Friday, March 30, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pyramid Scheme Part 1: End of an Era...

As of today, I am no longer a "Giza Pyramid Virgin"! I will never again be able to astonish people by saying that, although I have spent almost 8 seasons in Egypt, I have never visited the Pyramids. Saqqara, yes, two times. Giza, never! But I am doing it in style--staying at the Mena House with a view of the Pyramids from our balcony (Andrea Dudek is serving as witness to my "deflowering").

Up until today, I had taken pictures from the Ring Road, from the Fayoum Road, etc. like these I took this morning on our way from the airport:
But here I am on the balcony of our room:
And at the Sphinx:
And in the bar at the Mena House enjoying a well-deserved and refreshing "Aquarius" beverage after our pyramid trek:
And a last view from the Khan al Kalili restaurant tonight at dinner:
Andrea so eloquently described me today as "gob-smacked". That about sums it up! I will report in more detail later, but now I have to rest up for tomorrow's adventure--Saqqara and Dahshur.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The "New" Corniche: Water, Water Everywhere

I wanted to share some photos of the "new" Corniche (between the Conference Center and Labib Habachi Street), both upper and lower (mostly lower). You may remember a mysterious photo I included in a post early this season--what looked like artificial rocks constructed around paths and ramps. Well, all shall be revealed here!
Many empty storefronts that will probably stay empty for some time!
Interesting mosaic work
 Here it comes: two, yes two, water features!
Southern water feature 
Southern water feature
Northern water feature
Northern water feature
A view across the Nile from the upper Corniche:
A couple enjoying the shade and the view:

Friday, March 23, 2012

More on El Hibeh

Carol Redmount's newest report on the Facebook "Save El Hibeh" page:
"March 22 Update. Part I. I am very pleased to report that we have just finished six days of work studying pottery and objects from our previous excavations in Hibeh. It's an hour and fifteen minutes commute each way, but we are so happy to be working at all. We thank the SCA and especially Mme. Nadia Ashour, Director of the Beni Suef Taftish and Mr. Atef Helmy, who is in charge of the SCA Ihnasya storehouse and who has most generously permitted us to work in his office. The long commute makes for long days and I am usually exhausted by the time we reach our dig house, and so I am behind on all my correspondence. Friday is my day to catch up. And I am very, very happy to be working."

"March 22 Update. Part II. Hibeh Site Update 1. I am delighted to report that Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Ayedi, Mme. Nadia's boss and a very high official in the SCA who is in charge of all of Upper Egypt (I will post his exact title shortly, I want to make sure I have it correctly), visited us on a tour of inspection of looting of Upper Egyptian sites. He came to us at the Ihnasya Storehouse accompanied by Mme. Nadia Ashour, Director of the Beni Suef Inspectorate and several other SCA members of the taftish. We had a very productive conversation at Ihnasya, and he told me that the issues of looting sites and protecting Egypt's cultural heritage, including Hibeh, had already been discussed in parliament and would be discussed again. This was wonderful news. He then also generously gave permission for our whole team to visit the site as part of his tour of inspection. We were thrilled as so far I was the only one who had been able to see Hibeh. Our next stop was the Spanish mission at Ihnasya el Medinah, where I was able to meet Carmen Perez Die for the first time (she usually works in the fall and we usually work in the summer), an unexpected pleasure. She graciously showed us around the site in general and her current work, and pointed out several looting holes, one very deep, 6 meters or more, and other damage to the site after the revolution. I later heard there were 54 looting holes on the site. Our next visit was to Hibeh, a little over an hour's drive."

