Student Journals 2016
Every year, the MA students Egyptology and Egyptian Archaeology from The Netherlands and Flanders write down their Egypt experiences in a diary. Here you can read our students' stories from 2016.
What an eventful first week!
The program officially started on Sunday the 10th of January, but all of us arrived a week or so early in order to find an apartment. Finding an apartment in Cairo is an adventure itself, but we all managed to find an apartment before the program started. The program started with more information from Marleen about what we will be doing these two months and we had a lecture on daily life in Egypt, since there are some cultural differences between Egypt and Europe. Social life works a bit different here in Egypt than in the Netherlands or Belgium; in Egypt you belong to certain social groups and those groups are very important. You can always rely on this group and always ask them for favors and they can always ask you for a favor in return. While in the Netherlands or Belgium you make your own social group based on the people you meet and want to be friends with. This week we also got four classes in Egyptian Arabic, which is very useful if you want to communicate with the taxi driver, order something in a restaurant or talk to your landlord. Even speaking a few words of Egyptian really helps to communicate with the taxi driver. So you can tell him when he takes a wrong turn and you want your change.
We got to visit four archeological institutes this week. We first went to the American Research Center in Egypt where we were introduced to their library. Then we visited the Swiss Institute which is located in the beautiful old villa of Ludwig Borchardt on Zamalek, with a very nice library and garden overlooking the Nile. After this we were kindly received at the German Archaeological Institute (which even stayed open longer especially for us!), where we were informed about the history of the institute and got a tour in their large library. And we also got to see the Austrian Institute (which is not that easy to find, since it is hidden away in an apartment building), where Pamela Rose was so kind to give us a tour. And of course we also went to the Egyptian Museum this week. Marwa Abd Elrazek told us about the database of the museum and how we can use it if we need to look something up for our paper.
We also got an assignment in the museum to find certain objects, which is basically like a scavenger hunt. However, it is not that easy, since there are so many objects on display in the museum so it is possible to miss an object. On Friday we had a day off and some of us went to the pyramids. Thanks to our tour guide Ahmed we were able to go to all the good locations to take pictures while he was touring us around the site. He even asked his friends and relatives if we could go onto their rooftop in order to watch the sunset, which resulted in an amazing view of the Giza plateau while the sun was setting next to the pyramid of Menkaure. On Saturday Marleen took us through the eastern and western cemeteries of Giza and we got a tour around the building site of the Grand Egyptian Museum. Wilfried Dom showed us around this enormous complex which originally was supposed to be completed in 2015, but due to financing issues they are now expecting to complete it in 2018.
Looking forward to week two!
''You are always welcome my friend!''
Week two was filled with our very first 'real' excursion as we went to the Fayum for three days. On Sunday Marleen briefed us on what we would visit and on Tuesday morning 7.00 (for the ones who know me, I know right, soo early...) we got on the bus to go to the Fayum. Our driver Magdi brought us there, but not unaccompanied: we had our own police protection. I must say, going through traffic with the sirene on works quite well. On Tuesday we started off at Lahun (nb: not Kahun, this is Petrie’s mistake), a site most famous for the pyramid of Senusret II and its accompanying town. The mud brick enclosure wall is still partly visible, but the most impressive part was the massive construction that was once covered in Tura limestone. Surrounding the pyramid were eight mastabas cut out of natural limestone. Afterwards, we went to Hawara to see the pyramid of Amenemhat III (as a New Kingdom freak I am totally programmed to type Amenhotep). This one was at least as impressive as the former, built out of mud brick and being still quite high. The guard showed us the entrance of the pyramid because the burial chamber is under water nowadays, which was clearly visible when he threw a rock in the water. ''Did you see it?!!!!'' ''Yes, thank you, all seven of us saw it!''. The site of Hawara became a sacred area during the Graeco-Roman Period, since Amenemhat was deified in the Fayum. Petrie’s discovery of the Fayum-portraits are clear evidence of Graeco-Roman use of the site. As the cherry on top of our wonderful day, we visited Biahmu, where the remains of two colossi of Amenemhat III are visible. This was quite the trip, as we were guided to the colossi by the owner of the land and our military escort. We were only allowed to walk around there for a very short time, and as we made our round one of the guards said ''be careful, there might be cobra's in the grass!''. And so a short trip it was.
