Monday, October 14, 2013

A personal note from the "linguistic department"

Before posting the season finale, the team members are given an opportunity to share their personal views on the past season. These posts will be published individually during the coming few days, starting here with Dr. Adrienn Almásy, our demotist:

Adrienn copying one of many texts. Photo by V. Oeters

Returning to the everyday life after a successful season is always difficult. Being still on the site in our heart we try to answer the question set by every colleague and friend: what is the most important result of the season? As member of the “linguistic department”, I find most interesting the many newly discovered inscriptions and as demotist a new demotic ostracon must be considered my favourite. The “Pylon quarry” (named after the pylon drawings) provided us in this season a few more unpublished inscriptions as well as an inscribed potsherd. This is the first demotic ostracon found in Gebel el Silsila, so it is very exciting and I am now working on the translation. Although my little “Liebling” [the ostracon] is decorated with demotic script I’m happy that this season brought to light also many new hieroglyphic and hieratic graffiti, especially on the West bank. These texts reveal a new face of the history of Gebel el Silsila and provide evidence for that the site was continuously visited and used as a quarry. These inscriptions increase our enthusiasm and give us something new to follow in our hope to understand better the life of the people worked in the quarry.  I thank to the Director and the team for this amazing season, the only thing that I don’t miss is the huge spiders living on our dahabeya (especially in my room…).     


Dr. Almásy completed her doctoral studies in 2012 from Eötvös Loránd  University of  Budapest, Faculty of Arts, Egyptology and École Pratique des Hautes Études, Sorbonne IV. Paris, Sciences Historiques et Philologiques with a thesis focusing on Greek influence in Demotic literature.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Half way into the autumn season

The famous Ramesside stelae
The autumn season of surveying Gebel el Silsila begun in accordance with set plans on September 1st with the aim of continuing the documentation of epigraphic material (textual and pictorial, including the quarry marks), archaeological material visible on the surface, and topographic records; an inventory of details that hopefully will paint a clear picture of the social, religious and practical life of the ancients of Silsila. This season we were very happy to welcome to the team Mr. Essam as our inspector, a truly inspiring and positive addition, and with a genuine wish to learn and understand all aspects of the quarries and its surroundings. We spent our first day back making an overall inspection of the East Bank, making sure all things remained protected (which they were and still are!), and at the same time allowing Essam to get used to the environment and the sheer size of the site. Silsila, or ‘Madam Silsila’ as we call her, offers her visitors a spectacular visual journey through her stony landscape, starting with Predynastic rock drawings in the north and proceeding southwards throughout the dynastic periods towards early Roman times, only to turn it around and finally end in Prehistoric epochs far older than those in the north.

Welcome to the team Essam!
Inspecting the area

We began this season’s work in the surface quarry of Ramses II; a rather ‘ugly’ quarry to be honest as it presents a non-uniform technique with ad hoc extraction and with blocks of various size and shape. Ugly or not, we learnt incredibly much in terms of ancient extraction methods and transportation, and indeed we must admire the ancients’ knowledge and respect for the natural features of the rock as they followed the strata layers with almost perfect efficiency. Of course, being in this area is always a pure pleasure as one passes and can admire the motives of the now fallen stela of Ramses II.

Hieroglyphic text from the Ramses Stela

But from there and then, half way into our first week, plans changed as the need for immediate documentation of the site’s southern parts were steadily increasing. As a result we were thrilled and very pleased to be able to record two ‘new’ rock art sites; one Predynastic (4000-3000 BC), and another presumably Epipalaeolithic (7000-5500 BC), both sites dated based on style, motif, location and patina of the pictographs. A similar preliminary documentation was carried out in the south of also the West Bank, where no less than seven new rock art sites were found. We owe our deepest gratitude to Dr. Dirk Huyge for providing information and making us aware of some of these sites, which are now placed on the top of our list for important sites within Silsila that requires immediate attention and further studies.  

John and Essam drawing and documenting Predynastic Rock Art

One of many Prehistoric/Early dynastic beauties!

Entering our third week we were happy to welcome back Adrienn to the site, and likewise we greeted to our floating survey base a visiting Egyptologist, Vincent Oeters. While Adrienn wished to immediately return to the Roman quarries on the East Bank, we had her on hold for the first four days as the surveying and recording of rock art sites continued in the south of Silsila West. Prehistoric man indeed became alive in front of our eyes as we documented his depictions of early hunters, giraffes, bovids, and other motives from the natural fauna. Nearby we were thrilled to record the written documents of Middle Kingdom visitors and workers, again adding a piece of the great jigsaw puzzle that makes up the large site of Silsila.
Morning preps

 Welcome back beautiful Adrienn!

