

Our driver arrived promptly at 6am and delivered us at the drop off point just a few hundred meters into Wadi Maluk, being a tarmac road that now leads to the Valley of the Kings. We diverted away from the road as usual and took the dusty road that lead between the piles of debris that was once the village of old Gurna at the tombs of the Nobles, but having been levelled by bulldozers, it now resides in undignified piles of broken mud brick and twisted palm. Since our last visit here the road, if one can call it so, had been driven upon on a regular basis, thus providing us with a level path to walk upon. The anticipation of turning the corner and laying our eyes upon the limestone quarries was like that of returning to one’s hometown and the street on which they once lived. Familiar sounds, smells and landmarks all combined lifted our spirits and excitement at returning to this familiar place. For both Maria and I the desert holds a special place in hearts and souls, we feel much more comfortable in the desert than behind a desk writing about it.


Dr. John Ward ready to document

Quarry markings

Even though it was still reasonably early in the morning Ra’s rays were still strong, as I felt my winter white skin began to burn on the back of my neck. I have never been one for sun cream, especially when working in the desert; there is nothing worse than the feeling of moist cream on your skin mixed with a fine gritty layer of sand as it works its way into the crevices of one’s skin. We could clearly see that the road had received much more traffic that it had done in the past, at first we assumed the worst and felt that given Egypt’s situation we would find to our horror some kind of illegal digging or even worse building that may have taken place in the area. But as we left the road and headed to the limestone quarry face we could see that there had been no activity in the area, the usual rubbish lay strewed around the ground from the local fly tipping that had taken place over the years. The limestone quarry face provided us with the familiar graffiti and as we inspected each place and location that we remembered we could see without doubt that there had been no further damage inflicted on this precious site. As we continued we entered the open quarry caverns and inspected the Coptic and Pharaonic graffiti within them, documenting as we went, not that we had already a plethora of well documented images, but as we were there, there was no harm in taking a few a more shots.


Quarry chisel marks
The quarry face continues till the well-trodden pathway begins its ascent above wadi Maluk and continues all the way to Farshout. We on the other hand were taking the route on the other side, further to the north and entering the wadi from a different direction. We first headed for the now open cavern that was once inhabited by a group of people after the quarries had served their initial purpose. The ancient mud brick together with a mixture of pottery shards and fired Roman brick lay strewn around the entrance to the cavern. A drop of God’s nectar was indeed the reason for our stop. As we sat there silent we could hear: nothing. Beautiful, the silence penetrated the air like a knife through butter; the atmosphere was alive with the voices and noises of the ancient caravans that once travelled past this humble abode. One could easily imagine the excitement as a caravan emerged on the brow of the hill in front, laden with goods, spices, material and other wares from distant lands.

Coptic presence in the quarries

One of many ceramic items

Just in front of us, perched a little higher on a small hill carved out of the landscape by the great floods that once washed through these valleys; the remains of a more identifiable structure can be found. The walls to roughly half a meter still stand with other rooms leading from the main rectangular room, one can imagine its purpose as stopping point for the caravans, maybe a tax collection, or home to Roman garrison, tasked with protecting the entrance to Thebes. This is the beautiful thing about the deserts of Egypt, very little excavation has taken place, and when one comes across such a place, the amount of evidence that still remains gives one sometimes the perfect picture of what was there once upon a time. Far better than reading some stuffy archaeological report detailing each grain of sand and the various seeds and organic matter that had been found while dissecting site, which often are so impersonal; but at the same time invaluable to reaching a better understanding of those that once lived out here in this harsh environment.

We headed for the Roman outpost that stood on top of the second limestone quarry a little further to the north. Taking for a short while the well trodden trade route, we climbed the slope and then diverted taking a lesser pathway over and into the wadi beneath. On climbing down we took the opportunity to once again explore these quarries; well to be honest it is difficult to resist the opportunity, even though we have done so on countless occasions before. One particular cut out enticed us a little further and to our amazement we discovered some graffiti that neither one of us could recall having seen personally before. There in faint red paint the body of hunter accompanied by his dog was lying peacefully upon the wall, with bow and arrow in hand, to the left of him an arrangement of other animal figures, unfortunately so badly damaged by environmental conditions that it was uncertain as to what they resembled. After carefully documenting them we continued on our descent into the wadi and took upon the well driven road once more. Following the road that lay in front of us as it took the easiest of routes amongst the larger stones that had been brought down the wadi by the rains. We continued along the road until the surface of the cliff face became smoother as to allow someone to place their mark upon it in the guise of what we now refer to as graffiti, but back then, it was their mark to say that they had passed this way, or in a mark of respect for those who were buried out here or at the loss of passing tradesmen etc. Deep in the western desert we have documented the graffiti marks of the slaves that were driven along the harsh and deadly Darb el Arbaein (40 days road). The graffiti left by them resembles their hometowns and the wildlife of southern Africa as it was then, with elephants, giraffes, lions and tigers, zebras, etc. As I have said before, it is amazing to think that so much life has passed along these now deserted paths and that only now, are we truly beginning to document their endeavours.


