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Week 7-8: 19-28 February 2017

Here we are, week number seven of this amazing semester! Everyone is already feeling the pressure of deadlines, as a matter of fact our moudira (a.k.a. Marleen) decided to give us a lot of free time during this week in order to complete our final papers and prepare for the big event of GARDEN IV.

So to reduce the amount of stress, the NVIC screened for us the movie "The Mummy" from 1932: it was interesting to see how the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb influenced the scenery of this film, whose set continuously references that particular archaeological milieu.The magnetic and charming look of Boris Karloff instantly made us forget about all the work we had to carry on doing. But the end of the movie brought us back to the harsh reality of our duties!

Monday was mostly dedicated to self study for our papers of GARDEN IV, so the group split in two: one part who preferred the cheerful and fancy (but freezing cold) environment of the IFAO, while the other chose the more teutonic and cozier (and warm!) library of the German Institute. In the evening we had to switch languages, because we attended a lecture given in French. Admittedly with some comprehension issues, we managed to get most of the talk of Thomas Faucher about Numismatics of the Ptolemaic Period. In Egypt the coins can speak about the history of the country, the salary of the soldiers and the traders paid with large pieces of silver and gold; the images represented on the coins give us an insight in the fashion and stylistic taste of that particular era.

Tuesday was our last excursion day (sigh!) and the destination happened to be Tell el-Basta (BASTA!!!!!!). The journey to the site was excessively long, we got trapped in our mini bus and stuck in the traffic of many outlying villages, and we also had a very active dispute on the identity of an animal transported next to us, that was not quite visible. Some of us were strongly defending the opinion that it was a pig (Vera and Filippo, accustomed to Italy’s pig breeding) but the wider majority went for a cow. And they were right, Simone this one’s for you!!! When we arrived at Bubastis, the Greek name of Tell el-Basta, the inspector of the site welcomed us and gave us a short introduction on the history of the place; but the real star of the day was Jolieke, who gave a very interesting talk on how this site, which today is sadly reduced to a jumble of decorated blocks and a few statues, must have looked like at the time of its peak. Thanks to her, we were able to build in our minds a lively image of the temple dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet and the Middle Kingdom mud-brick palace, still pretty well preserved and now populated by the cutest puppies ever!

Already in ancient times, many travelers visited the site. Among them was the Greek historian Herodotos, whose writings give us an idea of how the festival dedicated to Bastet was celebrated, telling us that he had never seen a more beautiful and intricate procession: the statue of the goddess was placed on a boat navigating the canal enclosing the temple, and remains of this canal were found during the archaeological investigation of the University of Göttingen. On our way back to Cairo, we had no problems with the journey: we all fell asleep like babies!

The morning of Wednesday saw us rushing again to the different institutes, time was running out and we had to collect our last book references. In particular, the two of us enjoyed going to the institute of our French "cousins", eating their fruit dessert while sitting on the grass, enjoying our dejeneur sur l’herbe. Not yet satisfied with having spent the entire day at IFAO, we also attended the evening lecture of the grand Grandet (Pierre), who spoke about his work on hieratic inscriptions on the Deir el-Medina pottery, highlighting the organization of the village in Ramesside times and the different tasks of the people living in this incredible community. He provided us with a lively overview on how food and supplies were distributed to the families, and -funny detail- also on the excuses the workers used to make up when they were absent from their duties. Such an interesting topic, although the language barrier affected us a little.

No need to specify that the morning of Thursday was devoted to self study and the (psychological) preparation of the GARDEN conference, this scary monster hanging over us! However, in the evening we had a very pleasant lecture hosted by the NVIC: Dr. Fekri Hassan spoke about how the climate influenced the state formation in Predynastic Egypt. In 5000 BC warm and drier desert conditions in Egypt caused desert communities to settle along the Nile Valley and the Delta margins, and early settlers began to experience frequent episodes of famine and social conflicts due to these climatic fluctuations. Prof. Hassan illustrated how the Nile Valley dwellers overcame chaos by establishing a northerly state society.

Friday was a wake up call to reality: those who had been chosen to speak at the Graduate Annual Research Discussions on Egypt and Nubia (GARDEN) were busy in rehearsing their speeches and preparing creative powerpoints, while the others enjoyed a more relaxing day off, getting on with their papers and watching us freak out. And then it eventually arrived, GARDEN IV we did not fear you!!!