Visiting Egyptologist Vincent
Soon, however, it was time to return to the East to complete our documentation of quarry marks, inscriptions and topographic details in the quarry immediately to the north of the Ramesside quarries, known among us as the ‘Pylon Quarry’ (formally Q24) on the basis of its many depictions of pylons. A demotic inscription helped us to date this quarry to the age of Tiberius, but most of its quarry faces now date to the early 20th century as the former (ancient) quarry fell victim for the extraction for building the Esna barrage. As we returned to the east it was time to say our farewells to Essam, who for sure will be grateful for a break and rest after ‘Maria’s “fun” walks’ in the south, and welcome our next inspector, Mr. Mustafa!

Back in the Pylon Quarry - lunch time

Welcome to the team Mustafa (right and with Abdul to the left)!
As the survey continues the aim is to proceed into the quarry area of Amenhotep III, followed by another visit to the south as part of preparatory studies for our next season, which hopefully will take place during the spring of 2014.



Shihad - our forever helping hand and trusted friend!

Our always positive Abdul, the greatest chef and trusted friend!

Inspecting Q36 (Roman Quarry)

Our floating survey home this season

Silsila's cenotaphs are stunning indeed

One of the most notorious symbols for Silsila

Adrienn and Essam tracing (on plastic sheet) a hieroglyphic inscription

Friday, August 30, 2013

Back to work - season 2013 part two

As the autumn season of surveying Gebel el Silsila is about to start (1/9), we would like to share with you a brief summary of our work so far, as published in the most recent ARCE news letter (HERE). At the same time we wish to thank ARCE for giving us the opportunity of sharing our work with its members and news letter-readers.

We will return with updates next week and hope to have you following us for another hopefully exciting survey season!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Season finale

Time flies as the wise ones say, and for sure we wonder where the last three weeks did disappear to. Our last blog post was a “report” half-way into the season, and we believed that more would come each week, but hey, better late than never.

View of Silsila East's sphinx protector
As we entered the last week of this spring season we looked back at the past period and the wealth of information that we have achieved by continuing our observations and documentation. From the demotic, hieratic and Greek inscriptions, incorporating also our first Latin text (!), to the discovery of the various huts, workshops, causeways and ramps that facilitated the removal and transportation of the stone to the edges of the Nile where the awaiting flotilla of boats once stood waiting to carry blocks to their respective destinations within Upper Egypt…: the last three weeks on site were filled with exciting information and findings.

One of the many quays

Mohamed Mohsen
Quarries are not everyone’s cup of tea, and for some a quarry conjures images of piles of stone and huge machinery that can grab, lift and deposit huge amounts of stone in one swift movement, but what Silsila offers us is an insight and moment in time where man had only his hands and his brute strength to accomplish the task, and then could get help of his bovine friends to haul the finished product. This season’s work has included a much more detailed study of the extraction process including the “infrastructure” that was built into the living rock such as rope holes, foot holes and post holes that would have facilitated the movement of the stone and also the scaffolding that was required to allow the quarrymen to work at such heights without the fear of falling. The documentation of these small but significant details have also allowed us to begin building a picture of what the quarries may have looked like and how they were managed. Thus, we have considered the ancients’ management of time and manpower among the quarrymen, and how important this management would have been to the further development of the site. 

John’s study of the spoil heaps is one example and it reveals not only topographic information, but more importantly the ancients’ forward thinking: deposits of unwanted spoil were placed in strategic locations were the heaps would not interfere with subsequent quarrying that would need to take place to take advantage of quality stone, and the placement of spoil was clearly included in the overall planning and development of the quarry.

Epigraphically this season has allowed a deeper insight into the latter phase of quarrying at Silsila as we have come to know some of the ancient individuals in more detail. The Egyptian Tutu, or Totoes as he was called by the Greeks, worked in one of Silsila’s quarries during the time of Tiberius, but he was neither the first nor the last in his family to work here as we have recorded also his father, grandfather, and indeed also his son! This season has also revealed more information concerning the complex quarry marking systems, and we can now understand that the systems changed over time, developing in function, meaning and intention in line with the socio-religious changes that Egypt experienced (at least) between the 18th dynasty and the Roman period. Thus, we have documented examples of Pharaonic quarry marks with a more practical function, such as traditional identity marks, as well as marking systems with an evidentially symbolic significance, alluding to a more superstitious ritualistic function.