Red painted graffiti
From our past explorations we were aware that the southern side of the wadi held the most graffiti while the northern side was almost barren and void of any graffiti, probably due to the fact that the southern side could provide shelter from the blistering sun once the sun had moved over into the southern skyline, leaving the northern side open to the heat of the day. On previous explorations we had not afforded ourselves the time to document or record the previous excavations that have taken place in this wadi. The length of the southern side is strewn intermittently with open trenches approximately 1 meter in length and 1 meter in depth by half a meter in width at the intervals of approximately 5 to 10 meters depending on the landscape and the surrounding the environment. There are many dry water gullies that have eaten their way down the southern cliff face and left their marks, some have been dug to or investigated one should say, but it never ceases to amaze me that one would take the time to excavate an obvious, otherwise inappropriate location for a burial at the end of a run off. One only has to see the tell tale marks left by the running of water that it would be pointless to place a burial in such a location, but again all opportunities should and must be explored I suppose.

There is one distinct difference with this particular wadi that stands out from the others that we have been investigating these past expeditions. And that is the distinct lack of pottery sherds laid upon the ground. There is little or no pottery to be found as in the others. There is an occasional water pot, usually Coptic or Roman but even those are few and far between. We have from time to time come across the odd shard that possibly could be related to the Middle/New Kingdom, but again these are very few in their number and indeed fragmentary. Now, this could be due to many explanations, such as environmental, where either precipitation has hidden them from view, burying them beneath the silt deposit, or they have been totally washed away with flood waters that have cascaded down the wadi at one point or another. However, at this point we have concluded that this particular wadi is free from the usual high deposits of pottery shards because it was not a main thoroughfare and therefore, obviously did not need the watering holes that we have become accustomed to in the other wadis and the given the lack of human traffic, obviously leads to the lack of discarded pottery as what we would today call rubbish. I think this is the most reasonable conclusion o reach at this point until or if further evidence presents itself or is discovered.



We continued walking deeper into the wadi hugging the southern shoulder as we did so; eventually we came across the reason for the heavily used road, the new lighting station for this particular wadi. For those of you, who are not familiar with the Theban lighting project, sometime in 2010 the Theban hills took on a whole new appearance in the evenings. Thanks to heavy international investment and internal investment by the Egyptian government, the Theban Mountains are now lit by a succession of lighting grids that illuminate the mountains like a string of pearls. It is truly an amazing view and engineering achievement to wire each lighting unit together over such mountainous terrain. The true cost will never be known I expect, but the result is truly breathtaking, something that the ancient pharaohs themselves would have approved of I am sure.

Anyhow the road began to widen as we approach a makeshift hut made from a mixture of fired red brick and mud brick, a lone figure appeared in what looked like an all in one long-john affair, and began to wash what I believed to be his dishes, obviously from his morning’s breakfast. As we approached him, he was oblivious of our presence, some watchman! But we made ourselves known by heavy footsteps and the odd call to one another at a heightened volume as to allow him to be aware of our impending arrival. As soon as he had noticed us he left this dishes and disappeared back into the hut only to reappear with another Egyptian male both now wearing gallabeya, the traditional Egyptian dress for an Egyptian male. As we approached closer the usual flurry of coordinal greetings were being shouted across to us: all in Arabic of course. We responded duly with the appropriate replies and approached the two men with my hand outstretched ready to receive his hand in gesture. Smiles and again the exchange of morning salems were offered, then in broken pigeon English the usual questions: “where you go”? “Where you from”? “You English, German, American”? Responding with my usual humour, I declared that we were in fact looking for the pyramids and that we were from Japan: never fails to bring a smile and little laugh from the recipient. After, though, fully explaining where we were from, where we were hoping to go and what we were hoping to discover we bid our farewells, not before though I might add being asked a million times whether we wanted to stay for breakfast, chai, hot water, bread and any other consumable item you care to mention, after declining each and every offer politely and respectively we continued on our journey.

