A Whirlwind Ending

I’m not sure I have ever been on a dig where I’ve gotten the luxury of a leisurely amount of time to  finish up, and this season at Elkab was no exception.

Anne and I were the first to leave, so on friday we packed our bags and did a paperwork marathon. All the forms were filled out, all the maps & drawings were properly labeled, all the elevations entered, all the photos named and cross listed.

On Saturday morning, luckilly, Shadida started up and successfully got us to the site. I’m pretty sure everyone had their fingers crossed the whole way. The last things to do for any excavation are to clean, photograph and draw the profiles of the excavated units. This is actually one of my favorite parts, because you can really understand what happened in an area from a nicely cleaned profile. We managed to do it all by about 12:30.

Then we caused a small riot among the children of the village when we decided to buy baskets from them. Let’s just say I gained some insight into what it would be like to be smothered by a sea of small children with baskets. Everyone survived, even the kids, and I now have made a small dent in my christmas shopping.

With that, a last look at the puppies, and lots of Masallamas and Nashoofak essenna illy guy, we were off.

Back at the house by 1:30, we had a few minutes for a flurry of picture downloading, making backups, eating lunch, and changing clothes before the taxi arrived.

I am sad to go of course, especially when this site is so interesting and we have only scratched the surface. But hopefully I will be back for more next year!

I mean how could I say no to this crew?



To close, here are some great shots from the whole season:

IMG_0615[1] Breakfast

0319151016  The Nile

0318151646a  Art happening

0313151336 The doors of the old SCA office

0301152042 Some fashions should not be revived

DSC_0394 - Copy  After a really good find!

image Can’t get enough of these puppies

The road to Luxor-


It all comes back around, Luxor temple on the last night-


A Killing at El Kab

No one has died, but a fictional character will!

Last week Janice Susan May (Patterson) and her husband Hiram came to visit Elkab for a few days. Susan is writing a novel set in the Elkab dig house, so Dirk extended her an invitation to come and really get to know the place. She wrote another book, the Egyptian File, which also mentions Elkab. I haven’t read it yet, but it is next on my list!

The egyptian File

We had a great time thinking about the possible plot points, hearing about the characters, speculating on which room would be best for a murder, and generally trying to get Susan to divulge secret details of the book.

She says none of the characters are going to be based on real life (any of us!) We will have to read it and find out…  Look for it this fall, under the title A Killing at El Kab, by Janice Patterson.

The dedication of the Belgian Archaeological Mission

Some days I feel like a dedicated Archaeologist.

It began with how we get to the site. Our usual route to the site is quite enjoyable, if you don’t mind a little jostling.The project has an awesome old land rover- ‘Shadida’ (which means strong (female) in Arabic).


There is no real road to and from the house, just a bumpy dirt track. We take this for about 2 Km in the opposite direction as the site in order to get to a place where we can cross the railroad tracks and get to the main road. On the way we pass a number of kids on their way to school who usually wave vigorously and shout ‘HelloHelloHelloHelloHello’, and occasionally ‘Whatsyourname’ or ‘MoneyMoney’. Once across the tracks we are on the comparably and thankfully smooth road toward the site. We pass some sort of furniture depot (some of which I was really contemplating trying to buy, but they were gone so fast).


We also pass the phosphate plant, the Elkab rock cut tombs in the hills, and the site itself. After going some distance past the site itself we get to another spot where we can cross back over the tracks and get back on a bumpy dirt road back toward the site. This portion has a number of endearing landmarks.

First is roof dog who hangs out on a roof and runs back and forth barking and keeping an eye on his territory. Next we cross a little bridge, if it is not blocked by piles of sugar cane or a sugar cane truck.


Then we pass a series of low mudbrick houses alongside a canal with their donkeys and dogs outside- these often remind me of ancient Egyptian style constructions, especially the reed fences packed with mud- Not to say that nothing has changed since then- but sometimes a construction style in a certain place just works.




After these buildings we take a turn through some wheat fields where a Hoopoo bird lives, although I haven’t been able to catch the bird on camera.


Just after the wheatfield is Pile-of-dirt-dog, who is much lazier than his rooftop counterpart, and is usually found reclining on top of a large pile of dirt, and barks at us but doesn’t disturb himself to move anything but his head. Pile of dirt dog is near a house with this creative brickwork design in the shape of a boat.


