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Week 1–2 (7–15 January)

It goes without saying that this year’s ‘Cairo semester’ is a little different than we had imagined. Due to the covid-19 pandemic, over the summer a Plan B had been drawn up which consisted of a ‘grand tour’ of several museums and institutes through Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. Alas, due to current travel restrictions in Europe this too was not possible in the end. Time for plan C: a fully online Cairo semester. While we were all a little disappointed at first, we will have more than enough opportunities to travel to Egypt once the virus is finally under control. But for the next couple of weeks the time of computer problems and dodgy internet has arrived.

Our first day started with an introduction to the NVIC by Rudolf de Jong, who stated that we are always welcome at the institute. Anne Van Leeuwen talked to us about modern Egypt, with some need-to-know’s about daily life in Egypt. In the afternoon we had our first Egyptian colloquial Arabic class by Khawla (Fig. 1). It is unfortunate that we could not start to use our newfound knowledge in the streets of Cairo right away. Arabic classes continued throughout the first week, and while not easy, we are slowly getting the hang of it, il-hamdu li-llah. If we get lost on the streets of Cairo we can now ask: “law samaht, fen il-maAhad NVIC?” (“Excuse me, where is the NVIC Institute?”).

Fig. 1: Arabic lessons with Khawla

While we are not physically in Egypt, we travelled there virtually a few times during the week. Marleen took us on a tour through all the research institutions in Cairo and told us about their interesting histories. We are all looking forward to visiting them for real one day. Later in the week Ilona Regulski took us into the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (EMC), and spoke about the European project that is taking place in cooperation with the EMC now that much of its treasures are moved to the GEM and NMEC. She also gave us a really fun tour through the museum with her phone camera (Fig. 2). Inside the museum Bianca Madden talked about the difficult work of conserving the iconic boat scene recovered from Hierakonpolis Tomb 100. Another museum that we visited virtually, is the Royal Museum of Mariemont in Belgium. Arnaud Quertinmont explained how due to covid-19 some projects had to be put on hold, but the next couple of years look very promising in terms of planned exhibitions.

Fig. 2: Inside the Egyptian Museum with Ilona and Bianca

In the first week we also got immersed in Dayr al-Barsha a few times. Harco Willems gave us an overview of the history of the Dayr al-Barsha project, from how it started long ago as a wild idea at Leiden University until the international multidisciplinary project it has grown into today. This included some amazing pictures from the earliest period where the project only consisted of four people (and a donkey). Marleen talked to us about the Old Kingdom tombs at Dayr al-Barsha and at al-Shaykh Sa'id, where also some interesting restoration inscriptions occur inside some of the tombs. And on Friday afternoon Toon Sykora gave us a very detailed lecture on the egyptological history and historical evolution of the Middle Kingdom Necropolis at Dayr al-Barsha. Furthermore, he talked about how he and Roberto De Lima Hernandez are digitising the site with a combination of laser scanning and photogrammetry. In a virtual tour through the governors’ tombs, we experienced the preliminary results of this work (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Feline company during the 3D virtual tour through the necropolis of Dayr al-Barsha

Attending online lectures substitutes going to lectures in Cairene institutes. On Tuesday Anna Stevens spoke for the EES on “The cemeteries of Amarna: New perspectives on life under Akhenaten”. Some truly monumental work has been carried out by the Amarna project on non-elite burials and this lecture was only a small slice of the findings. On Saturday we attended a panel discussion from ARCE on “Anxieties about Race in Egyptology and Egyptomania, 1890–1960”, which made us aware that we need to be careful with older publications because many scholars projected their racial anxieties back into ancient Egypt.

This first week was a good start to get accustomed to an all-digital Cairo semester. We sometimes had technical setbacks, but nothing can stop us from enjoying the experience! Only the Egyptian weather is missing. Snow fell on Saturday which is definitely a first for the Cairo semester. We attended many interesting virtual tours and lectures with many more to follow!

Gill Berings

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