Student Journals 2017
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 2017.
- Week 1: 8-15 January 2017 (Hanne Declerck & Maarten Praet)
- Week 2: 15-21 January 2017 (Marlijn Monteban, Emma de Looij, Jolieke van 't Hoff)
- Week 3: 22-29 January 2017 (Simone Philipsen and Nienke Zoomer)
- Week 4: 29 January – 4 February (Geirr Lunden, Guy Nicholls, Mathijs Smith)
- Week 5 (5-11 February 2017): Juanjo Archidona Ramirez & Nina Biezeno
- Week 6 (12-18 February 2017): Inês Torres & Hilo Sugita
- Week 7-8 (19-28 February 2017): Filippo Mi and Vera Elisabeth Allen
- Diaries of 2016
A week has passed since the start of the archaeology program of the NVIC. For most of us, the Cairo semester started with the search for a flat on the island Zamalek. After much negotiation and phone calls from our broker, Sanaa, we all managed to find a flat before the start of the program. Apart from some weird interior decoration (some more hideous than others) the flats looked fine at first. It didn’t take long before we discovered that some things were not as good as they seemed to be: Saturday we were invited to ‘maison gas leak’, which was apparently a very nice place compared to the freezer some other people are living in. Mums and dads: don’t worry, (most of) the problems have been fixed by now. Living in Cairo is very exciting. Crossing 26th July street is always an adventure, almost everything is incredibly cheap and to top that: CATS ARE EVERYWHERE! Many of us appear to be cat lovers, so we’re doing just fine here.
The first day of the program started with an introduction to living in Egypt and the schedule for the semester. In the afternoon, Marleen took us on a tour (by bus) through Cairo city. Cairo is an enormous city with a lot of different neighborhoods, so there are always a lot of things happening in this city. The next couple of days, Khawla taught us some Arabic in the mornings. We should now be able to introduce ourselves in Arabic, count to ten and ask for directions. It might not surprise you that we’re still struggling to pronounce these words. We try though, and the Egyptians seem to really appreciate it. In the afternoons we visited the main Egyptological institutes in Cairo. We were all very much in awe of the beauty of some of the institutes. We started with the American Research Center in Egypt, where we also attended a very interesting lecture on the conservation of coffins later in the week. The Swiss institute has the most beautiful colonial building and a garden with Nile view. Unfortunately, most of us will probably not go back there since the institute mainly has books on architecture. The German and French institutes are the more obvious choices for us, because they have more extensive libraries. The library of the IFAO (French institute) is the biggest. We also visited their conservation and dating labs. It was very interesting to learn more about C14-dating, the specifics of archaeometry and the vastness of their archives. The director of the institute was very kind to invite us to lunch at the IFAO, which was amazing. The German institute also has a very good library, but it’s closer to our apartments and they have a lot of really nice cats there…
Saturday we made of first site visit and of course this couldn’t be just any site. We spent the entire day at Giza and it was just as amazing as we all had hoped it would be. Marleen showed us the mastabas at the Eastern and Western Cemetery after letting us take a lot of pyramid-selfies, then gave us some time off to finish our Giza assignment and to visit the monuments we wanted to see. Of course most of us went straight to the pyramids. Only Khufu’s was open for visitors and after arguing with the security that our passes were in fact real (apparently, we were the first people to buy these passes, so every time we want to visit something, the security wants to check them and show them to all their colleagues), we made the exhausting, but very exciting climb to the burial chamber inside the pyramid. Then of course, we still had to visit the sphinx, where we obviously had to take a lot of selfies as well. For the assignment, we had to look at some photos taken by George Reisner a hundred years ago and try to take a photo of what that spot looks like right now. We split up in small groups to do so. Luckily we had gotten some information about the location of the photos, so finding them was not that hard. It was, however, very interesting to see how the site has changed over the years.
Next week we are scheduled for a three day trip to the Delta, so we’ve got some interesting sites and exciting adventures coming up!
After our first true taste of Ancient Egypt, a day full of classes was upon us. We had our last classes of Arabic, a preparation for our Delta trip and a seminar about Deir el-Barsha, the site where KU Leuven excavates, but that we unfortunately cannot visit.
