Saturday, March 10, 2018

ElKab Field Trip

Instead of our usual Friday spent working at Chicago House, and partaking of the lunch buffet, and despite that the temperatures are toping 105F/40C, we had arranged from the beginning that this would be the Friday of the school’s field trip to ElKab. As in the past, you’ll remember that we’ve taken the students to Gebel el-Silsilah, Hierakonpolis, and Abydos, where we’ve always tried to incorporate a degree of epigraphy and teaching as well as fun. And that was yet again the case. ElKab is an extraordinary site, including New Kingdom rock-cut tombs, and the Wadi Hillal which leads to a small barque way-station dating to Amenhotep III, as well as hundreds, if not thousands, of rock-carvings all along the cliffs dating from all periods of Egyptian history. ElKab is an epigraphic paradise!

 View towards the New Kingdom tombs of ElKab

Since ElKab is a few hours drive south of Luxor, and we wanted to start the day before the worst of the heat, we collected everyone by 6:30 am. We also planned a slight variation from what we have done in the past. We had invited our students from the previous field schools to join us, and three of them – Abu el-Hagag, Mahmoud Hassan, and Nadia Latef – were able to do so. In addition, seeing as our colleague Ana Tavares is working on the salvage and rescue excavations at Kom Ombo, and where our former student Sayed el-Rekaby is participating, we invited them to rendezvous with us at ElKab at 9 am. Kom Ombo is fairly close to Elkab, located just a little to the north, so since we are to the south we were able to meet in the middle, as it were. However, we did need to collect one of our students en route, as Mahmoud lives in Esna he joined us at about 7:30, bearing an enormous crate of fresh yousef effendi and mos (bananas). Apparently, the Esna mos are thought to be the best in Egypt by other Egyptians, so therefore there was much rejoicing when Mahmoud arrived with his crate, and they did indeed prove to be very delicious! Yaser had organized that we be joined by one of the ElKab inspectors who was a friend and colleague from previous field schools, Mr. Ashraf Harb, who yet again we collected along the main road, and thanks to his local knowledge we were all able to take a mini-break just before reaching ElKab at a local tea and coffee shop. Orders of shai and gahwa (tea and Egyptian coffee) were taken, and biscuits brought out, but because they normally don’t get tour buses stopping the half-dozen coffee cups had to be relayed around the group. So it took somewhat longer than we might have expected, which turned out to be fortunate as it allowed us to fine-tune our arrival at ElKab to the same moment as Ana and Sayed el-Rekaby, who were accompanied by another of the Kom Ombo team, Hassan el-Atar, a colleague of Sayed el-Rekaby.

Arriving at ElKab everyone piled out of the minibus to greet Sayed, and Will was particularly pleased to see Ana, who is an old and dear friend from the Giza field school days, and in fact she was the individual who talked Will into teaching the illustration component of the AERA field schools back in the mid-2000s! Because of Ana’s involvement in creating the AERA field schools, we had visited her in Giza at the very beginning of our field school journey, before our first season had even begun to ask for any pointers and advice she might give us regarding what we had got ourselves into! So, it was nice to show her the outcome and current crop of students. After all the greetings had been made, and the obligatory group photos taken, everyone piled back onto the buses to head up the wadi. The plan was to travel by bus all the way to the furthest point, and begin our visit at the chapel of Amenhotep III. We had provided the students with hand-outs, which we distributed on the bus, of some of the published epigraphic examples of not only the chapel, but also the New Kingdom tombs, so that they would be able to take notes and make comments for future reference.

 Boys' Group

 Girls' Group

 TT 110 Field School with our Kom Ombo friends

We arrived without any mishaps up the desert track at the Amenhotep III chapel which stands in splendid isolation very much as it would have been in antiquity. Because it has been known for centuries, and was never actually buried by the sands, it is covered in both ancient and modern graffiti from travelers, some of which dates back as far as the early 1800s. Because of it accessibility, it was planned, photographed, and drawn in the 1890s by J.J. Tylor and Somers Clarke, and it was these early examples of epigraphy which we had provided to the students to critique. Considering the early date of the project the results were exceptionally good, making it easy to see just what ancient remains they had seen and where modern additions to the site had been made. It is also epigraphically interesting due to the fact that although built by Amenhotep III, it was restored in ancient times, first by Seti I who added his name and re-carved the Amarna destruction, and then again under the Ptolemies, who re-painted and re-carved the images of the goddess Nekhbet. The original publication has an excellent section-elevation showing the placement of the scenes in conjunction with the architecture, something unheard of at the time. And lo-and-behold, it turned out to have been drawn by the young Howard Carter, on one of his first assignments in Egypt, while working for the EEF, and well before his heady days as the discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb. An amazing example of just how far ahead of his times he was, if any further evidence was necessary.

 Amenhotep III Chapel


Graffiti on the paving slabs around the chapel

After finishing at the chapel, we headed down into the wadi by foot in search of rock-carvings, with Yaser leading the way and directing the students’ attention to an extraordinary collection of petroglyphs from all periods hidden along the back of an outcropping that we would otherwise have driven by. Both Yaser and Sayed el-Rekaby discussed the inscriptions with the students, with Sayed who has experience drawing this type of material form his work at Silsilah, explaining his methodology. We carried on towards the legendary “Vulture Rock”, famed for the unprecedented number of carvings located in one single place. The rock juts up from the wadi almost like a galleon under full-sail, with many points at which we might board in order to climb up to look at the inscriptions at close range. The students, again led by Yaser, clambered up, down, and around the complete circumference of the rock, finding images as diverse as Predynastic boats, herds of giraffe, oryx, gazelle, antelope, and cattle, while interspersed were hundreds of hieroglyphic inscriptions, many dating to the Old Kingdom, and later more elaborate New Kingdom and Graeco-Roman inscriptions, highlighting the long tradition of pilgrims and travelers frequenting the Wadi Hillal.

