Saturday, March 19, 2016

Hierakonpolis Field Trip

This Friday we were up even earlier than on a work day as it was time for our field school fieldtrip. Last year we went to see the New Kingdom shrines at Gebel Silsilah (see the Week 4 2015 post), but this year we took Dr. Renee Friedman up on her offer to visit the site of Hierakonpolis, where she has been working for many years. Although mostly known for its rich Pre-Dynastic and Early Dynastic history, including the famous HK Tomb 100 or “painted tomb” and the 2nd Dynasty “fort” of King Khasekhemwy, it also boasts several New Kingdom tombs cut into the terrace of a natural sandstone outcrop and called locally the Burg el-Hamam, or “hill of the pigeons”. While it would have been nice to see everything there, this was a working fieldtrip, and so our goal was to focus on the New Kingdom tombs and the epigraphy drawings done of them.

After loading up our “custom” bus with plenty of food and drink at 6:15 am, we went to the ferry site where we met all of our students. By 7 am all 14 of us were loaded up and on our way, on schedule. Everyone was wearing their new field school t-shirts, except, and despite explicit instructions, Yaser. But fortunately Hazem had an extra so everyone could be outfitted in the appropriate kit. TT110 Field School hits the road! We no sooner left the limits of the city of Luxor than the boys in the back of the bus was demanding breakfast, which left the girls in the front of the bus having to prepare the sandwiches and pass the food back. Despite clear indications of gender inequality, the girls were much more efficient at making the sandwiches and thereby making less mess in the bus. Thereby a fed and watered happily contented field school made its way to Hierakonpolis via the Eastern Road, crossing to the west at the Edfu bridge. Having made such good time the boys in the back of the bus voted to have a tea break, which meant that after passing through a colorful market scene we all piled out of the bus and into a local balady tea shop not far from Hierakonpolis. Other than Mudira JJ, the girls chose to stay on the bus and be served tea & coffee by the boys, a just reward for having made them sandwiches!
Happily fed at the back of the bus
Tea Break

Thanks to a clever bit of organizing by Hazem and Yaser our bus driver had been in communication with a friend of Yaser’s who is a local inspector and could provide explicit directions as to how to find the correct unmarked dirt lane which led off the main road through the cultivation to the edge of the desert. Upon approach we stopped briefly at the edge so that Mr. Will could give an impromptu description of the local landscape, including the original city mound of the ancient town of Nekhen and its famed Temple of Horus, none of which is visible any longer. Fortunately, off-setting that lack the moment the bus reached the desert edge the massive mudbrick enclosure of the “fort” came into view and across the desert plain one could also see the Nubian-styled dig house of the Hierakonpolis expedition. We were in touching distance of our goal!
The 2nd Dynasty Khasekhemwy "Fort"

Renee and her team warmly welcomed us we tea, imported Italian coffee (!), fresh fruit, and fig cookies, and despite having just stopped for tea, we all gladly drank more. This proved an opportunity for Renee to bring out photocopies of the drawings Mr. Will had made of one of the tombs that we were planning to see during our visit. This gave the students an introduction into not only the decoration but some of the epigraphic difficulties of the original work. After having been fed and watered, Renee joined us as we piled back into the bus and made our way across the desert, complete with a local inspectorate motorcycle escort, to the tombs, which could be seen prominently on the distant horizon. After an amazingly quick journey of mere minutes we reached the base of the hill and piled out, beginning our ascent to the upper terrace to view the tomb of Hormose, the largest and latest of the New Kingdom tombs, and the one which Mr. Will had drawn.
Dr. Renee Friedman welcoming the group
Motorcade to the tombs
Arrival at the base of the Burg el Hamam
Walking up to the tombs

Hormose is one of the latest decorated tombs of the New Kingdom, dating to the reign of Ramesses XI, and was plastered and painted by artists who were based in Thebes. The tomb had been severely damaged and blackened over time with much of the plaster falling away. The epigraphy program undertaken by Mr. Will thus had to tackle many of the same difficulties which our students were finding in TT110. Mr. Will’s famed “5 steps” of epigraphy grew out of the recording method he had developed to copy this time. AS a result the students had a field day critiquing Mr. Will’s drawings thanks to Rene and finding in fact blue crosses still on the wall indicating the original base line used to measure and orient the scenes, but unfortunately, to Mr Will’s chagrin, also examples of tape and blutack he had failed to remove over 15 years before!
Renee explaining the decoration in Hormose
Will explaining how he drew the curved edge of the wall
Comparing Will's line drawings to the tomb wall

Moving right along, the group exited Hormose and made their way along the cliff face to a group of tombs dating to the earliest part of the New Kingdom, the beginning of the 18th Dynasty. Whereas Hormose gave the students insight into the recording of painted plaster, the Thutmoside tombs, which were both carved and painted, allowed the students to see earlier examples of sunk relief inscriptions reminiscent of the 2 stelae they have been drawing in TT110. The students were so taken by the even smaller size of the carved hieroglyphs that they crowded round to discuss similarities and differences with the TT110 stelae, probably greatly relieved that what they thought had been difficult could have been even worse.
Moving right along
One of the earliest 18th Dynasty tombs
Renee discussing the date of one of the early 18th Dynasty tombs
Shaimaa making salutations
The tomb owner and his wife making salutations to the sun

Before the climb back down to the bus we took a short break for the mandatory group photo, and then headed back to the dig house for our picnic lunch after the boys had made their way back from the local village mosque for the mid-day prayer. A veritable feast ensued within a wonderful semi-enclosed cloister space located along one side of the dighouse courtyard. Much laughter and general rejoicing could be heard throughout the enclosure, causing Renee and her team to wonder at what fun they were missing. The feast culminated with homemade cakes provided by Nadia and Shaimaa, which amazingly we all still had room to eat. After a final round of tea and coffee generously provided by Renee, it was back to the bus and the long road back to Luxor, this time via the Western Desert Road. But we couldn’t leave this amazing site without a quick “shouf” of Khasekhemwy’s “fort”, and yet another group photo. The Abydos/Sohag members of the team, Yaser and Abu el-Yazid, began an animated discussion comparing the fort with the Shunet el-Zebib, a massive mudbrick enclosure built by the same king at Abydos, with Mudira JJ jumping in occasionally as she had worked there many years ago. The discussion continued on the bus with Yaser giving an illustrated talk of his own excavation work in a cemetery of similar date at South Abydos. At 5pm an exhausted but contented field school group returned to Luxor, knowing only too well that we all had to be back at work first thing Saturday morning.

The field school team in front of the New Kingdom tombs
Heading back to the bus
At the Khasekhemwy "fort"
Yaser lecturing on the bus

Having survived the first day of our marathon, check back to see what happens next!