Wednesday was a new day with new sites to visit. This was the day on which Eline and Stephanie held their site presentations and did a really great job. Mine's due next week -- Malqata here we come! First Eline was up at Karanis. It was quite different seeing the site in real life instead of on a map, but Eline did an amazing job at guiding us there. It's a Graeco-Roman site where many papyri were found, as well as more than 44.000 objects from daily life. The best part of this city was in my opinion the bath house, where there were still remains of paintings to be seen. Next up was Medinat Madi, which was quite the challenge to reach. Our military friends were determined on taking the desert road, which wasn't even on our map and turned out to take 2 hours. A great moment for an afternoon nap. Once we had arrived at the site, Stephanie told us about all the different aspects of the site; how the procession road was still visible including sphinxes, how in some houses there were still paintings to be seen and she showed us the cutest thing ever: a crocodile nursery! Marleen was inspired and mentioned she might start one after her retirement. If anyone knows a male croc to pair with her female croc, let us know. One of the highlights for me was the Middle Kingdom sanctuary at the back of the Graeco-Roman monuments which was devoted to Renenutet and Sobek.
On our last day of the Fayum we visited Meidum and Lisht to see Snefru’s pyramid and the pyramids of Amenemhat I and Senusret I. At Meidum, we went into mastaba 17, which was quite the adventure! We literally crawled through the darkest and dustiest of spaces ever until we finally reached the burial chamber, where the gigantic sarcophagus of unknown person X was still positioned. As well as at least 6394638 bats scattered over the ceiling. Bat shit is bad so we didn't stay to reminiscence. We also visited the mastaba of Nefermaat and Itet, famous for its inlaid reliefs and the Meidum-geese. Of course none of this is visible nowadays, these reliefs are to be seen in various museums all over the world (among others Cairo, Brussels, Copenhagen and Vienna). After finding a piece of a Meidum-bowl (which is pretty awesome) we headed to Lisht. The pyramid of Amenemhat I is positioned next to an Islamic cemetery, which seems rather nice in a certain way. Amenemhat I was a bit of a vandal (or a recycler, depending on how you look at it) and reused many Old Kingdom blocks for his pyramid. Marleen told us that here the water is also a problem: the burial chamber of Senusret’s pyramid hasn't even been mapped due to the groundwater table. But we did find a relief of a fat Hapy.
I think I might be out of words here, but I can't stop writing without having said something about Tanis, the last day of week 2. I had read about the findings in the royal tombs of Tanis and used some of their objects in one of my papers so I was quite excited to go there. I was not disappointed! Tanis is an archaeologist/Egyptologist’s dream. Parts of the temples and tombs are excavated, but the actual village and houses are still waiting for us. I even found a horsie. My day couldn't get much better. Tanis is completely built up out of reused blocks which the pharaohs had dragged to their new city from (among other places) Pi-Ramesse (Qantir) and Avaris (Tell el-Daba'a). You can still see statues and cartouches of all kinds of pharaohs of which Ramses II was the most frequent one. Unfortunately the royal tombs were closed (it was a Saturday and the man with the key was celebrating the weekend) but the tomb of Sheshonq III and IV was visible from above and very beautiful. On our way home we quickly visited the Ismailia museum, a tiny museum with one of the biggest surviving Graeco-Roman mosaics from Egypt. It was pretty pretty.
Week 2 was amazing -- so many antiquities, and we've learned so much. Next Friday, we are travelling to Luxor (YAY!) where I'll finally be able to visit some of my horse-tombs.
Excitement is uncontrollable.
All the best from Cairo!
