Friday, February 16, 2018

Field School Week 1

When we last left you, it was to wait and see what happened once the field school officially started. Well, first off, it started with a different Inspector from whom we had met at the Karnak teftish last week. Instead of Ali Erfan, we have Safaa Mohamed Abd El-Moaaty, which will either make things simpler or more complicated seeing as we now have 2 Inspectors with the same name. Malesh. We were pleased to see that our second Safaa welcomed us at the door to the Karnak Lab already reporting for duty at the appointed hour of 8am.

On both Saturday and Sunday Will and JJ, with Sayed’s assistance, spent the day teaching the new students at the Karnak Lab. Mudira JJ provided an introduction to the placement of tombs in Sheikh Abd el-Qurna during the 18th Dynasty, which helps to situate the tomb of Djhuty in the landscape. A second lecture introduced the students to many of the key officials during the reigns of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, which gives a social and political context to Djhuty and his career. Mr. Will gave the students an overview of the history of epigraphy as well as a professional and anecdotal history of his career as an epigrapher, illustrated with examples of his work from different projects. We had boasted about our famous second breakfasts to the students, and fortunately Mostafa (the same Karnak workman we had last year) did not let us down, on Saturday bringing fuul, tamaya, mixed salat, gibna abyad (salty white cheese), kiri (like Philly cream cheese), aish balady (local pita bread) and aish fino (white baguettes), mos (banana), yousef effendis (satsumas), and chipsies (UK crisps, US potato chips), and supplementing the menu on Sunday with fresh lettuce and tomatoes, boiled eggs, batates (US French fries, UK chips), and roasted aubergine!

At the same time, Yaser begin his teaching course, with Hazem’s assistance, on the west at TT 110, beginning with pottery drawing for the 5 returning students (Nadia, Mahmoud, Abu el-Hagag, Alaa, and Sayed el Rekaby), as well as our west bank Inspector Safaa.


Abu el-Hagag drawing a pot sherd

Our Inspector Safaa drawing pottery

This is the explanation for how Will and JJ managed to be in two places at the same time, which had initially confused all and a sundry until we admitted that in fact the teaching on the west bank was going to be handled by Yaser while at the same time as we were teaching in the east. We're good, but we don't have a tardis (sadly).

Monday we started somewhat differently by meeting at a local coffeeshop across from the entrance to Luxor Temple because we planned to visit the work of Chicago House artists Jay Heidel and Krisztián Verteś. You may remember that we have visited their work with beginning field schools in the past, and were overjoyed to find that they were still happy and willing to explain their work to our new crop of students. We made our way to the back of the temple and the adjacent block yard where, unbelievably, over 100,000 decorated fragments are stored. Chicago House has been involved for many years in photographing and documenting these fragments, which now involves state-of-the-art digital epigraphy. Jay gave the students an overview of the history of the project and how the work is currently progressing, and he even let some of the students practice on his iPad Pro drawing graphics tablet! This visit naturally segwayed into the introduction to the photographer who is facilitating this project and lo-and-behold it was our old friend Hilary MacDonald, whom many of you will remember introduced our students in the digital epigraphy field school to the use of photography and Photoscan. It was a pleasure to see her in situ, so-to-speak. She gave a brief but excellent insight into the type of photography needed to document these fragments without actually having to move them, seeing as many are fragile.

Jay Heidel and Hilary MacDonald with our students

We then proceeded to the “king’s chamber” at the back of the temple where Krisztián has been ensconced for the last few years digitally recording the Roman frescoes. When we first visited him in 2015 he was at the beginning of this process and developing a revolutionary methodology to apply digital epigraphy to these scenes, which entail multiple layers of surviving paint over the ancient pharaonic carved relief. Documenting this type of painting was something that Chicago House had never attempted in the past, it was frankly beyond the means of traditional epigraphy. Krisztián is at the forefront of developing new techniques to meet this challenge. And we and our students were the beneficiaries of his knowledge and experience, as he is now close to completion and the methods he has employed have evolved from what were first introduced to us.