Monday was the first day of our 3-day Delta trip. We had to get up early, since the bus ride to our first stop Tanis was very long and it even included a military escort. Finally we were in Tanis, known as the capital of the kings that ruled during the 21st and 22nd Dynasty of Egypt and famous for the silver coffins that were found there. The site was quite large and it contained the tomb of Psusennes I, which we were allowed to explore. It consisted of cramped spaces with few, but beautiful decorations. Some of us climbed a hill for an amazing view, while others tried to find other names but Ramses on the stone blocks in the area (not as easy as you think). Unfortunately the bus ride to Tanis took longer than expected, so we were not at Ismailia in time to visit the museum there. Therefore we could spend the whole day at Tanis and afterwards we headed straight to our hotel which was a blessing to some of us. The Mercure Hotel had the kind of luxury that we happily embraced; containing an open buffet, a quiet environment, good showers, and most importantly: beds with actual blankets!
On Tuesday we had to leave at 7:00 and we continued our bus ride in the direction of Alexandria. We made a stop at Rosetta, the find spot of the Rosetta stone which made translating hieroglyphs possible. There was a small museum called the Rashid Museum which we thought might tell us about its ancient Egyptian history, but the museum only briefly mentioned the Rosetta stone and focused more on the colonial and Ottoman period. Nevertheless, the interior of this museum was beautiful. After our group photo was taken by the security officers, we continued our journey to Alexandria. Eventually we arrived in Alexandria at 14:30 and the first site we visited was the Serapeum. It was time for the first site presentation, which was given by Juan. The Serapeum can be dated back to Ptolemaic and Roman times and was dedicated to the god Serapis. Our last site of the day was Kom el-Shoqafa, where we visited a large catacomb dating back to the 1st century AD. A part of it was submerged and it contained an interesting mix of Egyptian and Greco-Roman art style. In the evening we arrived at the Semiramis Hotel which was the complete opposite of our previous hotel. Everything was very outdated, brown water came out of the showers and the toilets were really peculiar, but at least the view from the hotel was nice.
We spent our last day of the trip in Alexandria as well. The first site of the day was Kom el-Dikka. This is a Roman site with an amphitheater, lecture halls and bathing houses. Our next stop was the Citadel of Qaitbay; a fortress built in the 15th century which had a great view on the Alexandrian bay. Before, we had been told that the Egyptians consider us as the antiquities. At the fortress we got a real taste of that, since we were ambushed and followed multiple times by some schoolkids who wanted to take our picture. Luckily they were eventually told off by the staff, so we could truly admire the view from the fortress. Lastly we visited the Alexandrian library which contained a small antiquities museum, and we got a tour through the library. A lot of us found some nice souvenirs at the gift shop before we went back to Cairo.
It was Saqqara-day on Saturday! First we went to the complex of Djoser known mostly for its Step Pyramid. On our way to the pyramid of Unas we saw the pyramids of Dahshur in the distance, which made for an amazing view. Once at the pyramid of Unas it was Nina’s turn to give a site presentation. She told us about the texts that were found there, including the notorious Cannibal Hymn and serpent spells. When we went inside we were in awe of the beautiful texts that were written on the walls. The pyramid was made even more spectacular when they turned off the lights, due to a recent discovery about reliefs beneath the texts that can only be seen when raking light is cast upon the wall from a certain angle. After the pyramid of Unas we went to the tombs of Maya and Meryt, whose statues are part of the famous collection of the National Museum of Antiquities in Leiden. The tomb next to it belonged to Horemheb, dating from the time before he was king. For the Dutch students it was a great experience because we had learned a lot about them during our studies in Leiden, since Leiden University was involved in their excavation. Our next stop was the tomb of Mereruka, who was a vizier during the time of Teti. His tomb was beautifully decorated with all sorts of interesting scenes. Following that we went to the Serapeum of Saqqara, where the next site presentation was given by Maarten. It was an imposing structure with large granite sarcophagi meant for the Apis bull. On the way back we saw some puppies, which also got a lot of our attention.
And so another great week ended. We look forward to next week in which we will visit Meidum and Lahun and at the end of that week we will fly to Luxor. The adventure continues!