The third week of the Cairo program has come to an end. And what a week it was. The week had a little more "free" and self-study days than in the past two weeks, and in the beginning of the week we had a day off due to the anniversary of the Egyptian revolution on January the 25th. But let’s start at the beginning. On Sunday we went to visit the Institut français d'archéologie orientale (IFAO), founded in 1880. This French institute is based in an enormous and beautiful, yet freezing, mansion. The institute houses its own Print House and Print House Museum. It was amazing to see the old press machines (which still work!) in the museum and the ± 1000 hieroglyphic fonts which were used to compose the hieroglyphic texts and which eventually were pressed onto a piece of paper. As a souvenir we all got a piece of Ptolemaic text pressed in this old way. Perhaps this doesn’t sound too exciting, but for most students of Egyptology it is. The IFAO has a rather famous reputation and the books published by the IFAO are known for their craftsmanship. After the museum we went into the actual Print House. This again was very impressive: all books are still bound by hand by people who have worked in the Print House for decades! After the IFAO, some of us took advantage of the "free" afternoon to go and visit the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir square. Apart from more security on the street, there weren’t any tensions in the prelude of the revolution’s anniversary, which now is a national holiday. On Monday the 25th, all of us stayed indoors. The thing that really stood out this day? The cars didn’t honk as much as they use to! All in all it was a very quiet, pyjama-study day.
On Wednesday the 27th we took a day-trip to Ayn Sukhna, which is one of the Red Sea costal sites. The name Ayn Sukhna literally means ‘the hot spring’ and Ayn Sukhna is nowadays more famous for being a weekend-destination at the sea. For Egyptologists the name also rings another bell: it was a pharaonic port and settlement which was very important for seafaring expeditions on the Red Sea. The site (most Old Kingdom and Middle Kingdom occupation) is known for its cave systems. In these caves, boats and other materials were stored when they were not needed. For unknown reasons one of the boats in the caves was set on fire, resulting in the collapse of the roof of the cave. This actually resulted in preserving the oldest known functional seafaring ship in the world. The boat turned into charcoal, but it is amazingly preserved: even some of the ropes are preserved. After these caves were abandoned, they were used by Copts as their dwelling places.
On Thursday we had another site-preparation class. This time we were preparing our 10-day trip to Luxor and Aswan in the south of Egypt! We left on Friday evening to take the night-train from Giza station to Luxor. This train ride was a fun experience. It was actually quite alright and comparable to night-trains in Europe. Every wagon has its own ‘butler’ who brings you your dinner, makes up your bed, wakes you up an hour before arrival and then brings you breakfast. The sleeping quality wasn’t the best due to the movement and sounds made by the train, but we eventually arrived at five ‘o clock in the morning at Luxor. We had some time in the hotel to regain strength and left at eight for our first visit in Luxor: the Mut temple project of the Brooklyn Museum mission. One of the team-members we met here was none other than Jaap van Dijk (Rijksuniversiteit Groningen) who taught classes in Hieratic and New Egyptian at Leiden University to some of our students. The Mut temple was a place dedicated to the goddess Mut where drunkenness and sex were part of the rituals. After a great tour around the site, we took off to visit the famous workmen’s village of Deir el-Medina. This village was home to the artisans who worked on the tombs in the Valley of the Kings during the 18th to 20th dynasties of the New Kingdom. In the so-called ‘Great Pit’ (nowadays we would call this a huge trash can) most of the documentation of this village was found, giving us great insight into the daily life of the people. Some of the artists were buried in tombs next to the town, and the decoration in these tombs is absolutely stunning with the colors of the paint beautifully preserved! This is not surprising given that the tombs belong to the very people who made the famous tombs of the kings.
After a very long, yet thrilling, day we were all very happy to be in our beds at night.
Ready for week four!
'So Many Sites!'
This week we were in Luxor, and as it was pretty cold last week in Cairo, we were all quite happy to enjoy a little sunshine. The week was nothing if not saturated in information. Luxor is full of things to see and learn. This week we got the opportunity to meet with several Egyptologists/archaeologists who showed us first hand the work that they were conducting. We were incredibly busy this week, but here are some of the best bits.