The road has disappeared now; its purpose had ended, so now it was back to our usual and well known terrain of uneven stone and water worn gullies to manoeuvre over and about. The wadi took a dog left turn and in doing so the cliff face became a vertical face reaching in parts at least 30 if not 50 meters in height in some places. Most of the faces though were too rough to have executed any graffiti that could last the test of time (although we did record a few, hieroglyphic and Coptic), so we continued to the point that we had made back in 2008 and decided to take lunch in the same spot as before.


Hieroglyphic inscription commemorating a scribe. This particular inscription has been documented in a previous survey of the area.

Now it’s at this juncture in my report that the Egyptian wasp takes an entrance on stage left, larger than its European counterpart, in fact much larger, and due to its size and heightened sound it makes as it flies through the air it obviously commands that little more respect. Now as usual this particular wasp was enjoying its daily flight around the wadi when it smelt a unusual sweetness in the air, which was not normal, but being the inquisitive type he followed his nose, which led him to two brightly coloured stones that seemed out of place to him. Taking a fly by as one does, one of the stones began to wave its elongated appendages like a palm tree being thrown back and forth by a strong hamseem wind, followed with strange noises too. Unperturbed by this strange encounter his curiosity took the better of him and he felt that a closer inspection was required, the sweetness was so overpowering. He landed some distance from the two stones and began to approach them cautiously at first, but the sweet smell was too much, he needed to get closer. So without causing the other stone to start waving again, he walked along the stony ground, which then turned into a soft but pleasant surface beneath his feet, as he took one step closer the sun began to dim until darkness was around him. It was at this point that Maria at the command of my hysterical behaviour around wasps decapitated it with one full step of her trusty Merrell’s (not an easy choice for a true animal lover I must say, but what does one not do for love? [Maria’s note]). Laying there with its head in one part and its body having now been kicked across the floor, silence once again reigned in the wadi as I continued to enjoy the rest of my sweaty cheese sandwich, which was pure bliss by this time regardless of its moist condition and disposition. Washed down with a cup of God’s nectar, while we took a moment to recoup and gather our strength before heading off deeper into the wadi.

After lunch we continued on our way this time hugging the northern cliff face as this offered the better opportunity of discovering graffiti, as we walked the wadi itself was taking a dog left turn and in doing so we left the northern side and rejoined the wadi in the middle as to turn into it.  The southern side became again the most obvious surface to inspect and as we did so we walked even deeper into the wadi. The ground in front of us took a drastic change changing from the uneven stony ground that we have been traversing to a level and sandy but firm beneath the feet surface. Tired with us walking on the upped most tiers with two further tiers beneath us, the third being the run off obviously where the water had been driving the stone and larger boulders down the wadi. What became apparent though, and something that we had not really seen in such a state of preservation since our expeditions to the western desert towards the Gild el Kirbir, were the camel tracks that were being laid out in front of us. Around 5 possibly as many as 7 in number, their distinct pattern and layout were unmistakable. We followed them along this now even ground until the landscape changed again to a rough uneven surface and we lost the tracks amongst the stones and uneven debris. We were unsuccessful in discovering any further graffiti, counting the odd very worn pottery shard, totally smoothed by the elements and in such a poor state and size as not to give us any clue as to its date or providence. We recaptured the camel tracks a little further on only to lose them once again amongst the wadi floor. By this time we could see the heads of the wadi in front of us.

The wadi itself split into two heads, one leading northwards and the other southwards, neither of which offered an easy route lined with heavy boulders and the actual wadi floor narrowing as we continued. We took the southern wadi head and continued to the point where it was obvious that there was no way out. With my filed glasses I could see that there were no pathways leading out of this wadi to the upper levels and that it was pointless to continue, plus time was not our friend we had been out now for just over 6 hours and we would have to make our way back if we were to return in day light hours.


One of many flints that are scattered in the area
It was at this point that due to the evidence that we had been presented with that we took the decision to return to the limestone quarries and meet with our driver. The walk back as always takes much less time than entering the wadi. We met back up with our newly acquainted Egyptian friends at the lighting station where we enjoyed a cup of refreshing God’s nectar with them and shared in some of our supplies that we had brought with us. After exchanging a few stories and personal anecdotes we approached the tarmac roadway on its approach to Wadi Maluk at just past 5pm in the evening, our driver waiting with cold beverages and a few choice fruits for our return drive back home. It has been decided that we will indeed return again once more to this wadi to explore some of its off shoots that we were unable to explore this time due to time restrictions and now that we have documented and investigated its cliff faces it makes the journey into the wadi that much easier on time and speed. The intriguing part of today’s expedition was the camel tracks that we had discovered so deep within the wadi itself. Where had they come from and more importantly where were they heading for? There were no obvious exits from the wadi that we had seen and given the harshness of the terrain, it did not present the characteristics of a well worn trade route that we are accustomed with: an intriguing and as yet unsolved question.

