The Swedish led archaeological mission at Gebel el Silsila in Upper Egypt continues to change the perception of history in the ancient quarried landscape of Silsila.
In 2015 the Swedish led Gebel el Silsila project reported on the discovery of a series of tombs located in the north of Gebel el Silsila east bank, in the area immediately to the north of the famous stele of Amenhotep IV and stretching westwards to the Nile. While the tombs had been described by a few previous visitors to the site, no comprehensive survey, neither any proper archaeological work had been conducted until 2015.
|overview of ST31 at sunrise|
The tombs are under an immediate threat caused by the rising water table combined with the natural salt in the ground steadily eroding the natural cliffs in the northern part of Gebel el Silsila (similar/identical to those at Kom Ombo Temple area), and the site is in risk of losing important information about what has proven to be an extensive cemetery.
|collapsed ceiling of ST32|
|courtyard to ST32|
|scull(s) and cross bones ST13|
During the initial survey, 43 tombs were identified, and five tombs were chosen to be cleared of sand and the damaging layer of salt in order to study their subsequent conservation. Returning to site eight months later, the previous work proved successful as both external and interior walls and to some extent also the ceiling, have become stabilized and secured by exposing them to the sun, drying previous wetness.
|ST25 and ST45 with niche|
In the initial clearing process the team was successful in identifying various architectural markers, including 1-2 rock-cut chambers, external courtyards, and dressed portcullis – slot-cuts into the door jambs by the entry to the tombs, into which a (stone-) slab would have been placed to seal the door after burial. During the ongoing winter season, the team has discovered another 12 rock cut tombs, three crypts cut into the rock, two niches possibly used for offering, one tomb containing multiple animal burials, and three individual infant/child burials, along with other associated material.
The majority of the tombs excavated so far – with the main exception of two infant burials – have been plundered already during antiquity, and then been left neglected and without further disturbance, and since covered by up to 3m of Nile silt, blown in sand, and fallen quarry spoil and debris. These readily identifiable stratifications have given a wealth of information with regards not only the manner in which the spoil and silt have been deposited, but also provided a rudimentary chronological overview for the area.
The individual tombs excavated so far this season reveal multiple burials within the same chamber or crypt, possibly complete families, and individuals of varying ages and sex. In addition, the newly discovered infant/child burials present another aspect to the cemetery, clearly indicating family life at Silsila. Three different styles of infant burials have been documented so far, including a crypt (64 x 32 x 32 cm) cut into the rock, a shallow grave covered with stone, and one infant wrapped in textile and placed within a wooden coffin. Two of the three children were placed secreted within the overhangs of the natural sandstone bluffs. They were placed on their side oriented in either a north-south direction, face towards the east, alternatively east-west direction, and facing north. Burial gifts include amulets (including the figure of Bes), necklaces, ceramic vessels, worked flint and coloured pebbles.
|one of many scarabs|
|crocodile no 2|
|Moamen and Rebecca with the croc|
Among the animal burials, ST29 presented a single chamber room with a crypt containing a dozen of ovicaprids (sheep/goats) and a couple of Nile perch (Lates niloticus). Two ovicaprids were placed in a north-south orientation (facing east) at the entrance of the tomb, and skeletal remains of several more were found scattered among outside debris as a result of looting. Also, an almost complete adult crocodile was discovered resting on the floor in the courtyard immediately outside ST27. The crocodile was oriented in a north-south direction, with the head pointing to the north. Further studies are required.
|3D image of crocodile no 1 (headless)|
|Maria and John clearing a cat burial (ST54)|
The archaeological material produced from the newly discovered tombs and burials chronologically correlate with those excavated previously, so far limited to the reigns of Thutmosis III and Amenhotep II. In addition to the tombs themselves, the excavation has revealed finely dressed sandstone sarcophagi, sculptured and occasionally painted pottery coffins, painted 'plaster' and wood, textile and organic wrapping, ceramic vessels and plates, as well as an array of jewellery, amulets and scarabs.
|inhumation at ST56|
The vast amount of human remains so far recovered from the necropolis indicates the individuals were generally healthy. At this time, very little evidence of malnutrition and infection has been discovered. Fractures of the long bones and increased muscle attachments amongst the skeletal remains indicate behaviors related to occupational hazards and an extremely labor intensive environment. Furthermore, many of the injuries appear to be in an advanced stage of healing, suggesting effective medical care.
|Maria outside ST25|
|Tricia and Nils figuring out ST45|
The new finds add exciting new components to the necropolis, changing yet again the perceived function and apparent appearance to the site of Gebel el Silsila, and with further fieldwork the team look forward to increasing their understanding of the overall function and role of the area during the New Kingdom.
The team members would like to express their gratitude to the MoA and the local inspectorates of Kom Ombo and Aswan, led by Mr Abdel Menum and Mr Nasr Salama respectively, as well as to our sponsors without whom the Silsila Project would not be made possible!
|Abdala - the one and only, whom we could not survive without!|
|the gorgeous sunrise at Silsila!|
Donations to the Gebel el Silsila Project goes directly towards employing more workers, which allows the team to discover more monuments and tombs in the Necropolis, and study more ground breaking information about the ancient past at Gebel el Silsila!
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