Week 2–3 (16–31 January)
When faced with disappointment, it is human nature to search for silver linings. Now, in the third week of the Cairo Semester, I have discovered three. The first silver lining is that I don't have to miss my cat for six weeks. The second is that the quality of the lectures, already high during the first week, seems to have gotten even higher. And, number three: we get to have our cake and eat it, since we learn about sites and projects from Egypt, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands. So really, Plan C is just Plan A and B rolled into one.
The start of the second week was also the end of our Arabic classes. In our final lesson we learned about cafés and coffee shops, which in Egypt are a lot more innocent than in the Netherlands. Hopefully one day we will get to go to a coffee shop in Cairo and say: “ ’ana عayza šāy wi-s-sukkaṛ baṛṛa” (“I would like tea with sugar on the side”), although that would not be very Egyptian of us.
On the Egyptian side of things, Dayr al-Barsha is the site that just keeps on giving, as we travelled there five times in the past two weeks. The focus differed greatly, from pottery to physical anthropology to quarries to geomorphological research and then to Old Kingdom forecourts. There were many highlights, but the one to trump them all arguably was seeing Dayr al-Barsha icon Harco Willems without his trademark beard. Marleen also took us on two very exciting trips to the Giza Plateau, and we learned about the history of the site. As a follow-up, Peter Der Manuelian told us about his research into George Andrew Reisner, and the 1000+-page biography he is writing on the man. In week three we also spent some time at Thebes. On the east bank, Rene Preys took us on a tour of the epigraphic work at the temple of Karnak. On the west bank, Dimitri Laboury taught us all about the painters and their painterly practices, while Kent Weeks explained his Theban Mapping Project at the Theban Necropolis during the ARCE lecture at the end of week three.
On the European continent again, early in week 2 we ‘went’ to the German base of the DAI (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut), where Juliane Watson gave us an overview of their running projects (of which there are a lot) and the digital IDAI-world they are building. We also went on a double visit to the Hildesheim Museum (which is actually named the Roemer-Pelizaeus Museum). Different affiliated researchers talked about their projects at the museum, including a tour of Qantir with Edgar Pusch. Afterwards Regine Schulz and Christian Bayer discussed some of the finest objects in their collection. Finally, Simon Schweitzer took us behind the scenes of the Thesaurus Linguae Aegyptiae, discussing the coding that is behind this brilliant resource for Egyptology.
At the end of week three, on Friday, we each gave a virtual site presentation, not actually on site of course, but by using 3D Matterport models online. We visited the tomb of Wahty in Saqqara with Gill, the tomb of Menna at Thebes under Sandra’s expert guidance, Luna took us to the tomb of Meresankh III at Giza, and we ended with a tour of the tomb of Ramses V/VI at Thebes, which was given by me. Through copious use of the 3D models it was almost like we were actually there.
And just like that, another two weeks have gone by. It feels strange to think that we are already almost halfway through the semester, but I guess the old saying still stands: time flies when you’re having fun! And despite everything, I think I speak for all of us when I say that we are definitely having fun.