It is the third week of the program already, how time flies. It was our most quiet week so far, which however also meant that we had to do a lot of self-study. So our group spread out over the different archaeological and Egyptological institutes of Cairo to study in their libraries. Favourites being the French institute, which has the biggest library and offers great lunch buffets, the German institute, which is the second largest and is on Zamalek near to most people’s apartments and our own NVIC of course.
On Sunday afternoon we were given another seminar by Marleen on the archaeology of Deir el-Barsha. This time the focus lay on the Old Kingdom remains. Deir el-Barsha is pretty much Marleen’s project so we got all the interesting juicy details of the dusty desert of Deir el-Barsha. And we learned the reason why Egyptologist Harco Willems shaved his beard off ;) follow this link if you want to know more here
On Monday we gathered at the NVIC at 7am to leave for the Fayum region (although we could not enter the Fayum itself because of security reasons). We started with the site of Meidum which contains a pyramid of Snefru and its surrounding cemetery. A lot of crawling and climbing was in order. We first made our way into the pyramid where we visited some bats in the burial chamber and then we went down mastaba 17 through a robbers’ tunnel! That must be on the bucket list of every Egyptologist, crawling through a narrow dusty tunnel on all fours into a burial chamber. It was a real Indiana Jones experience and we loved it, no matter how dirty we came out again.
Afterwards we walked a bit further out into the desert to the mastaba tombs of Nefermaat and Itet, famous for the painting of the Meidum Geese, now in the Egyptian Museum. After having said goodbye to an absolutely adorable puppy we moved on to Lahun/Kahun. On the site there is the Middle Kingdom mudbrick pyramid of pharaoh Sesostris II, a surrounding necropolis and a village of the workman of this necropolis. Sadly one cannot enter this pyramid so we walked around it and through the village. The village however is almost completely gone apart from mountains of pottery and occasionally some mudbricks and human bones. By this time it was really hot in the desert because the sun was beating down on us and there was little refuge of it.
Then it was time to head back to Cairo. We had a bit of time off before we went to a lecture at the Italian Archaeological Institute by Rosario Pintaudi about Antinoupolis. The Italians were so kind to provide the audience with a large assortment of cakes and rolls afterwards, which were a great treat (especially for those who hadn’t had any dinner yet).
Late Tuesday afternoon we visited the Austrian Institute. It had a small but very cosy looking library, not too far away from all our apartments, so chances are this one will be added to the list of institutes to study in our ‘free time’. That evening we had a joint celebration of Guy’s and Nienke’s birthdays.
On Wednesday we were advised to stay indoors because it was the national holiday of the police and the anniversary of the revolution. Fortunately this was a very uneventful day.
Thursday was the last day we could make printed handouts for our site presentations next week, which brought us all together in the NVIC. We also had a briefing for the trip by Marleen in the afternoon so we would know what to expect. Later in the evening we attended a lecture by Suzanne Onstine about the tomb of Panehsy in Thebes.
On Saturday (that is if you can call the middle of the night Saturday already) we had to gather at the NVIC at 3am to get into the bus to the airport. Our plane left at 6am for Luxor, where we landed an hour later. Headed for our hotel, checked in our bags, shoved some breakfast down on the roof terrace and then went on to the Valley of the Kings. Here we first visited the archaeological mission of the University of Basel led by Susanne Bickel. Their project focuses on the non-decorated, non-royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings and the team was so kind to show us some of their finds including pottery vessels and cartonnage mummy masks. Susanne then also gave us a tour through the tomb of pharaoh Siptah. After this we went to the nearby mission of Donald Ryan, who was so kind to tell us about his work in the Valley of the Kings. His latest project being work on several animal tombs (of dogs and apes) in the valley. Lastly Geirr gave his site presentation in the tomb of Ramesses V and VI. This is a tomb decorated top to bottom with beautifully coloured scenes of many different books of the afterlife, but unfortunately we couldn’t take pictures. We then went back to the hotel for lunch and we ended the week relaxing on the rooftop of the Nile Valley Hotel.
Next week the adventures in Luxor continue!