Additionally we have learnt more than we could have ever hoped for in terms of the ancient extraction process itself by studying in detail the various tell tales on the vertical quarry faces as well as the more informative ledges and thinner shelves. Together these details provide us with standardized block size (or the lack of such!), tool size, working direction, if the workers followed the natural strata or if they forced their way in regardless, if they quarried in closed gallery-style like in the limestone quarries, in open galleries, or possibly both with one ruler destroying a previous’ work… Distinct differences in quarrying technique were noted not only from one kingdom to another, or between the dynasties, but sometimes from one ruler to the next!

Spoil heaps around the Rameside quarries

The famous stela of Amenhotep IV
There are still many questions to be answered, details that require further analysis, such as where and how the quarrymen lived while at the site, if they were a group of highly skilled craftsmen or just a handful of hefty built laborers who lacked the refinements of grace and social interaction; were they slaves, prisoners of wars and battles who were set to live the remainder of their lives as forced labor, etc.? We ask ourselves if it is possible at all to answer these questions in general terms, and acknowledge the importance of recording even the slightest difference when dealing with different time periods. Of course, there are written records of quarrying process elsewhere, especially during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods, but so far there are no documented informative ostraca, papyri or other administrative records that provide us detailed information about the work organization at Silsila during its various ancient visitors.  The records that we do have at Silsila that actually mention quarrying, such as the commemorative stelai of Amenhotep III, Seti and Ramses, are likely overdramatic in their figures, glorifying respective pharaoh when exaggerating the numbers of workers and especially the soldiers that accompanied them. Day by day Silsila reveals bits of information that enable us to build up an idea of this organization, but like so many other sites around Egypt, Silsila’s continuation of usage often complicates an archaeologist’s work in interpreting the material.

The fallen stela of Ramses II
Every archaeologist and/or surveyor knows too well that the juiciest bits of information are revealed too often in the last week or even the last day; so was the case also for us as we moved on from the Roman quarries into the Ramesside quarries with some sneak peeks in the quarries of Amenhotep III and IV as well as a quarry area that was extracted by a so far unidentified pharaoh. However, the findings, our dear followers, will remain as a cliff hanger for our autumn season!

Writing a blog is akin to emptying ones thoughts and theories upon a page without the usual recourse and obligatory rules and regulations that should accompany any paper. However, it also allows us to accomplish the desire to share with you, our readers, the experience of what has taken place; in a small and yet confined space it allows us to take you there and, hopefully by doing so, bring to your attention the importance of Silsila from our perspective. During the past few weeks we have shared with you some of our insights by posting images “live” using today’s wonderful social networking instruments (twitter, instagram, facebook, etc.), which have allowed us to remain in contact with those who follow our work closely. We hope that these tools, although frowned upon by some, have brought the site to life, spreading its importance within the rich tapestry of Egypt’s history from the Prehistoric period through the Dynasties and into the age of integration with Greek and Roman colonists.

Although the spring season is now completed there is no rest for the wicked and we will return out in field again in September: we hope to have you by our cyber-side also then!
Until next time, thank you for following us, for your support and encouragement!

So, in ancient style we perform our proskynema and bow down with gratefulness to “Madam Silsila” and her animal inhabitants for keeping us safe and protected during our visit; and while uttering words of thankfulness we acknowledge how truly honoured and blessed we are to work in such an amazing site!

Maria and John

Baby owl
Horus of Silsila
Baby bat with very cute feet

The Gebel el Silsila Survey Project Team owe their deepest gratitude to the members of the Permanent Committee for giving us permission to work at Silsila. Our gratefulness is directed also to the inspectorates of Kom Ombo, especially Ahmed Saeed and Mohamed Ngar, and Director Abd el Moniem Said, and equally to the General Directors of Aswan Mr. Abd Elhakim Haddad and Mr. Fathy Abuzied, and to the inspectors assigned to our project, Mr. Mohamed Ahmed Abdullah and Mr. Mohamed Mohsen Mohamed, as well as to the local guardians at Silsila, in particular Mr. Ibrahim and Mr. Ashraf.

The team owe equal thankfulness and recognition to Lund University and the following foundations:
Kungl. Vetenskapsakademin – Enboms stiftelse, Kungl. Vitterhetsakademin, Mangus Bergvalls stiftelse, Helge Ax:son Johnsons stiftelse, Birgit and Gad Rausings stiftelse, and Vetenskapsrådet, which each and everyone has enabled the continuation of the surveying of Silsila and the study of its quarry marking systems!
Fisherman on the Nile
Speos of Horemheb during night time


Shihad, our all-in-one super hero!


Abdul, our dear friend who took so good care of us on our floating survey home

a somewhat heavy boat carrying stone

our floating survey home

Mr. Mohamed Abdullah copying a Greek text

Adrienn's friends ;-)