"March 22 Update. Part II. Hibeh Site Update 2. We arrived at Hibeh where our delegation, headed by Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Ayedi, whom we cannot thank enough for permitting our team to accompany his site inspection visit with members of the Beni Suef taftish and to take photographs. We were met by a number of Beni Suef security officials. We began our inspection from the north, beginning with the two cemeteries, the larger one Graeco Roman (probably Ptolemaic through Late Roman eras; the Late Roman mummies may be Coptic), the smaller one, where we had worked in 2009 and 2006, almost certainly non-elite Coptic. The mummy featured in the newspaper article was still there, and the plundered tomb with the gorgeous uraeus frieze was still visible. The thieves or their accomplices seem to have made some effort to cover up some of their handiwork, as I discovered when I compared pictures from July with those taken on our first visit with Mme. Nadia earlier this week. Bones and mummy cloth are still scattered all over, along with sad remnants of the desecrated bodies--tufts of human hair, a small braid, a pair of toes, matting, jaw bones, skull bones, every type of bones. It was horrible. Everyone was shocked. We next moved through the North Gate into the city mound itself. Immediately holes are visible everywhere. Some of these holes are many meters (8 or more at a guestimate) deep. As we proceeded through the site there was evidence of looting everywhere. Several vaulted tombs had been opened and emptied. Other structures had been dug up. Every single excavation area where we had worked since our first season in 2001 had at least one looting hole in it. At the southern end of the site it was clear that a number of areas had been badly disturbed and then filled in again. Wheelbarrow marks going in two directions could be traced in the dirt. My team and I accompanied the larger delegation for much of the visit and had photographs taken in solidarity with our Egyptian colleagues. We also raced over the site taking as many pictures as we could for scientific purposes. We must document how things have changed from our last season of excavation so that if and when, god willing, we are able to return to our work at the site we will have some idea of how to proceed. Dr. Ayedi made a thorough inspection and even proceeded to the cemetery east of the town mound (tell) to see the looting of burials there. All of us, Egyptians, Americans and Canadians, were appalled by the devastation at Hibeh. There is not a single area of the site that has not been violated. One of my Ph.D. students also told me that she saw a man on a motorcycle come over the hill while we were at the site; he took one look at the people on the tell and turned around immediately and fled."

"March 22 Update. Part III. We wish to express all our thanks and gratitude to Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-Ayedi of the SCA for visiting and inspecting the site, for permitting us to come with him on his inspection. We are especially grateful for his permission to take photographs and for his permission to return to visit the site to try and reclaim as much scientific data from the looting as possible in the time remaining to us for our work. Mme. Nadia has made an official report on the condition of the site and is doing and has done her best in the past to get the site protected. Hibeh's situation is especially problematic because of the criminal organization headquarted in the village just north of the tell that is coordinating the massive looting and violation of the tell. While we are making great progress, and the SCA is doing and has done its best to try and ensure the protection of Hibeh, the site remains unprotected. We are doing our best to help the SCA and our Egyptian colleagues win its struggle to achieve protection for the site. With your help we are making a difference, and I thank everyone, Egyptians and foreigners, from the bottom of my heart, for all your support in our struggle. Without adequate security, the looting will continue day and night. I cry for Hibeh. And for all other sites like it in Egypt."

Thursday, March 22, 2012


Last night, one of our stops on the way to dinner at Sofra (miam-miam!) was a spice shop in the souq--Mutawkil, my preferred source. Here are a few photos:

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Not Luxor: Jour du Macaron in Paris

One of these days I am going to be in Paris on March 20, so that I can experience the "Jour du Macaron" there. Until then I can only enjoy Carol Gillott's post and salivate!
I hope Carol doesn't mind my using one of her photos to illustrate this post!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Update on the Situation at El Hibeh

From Carol Redmount, in charge of the mission at El Hibeh:

"Yesterday I went to the taftish to meet with Mme. Nadia Ashour, the Director of the Beni Suef Inspectorate. She gave me a warm welcome while we waited two hours for our police escort. When we arrived at the site we officially opened the magazine, which was intact, and I selected the material to be transferred to the storehouse at Ihnasya el-Medinah. Mme. Nadia spoke with the guards and inspectors and various others at the site and then, to my delight, asked me if I would like to walk on the tell and if I had a camera with me. The answer to both questions was yes. Mme. Nadia requested copies of all the pictures I was going to take, which of course I will be delighted to give to her, both as a flash drive and as printed copies." So we all made an inspection of the site together, Mme. Nadia, myself, several inspectors from the Beni Suef Inspectorate, two of whom, Ahmed and Rabi', had worked with us before, and our security escorts. We saw the mummy featured in the newspaper outside the entrance to city. I finally set eyes on the beautiful uraeus frieze above the limestone doorway of what must once have been a beautiful tomb, now emply. There was lots of evidence of looting in the cemetery in front of the north entrace to the site, but I am also happy to report no obvious signs of major bulldozing. I am going to compare the pictures I took yesterday with earlier photos. Walking through the north entrance, it was a physical shock to see the many looting holes still visible and the mounds of earth next to them. Our group walked all over the site together and I took photographs until my battery died. There are holes everywhere, some many meters deep. It is also clear that many other holes have been dug and filled in, so the true extent of the damage is even greater than first appearances. Everyone was appalled at the damage from the looting and many other people took pictures also. Mme. Nadia especially was furious and asked me again for copies of pictures so that she could write a very strong report about the looting. It was wonderful to walk together in solidarity on the tell with my Egyptian colleagues, and to all work together to continue our efforts to end the looting and destruction of Hibeh. After visiting the site, we all proceeded to the Ihnasya el Medinah storeroom where Atef Helmy, who is in charge of the Ihnasya storehouse, had been waiting for us all day. We were very late because of our visit to the tell and our late start. Mr. Helmy gave us all a very warm welcome. Our team is also looking forward to working with him and our inspector as we do our studies at the Ihnasya storehouse. Yesterday was, I believe, a big step forward in our quest to protect Hibeh, and we thank all of you, the SCA, and especially our Egyptian colleagues, for all your help. Our job is not finished, however, as the site is not yet protected and the gangster is free to come back today and continue looting the site whenever he pleases, which he undoubtedly will do. Hbeh, and sites like it all over Egypt still need protection."