After another stretch of bumpy track we get to the village- passing this construction which I like because although it is built of brand-spanking new white limestone blocks they saved and re-used the beautiful wood doors.


Then it is on to baby donkey- who still presumably has a lot to learn since one day I say him chewing on the water container instead of drinking out of it.


After disturbing a few more dogs and donkeys that sometimes lie in our path, we arrive.

That is all on a normal day.

Yesterday, we made it about as far as the greeting school children, when Shadida suddenly gave a few desperate chugs and stopped.

The Mudir was driving, so Wouter, Anne and I piled out to attempt a push-start. First the Mudir wanted us to push it backwards– no luck. So then we tried pushing it forwards. (It was about this time that I started feeling a bit dedicated to getting to the site in order to try to get down to the Nagada layers.) As we were slowly pushing it forward inch by inch Dirk started telling us to go Faster! Faster! That’s when Wouter chimed in- “speed archaeology”, and I broke down laughing. Despite a few more attempts (including one with the parking brake on) we never got the car started. So we grabbed our bags, our baskets, the camera the level, and Walked up the road to hail a taxi.

Now as it turns out this was not the first time we had to taxi in to the site. The car also broke down last week- here we are waiting by the side of the road to hail a taxi at 6 am.


No one in Egypt is up at that hour, and the few who were were all going towards Edfu- the opposite direction as we needed to go.

Eventually we hailed a truck taxi- here is an example.


These are group taxis that have two parallel bench seats in the back, and are pretty narrow with Low roofs. Everyone always wants to sit close to the door because it is easier to get in and out, so the empty seats are always the farthest back. Here’s my selfie of Anne and I squashed in:0319150708

These truck taxis stop anywhere to pick up whoever  is by the side of the road- after letting a few people on and off, a group of high school aged girls wanted to get on. The two teenage boys who were in the truck immediately jumped out to let the girls sit inside. On the back there is a railing and a foot board- so a few people can ride hanging on to the back, which is what the teenage boys did. My artistic and clandestine picture form inside the truck looking out.


Three people can hold on to the back relatively comfortably, but sometimes you see them with far more:


With all these school girls inside there was a bit of negotiation on the seating. Instead of having an even number of people on each bench and extra girl squeezed onto our bench so that none of them would have to sit touching Wouter- Foreign and male! And when the truck came to an abrupt halt causing the nearest girl to careen into Wouter her friends urgently grabbed for her to pull her back.

When we got close to the site we rang the buzzer and got out of the truck. Then we had to walk into the site. It is really a rather lovely walk through some of the farm fields. They are quiet and green and less dry- a peaceful oasis, little flowers grow along the tiny paths that cut through.


Last week when we were walking in We took a route that took us past the beautiful spot that is the ancient Quay. The route of the Nile has shifted since the settlement was originally built so now the Quay is partially in the water.


A pair of Nile monitors are known to live there. In case you don’t know what a Nile monitor is, here is a taxidermied one mounted on the wall of the Gufti house at Abydos.


For the last week on our breakfast break I have been going back to the Quay to try to see them. I saw one once, in the water, but too quick to get a picture. It is a beautiful spot to eat (second) breakfast anyway.

Finally after this hike in, we arrived at the site.

This was all before we even got to work! And that is why I felt like a dedicated Archaeologist.

At the end of the day we had to do it all again in reverse. This time after a long hot day of work, and carrying baskets of pottery back with us. Dedication.

We got creative by the end- Sharing responsibility,


and using local methods.


In the end we decided the Belgian Archaeological Project is the best- not only dedicated, but environmentally friendly and economically responsible, taking public transportation to work!

The Work

Eddie Izzard has a great sketch about Archaeology, see it here. The highlights are ‘speed archaeology’, and  ‘a series of small walls’. Just as Eddie Izzard says, in previous seasons here we have found a series of small walls: an Old Kingdom settlement site. There is a nice article about the settlement site and the associated cemetery in Ancient Egypt magazine here complete with color pictures of the small walls.

As I mentioned in a previous post, what also interests us are the layers underneath the old kingdom settlement. The earlier Badarian and Predynastic layers, where Egypt moved from pastoralism and a series of small farming villages to an urban society, with a state, a king, writing, specialized production, and the artistic style and society that we now think of as Ancient Egypt.

