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Januar 4, 2019

Gebel el Silsila Project

Located south of the capital city of Cairo with all of its well-established touristic facilities and approximately 130 km further south of the modern city of Luxor and 65 km north of Aswan, the historic site of Gebel el Silsila (ancient Kheny) occupies both the east and west banks of the River Nile.  The area encompasses what can be best described as two sandstone massifs elevated above the River Nile stretching as far back as the village of Kagorge on the east bank and the western desert edge on the west bank (adjacent to the villages of Faris and Nag el-Hammam).

Currently, the east bank is closed to public access and the west bank is restricted to certain parts which predominately lay alongside the River Nile.  Due to Gebel el Silsila’s geographic location amongst the ancient established trade routes, the borderlands between Egypt and Nubia, and the narrowing of the Nile, it has naturally provided a place to stop and rest for the ancient traders, armies, scientific expeditions, and curious tourists alike.  The very sandstone surfaces are a testament to these early travelers and explorers as they have in turn left their marks engraved in the stone, providing us with a chronological overview of Gebel el Silsila’s visitors over the past few millennia.  Today, tourists sail by in their thousands aboard the famous grand Nile cruise boats, taking those romantic holiday photographs from the upper decks while they gently navigate the narrow channel of Silsila’s watery gorge. 

For the lucky few however who seek adventure and excitement, the dahabaya (traditional sailing boat) offers them the choice to moor against the banks of the river in a similar manner to those earlier travelers, providing them with an opportunity to explore and walk amongst the grand monuments of Silsila’s west bank at a more leisurely pace.  The cenotaphs, the abundance of Nile stelae commemorating various pharaohs’ quarrying expeditions, and of course not forgetting the famous Speos of Horemheb/Hatshepsut are all set within the quarry-scarred landscape that provided the stone for Upper Egypt’s great Temples such as Karnak, Luxor, and Medinet Habu to mention but a few. 

Given Gebel el Silsila’s location between the cities of Luxor and Aswan it is somewhat isolated and compounded by the fact that the west bank is the only side open to the public, which in itself does pose some logistical problems regarding access via the desert roads of the west bank.  However, once here, the facilities that await the tourist are somewhat basic and limited.  The established guardians’ building to the north of the mooring station on the west bank could provide excellent respite from the enduring heat of Egypt.  It has the services (electricity, mains water, and telecommunications) to provide more than just a ticket office – possibly a small café or even a gift shop which would greatly enhance the visit for those who have traveled by road or river from either city.  The current touristic pathway is somewhat limiting in its access to the site.  At present, the pathway for the tourists begins at the Speos and officially ends at the Ptolemaic quarry to the south of the guardians’ house, further restricting access to the remainder of the cenotaphs 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and finally 32 – not to mention the 13 Nile stelae for which Gebel el Silsila is so famous for as well as the captivating capstone or Kingfisher Rock, which holds such a significance behind the name of Gebel el Silsila and its legend of the chain. 

The Swedish archaeological mission is at present constructing a natural pathway along the Nile side from the capstone to the ancient quay of the aforementioned Ptolemaic quarry.  This is a massive undertaking and requires not only substantial man hours and considerable manual labor but also funds, which the mission is happy to provide, in order to maintain and increase the awareness of the site.  Not only providing the pathway, but also more importantly enhancing the experience for the tourist and enabling them to view even more of Gebel el Silsila’s amazing, wonderful monuments from a more accessible location while also at the same time allowing those with a more restricted movement (physically) to enjoy the area.  The pathway also helps conserve and protect the abundance of epigraphic inscriptions and rock art that currently lay on the very pathway that tourists have to climb to access the remainder of the site.  Not only is this harmful to the historical inscriptions, but it is also dangerous as the current pathway is accessed by an ancient rock hewn staircase that has been cut in the natural bedrock and provides no safety precautions.  This staircase is not only of great archaeological importance but also does not provide adequate protection for the modern tourist who dares to climb it in order to access the remainder of the site.  So to conclude, the new Nile side pathway not only provides a new and exciting visual aspect to the area but also helps conserve and preserve Gebel el Silsila’s antiquity for further generations.