For more information about how you can help, see my post of March 16:

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

From Luxor, where there was much wearing--and eating--of the green!! And where a new St.Pat's Day tradition was born--the drinking of mint juleps!!!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Stop the Looting...

Please read this post and TAKE ACTION!!
A Petition to Stop the Looting of Egypt's Archaeological Sites
Just a few of the disturbing and heartbreaking photos posted so far on the Facebook page "Save El Hibeh Egypt":
Comparison Photos--before and after looting
Exposed mummified child from the Coptic period
Dislodged mudbricks from the city walls stamped with the cartouche of the High Priest of Amun 
Head from destroyed mummy

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Up, Up and Away…

…in my beautiful rainbow balloon! Sorry for the delay in posting about my fabulous first hot air balloon ride, a 60th birthday present to myself.
Balloon over CH

I’ve always been eager to photograph the balloons that drift over CH from time to time (as you can see from previous posts), but not so much any more, now that I’ve flown in one that was expertly piloted and never left the West Bank. I now know that balloons can be controlled, despite prevailing breezes. And I wanted to see the sites over there, and not cross the Nile.

I chose Hod-Hod Soliman because they are one of the oldest, if not the oldest, balloon company operating out of Luxor. Their reviews on Trip Advisor are generally glowing. And, after my excellent adventure with them, I have added mine to the reviews praising them.

I was picked up by mini-van at 5:30 the morning of the 21st and taken to the boat landing opposite Luxor Temple. I boarded the launch that was to take us across the Nile, joinng several other people. While we waited for the rest of the passengers, we could have tea or coffee while we reviewed the instruction sheet, which mostly dealt with how to prepare for landing.
Captain Ali then proceeded to review the instructions, complete with an amusing explanation of three different landing styles--American, British and Egyptian--with Egyptian being the smoothest, wherein the basket stays upright! As far as I can recall I have never traveled across the Nile to the west in darkness. It was quite magical!
Once we arrived on the other side, we went by van to the launching area, which is below Deir el Bahri. Many balloons were preparing to lift off, and I was delighted to see that I would be riding in a rainbow balloon:
Our pilot Amer was highly skilled, having at least 950 hours of experience, and it showed in his handling of our balloon. We floated over Deir el Bahri, the mortuary temple of Seti I, the Tombs of the Nobles, the hilltop ruins above those tombs, the Valley of the Kings and north from there to finally land on the Western Desert Road (Amer used the "Egyptian landing" and put us down exactly where he said he would). We could see the Ramesseum and Medinet Habu to the south but did not fly over them. The silence, apart from the occasional whooshing of the burners, was astonishing! Amer did a great job of explaining the terrain. And to view sunrise over the Nile from a balloon was truly breathtaking! With that said, I will let the photos speak for themselves.

Deir el Bahri

Ramesseum (middle) and Medinet Habu (upper right)

Thoth Mountain with balloon shadow
Western Desert Road
End of the line...
This was the maiden voyage for a neat little mini-video camera I had recently acquired. This explains why the three following videos may be a little less than Academy Award material! The first shows the ruins on the hilltop above the Tombs of the Nobles:

With these next two, I attempt to do a 360° tour. I'm not so sure how well I succeeded, but here they are:
And finally, here's a shot of Pilot Amer and me, followed by my official certificate:

Thursday, March 01, 2012

A Spring Bouquet

One of our Egyptian staff is a wizard with floral arrangements. He created this bouquet to brighten the tea room. It certainly did!