Sunday. There is a myriad of tombs among the glistening hills of Thebes, the town we today call Luxor. Many are plain; others, fit for eternity. In the necropoleis surrounding the town, the many missions toil under the harsh, Upper Egyptian sun. Due to measures imposed by the Ministry, we could not set foot inside the excavation area at Dra Abu el-Naga, but had to watch the workers from afar. However, the mission director José Galan was extremely accommodating and willing to answer any questions we could think of.
Then, Deir el-Bahari. Rising from the desert sands, a monument to one woman’s ambition. As the small, yellow trains buzzed back and forth heaving with countless tourists, Hanne took on the role of guide as she led us through the chapels of Hatshepsut. Going from Eighteenth Dynasty queen to Twenty Sixth Dynasty functionary, Emma took us through scenes of daily life, beekeeping, and winemaking as vividly displayed on the walls of the tomb of Pabasa. We finished the day in Deir el-Medina where we learnt how big a pit has to be to truly be considered great.
Monday. Rattling with friendly charm, our tiny tour bus headed for Medinet Habu, the mortuary temple of Ramesses III, and ancient administrative centre of the Theban region. Its imposing walls provided a safe haven for those fleeing the terror of the Libyans during the reign of Ramesses XI. Brett McClain here showcased the famous Chicago House method of Egyptian epigraphy and their newly adopted digital techniques.
The director of the French institute, Laurent Bavay, had switched his suit to don the dusty shirt of an archaeologist. Along with Dimitry Laboury, he leads the Belgian mission at Gourna. In the courtyard of a tomb, they found the remains of the pyramid of Khuy, vizier of Ramesses the Great. Marlijn and Guy rounded off the day in the tombs of Huy and Kheruef respectively
Tuesday. We crossed the sun-speckled river to the eastern bank of the Nile and headed to Karnak Temple. This awe-inspiring temple is truly a testament to the genius and endeavour of the ancient Egyptian people. Here, Mathijs gave a thorough roundup of the Akhmenu of Thutmosis III. Following Karnak, we went to Chicago House where Brett welcomed us into the lush gardens of the institute. As the only Egyptological library in Luxor, it is invaluable to the missions working here. In the evening, we settled ourselves in the colonnade of Tutankhamun at Luxor Temple where Hilo presented its features and curiosities. The day was concluded with a visit to the Luxor Museum, which features artefacts from the region. The care with which the objects were displayed here was impressive.
Wednesday. We could visit the temple of Karnak every day and never grow weary of its majestic charms. Within its bounds we found the secluded chapels of the Khonsu temple, where the American Research Center in Egypt trains Egyptian conservators in the art of restoring the temples of ancient Egypt. In the even more remote Mut compound, once host to over seven hundred statues of the goddess Sekhmet, Inês expounded on the current excavations of the site. In the ruins of the once majestic temple we sought out an infamous scene of circumcision before we sat down to rest at the banks of the sacred lake. At the most secluded temple of the day, Nienke introduced the Isis temple at Deir el-Shelwit on the southernmost border of the Theban necropolis. Here we also had an encounter with a rather loudmouthed goat who will be in our hearts forever.
Thursday. While we had previously enjoyed the Luxor temple at sunset, we now got to see it in the first rays of morning as Krisztián Vértes showed off his new epigraphic method. He has developed a new way of recording pigments in Roman frescos, a style most different from that of the carved reliefs of the ancient Egyptians. On this day of re-visitation we also found ourselves returning to the Valley of the Kings. We had the unique chance to enter the twisting corridors of the tomb of venerable Seti I, father of the great Ramesses. Adorning the walls of his tomb were the demonic forms of the underworld; snakes, falcons, hippopotami and bunnies, armed with daggers and fire. We had the chance to visit some of the remaining tombs of this Valley before heading to the Valley of the Queens. Here we saw the splendour that was the tomb of Nefertari, so bright its colours seemed freshly painted. We could only spend ten minute inside this tomb, which only made every second more precious. Once again, we ended our day with the sun setting on Deir el-Medina. We spent our evening with the missions that work in Luxor on the Memphite (USA) rooftop by our hotel. Egyptologists from the States, Poland, New Zealand and Spain were all gathered here for a night of revelry.