The site can be further enhanced by the creation of signs and information boards explaining not only the historical monuments, but also the quarried landscape and its history, and again increasing the experience of the tourist and helping the tour guides in their exploration of the area.  These signs will eventually go hand-in-hand with the Gebel el Silsila guidebook, which the current mission is currently compiling and shall be completed and ready for print by Season 10 (2017). 

The mission has provided this season (9) a small three-fold leaflet outlining a brief synopsis of the site and the foundation behind the Swedish mission (Friends of Silsila).  On both the east and west banks respectively there is currently no official signage declaring there are turning points to access Gebel el Silsila.  On the west bank three signs would be required: one at the junction on the main desert road (to turn east towards the village of Faris); the second to turn north on the agricultural road towards the site and the village of Nag el-Hammam; and lastly to

turn south on to the actual site itself (dirt track leading to main gate).  On the east bank one simple sign directing a west turn on the newly laid and watered mud track which runs alongside the main canal, and finally across the small bridge to the established guardians’ station where a motorboat can facilitate the crossing to the west bank would be sufficient.  In both cases, the roads approaching the site are inadequate and require further work.  Plus signage to welcome the  visitors is required, along with official symbols and site tariffs would be extremely useful and add to establishing Gebel el Silsila on the touristic map.  The mission is looking at establishing a welcome sign on the east bank next to the guardians’ hut to welcome those visitors who have chosen to visit the site between the Temples of Edfu to the north and Kom Ombo to the south – both of which have been built from the stone extracted from the mountain of Silsila.

The current mission has begun work on a marina (dock) to facilitate the landing and disembarkation of tourists on to the motor boat.  Prior to the construction of the marina and staircase, there were no adequate facilitates to allow the tourists to scale the banks of the River Nile on the east bank.  We hope this new marina will add to the easement of the site.  Currently there are many ancient places of historical importance for tourists to choose from while deciding upon their tour.  Gebel el Silsila should be a part of that selection process, given its importance and relevance in the construction of so many of the other sites. Gebel el Silsila would provide the tourist with a link between them – and not only giving them a break between temple sites and their glorious architecture but also educating them and hopefully providing them with a historical background that has, up until now, been remiss from the usual guided tours. 

This of course goes hand in hand with not only raising awareness of Gebel el Silsila, but also increasing revenue for the Ministry through ticket sales and increasing the level of potential income for the locals of Gebel el Silsila through expanded and increased tourism in the area, creating stability and growth for the local communities.  This is an important and crucial component of the overall conservation and preservation by educating and creating awareness of the site within its own local environment. 

Silsila is as diverse with its archaeology as it is its geographical size.  Given the amount of recent press and its participation in television shows such as National Geographic (Egypt’s Treasure Guardians) (Unearthed) and international shows, it is paramount that not only the current Swedish mission, but also in full cooperation with the Kom Ombo inspectorate and that of the Ministry together, should take advantage of this extra advertisement and exploit this opportunity to create further awareness of the site and it unique, exciting, and new discoveries from a touristic and importantly, scholarly perspective. 

The mission currently has over 60 international and Egyptian scholars participating within the project and with the increasing amount of archaeological material, and understanding of the area, the number of archaeologists, epigraphers, osteologists, ceramicists, etc. will continue to grow.  This again, brings awareness through further publications and lectures which will ultimately filter through to the general public, thus creating awareness of the site and its wealth of antiquity.  There is a greater need then to continue with the enhancement of the site and for the mission to fulfill its responsibility together with the Ministry and Kom Ombo Inspectorate to create a touristic experience at Silsila that can be shared with everyone and hopefully place it on the established touristic map as a must see.  There is so much more to Gebel el Silsila than just her 104 quarries – over 10,000 years of mankind’s history is ready to be viewed by the public.  Gebel el Silsila has the opportunity to provide the international and home grown tourist with an experience that will tie all the temples together and hopefully increase tourism within the area. 

  • Signage 1-32 cenotaphs, Speos of Horemheb/Hatshepsut, three quarry stelae, 13 Nile-side stelae, and 52 quarries (west bank)
  • Guidebook and leaflets
  • Road signage
  • Welcome signs (east and west banks)
  • Café, gift shop, and updated toilet facilities
  • Increased access to site pathways (marinas and pathways)


Secrets of Egypt Revealed

by. Dr. Zahi Hawass

The year 2016 revealed many secrets and we heard about many important discoveries. I will choose a few of these discoveries, such as the discovery made by Miroslav Barta from Prague University. The university found the remains of a large wooden boat. This boat was not royal and it is the first time to discover an Old Kingdom boat near a non-royal tomb, which could indicate the importance of its owner.

