The Sirius Project

The Sirius Project
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Sunday, November 18, 2012

solar symbolism in Gebel el Silsila

Find our most recent article on solar symbolism in Gebel el Silsila in the archaeological magazine Ancient Planet Online (pp. 50-61):

A huge thank you to Ioannis Georgopoulos for all hard work in putting the magazine together!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Working with epigraphic material in Gebel el Silsila – Adrienn’s summary of the first season

The primary aim of the epigraphical work during the season 2012 - the survey of the main quarry of Silsila - has been accomplished and the inscriptions previously published by W. Spiegelberg and F. Preisigke have been localized and identified. As the first editor of the Demotic text, W. Spiegelberg never visited the site and used only the copies of G. Legrain, so one of our first steps in the recording process was to check and compare every inscription listed in the 1915 publication.

Some parts of W. Spiegelberg’s texts are not or only partly translated due to certain difficulties which G. Legrain must have encountered: many of the inscriptions are situated too high for the naked eye to record the details, and of course for copying by the help of acetate (transparent plastic paper), and the surface of the quarry walls consists almost everywhere of tool marks made by chisels used during the quarrying - naturally, this often makes the texts hardly visible.

These problems made also our work difficult and in many cases we could work with only a monocular/binoculars to create a preliminary drawing on site, which later is to be compared with, analysed and adjusted based on good quality photos (thanks to our good photographers), all of which help us to create a complete record and to translate the texts. For copying I sometimes used a ladder, and for taking photos Maria and John often climbed up on ledges and high ridges to be able to capture the highly situated texts and quarry marks (which were heroic deeds in certain cases). I am sure we will find during the analysis of the texts more interesting details and connections with other sites.

Besides checking and recopying the published texts we have found and recorded many unpublished inscriptions: more than half of them show no indication of having been discovered during the archaeological survey of G. Legrain, but others were not published by W. Spiegelberg in spite of being numbered or encircled by white chalk. These chalk-markings made us believe that G. Legrain probably planned to return to Silsila to complete the work.

If I must choose a favourite place in the main quarry I will choose Section D (south) with its corridor. The inscriptions of this section have a special interest. Some of them refer to a specific deity in adoration style, thus showing the religious importance of the site.

As most of the Demotic texts have a religious content (adorations) the epigraphical work of the site can contribute to the identification of role of the quarries in the religious life. Two types of divinities appear in these adorations: the main deities of the temples which were built by the stone blocks of Gebel Silsila (like Horus of Edfu, Isis, Khnum) and local protectors (like Pshaï/Psais, Min and Pachimesen - the protective daemon of the quarry). Revealing the identity of the local divinities will be an interesting aspect of the studying the texts and the role of the quarry.

written by A. Almasy, linguist and epigrapher specialising on demotic inscriptions

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Third week at Gebel el Silsila

clouds over Silsila West and moving birds returning to warmer climate for the winter

The third week of surveying Gebel el Silsila continued with new exiting results and discoveries! To start off with we were visited by a smaller company of storks, stopping by at Silsila over the week, and together with the already gorgeous scenery giving us a splendid view to gaze upon! We have come to accept the fact that this season will focus entirely on the main quarry (with a small addition of Q35 directly attached to the south), hoping to continue with the quarries around it next season.

During this third week John and I completed photographing every inch (!) of all individual quarry faces, providing us photographic material of 1) full overview images of Q35 – the main quarry, 2) overview images of the seven sections within Q35, 3) overview images of each individual quarry face, 4) detail photos of pictorial and textual inscriptions, 5) contextual overviews of graffiti placed in groups or series. Puh!

John busy drawing and adding measurements to the notes

Exposing a demotic inscription on one of the fallen stone blocks

We have measured every quarry face, every engraving within reach, every extracted stone block and fallen stone blocks presented with some form of graffiti. In addition, we have measured the outlines/incision of all graffiti (and the tool marks made during extraction) and when possible the size of the chisel head. The preliminary results are very interesting! So, a lot of measuring and photographing with other words...

a post hole on top of the quarry overlooking the main quarry

John making notes 


After completing the photographic records, we continued into phase 2, the topographical survey, which John is responsible for. Thus, each stone structure, including supporting walls, and pathway were photographed, drawn, measured and noted on the general topographical map. Material visible on the surface provided us important information as to the function of huts and structures in the various locations. Results of that in good time!

every inch needs investigation!