Friday. We made every minute of our free day in Luxor count as some got up at the break of dawn while others caught up on much needed sleep. Some saw the town from the window of a taxi while others preferred the hard sweat of a bicycle. The Ramesseum, the temple of Seti I, and Tombs of the Nobles, Kings and Queens were all visited by members of our group. And how can we ever forget the Colossi of Memnon, who have weathered the millennia, unwavering, motionless.
Saturday. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. The rosy sky greeted our sleep-deprived faces as we rose at the first flutter of dawn for one last meal on the terrace of the Nile Valley. We met our Kiwi comrades and set out towards Aswan. On our way there we stopped at the hills of el-Kab where we ascended to the peak of Vulture Rock. This rocky outcrop was filled with ancient graffiti and allowed for a mesmerizing panoramic view over the desert hills. Then Aswan, and a new chapter of our adventure awaited us.
Sunday. Our first full day in Aswan started with a visit to the island of Elephantine, where Johanna Sigl of the German Archaeological Institute gave us a tour. We saw the remains of the city and several building phases of the Satet temple. After the tour we had refreshments and lunch sitting in the lounge chairs on the terrace of the dig house, with a view on the Nile.
In the afternoon we went to the island of Philae, were Simone gave us her site presentation on the mammisi. After some time walking around the temple and searching for the last dated hieroglyphic inscription, we took our boat past the island of Bigge, where the temple of Osiris once had stood. For us only an impressive looking archway was still visible.
On Monday morning we visited the site of Qubbet el-Hawa, were the Spanish mission led by Alejandro Jimenez-Serrano is working. The site is huge and impressive, and we were led around quite a number of governors tombs. A tomb that we all were very excited to see was the one of Harkhuf, with the wonderful autobiographical text on the façade.
We then took the boat to the site of Deir Anba Hadra, a monastery which is quite well preserved as it was deserted in ancient times. The monastery is located a bit high up though, so instead of walking up in the desert sand, we took the opportunity to go on our first camel ride!
Our last stop of the day was the island of Sehel, which holds a few features that caught our interest. First of all, all the beautiful rock drawings that were made by the Egyptians. Secondly, the Anuket sanctuary, which is similar to the Satet sanctuary enclosed by three boulders. And lastly the famous famine stela can be found here.
On Tuesday the day started at the Nubian Museum, of which the collection is displayed beautifully. The display is chronological: it starts in pharaonic times and goes into the Islamic period. We then went to the granite quarry, where the unfinished obelisk of Hatshepsut can still be seen in situ, and where Antonio gave his site presentation. The afternoon was spent on the island of Kalabsha, were Vera gave us her presentation (with beautiful handouts!) on the temple of Beit el-Wali.
At seven o’ clock that evening we were all sitting in our sleeping carts in the night train, ready to go back to Cairo. The ride was an experience on its own, as it was a bit difficult to fall asleep in a wiggling train cart, but after lying in bed for an hour or two we managed to fall asleep (probably because the end of our intensive twelve day long trip was near).
Waking up just before dawn and looking outside to the landscape was well worth the bumpy 14 hour train ride. Around 9 am we got out of the train and back on the bus to Zamalek, where everyone could go back to their homes. We had nothing else planned for the upcoming two and a half days, so we could finally regain our strength from our long trip and visit the library again to work on our paper and presentation for the GARDEN IV conference.
After the Giza plateau and Saqqara, Dahshur was our next big site with pyramids, which we visited on Saturday. Filippo gave his site presentation and told us all about the bent pyramid and the red pyramid of Snefru. It must have been a great challenge for this pharaoh to build these two additional pyramids after the one at Meidum, almost as challenging as it was for us to climb and descend into the red pyramid. A lot of students had aching muscles from climbing back up through the 58 meter long shaft!
Until next week!