Arch news March 30-31st

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20110330/sc_livescience/millionsofmummypuppiesrevealedategyptiancatacombs
http://www.pasthorizons.com/index.php/archives/03/2011/the-realms-of-medieval-itinerant-kings
http://www.suttonguardian.co.uk/news/8939490.More_findings_from_school_archaeological_dig/?ref=rss
http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20110330/sc_livescience/millionsofmummypuppiesrevealedategyptiancatacombs
http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_wsite4_3_29/03/2011_385054
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/379337
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/110330-oldest-writing-europe-tablet-greece-science-mycenae-greek/
http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/n.php?n=the-oldest-people-of-anatolia-were-discovered-2011-03-28
http://www.unreportedheritagenews.com/2011/03/poor-boys-grave-how-did-teenage.html
http://www.pasthorizons.com/index.php/archives/03/2011/the-archaeology-of-a-dress
http://www.pasthorizons.com/index.php/archives/03/2011/archaeological-research-visualises-urban-life-in-ancient-cities
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12888421
http://www.alphagalileo.org/ViewItem.aspx?ItemId=99350&CultureCode=en
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110327191044.htm
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/03/110329-chocolate-turquoise-trade-prehistoric-peoples-archaeology/
 report on looting in the Fayyum:
"Armed groups have been digging for ancient artifacts at the Garza
archeological site in Fayoum, said eyewitnesses. Watchmen guarding
the area said the armed groups came to the site several times at night
with automatic weapons, forcing them to leave the area so that they
could dig and search for artifacts (..) leaving behind dozens of
deep holes."

...and some words from Zahi Hawass:
"(..) What shocked me the most during my visit to the area was
the damage inflicted on the archaeological sites by modern
people since the revolution started in late January. Villagers
forcefully moved onto 15 acres next to the Mastaba Faraun
and the pyramids of Pepi I and II; I am sure that this area
contains archaeological remains dating to the Old Kingdom,
over 4,000 years ago. The people built a cemetery with about
500 huge tombs, about 4m high and 6x5m wide. The people
who built these tombs intend to sell them.
In Abusir, an area that contains tombs from the 1st and 2nd
Dynasty, villagers took over 10 acres and built modern tombs
above the ancient tombs. A mosque has been built on the
5th Dynasty causeway of Djedkare-Isesi. All these illegal
structures have been seen by UNSECO representatives who
visited the area last week. (..)"

Arrival of anarchy?

Ok, this post might be a bit on the controversial side and not directly connected to the symbolism which the Sirius Project sets out to analyse. However, being based in Egypt there are certain things that cannot be ignored. Thus, this little ranting...
During the last week it has become evident how instable Egypt really is, and I am not referring to the general political situation, but that which the Egyptians themselves face on a daily basis here in the southern parts. We receive daily updates from friends and neighbors reporting the growing problems of theft, blackmail, assault and a general problematic social situation. A couple of days back a woman lost her unborn baby and a member of her family was badly injured as they tried to protect their own land from being taken over by others. A man was killed as a result of “holding a car hostage”, demanding a ransom of the car owner to get it back. The car owner had no one to report to as the police are still refusing to intervene in situations like these. Our closest neighbor woke up the other day to find one of his dogs missing, stolen by his own aunt (although returned later on in the day). These individual happenings might seem minor and of little national/international importance, but when the Egyptian people themselves fear for their house and home, for the security of their families, and when everyone is using the loop hole in legal matters, then there is reason to question too if it is safe for anyone.

