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Week 5: 3–10 February

Our last days in Luxor have started, but nevertheless we have a program full of amazing activities this week. The exhaustion of the last couple of days is starting to weigh on us, but that is not something that cannot be remedied by a good breakfast.

On Sunday, we went on a trip to Esna and Elkab.  First, we arrived in Esna where the temple of Khnum is located quite deep underneath the modern ground level and is surrounded by houses. Only the Roman hypostyle hall is preserved, but this was still very impressive. Simon gave his site presentation here and offered us a very interesting impression of the temple and its decorations.

Admiring the freshly cleaned decoration at Esna

Afterwards we drove to Elkab, a site were a Belgian archaeological mission has been excavating since 1937. Wouter Claes, the current field director of the excavations at Elkab, told us about the site and its history. We visited the New Kingdom tombs, such as those of Paheri and Setau. In some of these tombs the scribe who decorated it, was pictured accompanied by a small text, sort of to promote himself. Afterwards, we drove into the wadi, where we stopped at the so-called Vulture Rock, which holds pre- and early dynastic rock drawings as well as pharaonic rock inscriptions. It was probably the first and last place people visited when coming from or going to the desert. Really cool place. The (literal) highlight of the day was the climb to the top of the Vulture rock. The views were absolutely amazing. The last stop at Elkab was the bark shrine of Amenhotep III. On the drive back to Luxor, everyone took the opportunity to rest a bit, and we ended the day with a surprise visit to the First Intermediate Period tomb of Ankhtifi.

At Elkab with Wouter Claes

When we woke up the next day, we were shocked to find a hot air balloon flying next to the rooftop of our hotel as it had deviated from its route and needed to perform an emergency landing on the East Bank. Omar had told us about a similar incident that had occurred on the parking lot at Deir el-Medina just one day before. With the best hopes for a safe landing of the hot air balloon, we followed it to the East Bank where we would spend  our entire day. We started by exploring the vast history of Karnak temple. Mathieu Vanpeene introduced us to the earliest settlement remains at the site, which are currently under excavation by the CFEETK. In the south-eastern corner of the great enclosure wall, they found building remains that appear to have been part of a domestic baking place dating back to the late FIP and even earlier phases are expected underneath.

Early remains at Karnak

Jumping a bit further ahead in the temple's timeline, Giulia presented to us the Red and the White Chapels exhibited  in the Open Air Museum right next to the first courtyard. After wandering around in the ample  halls of the temple a while longer, we went to visit the Luxor temple. Despite its smaller  size, it offers a vivid rendering of the barque procession of the Theban triad and illustrates not only the enduring pharaonic investment in the cultic landscape of Thebes down into the Late  Period, but also the religious activity up until modern times in the form of the Abu Haggag Mosque.

Giulia’s presentation at Hatshepsut’s Red Chapel

Full of these impressions, we went on to the gorgeous Chicago House. Accompanied by a handful of cats, the director of the Epigraphic Survey, Brett McClain, showed us around the whole property with its living and working quarters. After having taken a look at the fine collection of the Luxor Museum, we were quite relieved to return to our comfortable beds on the West Bank at last – reflecting about this quite eventful day.

In the library of Chicago House

On Tuesday, we made a daytrip to Dendera. We were met by René Preys, who is an expert on Ptolemaic temples and their texts. He gave us an elaborate tour through the temple complex and showed us things we would never have discovered ourselves, like places where possibly another artist started on the decorations. This was very interesting. We finished our tour on the roof of the temple, from where we could see the whole complex. After eating our lunch within the enclosure of the temple, we went looking for the depiction of Cleopatra and Caesarion before the gods. We found them on the back of the temple. When we got back to the hotel, some of the group relaxed in the pool, while others worked on some assignments.

At the temple of Hathor in Dendera with René Preys

Then it was already Wednesday – our last day in Luxor. We started by visiting the Spanish mission at Dra Abu el-Naga where José Galán showed us the funerary garden they had  found – or rather the highly realistic 3D-model that protects it – as well as the impressive tombs of Djehuty and Hery. For their future work, which had shifted towards a possible location  of another Second Intermediate Period pyramid, young aspiring Egyptologists could be of great help. After a short stop at the Carter House, we first visited the mortuary   temple of Seti I guided by Annely and then the colossi of Memnon in front of the mortuary temple of Amenhotep III. We ended this sunny day poolside.

At Dra Abu el-Naga with José Galán

With plenty of luggage, snacks and entertainment – from sudoku to books and knitting – we sorrowfully bid farewell to the place that had become so dear to us for the last week. After some nine hours in the bus, we finally arrived again at our apartments in Cairo.  We ordered our dinner not knowing that we would have to wait for another two hours. Desperate to do two weeks’ worth of laundry, we came to find out  that our washing machine had broken down offering nothing more than some terrifying screeches. Luckily, the Leuven apartment allowed us to use their washing machine, saving us  from complete demise. The next days were thus needed to recover a bit.

Friday, we had a day off. We slept in and did some more laundry. We caught up on work, like preparations for the GARDEN IX conference and our paper about a museum object. All of this was of course done at quite the leisurely pace, so that we could relax and rest optimally. The last day of this week came fast. We had a self-study day, which we filled with working on our paper. Some of us worked from the apartment, others went to a coffee shop. We can once again look back on an amazing week!

Eva De Smet & Johannes Schmitt

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