 Yaser speaking about the rock inscriptions

 Sayed el-Rekaby explaining drawing techniques for rock inscriptions

Heading to Vulture Rock

 Boat and Animal Petroglyph

At this point we re-boarded the buses, which, thanks to clever organizational planning, were there to collect us, so that we could resume our journey down the wadi, stopping briefly at a Ramesside and Graeco-Roman sanctuary, terraced and built into the cliffside, along with a small chapel dedicated to Thoth. Seeing as it was approaching noon, we needed to be back at the rest house so that there would be the opportunity for noonday prayers and a chance to have a brief break before ascending the cliff to look at the rock-cut New Kingdom tombs. Although 4 of the tombs are open, we chose to focus on 2 of them, where there was a strong familial association and published epigraphy that we could critique. These were the tombs of Paheri, which was drawn initially by J.J. Tylor, and Paheri’s grandfather, Ahmose son of Ibana. Ahmose’s tomb has recently been re-examined and drawn by Vivian Davies, the former Keeper of the Department of Egypt and the Sudan at the British Museum, who has worked for many years at ElKab and just happens to be married to Renee Friedman, whose work across the river at the twin site of Hierakonpolis (ancient Nekhen) you will remember we visited on a previous field trip. The Elkab tombs provide an excellent comparison for our own TT110, as while the scene types are similar, the architecture is different, needing to conform to the sandstone cliffside found at Elkab, as opposed to the limestone gebel we have in Thebes. In ElKab, rather than the Theban “T-shaped” tomb, we have decorated single-room tombs with vaulted ceilings and undecorated side chambers leading to the burial shaft. As a result, the students were able to understand how the ancient Egyptians utilized a smaller wall space to contain all the necessary images for presenting the life of the tomb owner and the requirements for the afterlife. The tombs also provided the students with an excellent comparison for who was able to have decorated rock-cut tombs in an important provincial town, in this case largely the local elite of the area, who were also part of family groups who controlled the highest local government and temple positions. In terms of the epigraphy, in the tomb of Paheri there was a serious fissure or crack running through the tomb, which had been drawn in the 19th century, but the students noted that there were details from some scenes near the crack in the drawings which were not on the wall. This led to a discussion regarding why this might be the case; whether Tylor had reconstructed the scenes, or identified fragments which may have joined and drew them accordingly, or possibly the crack had widened and these details had been lost in subsequent years. This drew attention to how important epigraphy can be through time, because without these drawings from the 1890s we would have potentially lost this information. In the tomb of Ahmose son of Ibana, there was a peculiar situation of half-finished walls where part of the background stone had been removed in order to create sunk and raised relief. This work was clearly unfinished in that you could still see evidence of the painted grid guidelines over many of the scenes, and the carving, where it occurred on some walls, was very rough. In contrast, one completed scene of the tomb owner was extant, with both raised and sunk relief, and paint. The students became intrigued with how best to depict this unusual and complicated situation. Fortunately, Will had actually inked the drawings for Vivian prior to publication, but had not seen the tomb, working instead from notes and photographs. He devised a system of conventions which seemed suitable allowing for both the unfinished as well as the completed scenes, incorporating dashed and dotted as well as solid lines, and leaving out the damage entirely. The students seemed highly skeptical regarding this system, and when confronted, Will admitted that were he to draw it today he may have decided on a different set of conventions. There was a sense of unspoken agreement from the students, further evidence of the degree of self-confidence they have gained regarding epigraphic decisions in the course of the field school.

 Ramesside / Graeco-Roman sanctuary

 Will and Ana

Hot, tired, and hungry, an end was put to further questions, or we would still be in the tomb of Ahmose son of Ibana today! We retired to the rest house for a well-earned picnic lunch. It was all hands to the pumps as the food magically appeared from the buses, mats were spread out on the floor of the rest house, plates, cutlery, mounds of bread were spread so that all could sit cross-legged on the floor together as a group. Following the meal, the guards brought everyone shai bil nanaa (tea with fresh mint), and our guest Inspector brought traditional pastries, which was much appreciated by the group. The festive atmosphere continued through mass, hysterical group photographing of all and sundry before we needed to separate to our 2 respective buses and resume our return journeys in opposite directions.

Although everyone was tired, we found time for much merriment and more teaching on the bus. Sayed devised a game involving answering questions about drawing pottery and objects, or epigraphy, and within 30 seconds someone needed to describe the steps involved, with the reward being a Cadburys chocolate bar! This boisterous, chaotic, teaching tool proved an effective distraction so that we were on the outskirts of Luxor, dropping people off one-by-one before we knew it! Home in just 2 hours. It was a marvelous day; hot, tired, dusty, but buzzing, we all decamped in Luxor knowing we all needed to be up early the next morning to return to work, but also excited to get back to drawing.