Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Report of Thebes in First Millennium BC conference Part 1

Report of Thebes in First Millennium BC conference

Mei mei as the Egyptians would say (10/10), to hold a quality international conference is a challenging undertaking in Egypt, especially on a tight budget. The conference program may not have been a glossy, laminated colour production but it had the information and stunningly enough, apart from one blip at the very beginning, they have managed to keep to the program and what a program.

The Egyptian authorities have given it their complete support from the governor Dr Ezzat Saad opening to the conference, various speakers giving excellent talks to the Ministry of Tourism hosting the closing dinner.
This report is for the first day until the afternoon break.

The opening remarks by Dr Mohamed El Bialy gave a historical background to the Assasif (also spelt Asasif), the location roughly between the temple of Hatshepsut and the Ramasseum, the origins of the name, the history of excavation at the sight and some rather witty ideas about the name. All nationalities have worked in the area from Belzoni the Italian to Polish/Mexican/American/French/Italian today. It is possible that the site was first popularised with an Old Kingdom temple to Hathor prior to the Middle Kingdom and New Kingdom building boom.

Dr Ezzat Saad, the governor of Luxor opened the conference stressing the work of the various missions, his friendships amongst them and his thanks to them. He noted the differences between Luxor and Cairo and the complete safety of Luxor. Then we had a power cut! This caused considerable amusement as 90% of the audience know this a regular feature of life here and power was quickly restored. The governor then continued his speech noting the character of the people of Luxor who might talk about politics but any demo is limited in numbers and very peaceful.

Then the conference proper started. Dr Elena Pischikova was the first talk. I will not give a full report of the speakers 1) the abstracts are on the conference website  2) some have consented to having iPods being made available 3) the proceedings will be published in the future 4) I only fully report free talks. I will let people know on my blog when I see the publication and I-pods being made available.

The South Asasif Conservation Project
Dr Elena Pischikova firstly thanked all her team, the volunteers, conservators, workmen and Reiss. She talked about her work in Thebes over 7 seasons and before that when they were scouting the area.  She believes that Karabasken is the first of the Kushite tombs. Her sites have been extremely challenging to work in as the stone is poor quality and this has caused huge problems with excavation, safety and conservation. The reconstruction work is going well, and her many slides showed the extent of this tomb and how much they have cleared.

Kushite pottery from the tomb of Karakhamun: Towards a reconstruction of the use of pottery in 25th Dynasty temple tombs
Julia Budka talked with great authority about the pottery found on site. Although a lot was found only a few pieces could be dated to the Kushite period and perhaps to the original tomb, 3 pieces in all. But these pieces were very illuminating, she explained the links with Kurra, Abydos and Thebes that can be deduced and the various types of vessel.

The Book of the Dead from the Second Pillared Hall of the Tomb of Karakhamun

Ken Griffin stated that 90% of the texts in the tomb have been identified, now this sounds quite easy but when he shows you a slide with a dozen glyphs scattered on fragments and how they have managed to put these together and then from these few scraps identified which exact chapter of the book of the dead these are from you realise the enormous task. Some chapters are duplicated and later talks showed this is not uncommon. This is the earliest Late Period Theban tomb to be extensively decorated with the Book of the Dead and gives us new insights into the 25th Dynasty Book of the Dead and how much they must have researched in order to put this material on their tombs.

The Hall of the Two Maats BD 125 in Karakhamun’s funerary chamber
Miguel Molinero Polo
This talk again positioned the tomb in the development of the Book of the Dead in this period and how by careful selection of the appropriate text and vignettes the tomb burial chamber was transformed into the virtual Hall of the Two Maats.

Indentifying Signs of Workshop Production in Theban Funerary Assemblages in the Later Third intermediate Period
John Taylor
Because there are so many variations it is difficult to date things stylistically as can be done in other periods. However using trends and typologies it is possible to link pieces together and thus identifying workmen’s styles. This linking can be done across pieces so the same thing on a shabity box may be found on a coffin, thus they can be linked. This “workshop” could be an ad-hoc or permanent team and they would have created all sorts of objects for all sorts of levels of society.

Lunch was provided for all and it was nice to meet with Egyptian members of the team as well as speakers, volunteers and other attendees. Although basic it was enjoyed by all judging by the clean plates.

Some remarks on the architecture of TT223
Dieter Eigner discussed the possible reasons behind the choice of site. The connection with the lost causeway of Amenemhat I and other significant places in the area. The tombs are that of type 5 which is a big step in tomb design with open courtyards, pillared halls. He also went into some detail about the cavetto cornice which is rarely found.

Brief Remarks on the Faunal Material from the South Assasif Conservation Project

Salima Ikram talked about the bones, some of which had been subjected to intense heat which had coloured them blue to varying degrees. Although there were different periods of time the majority, some 96% were cow. These were from 1st centaury AD and would have demonstrated a significant level on wealth.

New Tombs of the North Asassif
Fathy Yaseen Abd El Karim, head of the West Bank Antiquities, talked about the 4 new tombs that have been opened. These are in front of TT405 in the El Khokha area.

Conservation at the South Asasif Necropolis
A fascinating, highly technical talk by Abdelrazk Ali (Mohammed) about the various methods used in the conservation, this was someone who had a real feel for his work. He explained that he tried to be sympathetic to the stone, to compliment the right stone with the right mortar mix. They try and use natural methods and Egyptian materials where ever possible. He explained that the tomb was carved by inexperienced stone carvers as they selected areas which have lines of poor quality. His talk attracted a lot of questions in the discussion.

I still have lots more to write up and will work on it tonight but thought you would like some details now. I have loads of photos on a Facebook album, you don't need to have a Facebook profile to look at them

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