Meanwhile, Adrienn, who completed her copying of the demotic inscriptions, was given the task to copy (plastic sheet tracing) also Greek inscriptions within reach. This task was followed by a little move over to Q35, the quarry which we refer to as the Situla Quarry, again with the task of copying the inscriptions. The information from within this quarry is so exciting and will give an important update on our contemporary knowledge of the site - but for this you will have to wait for our publication ;-)

Since this was Adrienn’s last week, we thank her for her great contribution on site and now look forward working with the material together! On behalf of the (wink wink) "managing department" and the "topographic department" - hank you “Mrs Spiegelberg of the linguistic department”!

one happy epigrapher!

The survey has taken a few days break as John went off to America, giving me the opportunity of writing our preliminary report to the SCA. Tomorrow we head back out in field for a last few days before finishing off this amazing first season of surveying Gebel el Silsila!

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

first week at Silsila

overview Sections C and D in the main quarry

Ten days in on our epigraphic survey journey we could not have asked for more of Gebel el Silsila than has been presented to us so far! Among us, our great inspector and the helpful guardians Silsila is now referred to as the mother of the temples, and she has presented new material in form of not only a huge amount of quarry marks (of course), demotic and Greek inscriptions, but also a few hieroglyphic graffiti and insights into the day-to-day work of “her” visiting workers.

arriving at site, ready to unpack and set up camp tent 1

orientation from the guard house

first tent is being set up

second tent with all work material being transported the old fashion way - by donkey

one happy epigrapher - Adrienn\s first day at Silsila!

So far, we concentrate our work in the main quarry – the largest and central quarry at Silsila East, which has been divided into six sections following a clock-wise orientation. Thus, this main quarry now is labelled with the sub-titles Section A-F, starting and ending with its two corridors. 

epigraphic documentation - everything is to be recorded with camera and drawings on paper and plastic film if on accessible height

Last week’s work completed the epigraphic documentation of the northern corridor – Section A, the northern section – Section B, and work is currently conducted in Sections C and D, which are alternated based on the position of the sun: while photos in the shade can provide highlighting of certain elements, we do prefer when the quarry faces stand in full sun light, illuminating the details more clearly and creating a better contrast towards the diagonal tool marks that form the most common background for the inscriptions. 

epigraphic work requires some ladder climbing...

Work begins at 7 am each day - although we are up already at 4.30, to be picked up at 5.30, continuing all day through until 4-4.30 pm with rest for lunch and then back to a oh so needed nutritious refuel at the hotel we are staying. Unfortunately, we cannot stay on site as there is no access to electricity on the east bank – a problem that we hope to sort with time – so at the moment we travel some time each day from our hotel to the site – not to mention the 25 minutes walk each morning and afternoon to get to the main quarry... 

view from Silsila East

overlooking Silsila West

For John and myself there have been many highlights and we have been able to complete a comprehensive documentation of those quarry faces we had documented already during previous visits. For Adrienn, however, this mission is her first visit to the site, and it has struck her with quite a surprise, and to be able to work with such a great amount of previously unpublished material is a dream for any linguist who specialises in demotic inscriptions! Most scholars who have visited Silsila refer to the East as published by Spiegelberg, true of course, but this great demotic expert in fact did not visit the site in person, but based his translations of the text on the notes provided by Legrain. Legrain, who we believe planned to return to the site, was instead caught up with the cachet at Karnak, leaving the great material for us to work with now! 

Hopefully we will be able to provide updates more regularly from now on, with some personal notes from also John and Adrienn. Until then, we thank you for following us on our survey of Silsila! 

from our Silsila blog - overview photos etc

During our epigraphic survey project in Gebel el Silsila this autumn we will share with you, our readers on the Sirius Project, also here the material! Enjoy!

overviewing the main quarry 

Serving as a foundation of information for this season's mission at Gebel el Silsila East, our previous visits to the site have resulted in a rich photographic library: here we would like to share with you a series of overview photos to introduce you to the site with all its natural beauty! 

view from inside one of the main galleries

overlooking Silsila West

the unfinished criosphinx facing Silsila West

the "green quarry", an ancient quay now completely overgrown

one of many central road systems with associated pathways

overlooking the main quarry

partly ancient this quarry was used for the Esna barrage 1906-9

overlooking the cenotaphs on Silsila West

Quarries and cenotaphs on Silsila West

entry via water-side to these cenotaphs

cenotaphs and stelai

The Nile at its narrowest at Gebel el Silsila 

Main quarry at Silsila East

Speos of Horemheb, Silsila West

topic of main interest: quarry marks!

series of quarries at Silsila West

another carefully carved quarry mark depicting a lotus within a lotus

Silsila West, north

overview from Silsila West to East

the typical Greek inscription expressing adoration

quarry marks on Silsila East

one of the corridors leading in and out of the main quarry, Silsila East

Hopefully, by the end of next week, we will return with some updates on this season's epigraphic survey!