As the end of the program approaches, the sixth week of the Cairo Semester began with a trip to the Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM), which is still under construction. Our Sunday morning was first spent at the GEM Conservation Centre, where we learned about the goals of the GEM project and their plans for the future. We were also guided through a few of the conservation labs (organic materials, wood, and heavy-weight artifacts), where we could personally see some of the work being done by the Conservation Centre (mostly on Tutankhamun materials), and afterwards headed to the construction site. Here we were received by the Director of the GEM himself, Dr. Tarek Tawfik. After an interesting tour of one of the main galleries, which is still under construction but will be housing Tutankhamun’s complete funerary equipment by 2018, we went to CULTNAT, the Centre for Documentation of Cultural and Natural Heritage in Egypt. The visit to the CULTNAT was also extremely interesting, for we were introduced to several of their documentation projects, some still ongoing, including historical, archaeological, architectural and natural documentation of Egyptian heritage.
Monday took us to Ayn Sukhna, an archaeological site on the Red Sea coast. Ayn Sukhna was a harbor site in use during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, and a series of rock-cut galleries served as storage units for boats and other sailing materials, as well as any other objects related to the expeditions, such as pottery and tools of different materials. In one of these galleries, there was still a Middle Kingdom boat in situ – it had been set fire to, and the wood planks were now just charcoal, which was one of the reasons why they had survived to this day. We were given a very interesting tour of the archaeological site by director Claire Somaglino, and even a private lesson on ancient Egyptian metallurgic practices by one of the team members, on the ancient furnaces found on this site. After this wonderful tour, Claire invited us to have lunch with her and her team – our hungry selves could not have been happier!
On Tuesday the NVIC hosted a "study day", together with Cairo University: a few CU staff members gave lectures on their research in the morning, and afterwards we all had pizza for lunch. The lectures were extremely varied, and ranged from a contextualization of the site of Tell Zuwelen (by Nora Shawki), to an analysis of colour pigment used in Ancient Egypt through the ages (by Mona Hussein). Dr Ahmed Mekawy Ouda also gave an interesting lecture on the goddess Werethekau, and our own Marleen De Meyer wrapped up the morning’s session with a talk on her beloved Dayr el-Bersha. This was a great opportunity for us to meet and mingle with the Egyptology students at Cairo University, as well as to exchange ideas and make new friends.
Wednesday was a self-study day. It appears that most of us went to either the German institute (DAIK) or the French institute (IFAO) to use their libraries and work on the research paper. In the evening, we had a lecture by Christiana Köhler at the ARCE. She is a professor at the University of Vienna, and talked about the recent archaeological work in Middle Egypt by her team. For the rest of the night, we were busy preparing for the progress report on the next day!
On Thursday afternoon, each of us gave a 10-minute presentation to report how much progress we have made so far on our papers. Everyone is still tackling their research questions, and has some minor issues, but all the topics sound very interesting. We are looking forward to our presentation day at the Egyptian Museum at the end of the semester and learning about other students’ research results! In the evening, Anna Stevens gave a lecture at the NVIC. She is the assistant director of the Amarna Project, and gave us a fascinating talk titled "Death and the City: the cemeteries of Amarna in their urban context."
Friday was a day off, but we continued to work on our paper. With the suggestions by our professor and other students in mind, hopefully everyone made some improvements!
On Saturday, we went out to explore Old Cairo. We took the metro from the Mugamma to get there. It was our first time to take metro in Egypt, and we had a surprisingly pleasant metro experience. Once we got off the train at Mar Girgis, some of us went to the Commonwealth Cemetery, and the American Cemetery. George Reisner, an American Egyptologist from Harvard University, is buried in the latter one. So, naturally two of us from Harvard had to pay a visit to his tomb! For the rest of the day, we were free to explore the area. Most of us went to the hanging church, Coptic museum, and the Mosque of Ibn Tulun, which is the oldest mosque in Cairo. Some of us also went to a souk and enjoyed shopping. In the evening, the Egyptian Exploration Society hosted a lecture "Where did it all go? Tracing the worldwide distribution of archaeological finds" by Alice Stevenson and Emma Libonati, both from the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology at UCL. They talked about their project to trace the distributions of the artifacts found during the official British excavations in Egypt from the 1880s to the 1980s. The artifacts have been distributed all over the world, and it was surprising to learn that some objects ended up in countries like Japan and Ghana.
The last week is already in sight. Stay tuned!