The Spanish Mission who was working at the Nobles Cemetery in Aswan found a mummy of a lady called “Satshiny,” dated to Dynasty 12 and she was one of the important ladies of the Middle Kingdom. She was the mother of two famous rulers of Aswan during the reign of king Amenmhat III. They were Heqaib III and Amini-Snb. Also, she was the daughter of Prince Seranput II.

Also, the German Expedition of Bonn University found a group of rock inscriptions dated to Prehistoric Period in the area of the Nobles tombs in Aswan. These are the oldest inscriptions to be discovered at this site, which can prove that people inhabited the area during this period.

But I think that the most important discovery that happened in the last few years is the discovery of the large papyrus in Wadi el-Jerf at the Red Sea. This papyrus is telling us about an overseer of the workmen called Mrr, who went with his group of workmen to Tureh , where the quarries of the white fine limestone that was used for the casing of the pyramids were. Also, he went to Sinai, maybe to bring copper from there. Mrr said that he was working on the construction of Khufu’s pyramid under the supervision of the architect Ankh-kaf and this happened in year 27 of Khufu’s reign and that they came back to a place called r-S, which means the “Mouth of the Lake,” and t it took them one day to go from r-S to the top of the plateau or more specifically to Khufu’s Pyramid.

During the Japanese work at the second boat pit located to the south of the Great Pyramid, the team found several copper tools buried in the pit. Were these made of the copper that Mrr brought from Sinai?

Also, Mrr stated that he was working under Anh-kaf. We previosuly thought that Ankh-Kaf was the architect who designed Khafre’s Pyramid, but it seems that Hemiunu, the architect of cousin of Khufu, who started the construction of the Great Pyramid when he was 25 years old, died during the construction of the pyramid. Also, this is the second time the year 27 of Khufu’s reign is found in inscriptions. The first occurance was found in a quarry in the Western Desert. Now why does the Turin Papyri mentione that Khufu ruled for 23 years. I think we have to believe now that the years that the king reigned were counted when they count the cattle. This should have happened every two years. Therefore, maybe every two years were counted for Khufu as one. In this case, Khufu could have ruled for more than 46 years. Some Egyptologists believe that he ruled between 30-32 years.

r-S, that translated to the “Mouth of the Lake,” was also mentioned in the Abusir papyri. The Mouth of the Lake should be the area in front of the harbor. Some scholars believe that r-S was in front of the harbor located at the Valley temple of Khafre. But, it was impossible for Mrr and his workmen to go from down the plateau to the top in one day only. The only logical idea is that r-S was located in Abusir.

I believe that the Red Sea papyrus is strong evidence for those pyramidiots who still believe that the aliens and other ancient civilizations built the pyramids. We as Egyptologists have concrete evidence that the builders of the pyramid were the ancient Egyptians.

I still cannot believe the two Germans who came to Egypt during the troubled time that Egypt had and entered inside the Great Pyramid with the help of some dishonest inspectors to take a sample from the red paint used to write one of the names of the workmen gangs who were building the pyramid. The name from which they took the sample was “ Friends of Khufu” gang. They went back to Germany and announced that the analysis of the red paint proved that the pyramid was 15,000 years old.

 First, I would like to say that Khufu sent an expedition to the Western Desert to bring this red paint that was known to the ancient Egyptians as “Mefat.” It is very important to know that this quarry from which they brought the “Mefat” could be dated back to 15,000 years old. Therefore, the red paint has nothing to do with the age of the pyramid.

There are any people all over the world who still provide the public with wrong information. I heard an American tour guide telling his group that the Great Pyramid was built in 23 years and that the workmen only worked during the 4 months of the flood and all the stones that were used in the construction came from Tureh and also that the stones of the pyramid were 2,300,000 blocks. If one thinks according to this information, then it means that the Egyptians must have moved a stone every second. No human being can do that.