Krisztián Verteś with our students

We left Luxor Temple 2.5 hours later excited about and motivated by all we had learned, and certainly hungry, but not before the obligatory photo at the entrance to the temple. And just after the phot was taken we realized that the scaffolding above our heads surrounded one of the Ramesside colossal statues which was being restored and re-erected, and supervising the work, suspended over our heads, was none other than Reis Mahmoud from Karnak!

Piling into multiple taxis, we made our way back to Karnak and directly to 2nd breakfast, somewhat later than usual. The delicious spread was wolfed down by our hungry, young epigraphers-in-training, and after teas and coffees we returned to the Karnak Lab. Having realized that this year all of our students come from areas other than the west bank of Luxor, and thus have little experience or knowledge of Thebaid tomb design, JJ gave them a brief overview of Theban Tomb architecture and decoration in the 18th Dynasty. Lecture concluded, it was time to reward the students by giving them each their drawing kits, which were received with much enthusiasm and excitement. As with Russian nesting dolls, the students discovered bags, within bags, within bags, each one with specific drawing tools from pencils, pens, markers all the way to triangles and tape measures. This seemed an appropriate point at which to conclude our work at the lab, in order to eventually reassemble on the west so the students can put their kits to use.

Kits arriving in the blue box

Kits distributed

Now empty blue box gets carried out

But before heading west, on Tuesday we spent the day at Chicago House, where we were joined by Yaser and his group of students. The Librarian, Anait Helmholz, warmly greeted all of us and gave the new students a tour of the library, taking them through both its history and its collection, including the photographic archives. To be sure that everything was clear, Sayed then repeated the tour in Arabic. As in previous years, JJ gave each student a “treasure hunt” of items to find in the library, allowing them to put into practice what Anait and Sayed had discussed and shown them. Once the students had all found their books and journals, JJ also introduced them to some of the basic reference works that are useful for conducting any kind of Egyptological research. Before breaking for lunch at 12, when the library closes, Will showed the students various historic examples of published epigraphy in books by de Garis Davies and Chicago House, with the understanding that after lunch we would continue with more recent epigraphic publications. While Will and JJ were working with the new students, Yaser and his students examined different published types of pottery and object drawing, discussing the various kinds of conventions used.

Yaser and Mahmoud

Since we had not taken a mid-morning break, everyone was quite hungry, so at noon we headed for Café Marina, where we could have cold drinks and fuul and tamaya sandwiches delivered to us. Our group numbered nearly 20, so we took over a large and shady portion of the outdoor restaurant. Unbeknownst to Sayed, we had arranged a surprise birthday celebration, with Hazem ordering a cake and our driver Ayman secretly delivering it to the restaurant. Sayed seemed honestly surprised since his birthday had actually been the day before! And our large unwieldy group serenaded him with a particularly tuneless rendition of “Happy Birthday”. Hazem attempted to cut pieces of the cake for everyone, making as bad a mess of it as he had done previously with roast duck and chicken! So, Mr. Will commandeered the knife, which looked more like a light saber (!) and cut the appropriate sized pieces so that everyone managed to actually have a slice of cake, with one left over for our driver Ayman as a reward for services rendered. At 1pm we returned to Chicago House to finish examining a selection of recent epigraphic publications. The multitude of questions had to be curtailed so that we could leave the library by 2pm, since we were re-grouping only a few hours later, at 5pm, at the Luxor Museum. Many of the issues of conventions under discussion would get an additional airing looking at a variety of carved and painted blocks in the museum.

At 5pm we re-grouped, this time without Yaser and his students, outside the Luxor Museum. The purpose of this visit was to examine actual carved and painted blocks to look at how one would actually draw them. This allowed further discussion that had been begun in the library on conventions for raised and sunk relief, paint, and particularly issues of damage and re-carving. It also gave the students the opportunity to look at the carved “bevel” (the angle made by a chisel), as well as the overlapping of raised and sunk relief within carved areas. It was nearly 7:30 when we finished, the students having had truly a long school day.