On Sunday morning, we returned bright and early (7:30am) to the Mut temple complex. Betsy Bryan was nice enough to come in and give us a tour of her work at the site, even though she was flying out only a few hours later that afternoon. Betsy talked about what remains from the original 18th Dynasty Temple, after which she gave discussed her excavations at the late Second Intermediate Period settlement site behind the temple complex. On Monday, Lonneke showed us around the 18th Dynasty Palace of Amenhotep III at Malqata.
We were lucky enough to catch us with Brett McClain at Chicago House. He showed us around the library on the east bank in Luxor and described the purpose behind the work done by the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. The epigraphic survey is currently conducting its 91st archaeological field season! Tuesday we met again with Brett, but this time at the temple of Medinet Habu. Here, we got a first hand look at the “Chicago House Method” of epigraphy. Attention to detail and exhaustless checks are everything. After a tour around the site and the work done by Chicago we left to meet with the Belgian team working at Sheikh Abd el-Qurna, a New Kingdom necropolis.
We also got to meet up with Angus Graham and his team, who are working to understand the geomorphology of the Theban area (the ancient landscape and the waterway of the Nile and how the ancient Egyptians manipulated it). The Egypt Exploration Society Theban Harbours and Waterways Survey (THaWS) started fourteen years ago in Karnak. They are now surveying, percussion coring, and analyzing the core samples of the area from the Ramesseum to the temple of Amenhotep III at Kom el-Hettan (you may know it from the colossi of Memnon). The work done by Angus and his team was so fascinating!
We visited the Valley of the Kings for Marijke's site tour of KV 9, the tomb of Ramesses V and VI. She gave us a lovely tour through all 6 (out of 7 total) of the books of the dead that the tomb includes. We also visited the Tausret temple site. As it turns out the director of the University of Arizona Egyptian Expedition (UAEE) would only be arriving to Luxor on the day that we leave, so the group had to get a tour from the manager of field operations instead, yours truly. I showed everyone around the site and gave a brief history of the work done at the Tausret temple.
Thursday morning we set out for Gebelein with our guide and the director of the mission there, Wojtek Ejsmond. This is a massive site with numerous necropoles, temples, quarries, everything an archaeologist could ask for and all with a spectacular view. Gebelein consists of two hills on the Nile overlooking green agricultural fields and swaying palm trees.
It was certainly a long and eventful week. I have tried to give you a brief look into what we did, but of course, I couldn't fit it all in here. On Monday alone we were out visiting sites for over thirteen and half hours! Finally, we have made it to Aswan, with a couple stops along the way (Elkab and Edfu). I can't wait to see what the South has in store for us.
Until next time,
I can't believe we are already past halfway the semester, Egyptian time runs way too fast! Week 5 started off in Aswan, in a very good way. After an amazing week in Luxor we had some time to sleep in because our first visit to Elephantine was scheduled at 10AM. In Elephantine we got a tour around the site from Marie, who showed us the different phases of the Satet temple, of which the first phase is situated 4 meters below modern street level. This shrine is situated between granite boulders, which could still be seen in situ, along with the new inhabitants of the temple: bats. After this trip below ground level Marie took us higher up, onto the panorama terrace, giving us an amazing view over Elephantine. After Marie was done with her tour she led us to their dig house, where we were kindly offered some lemon juice which was enjoyed along with the view. After these refreshments, Johanna Sigl took us to her excavation trench and explained what their current research is about. Our afternoon was spent in Philae, or rather on Agilkia island, since that is where the famous temple was moved to after the construction of the Aswan Dam. Marleen took us on a tour around the temple, after which we went to Bigeh island, where we had a quick look at what remains of a sanctuary for Osiris, which was linked to the Philae Temple.
Monday morning we visited the Spanish excavation in Qubbet el-Hawa. Here, we got a great tour by Alejandro Jimenez-Serrano who showed us the rock-cut tombs in which his team is working. These graves belonged to the elite and were connected to the nearby town of Elephantine which we visited the day before. In the afternoon we went to Sehel island, an island in the middle of the first cataract where a lot of graffiti was left. Among this graffiti is the famine stela and the shrine of Anuket which we both were able to track down.