Of greater interest for the Sirius Project is of course the devastating situation regarding antiquity, looting and the rapidly movement of villages taking over the ancient land. We hear the reports from the northern parts of Egypt, how acres after acres of ancient remains are lost to modern interference, such as cemeteries and houses. We also heard that a mosque has been built above the ancient ruins in this pyramid area, which already was reported with c. 200 pits dug by thieves.  Dashur, Memphis, the entire Delta and Fayyum, all shares the same problem seen also in the southern parts such as Luxor. We hear the villages speak of an increased demand of antiquities, western buyers prepared to pay millions of dollars in exchange for a piece of history. As if this is not bad enough, we see how the landscape is rapidly changing, where villages overtake the ancient lands in terms of farmland, housing and burial. It is time for the international community to wake up and smell the roses, to realize that the situation in Egypt is still fundamentally problematic, and that its people live in fear of what their own neighbors might end up doing to them the following day. Those who try to suppress this information live in a bubble, in a protected and sheltered metropolitan community (primarily parts of Cairo), choosing to ignore the screaming voices of the locals fighting for their right to exist. Egypt needs help to protect not only its ancient monuments, which are in an increased danger each day, but also its people. As far as we see it in among the villages surrounding us, anarchy has already found its way into Egypt and without a proper government and police force respectfully keeping the order, the situation will become much worse and on the verge of tipping over.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Today's discussion on symbolism

Symbolism under discussion

The Sirius Project was created to document, analyse and discuss ancient symbolism and how it has developed, transformed and been reused throughout the centuries, including also modern times. Those of you who follow our work on Facebook and other social platforms know that we are eager to discuss the white painted symbols located up in the Theban Mountains, Egypt. These marks, as mentioned in a previous blog post here, are made by a modern hand, with great care and effort, following the natural formations of the rock they are placed upon, and always in precise locations. Primarily, these marks do not interfere with any ancient remains, although there is at least one exception as we documented a morphed form of the ancient was-sign painted on top of ancient Gnostic graffiti.

Based on photographs that we have posted on Facebook lately, these symbols have increased interest among friends and international colleagues. We would like to share similar discussions with our readers here, and therefore ask you all to have a look at the images we will be posting over the coming days, and to get back to us, publically here or in a private email, with thoughts, ideas, associations, etc. We are open to all suggestions, and our goal here is first and foremost to study the continuation of symbolism, how we, as the children of a modern society, reach out and (re-) interpret ancient symbolism. Again, it is important to emphasise that these marks are made by a modern hand, thus belonging to our contemporary society. However, it is difficult to estimate a precise date as some symbols have gathered several layers of dust, seemingly over a series of years, while some remain rather clear (naturally, this can be due to their placement, direct and indirect contact with wind and rain).
So please have a look at the symbols, consider the various cultural connections that are embedded in them, and let us know what thoughts and ideas might appear! Leave comments here, or reach us via email: johnwardkt@gmail.com and mia_n1@hotmail.com

Symbols of discussion today:




Thank you for your interest and support!
Dr. John Ward & Dr. Maria Nilsson

Arch news March 27-29th

Soon to follow... a blog post on the last adventure in the Theban Mountain!
But for now, here are the latest archaeological news:

http://www.jpost.com/Headlines/Article.aspx?id=214011
http://www.dispatch.com/live/content/science/stories/2011/03/27/adena-groups-had-own-burial-practices.html?sid=101
http://www.stonepages.com/news/archives/004293.html
http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/breakingnews/explorer-david-thompsons-first-trading-post-discovered-in-manitoba-118734769.html
http://www.kansas.com/2011/03/24/1777565/kansas-evidence-could-lead-to.html
http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/april-2011/article/early-humans-occupied-south-asia-over-a-million-years-ago
http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/305063
http://www.peruviantimes.com/24/inca-rebellion-of-1536-archaeological-tour/11513/
http://www.archnews.co.uk/http-www-archnews-co-uk/american-archaeology/5608-archaeologists-unearth-remains-of-two-ancient-mammoths-in-california.html
http://www.archnews.co.uk/http-www-archnews-co-uk/uk-archaeology/5586-merman-to-go-on-display-in-york.html
http://www.archnews.co.uk/http-www-archnews-co-uk/5587-italy-presses-getty-museum-to-return-bronze-statue-%E2%80%9Cvictorious-youth%E2%80%9D.html
http://www.archnews.co.uk/http-www-archnews-co-uk/uk-archaeology/5555-website-shines-new-light-on-most-valuable-treasure-ever-found-in-the-uk.html
http://www.archnews.co.uk/http-www-archnews-co-uk/middle-eastern-archaeology/5585-enduring-mystery-finaly-solved-in-israel.html
http://www.archnews.co.uk/http-www-archnews-co-uk/european-archaeology/5563-want-to-excavate-roman-baths-spots-still-available.html
http://www.archnews.co.uk/featured/5612-scientists-trace-violent-death-of-iron-age-man.html
http://www.uc.edu/news/NR.aspx?id=13319
http://www.uc.edu/news/NR.aspx?id=13335
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=1&article_id=126342#axzz1HRCWboQB
http://www.bib-arch.org/news/dailynews.asp
http://www.ablogabouthistory.com/2011/03/28/new-x-ray-analysis-technique-developed/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+ablogabouthistory+%28A+Blog+About+History%29&utm_content=Twitter
http://english.ahram.org.eg/~/NewsContent/9/40/8737/Heritage/Ancient-Egypt/Another-call-for-Egypts-PM-to-save-antiquities.aspx

