Monday morning: I've had one hour of sleep. One hour! I'm not going to make it through the day. That's what I was thinking when the alarm went off. I tried to suck it up as I dressed and made my way to the van that would take us to the dig site. We are in the Valley of the Kings. I'm not sure if I mentioned that, which means at night there is a beautiful view of the mountain that separates the kings from the queens. Kings are on the east side and the queens are on the west. So, this morning when I came out I got to see that mountain just at sunrise with a lot more detail and clarity than I had the night before. In fact, I found out Queen Nefertiti's tomb is there. From my vantage point, it looks like we could just walk straight and be there in an hour or so. Okay, maybe not walk. Drive.
|My room...pales in comparison to what I had in Cairo. But, I|
like it a whole lot better here.
|My wardrobe...as it is called here.|
|The kitchenette that is shared by everyone even though it's in our|
suite. We do have our own bathroom, which is great because
we only have to share with each other and not everyone.
|The little kitchen. Simple and understated.|
|Tony Browder, our fearless leader, and Mohammed, our cook.|
|Me, at the end of the day, inputting all my registered hieroglyphic fragments.|
The dig site is a ten-minute drive, which gives me no time to close my eyes. I have no expectations and just two certainties. One, it's going to be hot. Two, I forgot to put on sunblock and insect repellant. We pull off the highway into what looks like a rock quarry. There are huge blocks of limestone scattered around like a belligerent giant child got mad and kicked over his box of limestone Legos. The tail end of the mountain that I describe earlier juts out into our work site. And tent, the kind you see in dessert movies sits just beyond a one-room bunker where the guards sleep. They are onsite 24x7 to protect the site. Not that there's anything to steal of value, that was done by the Rasoul family (more about that later). The van stops abruptly and we all fall out and drag ourselves to the tent where we will have a briefing and get a chance to meet Dr. Elena Pitchikova. After all, she's part of the reason we're all here.
|The tent...and our morning briefing.|
|Except, just beyond our tent the balloons|
were being fired and ready for the day.
|And I got a little distracted photographing them.|
Dr. Elena is a small sturdy woman of Russian descent with short curly hair and a voice that belies her rugged exterior. Clad in a plaid cotton shirt and khaki work pants, she looks exactly like the photos I've seen of her. She looks around at all of us and although she's smiling she also seems a little overwhelmed by the large group of new faces. It is clear that familiar faces makes her comfortable as she catches glimpses of recognition of those who have been here before: Doug and Renita (although she didn't really remember her). Actually, now that I think about it Doug was the only familiar face in the crowd and the only face that made her eyes light up. She gives us a quick spiel about work assignments and such and then Tony takes us on a tour of Karakhamun's Tomb. It is much larger than I imagined and a lot of work has been done since the pictures I saw had been taken.
I guess this would be a good time to introduce Karakhamun. He is the main reason we’re here. There isn't much known about Nubia of Ancient Kemet, but Karakhamun was a Kushite Noble of the 25th Dynasty (713-664 BC). The more they discover in the glyphs (hieroglyphics) in Karakhamun’s tomb the more they can put together about his life and who he may have been related to. It appears he could be the son or brother of King Shabaka, who ruled during Karakhamun’s time. But, what is known is that he was a man of God. A priest.
The men are hard at work lugging buckets of dirt up from the site, digging, drilling limestone, and stacking rocks. To get down into the area, which is 20 feet below us, we have to walk down this rickety looking wooden plank. The thing is, the workmen are also coming up and down this same plank. I am not comfortable. I let a few of the others go ahead of me. Tjuan stops and tells me to follow him because he can see the uncertainty on my face. Oh, and it's not that I'm uncomfortable because the plank looks rickety. It's because I'm the clumsiness mofo this side of the Atlantic and I could just see me tripping over something and taking out half the workers as I go sprawling down the plank. Tjuan knows this too. We are both relieved when I make it to the bottom without incident.
We are standing in what is believed to be a Sun Room. This area is new and because it's new I can't describe it to you or show you any pictures because if the Egyptian Antiquities Department (I guess that's what it's called) found out I could get everyone in trouble. So, I will move on. The next area is the First Pillared Hall. There are four pillars on the right that represent the first twelve hours of the day and four on the left that represent the last twelve hours. The glyphs on the walls and pillars currently contain 33 chapters of the Book of the Dead. The sketching’s are sunken, which means carved into the stone, and they are exquisite. The details of each image are mind boggling because this space…the entire tomb…was carved out of the earth and below the earth in this area was all limestone. If you know anything about limestone, it’s very hard and difficult to cut. But, the builders of Ancient Egypt dug a hole and cut out this tomb. With what, I can’t help wondering because the workmen (now) are using 20th century tools and it’s a long laborious process. What did the ancients use to create such an elaborately decorated space? One of the great mysteries of the universe.
