The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Friday, June 3, 2011

On and around Thoth Hill, Day 5, the northern wadi

It is now becoming a bit of a problem, Mahmoud has adjusted his internal clock, and as a result of this slight adjustment he is always on time, which now looks bad on us as we have always ran late in the mornings. I suppose an extra 10 minutes needs to be added to the alarm clock to enable us to be on time from now on: just will not do all this waking up early in the morning.

Anyway, welcome back. Yes, you guessed it, we have returned yet again to the northern wadi to reinvestigate where we left off before. We actually managed this time to get Mahmoud to drive a little further to save us the extra hour we use to walk into the wadi itself. This, however, did not sit well with his 1970’s Peugeot taxi that has seen far better days (and those days have long since past). I did think at one point of actually contacting Peugeot and letting them know just how far you can push one of their older models: it would make a great advert for the longevity of their cars! So, his shock absorbers stuck it out and survived: we found a suitable place where he could turn and return to civilization while we turned our backs and headed off into the wadi with the rising morning sun on our backs.

We followed as usual the makeshift track that had been left by the SCA during its conservation of the Coptic Kaneesa. By the way, I would like to mention that due to the extra daylight hours we are now enjoying due to the summer clock adjustment, we have had to increase our water ration that we both carry with us. So instead of the 3 liters that we were carrying before, we have now had to increase this to 9 liters, plus I have the additional flask of Gods nectar (Nescafe). Then add our food for the day and other essentials. So our camel back packs are looking more like a pregnant camel every time we go out there. I am sure we will have to look into purchasing much larger packs as our stamina and knowledge of the area increases. We are finding that we are walking much further each time and climbing to much greater heights. What we find out, though, is that this particular part of our research is becoming a little obsessive: there something that keeps on pulling us back to Wadi! However, saying that, each time we do return we do actually find out a little more about the area and its ancient function.

For instance, on this particular trip we decided to return to the smaller wadi which contained the spoil heap. I personally wanted to re-photograph the dressed limestone block that we discovered previously and Maria agreed that the wadi might possibly hold something else for us which we had not yet seen or realized. We arrived at the spoil heap in good time; well it is always a good time for a Nescafe, especially in the mornings and after the walk to the spoil heap. While I enjoyed a sit down and a cup of the nectar from the gods, Maria explored the natural niche area and the dry bed of the wadi. It was not long until I heard those familiar words “come, quickly I have found something”, and sure enough Maria had. All the previous times we had visited this particular area and the amount of times I have personally scanned the cliff face of the niche to find an alternative route to scale it without breaking one’s neck, I/ we had not seen the now blatantly obvious inscriptions that were staring back at us from the face. Though being mostly Coptic inscriptions there were a few singular signs such as the Alpha and other, more geometric designs. This was another breakthrough and another reason to suspect that this small wadi had more to it than just the spoil heap. I continued after my coffee to explore the dry bed for signs of structure. Now, to give you an idea of what it is precisely I am looking for: if you can imagine a dry river bed and the amount of stone and shingle that lies in and around it, well I am looking for stones that have been stacked in a fashion as so to resemble some sort of shelter or even fire surround, etc. Unfortunately, I found nothing other than a few more pieces of pottery, which I photographed and catalogued with the rest of the finds in this wadi.

We continued our renewed search of the wadi face only to discover more inscriptions, which had been left on these walls by the pilgrim Copts and earlier Greeks. We also discovered a fine example of a prehistoric engraving of a bovine style creature, obviously never recorded before and certainly never been seen by modern man. It still excites me to think when we are out there, in some places we are the first modern people to be setting foot on pathways that have not been trodden in hundreds if not thousands of years, and in some cases, such as the rock art, to see engravings and inscriptions that were placed there by someone who has long since disappeared into the sands of time.