Friday, March 25, 2011

Theban Mountain Quarries & the Temple of Mentuhotep III Sankhare day 2


April 15th, 2008

Well, after Sundays experience and not being in a fit state to do anything afterwards, let alone go and explore the quarries out there. Both Maria and I decided to go back out yesterday, armed with lots more cold water in our camel backs and digestive Hob Nobs, which I feel are an integral part of anyone’s desert equipment, plus, of course, the obligatory salted peanuts (Egyptian style, you’ll know the type if you have been here).

So armed with the supplies and a good evening’s research into the Google maps and other previous excavations at the sites of the quarries we headed of, well, sort of. I had booked Mahmoud our taxi driver for 10am but alas, Egyptian timing took the better of him and he eventually turned up at 11.10am, so much for an earlier start.

We arrived at the drop off point on the road to the Valley of the Kings and headed off in the direction of the quarries. The original pathway that had stood the testament of time has now been blocked to any traffic other foot due to the inspectorate using it as a dumping ground for the remains of the old Gurna village that once stood in the foot hills of the tombs of the Nobles. Now anyone who has been to Luxor previously will remember the old mud brick houses that were scattered around the foot hills of Thebes. These have now been removed so further excavation work can be carried out on the tombs of the nobles, and the product of this mass destruction has been placed out here amongst the ancient trade routes that once kept Thebes alive for all those thousands of years. It’s a little bit treacherous treading on broken glass, used syringes, concrete, tarmac, etc.: all alien to this part of the world, but now slowly becoming part of this once peaceful landscape. It’s quite surreal after spending a few hours in the wadis and climbing in and out of the quarries. You become accustomed to the sounds of slipping rocks and gravel the cracking of pottery shard under your foot but when you step on a one of the thousands of sun burnt tins or Baraka bottle. The sound is eerily unnatural to this environment and echoes around you like a small scream. You can feel the surrounding natural landscape is unhappy with this intrusion of modern human waste. We can only watch with despair in our eyes as the sands of the Western desert slowly eat these heaps of materialism that we have coveted so much for so long but would be useless to out ancient ancestors as they once trod this landscape in nothing but sandals and a loin cloth: quite remarkable when you think it about it like that.



Anyway, back to the exploration, we followed the path until a left hand split became apparent and there inform of us on this left hand turn was the first quarried cavern. Similar to those at Silsila where the stone has been removed in an systematic fashion, so that the cavern has its own pillars, ceilings, walls, etc., very much like a early temple, a place of worship, in fact not too far from the truth. We located at 5/6 of these caverns, each one having its own inscriptions dedicated to the early Coptic/Gnostic Period. The crosses are not what we are normally used to seeing today. These ancient crosses are decorated in a geometric pattern like configuration, seen all over Egyptian temples such as Hatshepsut and Ramesseum in West Bank Luxor. The crucifixes having adornments to their tips and the letters I.C.X.C. (signifying Jesus Christ) dotted here and there. We did manage to locate the hieroglyph signs, the “Lord of the two lands” referring to the pharaoh as the king of upper and lower Egypt. This was in cavern 3, alongside Coptic/Gnostic inscriptions and other inscriptions. It was in this cavern that we also discovered flint tools of various sizes and usages going back to the Paleolithic Period.

Some of the more open caverns had remains of mud-brick scattered around their entrances and inside them as well. Could these be the remains of a possible habitation, the idea that the disused quarries became dwellings for the merchants who used the caravan routes to trade various goods between Thebes and Hu could have been possibilities? The caverns would of made brilliant ware house and in the perfect location as well. There is so much evidence to support this theory out there; remains of mud bricks here and there, small man made rock walls, pottery from all the periods right up to the Romans; and of course our own present day. The pathways are still clearly defined it is not hard to see where they led to and from.








You can imagine the excitement as a major caravan was preparing to depart for Hu, the various men running around gathering supplies for the arduous journey across the Theban hills, the merchants do their last minute bargaining. The donkeys and carts all being prepared. It’s not difficult to imagine this all happening when you are there, the area is brimming with evidence of such activity.