Here we are, week number seven of this amazing semester! Everyone is already feeling the pressure of deadlines, as a matter of fact our moudira (a.k.a. Marleen) decided to give us a lot of free time during this week in order to complete our final papers and prepare for the big event of GARDEN IV. So to reduce the amount of stress, the NVIC screened for us the movie "The Mummy" from 1932: it was interesting to see how the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb influenced the scenery of this film, whose set continuously references that particular archaeological milieu.The magnetic and charming look of Boris Karloff instantly made us forget about all the work we had to carry on doing. But the end of the movie brought us back to the harsh reality of our duties!
Monday was mostly dedicated to self study for our papers of GARDEN IV, so the group split in two: one part who preferred the cheerful and fancy (but freezing cold) environment of the IFAO, while the other chose the more teutonic and cozier (and warm!) library of the German Institute. In the evening we had to switch languages, because we attended a lecture given in French. Admittedly with some comprehension issues, we managed to get most of the talk of Thomas Faucher about Numismatics of the Ptolemaic Period. In Egypt the coins can speak about the history of the country, the salary of the soldiers and the traders paid with large pieces of silver and gold; the images represented on the coins give us an insight in the fashion and stylistic taste of that particular era.
Tuesday was our last excursion day (sigh!) and the destination happened to be Tell el-Basta (BASTA!!!!!!). The journey to the site was excessively long, we got trapped in our mini bus and stuck in the traffic of many outlying villages, and we also had a very active dispute on the identity of an animal transported next to us, that was not quite visible. Some of us were strongly defending the opinion that it was a pig (Vera and Filippo, accustomed to Italy’s pig breeding) but the wider majority went for a cow. And they were right, Simone this one’s for you!!! When we arrived at Bubastis, the Greek name of Tell el-Basta, the inspector of the site welcomed us and gave us a short introduction on the history of the place; but the real star of the day was Jolieke, who gave a very interesting talk on how this site, which today is sadly reduced to a jumble of decorated blocks and a few statues, must have looked like at the time of its peak. Thanks to her, we were able to build in our minds a lively image of the temple dedicated to the cat goddess Bastet and the Middle Kingdom mud-brick palace, still pretty well preserved and now populated by the cutest puppies ever!
Already in ancient times, many travelers visited the site. Among them was the Greek historian Herodotos, whose writings give us an idea of how the festival dedicated to Bastet was celebrated, telling us that he had never seen a more beautiful and intricate procession: the statue of the goddess was placed on a boat navigating the canal enclosing the temple, and remains of this canal were found during the archaeological investigation of the University of Göttingen. On our way back to Cairo, we had no problems with the journey: we all fell asleep like babies!
The morning of Wednesday saw us rushing again to the different institutes, time was running out and we had to collect our last book references. In particular, the two of us enjoyed going to the institute of our French "cousins", eating their fruit dessert while sitting on the grass, enjoying our dejeneur sur l’herbe. Not yet satisfied with having spent the entire day at IFAO, we also attended the evening lecture of the grand Grandet (Pierre), who spoke about his work on hieratic inscriptions on the Deir el-Medina pottery, highlighting the organization of the village in Ramesside times and the different tasks of the people living in this incredible community. He provided us with a lively overview on how food and supplies were distributed to the families, and -funny detail- also on the excuses the workers used to make up when they were absent from their duties. Such an interesting topic, although the language barrier affected us a little.
Friday was a wake up call to reality: those who had been chosen to speak at the Graduate Annual Research Discussions on Egypt and Nubia (GARDEN) were busy in rehearsing their speeches and preparing creative powerpoints, while the others enjoyed a more relaxing day off, getting on with their papers and watching us freak out. And then it eventually arrived, GARDEN IV we did not fear you!!!
Among the many lecturers of the busy program of this Saturday conference on Egypt and Nubia, some of us had the chance to talk about one of their past or ongoing projects: Geirr was the first, followed by me (Vera), Inês, Maarten, Emma, Hilo, Simone, Fania, Guy, Nina, Juanjo, and last but not least the other author of this blog entry-me (Filippo). Thank you Vera for lending me your MacBook which crashed in the middle of my presentation!!!
