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Week 5: 3-9 February 2019

After a full week of Luxor, we woke up early to continue our trip to Aswan. On our way we stopped at Mo’alla, where Ellen presented the tomb of Ankhtifi, a First Intermediate Period nomarch of the 3rd Upper Egyptian nome. Next up was Elkab, ancient Nekheb. In 1937 Jean Capart started excavating there and it has been a Belgian concession ever since. We visited the tombs of Ahmose (17-18th dynasty) and his grandson Pahery (18th dynasty), Reneni (18th dynasty), and Setau (20th dynasty). In the tomb of Reneni we saw a relief of a funerary garden, of the kind that we had seen in real life at the Spanish mission in Dra Abu el-Naga. We also climbed the vulture rock, an outcrop in the desert full of ancient graffiti. When we reached the top we were rewarded with a panoramic view over Elkab. We ended the site visit with the chapel of Hathor, built by Amenhotep III, which also contained a lot of graffiti, but of a more recent kind. At the end of the day we reached Aswan where we took a boat to the island where our hotel was located. After a long day on the bus, it was nice to unwind by the pool.

On Monday we took the boat to Qubbet el-Hawa (“Dome of the Wind”). To reach this necropolis, where the Old and Middle Kingdom elite of Elephantine are buried, we had to climb some stairs. Here we observed that the landscape is totally different than elsewhere in Egypt because of the big granite boulders that were more difficult for the Nile to carve out, hence forming the first cataract which marked the southern border of ancient Egypt. First we visited the tomb of Harkhuf, which has a famous autobiography on its façade that many of us had read in class. In this text Harkhuf mentions three expeditions to the south that he undertook. On the first one he accompanied his father, while the second time he went by himself. On his third journey he brought back a dwarf (dng) for Pepi II from Yam. Pepi II told him in no uncertain terms to make sure that the dwarf would survive the trip to Egypt. A little further we saw the tomb of Pepinakht, better known under the name Heqaib, who became a local saint. In his autobiography he describes how he was sent to recover the body of a man who had been killed in Nubia by “sand dwellers” while building a boat for an expedition to Punt. Because of his popularity many people made their tombs in proximity to his. We also visited two Middle Kingdom tombs of men with the name Sarenput. While the architectural design was similar, the decoration in the tomb of Sarenput II was impressive. The tombs of Mekhu and Sabni, father and son, were located on the other side of the stairs. After all these tombs, we went up to the top of the hill to enjoy the view from the dome.

Exploring Qubbet el-Hawa

In the afternoon we sailed to Sehel Island in the first cataract, where hundreds of ancient rock inscriptions are preserved on granite boulders. This natural feature is a perfect example of the unique landscape of Aswan. This island was associated with the goddess Anuket, who is one of the gods in the triad of Aswan alongside Khnum and Satet. First we went up the hill where the famine stela is located, which was discovered in the 19th century by Wilbour. The text was written during the Ptolemaic period, but pretending to be from the Old Kingdom in the time of Djoser. The aim of this text was likely to legitimate the claim of the priesthood of Khnum on the Dodekaschoinos. We had lunch in between the boulders and climbed up and down the rocks to search for inscriptions and the sanctuary of Anuket. In the evening we went to the souk on the East bank and we had the chance to explore the modern culture of Egypt.

On Tuesday we arrived at Elephantine around 10 am, where we met Johanna Sigl from the German Archaeological Institute, which has been excavating on this island for 50 years. She gave us the historical background of the island in the site museum, which was followed by a tour on site. The settlement developed from early pharaonic times throughout the Greco-Roman period. As an important trade point and cultic centre related to the Nile flood, the goddess Satet has a sanctuary on this island with multiple construction phases. There was also a sanctuary for the formerly mentioned Heqaib, an Old Kingdom necropolis with a 4th dynasty pyramid, and a Middle Kingdom settlement. Then Johanna invited us to their dig house where we ate our lunch and were offered some cold drinks by the Nile.

Looking at Middle Kingdom houses on Elephantine with Johanna Sigl

In the afternoon we went to the island of Agilkia, where the temple of Philae, dedicated to Isis, is now located. Because of the construction of the Aswan dam the temple suffered a lot of flood damage in its original location. Therefore a dam was built around the original island, water was pumped out, and the temple was dismantled and moved. Marleen introduced us to the historical background of this mainly Ptolemaic temple, after which Elien discussed the mammisi or ‘birth house’ for the divine child Horus. At Hadrian’s gate we saw the last dated hieroglyphic inscription of Egypt dating to 394 AD. Originally this gate was located right across a gate on the island of Bigga, by which we sailed later on.

Inside the Isis temple at Philae

On our last day in Aswan we paid a visit to the Nubian Museum, exploring Nubian culture. Afterwards we went to the unfinished obelisk in the granite quarries, which was never transported out of the quarry because it had cracked right down the middle. However, it was a good way to see the technological process behind obelisk making and the role of the quarries. In the afternoon we sailed across Lake Nasser to Kalabsha, a Roman Period temple devoted to the god Mandulis, where Lauren gave her site presentation. Again, part of the temple was reused as a church in later times. We also explored the rest of the island and saw the rock-cut temple of Beit el-Wali, a Nubian temple built by Ramesses II. In the evening the time had come to take the night train back to Caïro.

After this whirlwind tour, we had some time to rest during the last three days of the week. On Thursday we attended a lecture of Lara Weiss at the NVIC about the making of a cultural geography at Saqqara. She introduced us to her project and explained their aims and findings. Friday was a special day because it was Anneke’s birthday. We celebrated it together with food, drinks and cake. On Saturday we all worked on our papers or our posters for GARDEN.

Ellen Vannoppen en Elien Zoete

The kiosk of Qertassi on New Kalabsha
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