So how does this all fit in with Sankhare Temple and the quarries? Well I believe that the temple was the first phase of habitation in this hostile area, from there it grew: the temple itself though remained as a place of pilgrimage given its location on top of the gebel. The pilgrims might well have joined the caravans on their route across providing them with a means of transportation up the gebel and a route to the back of the temple which would have been much easier than the direct route up the face of the mountain. As I have discussed before, the Google maps clearly show pathways leading to the temple from the rear and these pathways do all interconnect further into the foot hills, thus providing an easier and more supportive access to the temple itself. This was probably the main route of transporting goods and of course the earlier building blocks for the temple. The pilgrims who sought the guidance of the resident priests would have also brought with them offerings to the priesthood and gods that dwelled within the temple. Thus the temple had its own means of self sufficiency through the pilgrims that continued to visit this holy place.

The temple would also have provided a beacon for the caravans that were crossing the Theban foot hills, given its height it would have been easy to spot the lights of fires from a great distance and provided a means of navigation in the difficult conditions of the mountains and foot hills.

We will be returning to the Theban Quarries again later next week to continue our exploration of this area to try and understand more about the habitation and the caravans themselves. I would also like to see for myself if there is such a route that is passable by donkey to the temple of Sankhare by means of a back pathway. In the meantime I await confirmation from the Petrie Museum on the excavation reports of Petrie's excavation of the second temple structure at Sankhare and whether this had any relationships to other dynasties other than the 12th. I will also continue to map out the area and discover and lay out the true route through the foot hills to Hu and research to find out if there are any other such like structures in Hu that can support the trade route between the two cities. We will also post the photos as well from this trip together with the inscriptions and Google map as well.








We’re off to Esna temple on Friday and will post an account of that visit as well. Until next time.
Dr John Ward GM.KT

Arch news March 25th


Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Archaeological matters of today...

Just a quick little summary of today's archaeological happenings...

Just a little quick link page for those of you who like to keep updated on archaeological news over the world...

http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2010/12/antiquities-on-new-york-market-update.html
https://sites.google.com/site/ad79eruption/pompeii/regio-ii/reg-ii-ins-2/house-of-octavius-quartio
http://www.protothema.gr/news-in-english/article/?aid=112692
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197
http://sites.google.com/site/mythandliteraure2011/home
http://www.gwu.edu/explore/mediaroom/newsreleases/georgewashingtonuniversitycapitolarchaeologicalinstitutelaunchesinitiativetoprotectegyptianantiquities
http://arce.org/events/egypt/overview/u450
http://www.archaeologydaily.com/news/201103226304/Are-lead-tablets-discovered-in-a-remote-cave-in-Jordan-the-secret-writings-about-the-last-years-of-J.html
http://www.archaeologydaily.com/news/201103226306/Amateur-archaeologist-helps-to-unearth-history.html
http://www.archaeologydaily.com/news/201103226307/Roman-graves-uncovered-in-Canterbury.html

Earlier blog on the Temple of Sankhkare

Written by Dr. John Ward 2008
 
It all started with Ahmed, a local guide, asking me for advice regarding the climb up to the temple of Sankhkare on Thoth hill. Now I was aware of the temple, but I had never even thought about climbing Thoth hill to see it for myself as it was such a distance to cover and I’m not exactly the best walker of climber (too many cigarettes). Anyway, after Ahmed had woken me yesterday from a beautiful Sunday sleep and turned up at my door looking for information on the temple and directions on how to get there. The day previous I had been at the tombs of the Noble on the West bank and had received a call from Ahmed asking for directions for the temple as he was lost in the Gebel (Arabic for mountain/hill), anyway, I tried to explain as best as I could for him, but when I asked how much water and food he had with him and how long he was intending on being out there in the midday heat, he informed me that he had not taken any water or food with him and was blindly walking around the Theban Hills without any provisions or back up. Not exactly the best idea. So after I had shouted a few choice words at him and told him to get off the hills and come to his senses, which he did, he said he would come and see me to gather more information on the temple and its whereabouts.

So Sunday morning, there I was, enjoying my lay in when Mohammed, one of my best friends, rang to say Ahmed was on his way to me wanting to ask as many questions as he could on the temple of Sankhkare. Ahmed duly turned up and began asking every question under the sun with regards to the temple and its location which I was able to furnish him with every scrap of information I had including a Google map so he couldn’t get lost this time. Then a stupid idea came over me , why not join him, now, really what I should of thought to myself was, enjoy have fun take some photos for me, but no, I go ahead and ask if I can join him. Idiot.