We must (humbly) say, WE ROCKED GUYS!!!!! All of us did a very good job, for the majority it was the first conference ever, but thanks to the support of Marleen and the guidelines given by Johanna Sigl of the German Institute and Salima Ikram from the American University in Cairo, we were all able to achieve great results.
So, here we are on the eve of our last week. On Sunday and Monday we all presented the final results of our museum research: one by one, everyone brought us around the halls of the legendary Egyptian Museum to show the objects they had studied. On Sunday, Juan gave us an overview of the reburied coffins of New Kingdom pharaohs during the Third Intermediate Period; Emma went on with research on faience throwsticks and their votive and symbolic meaning, while Hanne showed us the main themes represented on royal and non-royal naoform pectorals; I (Filippo) spoke about the "soul houses", presenting the variety of features of all the models on display in the collection; Nina took us to the ground floor, and talked about the archaic influence on three statues of the Middle Kingdom pharaoh Amenemhat III, and Geirr gave us an overview on the graphic representations of the standards in the Predynastic Period. Marlijn took us to the Graeco-Roman section to discuss a beautiful fresco depicting the myth of Oedipus in Egypt, while Guy just had to turn the corner to bring our attention to the Persian Stela of Darius, on the construction of a canal connecting the easternmost branch of the Nile to the Red Sea. Last of the day was Maarten, who tried to solve the enigma of the false door that once stood in one of Amenemhat I’s funerary complexes.
Tired from the exhausting tour de force in the museum, we had the chance to relax by watching the movie "Death on the Nile" (1978) at NVIC in the evening. The plot of the movie, taken from the homonymous novel written by Agatha Christie and set in the ‘30s, revolves around the adventures of the Belgian (NOT French!) detective Hercule Poirot, who finds himself involved in a cruise of death.
Monday was basically a repetition of Sunday’s schedule, so we again wandered around the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir Square, listening to our colleagues’ presentations: first one to talk about the Buchis Bull Stelae was Mathijs, followed by Inês’ interesting talk about two intimate representations of private people on Middle Kingdom funerary stelae. Hilo then took the word and gave us an insight on two Middle Kingdom wooden coffins found in Deir el-Bersha, while Jolieke presented a beautifully crafted silver coffin in the shape of a mummiform falcon from the burial of king Shoshenq IIa. Nienke was the last speaker in the museum and she delighted us with the cutest zoological-egyptological discussion on the identification of ichneumons and otters in votive statues. After grabbing a bite to eat, we finished the presentations in the classroom of NVIC. I (Vera) spoke about the forgotten theology of Hemen and the reconstruction of its possible cultic procession, while Antonio gave us a more analytical insight in the tomb distribution on the hill of Qurna (Luxor). Last but not least, Simone showed the results of her research on dog collars by comparing iconographic elements with actual objects conserved in egyptological collections around the world.
At the end of these talks, the very sad moment of handing in our kashkuls finally came. Parting from them wasn’t easy, as on their pages are written all our thoughts and impressions (besides useful notes) about everything we visited and experienced during this semester in Egypt.
The last day of the program, Tuesday 28th, was the supposed deadline to send Marleen our final research papers, although most of us still had to work on them in order to improve some details. In the evening, we met at the annual Austrian conference on the progress accomplished by the Austrian Archaeological Institute (in collaboration with Australia this time), where Christiana Köhler gave a very exciting talk on Predynastic burials in Helwan. Later on, we were able to enjoy a good glass of wine, while standing on the charming terrace of the institute and chatting with our foreign colleagues.
Next stop: NVIC and our own closing party. Sitting in a circle of chairs -typically Dutch, as Nina says- we shared not only our food, but also our intimate thoughts about this extraordinary experience: each and every one of us felt a little more grown up and closer to our fellows, it was a highly emotional moment when everyone had to confess his favorite memory. As a gift for the end and for our good work of these two months, Marleen gave each one of us a small colorful glass to look at when we’re feeling nostalgic and to remind us of one of the most beautiful experiences of our lives. Thank you Marleen, thank you NVIC, thank you Leiden and Leuven Universities, but most of all: thanks to you, Egypt. We will drink to our and your health, mabruk!
To Read last year's journals, click here.