Hello again blog-readers!
It’s been far too long since my last post. So much has happened since we arrived and there is much to tell. No time like the present, however, to fill in the gaps! Here goes nothing:
The past few weeks in Dakhleh have been spent largely in the classroom learning about the Oases of the Western Desert, Dakhleh especially. We have been collectively learning about this astounding Oasis’ history through geology, human occupation, and the development of its many cultures and civilizations throughout time starting in prehistory and continuing through Pharonic Egypt, the Ptolemies, the Roman Period, the Christian Period, all the way to present day. Squeezing so much history into a few short weeks was quite the ride, but what I learned from my experiences in the classroom and on the road (we visited many of the sited we discussed in both Dakhleh and Kharga Oasis) was both enjoyable and invaluable.
Around our Oasis, we were guided by Olaf Kaper, a phenomenal archaeologist and a venerated member of our team, who expertly uncovered the secrets and history of Ain Aseel (an incredible Old Kingdom settlement) and its tombs which housed the eternal resting places of the governors of the Oasis (tombs which mimic those of royalty in miniature of the Nile Valley in structure and iconography), the beautiful stone temple of Deir el-Haggar (a temple to Amun associated with Amheida), and el-Muzawakka (impressive stone-cut tombs carved out of the rocky outcropping of an area outside of yet associated with Amheida).
After this local exploration, the other students and I, our wonderful and brilliant professor Ellen Morris, our sweet and knowledgeable TA Heather McCarthy, and our remarkable expert guide and friend Asharaf Barakat loaded up the filthy desert-ready “autobis” (bus) to drive the 3 hours to Kharga Oasis. Immediately after arrival we hurried down a picnic lunch consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, several different kinds of cheese, bread, bread, and more bread, the very popular “Kiko” cookies which my fellow students covet, bananas, oranges, and did I mention bread? Being gluten intolerant and unable to eat the bread which served double duty as plates for lunch, I improvised, eating my veggies and cheese from a piece of paper torn out of my oh-so-handy notebook; an adaptation that made my considerate and light-hearted companions laugh every time we ate.
Lunch having been consumed with fervor, we once again boarded the bus and headed to Hibis Temple, one of the most amazing structures I have ever had the good fortune to experience. This Temple was originally constructed by Darius the First and was dedicated to Amun Ra. It was added on to and re-constructed by the Ptolemies, Romans, and eventually the Christians who added a church onto one side of the temple and served as a major administrative and military center during the Roman occupation of the Oases. Next we journeyed to many Roman temples and mud brick fortresses, Dush temple, Necropolis of Bagawat (a city of the dead housing hundreds of Christian chapels and tombs), a monastery associated with Bagawat (quite a climb to the top of a huge and inaccessible hilltop), and many other amazing sites. Our days in Kharga were jam-packed from dawn till dusk with lessons, hikes, visits, more hikes to sites, and long, seemingly endless treks into the desert at the end of which would lie another architectural and historical secret of the sands.
One such trip was mid-Saturday afternoon where we got off the bus in the middle of nowhere and headed straight into sandy nothingness, an hour long desert expedition during which we encountered some of the most enormous sand dunes I have ever seen. The size of a 2 story building, one particular dune peaked our interest, and, after an unsteady, sweaty, yet amazingly fun and hillarious climb to the top we collectively jumped/rolled/ran/fell/tumbled down the steep edge of the dune (sooooo much fun!!!!!) laughing, and having a fabulous time (an exercise Ellen deemed “dune diving…good for the soul” she says, and she’s right!).
However, all good things must come to and end, and after 3 (ish) days in Kharga, we returned, sleepy-eyed and sandy, to our beloved home in Dakhleh; a welcome and anticipated reunion with our comfortable dighouse and its wonderful inhabitants. This evening was to be our last as our small group of pre-season students and early-arriving archaeologists, for the entire team was to arrive the next day (Yesterday).
The arrival of twenty-some new faces, new specialties, new languages, and new personalities was a much anticipated and exciting event for our little group, as we had only been around the same small group of people for almost a month and, although we love each other and are having a great time, the prospect of so much diversity and the arrival of our respected, accomplished, and brilliant director, Roger Bagnall, was definitely an event. Now, the team has been united for less than 24 hours, but the dighouse has truly come to life and I’m thrilled to get to know and spend time learning from these outstanding individuals in the upcoming excavation.