So at 11am Mahmoud our taxi driver drops us all off at the the beginning of the track on the road that leads to the Valley of the Kings. So Ahmed, Mahmoud (another Mahmoud), Maria and myself start off following the Google map as we go, and there in front of us we see Thoth hill, well, Thoth mountain would be a better way of describing it, so we take a few deep breaths and continue, after a few hours of the most gruelling time in my life I gave up and sat on my laurels overlooking the whole of Luxor from my newly found seating area on the gebel.

It is one of those moments in life where the challenge is presented to you; you know it’s that moment that will either be an uplifting moment in your life or a turning point. Do you take up the challenge or do you give into the pain and strain you feel in each and every bone in your body, the rest had go on ahead of me leaving me there to rest, the thoughts of just sitting there and not seeing and exploring the temple was eating me away, how much further could it be? So after a satisfying pie and gulp of water from my camel back I got up, mustered as much energy as I could from my cigarette that was giving me no satisfaction at all. Time to give up. anyway, I began to climb, baby steps , singing to myself , fare well a Spanish ladies when I could see the summit, oh what joy, relief, you cannot imagine the joy that overcame me to see the tops of the mud brick pylons emanating from the rough stone around me.

The temple itself dates from the 11th dynasty and Mentuhotep III, named after his throne name Sankhkare. It was dedicated to Horus and according to the Hungarian team that carried out some conservation work here back in the late nineties, it was aliened to the Sirius star. Petrie had excavated here in 1909 and had discovered earlier foundations to an Archaic temple also aliened to the Sirius star but differing by 2 degrees to that of the new temple. There is also a rectangular temple foundation close to the main temple which was possibly attributed to the Sed festival of Mentuhotep III.

The temples' alignments do raise certain questions. I do not believe that they were aligned just to the Sirius star constellations, but also in alignment with the rising of the sun and setting of the sun in the West, given he temples location on the highest point in Luxor: a simple mirror placed in the main holy of holies would of generated a reflection that could of been seen by the population of the then Thebes, thus creating a divine place of worship and given its obvious remote location would also been a place of pilgrimage. It would also serve as an outpost for Thebes as well. There are obvious tracks leading away from the temple grounds that can be tracked using the great technology of Google Earth. These tracks traverse the Western hills of Thebes and beyond towards Abydos and Dendera, the central point being Hu, Diospolis Parva , a destination that dates back to the Naqada period. And a settlement that served both communities of Abydos and Dendera. It would make sense to have a pathway cutting its way across the mountainous region. The Google maps do show other various structures along these route and holes which are indicative of water holes that can be found all over Egypt’s deserts and the trade routes that existed.

The remote location of the temple, however, was also its possible reason for its demise, it had not been added to or restored during the new, late and Ptolemaic periods, and was not probably used until the Roman period when it would of been used as an outpost, providing a great vantage point.

Petrie mentions remains of lime stone blocks and corner stone offerings, but at this present moment there are no remains of this present on site, only reference to mud brick and locally used undressed stone which has been placed in a protective manor around the temple walls. The mud brick structure has all but disappeared and given its state of repair will not last this century, the weather and the elements are quickly destroying what remains.

We do, however, aim to return in the next coming days to continue our exploration of the rest of the escarpment, there are various other structures that can be seen in the Google maps and these are placed along the routes leading away from the temple site. There are also the Wadis that run around the base of the mountain that need exploring as well, I do believe that these will yield yet more evidence of habitation in the area and the trades routes which would of needed to be fed and watered at various different intervals.

Will keep you posted on what transpires in the next journey.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More on (heart) breaking news from Luxor

As since yesterday, all items, incl extraordinary Sekhmet statue head, have been returned to the site!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

More on (heart) breaking news from Luxor

The objects that were stolen this morning were unearthed by archaeologists this month (Monday 14th), thus unknown to the modern world, and among the items missing is a statue head of Amenhotep III and one statue head of Sekhmet

(HEART) BREAKING NEWS FROM LUXOR

As the instable situation concerning antiquities in Egypt continues...
we just had a heart breaking phone call from one of the villages (also a trusted friend working for the SCA), who reported to us that the magazines next to the colossi of Memnon were broken into early this morning after having the guards tied up. Preliminary reports say that 15 items are missing from a German magazine. As for now we do not know exactly what has gone missing, and await comments from the local authorities. We will keep you updated!

In front of the Memnon colossi a couple of weeks ago