On Wednesday we finally headed to the west bank and the tomb, where we were able to re-join Yaser and the illustration students, bringing our total group to nearly 20! JJ had to leave the group in Will’s care as she had a breakfast meeting with the new Cairo Director of ARCE, Dr. Louise Bertini. This proved to be no problem at all for Mr. Will seeing as Saad Bakhit spent the entire morning giving the students a lengthy powerpoint presentation of the archaeological work done in the forecourt and surrounding area of TT110, of which he was one of the Field Directors. How did we accomplish this on the west bank you might ask? Fortunately, there is a small, undecorated glorified tomb/cave behind the ruins of what were once houses, and near where we set up our tent, that served admirably for this purpose. After second breakfast, Saad took the group down to TT110 itself, where Sayed took over and explained the archaeological work that had been done inside the tomb, including clearing the back room of fill, and discovering and excavating the burial shaft and chambers. By the day’s end all of the students had a thorough understanding of the archaeological history of TT110.

Saad Bakhit giving the lecture on the archaeology of TT 110

Sayed Mamdouh talking about the TT 110 burial shaft excavations

Yaser teaching the illustration course

Wednesday evening JJ and Will were pleasantly surprised to receive a call from Eugene Cruz-Uribe, a colleague and friend who had been working in Aswan and was now spending a few days in Luxor. We teamed up for dinner at Pizza Roma, and en route we ran into another colleague and old friend of Will’s – Piet Collet (a Dutch illustrator and epigrapher working for many missions, and currently part of the MMA mission at Malqata) – who was on his way to have Thai food with other friends. Naturally, we all exchanged numbers so that we can plan to see each other soon!

Thursday dawned grey and overcast, keeping it nice and cool for what we had planned – a walking tour of the necropolis in order to show the students what JJ had already discussed in lecture and drive home the spatial, chronological, and political relationships between the tombs. First though, we visited the work of Chicago House at the nearby tomb of Nefersekheru (TT 107), an official under Amenhotep III. This is a tomb we have visited in previous years with the students, but we were fortunate this year to actually observe the work of one of the artists, Sue Osgood, who was drawing fragments digitally, as well as epigrapher and Egyptologist Jonathan Winnerman, who was collating and checking earlier drawings. Dr. Brett McClain explained the history of the documentation of the tomb from the time of its first discovery by Champollion and Lepsius, through to the current work being undertaken by Chicago House. Sue then talked about her digital work to the students, who were already somewhat familiar due to the earlier visits to the work of Jay and Krisztián at Luxor Temple, and Brett finished the tour by discussing the different roles played by the epigrapher and the artist in documenting the tomb.

Dr. Brett McClain introducing the students to TT 107

Artist Sue Osgood demonstrating her digital epigraphy

Group shot in the forecourt of TT107

The tour of TT107 concluded, the group returned to TT110 so that JJ could provide the students with more information about Djhuty and his career and the particular scenes he chose to decorate his tomb. After a hearty breakfast, it was time for the walkabout so we set off for the upper terrace of Qurna, stopping to have a look at an example of a Middle Kingdom saff-tomb re-used and re-imagined during the early 18th Dynasty, a concept already explained in lecture by JJ. From there we made our way further up and further east along the necropolis, stopping at various tombs that had been discussed in lecture so that the students could gain a better picture and understanding of the necropolis’s development. We finished the day at the magnificent lower tomb of the vizier Useramun (TT 131), emphasizing his use of the natural landscape to construct this monumental tomb and align it with the pyramidal top of his upper tomb (TT 61).

Examining the ceiling of TT83

Group shot in front of Useramun's upper tomb, TT 61 

Discussing Useramun's lower tomb, TT 131

We finished the first week exhausted but satisfied with all we had accomplished, and celebrated by having lunch and a cold beer at Sheikh Ali / Marsam. We also took this time to have a staff meeting with Yaser, Sayed, and Hazem, reviewing the first complete week of teaching to see if there were any concerns, issues, or suggestions, and also examining all the students’ notebooks. We were very pleased with how the notebooks looked, and the quality and organization of the note taking. Many included drawings and sketches to help them visualize points mentioned in lecture by both JJ and Will, and took notes in Arabic to keep up, while in the evenings re-writing and annotating what they had learned. It was certainly clear that all of the students were understanding and following the teaching instruction and taking our advice about treating the notebooks seriously and using them as a study aid. Staff meeting and lunch finished, we headed home to rest before spending the evening at Casa Italia on the west bank at a party organized by Francesco. Eugene and Piet joined us, and it was a lovely time spent chatting and catching up with colleagues and friends.