Among the many lecturers of the busy program of this Saturday conference on Egypt and Nubia, some of us had the chance to talk about one of their past or ongoing projects: Geirr was the first, followed by me (Vera), Inês, Maarten, Emma, Hilo, Simone, Fania, Guy, Nina, Juanjo, and last but not least the other author of this blog entry-me (Filippo). Thank you Vera for lending me your MacBook which crashed in the middle of my presentation!!!

We must (humbly) say, WE ROCKED GUYS!!!!! All of us did a very good job, for the majority it was the first conference ever, but thanks to the support of Marleen and the guidelines given by Johanna Sigl of the German Institute and Salima Ikram from the American University in Cairo, we were all able to achieve great results.

So, here we are on the eve of our last week. On Sunday and Monday we all presented the final results of our museum research: one by one, everyone brought us around the halls of the legendary Egyptian Museum to show the objects they had studied. On Sunday, Juan gave us an overview of the reburied coffins of New Kingdom pharaohs during the Third Intermediate Period; Emma went on with research on faience throwsticks and their votive and symbolic meaning, while Hanne showed us the main themes represented on royal and non-royal naoform pectorals; I (Filippo) spoke about the "soul houses", presenting the variety of features of all the models on display in the collection; Nina took us to the ground floor, and talked about the archaic influence on three statues of the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Amenemhat III, and Geirr gave us an overview on the graphic representations of the standards in the Predynastic Period. Marlijn took us to the Graeco-Roman section to discuss a beautiful fresco depicting the myth of Oedipus in Egypt, while Guy just had to turn the corner to bring our attention to the Persian Stela of Darius, on the construction of a canal connecting the easternmost branch of the Nile to the Red Sea. Last of the day was Maarten, who tried to solve the enigma of the false door that once stood in one of Amenemhat I’s funerary complexes.

Tired from the exhausting tour de force in the museum, we had the chance to relax by watching the movie "Death on the Nile" (1978) at NVIC in the evening. The plot of the movie, taken from the homonymous novel written by Agatha Christie and set in the ‘30s, revolves around the adventures of the Belgian (NOT French!) detective Hercule Poirot, who finds himself involved in a cruise of death.

Monday was basically a repetition of Sunday’s schedule, so we again wandered around the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, listening to our colleagues’ presentations: first one to talk about the Buchis Bull Stelae was Mathijs, followed by Inês’ interesting talk about two intimate representations of private people on Middle Kingdom funerary stelae. Hilo then took the word and gave us an insight on two Middle Kingdom wooden coffins found in Deir el-Bersha, while Jolieke presented a beautifully crafted silver coffin in the shape of a mummiform falcon from the burial of king Shoshenq IIa. Nienke was the last speaker in the museum and she delighted us with the cutest zoological-egyptological discussion on the identification of ichneumons and otters in votive statues. After grabbing a bite to eat, we finished the presentations in the classroom of NVIC. I (Vera) spoke about the forgotten theology of Hemen and the reconstruction of its possible cultic procession, while Antonio gave us a more analytical insight in the tomb distribution on the hill of Qurna (Luxor). Last but not least, Simone showed the results of her research on dog collars by comparing iconographic elements with actual objects conserved in egyptological collections around the world.

At the end of these talks, the very sad moment of handing in our kashkuls finally came. Parting from them wasn’t easy, as on their pages are written all our thoughts and impressions (besides useful notes) about everything we visited and experienced during this semester in Egypt.

The last day of the program, Tuesday 28th, was the supposed deadline to send Marleen our final research papers, although most of us still had to work on them in order to improve some details. In the evening, we met at the annual Austrian conference on the progress accomplished by the Austrian Archaeological Institute (in collaboration with Australia this time), where Christiana Köhler gave a very exciting talk on Predynastic burials in Helwan. Later on, we were able to enjoy a good glass of wine, while standing on the charming terrace of the institute and chatting with our foreign colleagues.

Next stop: NVIC and our own closing party. Sitting in a circle of chairs -typically Dutch, as Nina says- we shared not only our food, but also our intimate thoughts about this extraordinary experience: each and every one of us felt a little more grown up and closer to our fellows, it was a highly emotional moment when everyone had to confess his favorite memory. As a gift for the end and for our good work of these two months, Marleen gave each one of us a small colorful glass to look at when we’re feeling nostalgic and to remind us of one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives. Thank you Marleen, thank you NVIC, thank you Leiden and Leuven Universities, but most of all: thanks to you, Egypt. We will drink to our and your health, mabruk!

Filippo Mi and Vera Elisabeth Allen

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