On our last day in Aswan we went to the Nubian museum. I believe this was a good ending of the trip since the museum displays a lot of objects from the sites we visited on the days before. We furthermore went to Kalabsha where Fania had her great site presentation about the temple of Mandulis, which has moved islands as well, just like Philae. The temple in the form that it can be seen today was built in 27 B.C.E. by Augustus, but it was never finished. Even though the temple was built by a Roman emperor, it has Egyptian and Nubian influences which can be recognized in the reliefs. Cartouches of Augustus' name in hieroglyphics can also be found in this temple. After Fania's site presentation we had some time to explore the island by ourselves, to see the other temples that were resurrected on the island as well. Before we had to catch the train back to Cairo there was time for a quick drink in the very posh Old Cataract hotel. Here we enjoyed the best cheesecake with a great view on the Nile. The Cairo semester is hard work!
We took the sleeping train back to Cairo, which meant we had a rocky night. After our arrival in Cairo, with a 3 hour delay, we had our first Mogamma experience to extend our visas. The visit was not that bad thanks to Marleen who knew exactly what to do.
The next day we had to come back to the Mogamma at 9 to hand in our passports which we then had to pick up at 1. The handing in of the passport was no problem at all. The picking up however was a real challenge. The line was non-existent and everyone swarmed together around the office window. Instead of the people in line asking for their passports back, passports were being held up in the air, which resulted in a lot of screaming (What is the nationality? What's the name on there?) and pushing to get to the front to either get a better view or to pick up the passport. After about an hour and a half we all had our passports back, luckily with extended visas which permit us to finish the Cairo semester.
The last day of the week was spent in Coptic Cairo. For some of us it marked our first metro trip in Egypt which was spent in a separate carriage for women. Our first visit in Coptic Cairo was to the Coptic Museum, which was in a beautiful building made in Coptic style. Inside the museum we were handed an assignment which led us through the different galleries of the museum which were sorted into theme instead of in a chronological order. After the museum we visited some churches and a synagogue. We ended the trip by going to a cemetery which was a village on itself with big tombs that looked like houses and a division into streets. All in all another great week of the Cairo semester.
This week started bright and early on Sunday at 7 AM. We met at NVIC where we said a quick "hello – goodbye!" to the cats and guards before heading off to Alexandria. Our first stop in the Mediterranean city was the site of Kom el-Dikka, where Polish archaeologists have excavated the only Roman amphitheatre found in Egypt. Some of the benches in the amphitheatre still bear seat numbers, although we couldn’t really figure out how the system worked. But Kom el-Dikka is so much more than the amphitheatre, which in the fourth or fifth century CE was integrated in a sort of university campus for students of rhetoric. The site has over twenty individual classrooms, featuring student benches lining the walls, a special seat for the teacher and a spot in the middle of the classroom where students practiced their speeches in front of the whole class. We walked along the streets of this campus that could accommodate up to 400-500 students!
After the campus, the catacombs. The Roman catacombs at Kom el-Shoqafa feature tombs with fascinating decoration that combines Graeco-Roman and Pharaonic elements. Then we quickly visited the site of the Alexandrinian sanctuary for the immensely popular Graeco-Egyptian god Serapis. Last but not least, we explored the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, opened in 2002. The reading area was, in our opinion, what every reader or student would dream of. Incredibly spacious, with soft light and many individual tables on different levels. We also visited the library’s museum complex, which includes an antiquities museum but also, among others, a museum dedicated to president Sadat that displays some of his personal belongings. Before leaving Alexandria we profited from the seaside location and had fresh fish for dinner at a restaurant overlooking the harbour.
As we are getting ever closer to the end of our adventure here, paper deadlines and conference dates are also coming up. On Monday and Tuesday, we worked on our assignments. While in the first weeks trying to explain to the taxi driver the location of a certain library that holds the books you desperately need could be quite a challenge, these days we hop from library to library like we’ve never done anything else.
Wednesday we visited the New Cairo campus of the American University in Cairo, which is an hour drive away from the city centre. We visited the Egyptology section of the university library where the librarian showed us examples from their rare book collection, among others medieval Quran and Bible manuscripts. Later that day we met with Egyptology students of the university who came to listen to Marleen’s lecture on the First Intermediate Period at Dayr-al-Barsha.