Which brings us to the ‘speed archaeology’. In order to get to these layers, we have to dig small test pits and go through the Old Kingdom settlement remains. I have a mantra for fieldwork where the goal is either to dig fast or dig deep. I learned this mantra the first year I worked in Egypt from a slightly jaded contract archaeologist: “Photograph it, draw it, and remove it!”
Really it should be: “Photograph it, draw it, take the elevations, take notes, and remove it” but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Of course we carefully remove features, layers and artifacts only when need be and when we are ready, but the gist of the mantra works- fully document, then proceed digging. And when I am ready to move on to the next sweep or locus, I often find myself doing a mental check, “photograph it, draw it, (take elevations)…”

We do this from about 7am to 2 pm, with a break for second breakfast around 10am. Here I am on the way back, looking a bit dusty:


But the workday doesn’t end there. After coming back to the dighouse and having lunch, a few moments of recovery, and a shower to wake back up, there is the evening work. Also known as paperwork.

For this I made myself a list rather than a mantra.

‘Forms’ here is such a little word, but encompasses oh so much!


8 different kinds of forms, all cross referencing each other. Eventually it all gets digitized, but we are still working from a perspective where sun and sand bar computer in the field, and sand and frequent power outages are more powerful factors than time saving devices of direct to computer entries. So I had better get back to it!

Little Pyramids

The pyramids in Giza might be the most famous, but they are not the only pyramids in Egypt. Last friday for our day off we went to see one of the little known small  3rd dynasty step pyramids. These little pyramids were built for a very short time at the end of the 3rd dynasty/ beginning of the 4th dynasty- so before the Giza pyramids but after the step pyramid in Sakkara. There were 7 of them throughout the Nile valley, including one in Edfu, nearby where we are.

Here is me in front of it:


Originally it would have been a bit taller, about two or three times the height that is preserved now, but still, it is small in the scheme of things- For comparison here is me in front of one of the pyramids at Giza:



Why build little pyramids with no tombs underneath? To remind people in the south who is in charge!

And speaking of being in charge:


This year, we have a lot of great dogs around the site!

Egypt in general is not a country of dog lovers. Dogs are not well loved in Islam, and to call someone a dog is a derogatory term. Cairo is a bit of a different story, and many people have lap dogs, and even a few bigger dogs there. But in upper Egypt usually dogs usually are found living on the fringes of the desert, kind of feral, or sometimes kept with the livestock to guard them, but just another animal, not usually a family pet. However perhaps the tide is beginning to turn, even in Upper Egypt.

First meet Bobby (pronounced like puppy, but with b’s instead of p’s):


He belongs to our house guard Arby, and as you can see Bobby is not your usual desert mutt, but looks like some sort of boxer mix. And while he is ostensibly a guard dog, he seems to have moved in the family pet range, with a collar, a leash, and we have seen bobby being walked in the wee hours of the morning.

One of the first few days we were going to the site, Arby brought Bobby out to meet us. Of course we immediately fawned all over him, petting him and coddling him etc. Arby let him off the leash so he could really enjoy himself. And then we tried to get in the car and drive away. Bobby would have none of that. He started running behind us, and alongside us, and (stupidly) in front of us. We tried yelling at him to go home in a variety of languages, but he just happily sat and waited for the car to start going again. He seems to have thought it was a great game, running free and fast with his new buddies. But we went far. To get to the main road from the house we have to drive about 2 kilometers or so on a very bumpy dirt road, through some new villages that we springing up. Then we can cross some railroad tracks and get on the main road. Bobby never let up the whole way, so we had to stop before the tracks and load him into the back of the Landrover. I don’t think Bobby had ever been in a car before, and we couln’t get him to jump in. we put his paws up on the back and tried to lure him with sandiwches, but he just looked around in cheerful cluelessnes. Finally Phillip had to get out and pick him up. Then we drove on the main road back past the house and delivered him to Arby who was waiting with a very short leash!

Then just a few days later at the site, we saw that there were not one, not two, but three litters of puppies!


All under 2 months old, some really looked only a few weeks old. At one point we counted abot 14 puppies. Needless to say these puppies are adorable and make are day going to and coming back from the site every day. Just look at the bonding between puppy and Mudir (Director):


One of the puppies is named Hibs. I didn’t catch the others’ names. At least one or two of the mothers belonged to a house nearby where we park, and though covered in flies, she was very friendly to people and seemed to be used to being taken care of. These puppies even have their own little makeshift dog house:


The guy who takes care of them keeps trying to get us to take them home. I haven’t succumbed. Yet.