Week 4: 29 January – 4 February
Sunday. There is a myriad of tombs among the glistening hills of Thebes, the town we today call Luxor. Many are plain; others, fit for eternity. In the necropoleis surrounding the town, the many missions toil under the harsh, Upper Egyptian sun. Due to measures imposed by the Ministry, we could not set foot inside the excavation area at Dra Abu el-Naga, but had to watch the workers from afar. However, the mission director José Galan was extremely accommodating and willing to answer any questions we could think of.
Then, Deir el-Bahari. Rising from the desert sands, a monument to one woman’s ambition. As the small, yellow trains buzzed back and forth heaving with countless tourists, Hanne took on the role of guide as she led us through the chapels of Hatshepsut. Going from Eighteenth Dynasty queen to Twenty Sixth Dynasty functionary, Emma took us through scenes of daily life, beekeeping, and winemaking as vividly displayed on the walls of the tomb of Pabasa. We finished the day in Deir el-Medina where we learnt how big a pit has to be to truly be considered great.
Monday. Rattling with friendly charm, our tiny tour bus headed for Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, and ancient administrative centre of the Theban region. Its imposing walls provided a safe haven for those fleeing the terror of the Libyans during the reign of Ramesses XI. Brett McClain here showcased the famous Chicago House method of Egyptian epigraphy and their newly adopted digital techniques.
The director of the French institute, Laurent Bavay, had switched his suit to don the dusty shirt of an archaeologist. Along with Dimitry Laboury, he leads the Belgian mission at Gourna. In the courtyard of a tomb, they found the remains of the pyramid of Khuy, vizier of Ramesses the Great. Marlijn and Guy rounded off the day in the tombs of Huy and Kheruef respectively.
Tuesday. We crossed the sun-speckled river to the eastern bank of the Nile and headed to Karnak Temple. This awe-inspiring temple is truly a testament to the genius and endeavour of the ancient Egyptian people. Here, Mathijs gave a thorough roundup of the Akhmenu of Thutmosis III. Following Karnak, we went to Chicago House where Brett welcomed us into the lush gardens of the institute. As the only Egyptological library in Luxor, it is invaluable to the missions working here. In the evening, we settled ourselves in the colonnade of Tutankhamun at Luxor Temple where Hilo presented its features and curiosities. The day was concluded with a visit to the Luxor Museum, which features artefacts from the region. The care with which the objects were displayed here was impressive.
Wednesday. We could visit the temple of Karnak every day and never grow weary of its majestic charms. Within its bounds we found the secluded chapels of the Khonsu temple, where the American Research Center in Egypt trains Egyptian conservators in the art of restoring the temples of ancient Egypt. In the even more remote Mut compound, once host to over seven hundred statues of the goddess Sekhmet, Inês expounded on the current excavations of the site. In the ruins of the once majestic temple we sought out an infamous scene of circumcision before we sat down to rest at the banks of the sacred lake. At the most secluded temple of the day, Nienke introduced the Isis temple at Deir el-Shelwit on the southernmost border of the Theban necropolis. Here we also had an encounter with a rather loudmouthed goat who will be in our hearts forever.
Thursday. While we had previously enjoyed the Luxor temple at sunset, we now got to see it in the first rays of morning as Krisztián Vértes showed off his new epigraphic method. He has developed a new way of recording pigments in Roman frescos, a style most different from that of the carved reliefs of the ancient Egyptians. On this day of re-visitation we also found ourselves returning to the Valley of the Kings. We had the unique chance to enter the twisting corridors of the tomb of venerable Seti I, father of the great Ramesses. Adorning the walls of his tomb were the demonic forms of the underworld; snakes, falcons, hippopotami and bunnies, armed with daggers and fire. We had the chance to visit some of the remaining tombs of this Valley before heading to the Valley of the Queens. Here we saw the splendour that was the tomb of Nefertari, so bright its colours seemed freshly painted. We could only spend ten minute inside this tomb, which only made every second more precious. Once again, we ended our day with the sun setting on Deir el-Medina. We spent our evening with the missions that work in Luxor on the Memphite (USA) rooftop by our hotel. Egyptologists from the States, Poland, New Zealand and Spain were all gathered here for a night of revelry.
Friday. We made every minute of our free day in Luxor count as some got up at the break of dawn while others caught up on much needed sleep. Some saw the town from the window of a taxi while others preferred the hard sweat of a bicycle. The Ramesseum, the temple of Seti I, and Tombs of the Nobles, Kings and Queens were all visited by members of our group. And how can we ever forget the Colossi of Memnon, who have weathered the millennia, unwavering, motionless.
Saturday. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The rosy sky greeted our sleep-deprived faces as we rose at the first flutter of dawn for one last meal on the terrace of the Nile Valley. We met our Kiwi comrades and set out towards Aswan. On our way there we stopped at the hills of el-Kab where we ascended to the peak of Vulture Rock. This rocky outcrop was filled with ancient graffiti and allowed for a mesmerizing panoramic view over the desert hills. Then Aswan, and a new chapter of our adventure awaited us.
Geirr Lunden, Guy Nicholls, Mathijs Smith