Week 6-7 (15-26 February)
All good things must come to an end, even the Cairo semester. Time flew by so fast that we were all astounded and downhearted to come to this realization. The last two weeks seemed to go even faster, with a range of interesting lectures, panel discussions and a paper to write! Fania Kruijf enlightened us about Tutankhamun and his reception in modern society while Marleen took us back to Dayr al-Barsha, where we dove into zooarchaeology. Next to cattle feet and the Grus grus crane, the Trionyx triunguis turtle with his elongated snout made an appearance (fig. 1). Although this little creature seems harmless, the Ancient Egyptians did not take a liking to it. This is clearly illustrated by the line ‘may Re live, may the turtle die’.
For the second time this semester, Dimitri Laboury from the University of Liège showed up and entertained us with a fascinating lecture about a sculptor’s workshop in Amarna. Next, the ‘Walking Dead’ team from the University of Leiden introduced us to their project at Saqqara. As one would expect, the project lives up to its eye-catching name, looking into the cultural geography of the site and the transmission of text and images. Week 6 ended on a high note, with a virtual visit to the Freie Universität Berlin. For nearly four hours, we were glued to our screens listening to prof. Jochem Kahl talking about his fieldwork in Assiut and Tina Beck discussing her research on wooden Middle Kingdom sculptures from this region (fig. 2). Elisabeth Kruck took us to the Theban area with her analysis on the arrangement of burial goods in Middle Kingdom tombs. To finish off the day, Anna Hodgkinson introduced us to her study of glass-working in Amarna.
On Saturday evening Jeremy Pope gave an interesting ARCE lecture on the first African-Americans visiting Nubia. Although this subject may seem far removed from our ‘normal study topics’, it certainly was an intriguing tale of Ethiopianism, building an American state in Sudan and the British colonial projects in the region. The lecture forced us to think about the outdated ideas on the ‘origins of the Negro race’ and the racist attitudes of the past.
Starting our last week in a virtual Egypt, Silke Grallert from the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities amazed us with her four hour (!) presentation on the archives of the Prussian expedition of Lepsius from 1842-1845. We were introduced to the different members of the expedition team and followed the route they took from Alexandria all the way to Khartoum. We looked into the written documentation they left behind, the objects they took with them to Europe, as well as the multitude of paper squeezes and gypsum casts they produced (fig. 3). All of us were astonished by the high precision they achieved in their drawings by the use of a camera lucida. The amount of interesting topics was never-ending as we looked at the lithographic techniques used to publish the Denkmäler and the archival material of the Wörterbuch Project.
On Tuesday, Lara Weiss from the RMO in Leiden took us on a tour through the Egyptian collection of the museum, virtually of course (fig. 4). Thanks to the great effort she put into organizing this tour and actually walking us through the museum in real time, it almost felt as if we were really there! The day ended with a joint lecture with the students of the University of Birmingham, on the history of the Egypt Exploration Society by Stephanie Boonstra (fig. 5), followed by a panel discussion on archaeological practices in Egyptology, as part of the newly created Interdisciplinary Egyptology webinars.
On Wednesday we went back to the Giza plateau for the last time. We discussed rock-cut tombs, the development of family tombs in the 5th dynasty and had a short introduction to tomb-development in the provinces. In the evening, Aaron de Souza enthusiastically told us about his research on Nubian pottery and Egyptian-Nubian relations at the start of the 18th dynasty in the region of Tell Edfu. Again, the problem of labelling the ‘pan-grave culture’, the ‘C-group’ etc. as well as the dominant view of Egyptian domination over Nubia became apparent.
After making some last preparations on Thursday, the big day arrived: our final presentations of the semester! I discussed cubit rods, looking into their use and archaeological context. Gill introduced us to his research on unusual funerary stela from the late Old Kingdom and First Intermediate Period, Margit talked about ‘Cults and Contexts’, and Sandra presented her work on Nubian bowmen in the First Intermediate Period. Presenting our research topics and handing in our kashkuls made us realize that the semester had really come to an end. As a final activity, we all sat down for a drink and talked about our experiences these last seven weeks (fig. 6). Although having a virtual Cairo semester is not the same as the real thing, it must be said that none of us was disappointed by our virtual ‘plan C’. We ‘visited’ a multitude of sites and research projects, we had loads of interesting talks, learned a lot and made new connections and friends along the way. To finish this last diary entry I would just like to say: see you next year Egypt, insha’Allah!