But all what he said is completely wrong because the stones used in the construction of the pyramid were quarried from the Giza plateau and only the blocks used in the casing were brought from Tureh. Also, the workmen worked everyday of the year, but their numbers could have increased during the flood time. We found the tombs of the pyramid builders that proved to everyone that the pyramids were actually built by Egyptians and not by slaves because the workmen were buried near the pyramid and if they were slaves they would never have been buried near the pyramid, and also they would have never prepared their tombs with artifacts that would be used in their afterlife. Also, we re-counted the stones of the pyramid; they do not exceed one million, especially if one took into consideration that the base is about 8 meters of solid rock. We do not have any evidence to show that the stones are more than two million. The weight of the stones can be between half a ton to two and a half tons. We mentioned that Khufu did not rule for 23 years. I wrote this for the public but it is important to know that the pyramid was a national project of the whole nation. Every household in Upper and Lower Egypt participated in the construction of the Pyramid by sending food, and workmen in return for not paying taxes. Thus, building the pyramids built Egypt.


The Grand Egyptian Museum Tutankhamun on the move

The Grand Egyptian Museum (GEM) that is currently being constructed on a total area of 491000 m2 only two kilometers north of the great pyramids of Giza will be the largest Museum in the world displaying the artifacts of only one civilization namely the ancient Egyptian civilization. In 2002 an international call for the architectural design was made and 1577 designs from 83 countries were submitted competing to propose a design that harmonizes with the historical environment and the location overlooking the Pyramids.

With sealing reaching up to 25 meters the interior of the museum provides enormous space to reflect the identity of the museum : State, kingship and eternity.

The Museum complex will include beside the museum itself a children’s museum and educational facilities as well as a conference center with seating for 1000 guests and a commercial  area with shops and restaurants to provide all needed services for an Egyptian family, a tourist or a conference participant to enjoy a great day at the GEM. 

Egypt, recognizing the importance of providing the protection and care for its precious heritage which is an integral part of world heritage, is despite of financial difficulties shouldering the immense cost of this project reaching over one billion US Dollars with the help of generous loans from Japan to share with the world the splendors of ancient Egypt.   

The grand staircase leading the visitor up to the main display galleries of the museum on the third level of the building  will present huge sculptures and architectural elements from ancient Egypt giving an introduction to the main themes addressed in the museum.

A new concept for the display of the treasures of the famous king Tutankhamun  reflect on the original  placement of some key objects the in the tomb of the young king. Until now only about a tired of the artifacts from the tomb of Tutankhamun  are on display in the Egyptian Museum at Tahrir. For the first time the complete over 5000 artifacts will be displayed giving new insights into the official, social and religious details during the period of this king as well as showing the lifestyle of royalty at the time.

The scenario how the objects from the tomb shall  be displayed will allow the visitor to have the experience of witnessing a royal funerary procession.

The display in the rest of the chronological galleries moves away from the object oriented display to displaying comprehensive contexts well integrated in the huge spacious galleries of the museum.  About 45000 artifacts will take the visitor on a journey through over 5000 years of ancient Egyptian history from Prehistoric times until the Greco-Roman periods in Egypt. In addition to this total of 50000  artifacts which will be on permanent display, including 30000 objects that have never been on display before, another 50000 artifacts will be kept in modern storage facilities easy accessible to researchers.

The  well trained young Egyptian staff of the GEM has already packed and transported safely over 41000 artifacts from the Egyptian Museum in Tahrir and from archeological sites and storerooms all over Egypt to the state of the art labs and storerooms of the Grand Egyptian Museum Conservation Center (GEM-CC) which was inaugurated in June 2010. Skilled Egyptian conservators have done there since the conservation and restoration for over 31000 artifacts to be ready for display.

The artifacts of King Tutankhamun are gradually on the move to the GEM-CC getting prepared for their new spacious modern Galleries of display. Over 3500 of the objects discovered by Howard Carter in the tomb 1922 have already safely reached the GEM-CC. The fabulous jewelry and the golden Mask of Tutankhamun will be the last treasures to be transported to the GEM just before its partial opening early 2018. This will be a historic event one should not miss! The exquisite museum architecture,  being welcomed in the Atrium by a 14 meter high colossal statue of King Ramses II, the Grand staircase whit its impressive sculptures and huge architectural elements and as a première the complete Tutankhaman will make this partial opening an unforgettable fantastic experience.                       0000000000000