Anyway, back to the wadi. We decided that the wadi itself was not going to provide us with anymore clues to the function of it. So, we decided to climb upwards, this time taking another route to the first tier of the hillside. The route we had chosen could not have been worse I suppose: loose stone chippings and no pathways that we could see. However, we carried on winding our way to the top trying not to slip as the fall would have certainly hurt. We reached the top and continued walking, clinging to the make shift ledge. Our means of escape from this ridge was a very tight cave-like opening, formed in the rock face by water at one point or another, providing us with a crevice in which we could crawl up to the surface by. The inside of the crevice had been subject to none descript graffiti: it was hard to discern whether the graffiti had been placed there recently or previously by our ancient onlookers.
We continued to climb out, and it is worth noting here that as before we follow a pottery trail, being fully aware that this escaped would not be in vain, as we clambered onto the surface of the first ridge. The site commanded a most beautiful view of the wadi and its run offs into the valley below. We could see further signs of man’s intervention in this area. However, this time it was not any of our Coptic or Pharaonic friends, no, this time we were looking upon flint chippings and in some cases flint tools, scattered around the floor: all of various sizes and stages of completion. We continued to follow the ridge around to the area which overlooked the end of the small wadi below, where the main run off from the mountain above us would have created a waterfall into the wadi. Here we found, never having been disturbed by either man or element, a broken painted pot scattered around the smooth surface of the run off. The pot’s design had a leaf motif, which had been painted around the top just below the rim. The pot would have been a considerable size and was most definitely not a workman’s pot for carrying water: too much detail and finesse about it for such a mundane job. No, this had possibly carried wine; I say wine, due to the fact that the leaves to me resembled grape vine leaves. The questions were what was the pot doing at this level and how did it come to be broken and why and by whom. We photographed the pieces we could locate and moved them out of the sun light so the paint surface could no longer be bleached by the blistering sun.
We had a choice at this point to continue around the ridge to the location where we had sat the other day to try and see if there were any means of descent directly above the spoil heap or continue to follow the run off. There were no paths at all in the runoff and it would be hard going climbing up and down and all over the large boulders that had been left here by the waters of the last storm to hit this wadi. We decided to follow the run off to the point where it split into two different ones: this we could see in the distance. Maria took one side and I the other. Together we began to climb, scanning the surface of the dry bed for any signs of man’s intervention. We reached the point at which the run off split into different directions and had found no other discernable signs. Maria had found two small pieces of pottery which was a clue that the man had been in this area, but most probably further above as the pottery was found in the silt of the dry bed and there were no other sherds lying around there.

It was at this point that we could see the run off descending down the hill side into the area where we had found the painted pot and then down into the wadi below: from there it was obvious how it had cut its way through the wadi floor and had continued its journey towards the main wadi and into the Theban valley below. Water has to be one of nature’s most destructive forces and yet it has a kind of mothering nature about it: from its path of destruction comes rebirth of a landscape and beauty as the various shapes and forms are created by its ever increasing desire to find its own level.

From this vantage point we could see a pathway of sorts a little higher up above us and to the right of us. We both decided to head for the pathway and use it to descend down to the point above the spoil heap. Again on our way downwards we came across various small sherds of pottery and some more of our earlier ancestors’ tools and weapons. On reaching the area above the spoil we stopped for a break – one of those all important coffee breaks with the added delight of a warm sweating boiled egg, oh yum yum...

From the climb earlier in the morning I had the chance to look above the spoil heap from another vantage and could see that there was indeed a route down the vertical cliff face, which would not result in me breaking my neck. So after my egg and coffee I took the chance, and the fact that Maria was otherwise occupied to try the descent downward, it was actually easy going. The stone had been worn to provide a stepping system. On reaching the point where I could go no longer, I could see a small cave to my right, which I decided was too good an opportunity not to pass up. So, I scaled the edge very carefully watching every step and making sure that every footing was stable beneath me before carrying on. On reaching the mouth of the cave, let’s say a little disappointment came over me: an optical illusion had taken place, and there in front of me was in fact a small opening in the vertical cliff face not a cave, but another niche void of any graffiti or any human intervention. I turned back and climbed back to the surface having not found a way down to the spoil heap. So I tried the other source of the main crevice that lay above the spoil heap. This time it was hard going as the crevice was full of loose shingle that slipped and gave way under my feet, making it impossible to make a safe descent. On more than one occasion the ground just disappeared under my feet as it turned into a river of fine shingle making its way down the crevice and ultimately falling to the to the ground of the dry bed of the wadi below. With every step I had to concentrate hard to keep my balance, but I came to a point where two large boulders had become logged in the crevice, which I used to stable myself and gather my thoughts. Should I continue or turn back? The drop from the boulders down into the continuing crevice below was a considerable height and I would never be able to make such a jump without keeping control of my balance on the loose shingle. I sat squatted for a while to figure out my next move. While I was sat there though I could see beneath me an opening under the boulders a small cave had been dug under the boulders leading beneath where I was sat and back up the crevice behind me. I took my torch and leant over the edge of the boulder to look into the small cave, but again I was let down: no evidence of man at all. It must have been a natural occurrence made again by the force of nature. I returned to the surface to find Maria waiting for me, not exactly ecstatic at the fact that I had risked life and limb to only discover a natural cave and nothing else. Well no one said archaeological adventures are easy, and well, Indiana Jones, eat your heart out: there were small rolling stone not exactly huge megalithic balls of stone, but stone never the less.