On Thursday we went to Saqqara. Joining us were Esther and Davide who relived their own Cairo semester for the day. From Saqqara we could see the pyramids of the fifth dynasty kings in Abusir. Tori gave us a wonderful virtual tour of the site while she explained about its pyramids and its mysterious sun temples. Abusir is also the place where Ptahshepses built his large and luxurious tomb. He was a hairdresser and manicurist of the king and married a princess. We had to turn our backs to Abusir, because it was time to explore the – enormous – site of Saqqara itself. First we visited the Djoser complex. From outside the pyramid you can still see how it was originally a mastaba tomb that was extended twice into a step pyramid. We also visited the New Kingdom cemetery at the site, where Fania told us all about the different decoration phases of the tombs. They were excavated in the course of the missions of the National Museum of Antiquities at Leiden and Leiden University and feature impressive wall reliefs and paintings. By then the day was well on its way and there were still so many things to be seen, so tough decisions had to be made. We split up and I went to visit the Serapeum, where the Apis bull was buried after he had died. The bull burial chambers, 24 in total, line wide underground corridors. The basalt and granite sarcophagi in the chambers are so large that if you wanted to look inside you would need a little ladder. Imagine shipping those blocks up north all the way from Aswan!
On Friday we prepared ourselves for Saturday, when we gave a progress report on how our final paper was going. The general conclusion: we still have a lot of work to do but we’re ready for it!
The last week and a half of the program! We were sad to see it end, but fortunately we were MUCH too busy to concentrate on that. A lot of this week was spent furiously trying to write papers and prepare lectures in one institute library or another and then traveling to the next library when the first one closed.
This week we had our last excursion of the semester. We traveled to the Delta site Tell Basta. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to enter the Zagazig museum, but we spent plenty of time exploring the ancient site of Bubastis. This site doesn't get the credit it deserves. It was occupied throughout Egyptian history. There are Old Kingdom cemeteries and the Ka-chapel of Pepi I, a Middle Kingdom Palace, New Kingdom cemeteries, and a Third Intermediate Period temple to Bastet. It is a large site with enough granite blocks to keep an archaeologist busy for decades.
We also squeezed in a "lecture day". Marleen gave a fascinating lecture about the archaeology behind what she works on at Dayr al-Barsha, and Clara Jeuthe came to speak to us about the Sheikh Muftah culture in the Dakhla Oasis. In the evening we attended the Austrian Institute's day and listened to an update on the projects that the institute was conducting. We also got the opportunity to hear the Minister of Antiquities, Dr. Mamdouh Eldamaty, speak about the projects that the ministry is involved in currently.
Part of the final days of our program was to speak at GARDEN III, or the third conference of Graduate Annual Research Discussions on Egypt and Nubia. The conference was organized by the DAIK (the German institute, where the event took place), AUC (American University in Cairo), and NVIC. We enjoyed a whole day full of fascinating talks by Egyptian and foreign students and were grateful to be a part of it.
Before we had to submit our papers, we went for one last trip together to the Egyptian Museum on Tahrir Square. We made a goodbye tour through the Museum, visiting the objects each of us had been studying for two months. We presented the results of our research and then went straight back home to continue typing them up. It was wonderful to hear about everybody’s work and to hear how far we had all come in such a short time. That same evening, we had the opportunity to hear the Supreme Council of Antiquities’ director of Foreign Missions speak about the Egyptian laws that protect – in past and present – the antiquities from being looted and trafficked.
On the last day of the program, we had a lovely goodbye party, together with wonderful people we had met in Cairo during these past weeks, on the rooftop terrace of the NVIC. It was a pretty hectic week and a half, but it definitely left you with a great sense of accomplishment when it was finished. Papers and kashkuls were – finally – submitted and the Cairo Semester 2016 enjoyed a last group dinner at the NVIC.
We weren’t ready to say goodbye to Cairo and Egypt just yet, so some of us are staying on a little longer. But I think none of us sees this as the end of their love story with Egypt. It has only just begun!
Tori and Eline