The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Theban Mountain Quarries & the Temple of Mentuhotep III Sankhare day 2

April 15th, 2008

Well, after Sundays experience and not being in a fit state to do anything afterwards, let alone go and explore the quarries out there. Both Maria and I decided to go back out yesterday, armed with lots more cold water in our camel backs and digestive Hob Nobs, which I feel are an integral part of anyone’s desert equipment, plus, of course, the obligatory salted peanuts (Egyptian style, you’ll know the type if you have been here).

So armed with the supplies and a good evening’s research into the Google maps and other previous excavations at the sites of the quarries we headed of, well, sort of. I had booked Mahmoud our taxi driver for 10am but alas, Egyptian timing took the better of him and he eventually turned up at 11.10am, so much for an earlier start.

We arrived at the drop off point on the road to the Valley of the Kings and headed off in the direction of the quarries. The original pathway that had stood the testament of time has now been blocked to any traffic other foot due to the inspectorate using it as a dumping ground for the remains of the old Gurna village that once stood in the foot hills of the tombs of the Nobles. Now anyone who has been to Luxor previously will remember the old mud brick houses that were scattered around the foot hills of Thebes. These have now been removed so further excavation work can be carried out on the tombs of the nobles, and the product of this mass destruction has been placed out here amongst the ancient trade routes that once kept Thebes alive for all those thousands of years. It’s a little bit treacherous treading on broken glass, used syringes, concrete, tarmac, etc.: all alien to this part of the world, but now slowly becoming part of this once peaceful landscape. It’s quite surreal after spending a few hours in the wadis and climbing in and out of the quarries. You become accustomed to the sounds of slipping rocks and gravel the cracking of pottery shard under your foot but when you step on a one of the thousands of sun burnt tins or Baraka bottle. The sound is eerily unnatural to this environment and echoes around you like a small scream. You can feel the surrounding natural landscape is unhappy with this intrusion of modern human waste. We can only watch with despair in our eyes as the sands of the Western desert slowly eat these heaps of materialism that we have coveted so much for so long but would be useless to out ancient ancestors as they once trod this landscape in nothing but sandals and a loin cloth: quite remarkable when you think it about it like that.

Anyway, back to the exploration, we followed the path until a left hand split became apparent and there inform of us on this left hand turn was the first quarried cavern. Similar to those at Silsila where the stone has been removed in an systematic fashion, so that the cavern has its own pillars, ceilings, walls, etc., very much like a early temple, a place of worship, in fact not too far from the truth. We located at 5/6 of these caverns, each one having its own inscriptions dedicated to the early Coptic/Gnostic Period. The crosses are not what we are normally used to seeing today. These ancient crosses are decorated in a geometric pattern like configuration, seen all over Egyptian temples such as Hatshepsut and Ramesseum in West Bank Luxor. The crucifixes having adornments to their tips and the letters I.C.X.C. (signifying Jesus Christ) dotted here and there. We did manage to locate the hieroglyph signs, the “Lord of the two lands” referring to the pharaoh as the king of upper and lower Egypt. This was in cavern 3, alongside Coptic/Gnostic inscriptions and other inscriptions. It was in this cavern that we also discovered flint tools of various sizes and usages going back to the Paleolithic Period.

Some of the more open caverns had remains of mud-brick scattered around their entrances and inside them as well. Could these be the remains of a possible habitation, the idea that the disused quarries became dwellings for the merchants who used the caravan routes to trade various goods between Thebes and Hu could have been possibilities? The caverns would of made brilliant ware house and in the perfect location as well. There is so much evidence to support this theory out there; remains of mud bricks here and there, small man made rock walls, pottery from all the periods right up to the Romans; and of course our own present day. The pathways are still clearly defined it is not hard to see where they led to and from.

You can imagine the excitement as a major caravan was preparing to depart for Hu, the various men running around gathering supplies for the arduous journey across the Theban hills, the merchants do their last minute bargaining. The donkeys and carts all being prepared. It’s not difficult to imagine this all happening when you are there, the area is brimming with evidence of such activity.

So how does this all fit in with Sankhare Temple and the quarries? Well I believe that the temple was the first phase of habitation in this hostile area, from there it grew: the temple itself though remained as a place of pilgrimage given its location on top of the gebel. The pilgrims might well have joined the caravans on their route across providing them with a means of transportation up the gebel and a route to the back of the temple which would have been much easier than the direct route up the face of the mountain. As I have discussed before, the Google maps clearly show pathways leading to the temple from the rear and these pathways do all interconnect further into the foot hills, thus providing an easier and more supportive access to the temple itself. This was probably the main route of transporting goods and of course the earlier building blocks for the temple. The pilgrims who sought the guidance of the resident priests would have also brought with them offerings to the priesthood and gods that dwelled within the temple. Thus the temple had its own means of self sufficiency through the pilgrims that continued to visit this holy place.

The temple would also have provided a beacon for the caravans that were crossing the Theban foot hills, given its height it would have been easy to spot the lights of fires from a great distance and provided a means of navigation in the difficult conditions of the mountains and foot hills.

We will be returning to the Theban Quarries again later next week to continue our exploration of this area to try and understand more about the habitation and the caravans themselves. I would also like to see for myself if there is such a route that is passable by donkey to the temple of Sankhare by means of a back pathway. In the meantime I await confirmation from the Petrie Museum on the excavation reports of Petrie's excavation of the second temple structure at Sankhare and whether this had any relationships to other dynasties other than the 12th. I will also continue to map out the area and discover and lay out the true route through the foot hills to Hu and research to find out if there are any other such like structures in Hu that can support the trade route between the two cities. We will also post the photos as well from this trip together with the inscriptions and Google map as well.

We’re off to Esna temple on Friday and will post an account of that visit as well. Until next time.
Dr John Ward GM.KT

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