We decided to make our way back down to the wadi floor taking the same route as we had used to climb up earlier in the day. On returning I noticed that there was an unusual amount of stone piled up just to the left of the spoil heap around the corner that did not look natural. The view from the descent to the wadi floor was giving me another insight into the wadi. On returning to the spoil I decided, of course, to investigate (although without interference) the stone pile and as soon as I got there I could see a small piece of what looked like rope uncovered by the stone in one of the corners. Barely visible under one of the larger stones, starring back at me was a pile of ropes. Now, I am not talking modern rope: this was reed ropes of various thickness: the bulk of it had been tied in a knot which was itself held together by a smaller length of twine that had been interlace with the larger knot as to stop it from untying itself. The rope had been subject to fire damage, the amount that was there though was an exciting moment: why, when, who had left it here and initially covered it with stones to hide its location? There was no real length to it as to scale the cliff wall, only small lengths remained the rest had obviously be used to make a fire or had been burn deliberately, who knows. Lying beneath the rope was yet another exciting find: this time a broken pot of considerable thickness, dating to a much earlier period than the other pottery we had documented on our path. We photographed the entire area and all the contents before leaving it just as we found it.

What a day it had been, not only had we discovered the graffiti and the inscriptions earlier in the morning at the spoil heap, but also further along the wadi cliff face: datable pottery, the ropes, the prehistoric engravings, the painted pot above the wadi together with the tools and weapons; new pathways that we had not previously seen. However, the main question still burned way inside us, what was the function of this small wadi? It was now completely obvious that it has played a part in inhabitants of Thebes and that man has been in this wadi for various reasons for over possibly 12-15000 years, if not even longer judging by the flint tools. The earlier inhabitants who had left the engravings and the flint tools were obviously using the natural wadi to capture and herd wild bovine from the valley in an attempt to either capture them or for killing for food. We then have our pharaonic ancestors using the wadi, although the reason for their attendance still evades us at present; and then the late Greek inscriptions and the Coptic inscriptions showing us that there was continued interest in this particular wadi.

One theory we would like to purpose is that the earlier man who had herded livestock into the wadi may well have left stone structure at the opening to the wadi itself, as means of an aid in his attempt to capture the wild bovine, a structure that resembled a wall of some kind. This wall would have been standing to the entrance of the wadi and this is what leads our other groups to investigate the wadi, the same as us in many respects. However, due to a heavy
precipitation (storm) which caused a tremendous deluge of water to run through the wadi destroying not only the wall at the mouth of the wadi, but also any other structures. The rope does still stick in my mind, what was that doing there and given its thickness it had not been used for any other purpose I surmise than hauling, it was far too heavy and cumbersome for horse or donkey tack. Whatever the reason had been for its function in this wadi has long since disappeared, but this does not deter us from investigating further and aiming to discovering the reasons behind it.

The rest of the day we used to retrace our previous steps to the Kaneesa, but instead of entering that wadi we decided to venture further and enter the last smaller wadi in this valley. We could not have asked for a better ending to what had turned out to be an already exciting day full of discoveries. A little further into the wadi itself stood two large stone boulders of megalithic size, both of which had fallen onto one another providing a natural shelter beneath them. This shelter had obviously been used by various people for this exact reason for many years and all of them had left their mark on the stone surface as means of recording this event. The surface of both stones were inscribed with various graffiti from different time periods, including Coptic crosses, a few Islamic notations, late Greek votives, etc. The wadi itself, though, was nearly barren of any other graffiti except for a couple of instances. I found this to be quite usual as the high cliff faces of this wadi provided much shade from the blistering heat of the sun and there was an abundance of large shrubs and plant life in this wadi which would suggest the appearance of water, whereas in our other wadis there is a distinct lack of plant life. So why had no one really taken the time to use this wadi, was it due to the height of the cliff walls, was it because it was the end of the main wadi and there was no means of escape at all from this, in case of ambush etc.? Whatever the reason, it was still a high note on which we ended the day.

[13th May 2008]
Until Next time

Dr John Ward & Dr Maria Nilsson
The Sirius Project
Historical Preservation Society

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