At our October lecture, Dr. Carol Redmount revealed to the ARCE/NC lecture attendees the fascinating process of selecting a site to excavate in Egypt. Carol, who has been working as a field archaeologist since 1971 and digging in Egypt since 1978, has been the Director of the Tell el-Muqdam/Leontopolis Project since 1992. As that excavation in nearly at an end, Dr. Redmount began several years ago, thinking about a new site to dig in Egypt.
Early on, Carol began visiting sites that might have potential, and be available. She had a number of things to consider - both personal and professional - and has been juggling all the various factors simultaneously for the past 3-5 years, in order to come up with a plan that meets all the criteria.
Things that had to be factored into the process and weighed both separately and together are:
Thus, Carol narrowed her preferences to: 1) a large site; 2) with long term excavation potential; 3) and extensive research opportunities.
What is available in Egypt? Egypt has begun restricting who works on some sites. For example, Zahi Hawass would like the Giza Plateau to be restricted mostly to excavation by Egyptians. Some sites are endangered and need immediate attention before the remains are lost forever. What is available in "safe" areas of the country? It isn't a good plan to start work on a long-term project in an area of the country where there is strong potential for future problems.
Thus one must ask, what sites are both endangered and available? Major reclamation projects are making some sites that used to be little known key endangered sites now. The Supreme Council of Antiquities [SCA] has indicated that they want work to concentrate in the Delta, but have not completely stopped all other approvals.
It is imperative to determine how one can work within the rules of the SCA. For example, no material can be taken out of Egypt, so how does one facilitate scientific analysis on the site? One option is to work at a site where there is already material in a collection outside Egypt which will compliment the material at the site in Egypt - such as at the Hearst Museum. Another is to set up a lab in Egypt or use one of the labs that are being set up by missions in various parts of Egypt.
From all of this analysis emerged the following critical criteria to be applied to potential sites:
1. A large site.
2. A site that is endangered, or soon will be.
3. A site with significant settlement history.
4. A site that includes a range of time periods of occupation.
5. A site that will support long-term excavation and research.
6. A site that will support long-term funds development.
With these criteria in mind, Carol began visiting potential sites several years ago. As the SCA is urging work in the Delta, she first looked at about a dozen Delta sites and talked to people in the field regarding their potential, reviewed the literature, and to keep the expenses down, visited other sites while in Egypt working at Tell el-Muqdam. None of the Delta sites fully met her criteria; though not ideal, several were possibilities:
Then she began looking at sites outside the Delta. First she thought to check the old Hearst sites which were excavated by George Reisner early in the last century - Naga el Deir and El Ahaiwa - and Metamud, north of Thebes, a small area surrounded by villages and with lots of kids. At El Ahaiwah the remnants of Reisner's excavations are visible, but she couldn't find any houses. The site has a lovely view from the top of the tell, but there isn't enough material left to sustain a long-term dig. At Naga ed-Deir it was only possible to view the site from across the river due to security problems. There was no indication of any habitation - just tombs,
and what remains there is badly damaged.
The next site to be evaluated was El Hiba. The site, which
is half way between Cairo and El Amarna, is in remarkably good shape. The
time is ideal to excavate the site as encroachment is just beginning so
it is endangered. It is a safe site, and is large. There was continual
habitation over many centuries and there is a temple. Inscriptions visible
on the temple have never been recorded. In Deiter Arnold's new book on
the temples of Egypt, the temple is defined at "probably Ptolomaic". Baines
and Malek, in Atlas of Ancient Egypt, define the site as: ".at town site
[ancient Egyptian Tuedjoi] with a much-destroyed temple built by Shoshenq
I. It was the northern limit of the Thebaid during the 21st through 25th
Dynasties." Some important texts come from the site. Saite/Persian
period papyri tell of a
Persian family who lived there. Also the High Priest at Thebes in the 3rd Intermediate Period was from El Hiba.Vast cemeteries with many sarcophagi - now in the Ashmolean Museum in England - have been excavated in
the past. The last excavations at the site were by Robert Wenke in 1980. El Hiba was a combination fort, village, and burial ground. Many structural components are visible, including large mud brick walls with stamped bricks [from Menkheperre, High Priest of Amon]. The site is high and ideally situated, with a lovely view of the river. Surface finds abound and the
back area has many tombs. There may be Paleolithic art on the rocks in the cliffs beyond the tell.
So, El Hiba meets all the criteria Carol established. She advised that Dr. Gaballah Ali Gaballah has agreed to support Carol's application for the site. Of course the commissioners at the SCA must give the final word of approval, but Dr. Gaballah's recommendation holds great sway. Thus, within the next few months, the formal request for El Hiba will go forward to the SCA for approval as DR Redmount's long term excavation site in Egypt. We all join in wishing her success and look forward to hearing more about the site in the future.
NOTE: The U. C. Berkeley team was awarded the concession for El
Hiba. If you would lik to help support their work, please click on this
- Nancy Corbin
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