The second Pillared Hall only has four pillars — two on each side. This area is still being pieced together, but they believe it will contain the remaining chapters from the Book of the Dead. Also in this area on a wall shared by both pillared halls is an elaborate and very detailed image of Karakhamun. He is seated on a bovine chair. A dog lies beneath the chair.
Behind us stairs descend another 20 feet. In this area there are no hieroglyphics on the wall. Just a large hole in the floor and the top of two ladders that have been roped together to reach the 60 feet burial chamber beneath stick out. Now, keep in mind I was cautious coming down the rickety plank, but the minute Tony asked who wanted to go in the first group of four down into the burial chamber I was the first one to raise my crazy assed hand. And, in my usual childlike manner I shout, “Me! Me!” And then I just stopped thinking and knew I had to stay in the moment for the rest of the trip. Not that I have a problem staying in the moment for the most part, but when I find myself in a different environment I often find myself in my head more than usual. As I climbed down the ladder, one step at a time, I realized there was no room for me to do anything but be in the moment.
The walls in the burial chamber are being restored and a conservator is busy as work putting pieces of wall into place and there's this look on his face that seems to convey the job is not as interesting as we may think it is. For one, it’s hot and even though he has a fan blowing directly on him I know the five of us have taken up most of the breathable air and are even blocking some of the blowing air too. And two, we’re standing in his light. He stops working and waits as Tony explains the paintings and such on the walls.
The ceiling is almost 75% intact and depicts an image of the Goddess Nut — goddess of the sky. The Goddess Isis as the star Sirius is visible to the right of her. Tony explains the Goddess Nut is holding the sun in its position in midday, then it will move through her body and she will give birth to it again at sunrise (I may have taken a little creative license with this explanation, but not too much). Karakhamun’s mummy has long since been gone and all that’s left is the hole constructed that once held the coffin.
I am reminded of the room of mummies at the Cairo Museum. It cost 100 pounds to go in this area. I remember telling Ahmed I wouldn’t go in that area if it were free. The whole idea that foreigners came in and stole mummies from their final resting place felt very wrong. And disrespectful. And sacriligious. Just down right wrong as two left shoes! And standing in Karakhamun’s empty burial chamber just solidified my feelings. Especially since I was standing in the hole where his coffin should have been. I mean even if the tomb robbers and raiders and archeologists didn’t understand the cultural relevance of the temples, tombs, and pyramids, they had to know a dead body when they saw one. I would think out of respect for the dead they would have left the remains where they found them. Guess not.
Anyway, our next step was the tomb of Karabasken, which is about 50-100 feet to the left of Karakhamun’s. This tomb was so damaged they haven’t even bothered trying to restore it. Instead they use the space to store all the fragments found in Karakhamun’s tomb. There have to be millions by now. The walls are filled with cabinets and the shelf of each cabinet is full. So is the floor in front of them. And then the fragments spill into the center of the room. There is only an aisle wide enough to walk through, which means we have to be super careful. I imagine the conservators going through the pieces like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle as they try to recreate the tomb of this unknown Kushite noble. On our way out I, of course, trip on something and am grateful it was just a piece of limestone and not a fragment with hieroglyphics on it. That would have been really bad. Especially if I'd broken it. SMH. (Shaking My Head)
Having wasted enough time, we are sent to our battle stations. My job? I am part of the Registration Team. We catalogue the pieces found so they can be sorted and categorized accordingly. Then each piece is photographed and I promptly took the reigns on that part. None of what I’m explaining is easy or straightforward. Let’s see if I can give you an example. One of the pieces was shaped like Illinois and on its face there were five hieroglyphics, but only a few were recognizable (after I scanned the pages of glyph examples to see if I could find anything that came close). I had to describe the fragment in detail. It’s weight, height, and depth. Whether there are any scratches or cracks on the surface or any part of the rest of the stone. What color is it? Grey, pink, yellow, or blackened. Grey or yellow typically means natural wear over the years. Pink means it was in contact with heat or chemicals. Blackened means it was burned somehow. What condition is the plaster in? Is there any secondary plaster? Which means someone tried to cover up the original glyph for one reason or other. Before Dr. Pischikovca had the area declared a historic landmark, a village sat above the tomb. The ceiling caved in in the late 20th century and the villagers were using the hole it created as a garbage dump. Before that (like centuries ago) the tomb was home for various groups of people and they each had their own way of trying to ignore the symbols they didn’t understand. And, as a result tried to cover them up and create something new they could relate to. I guess it made sense to them since there were living there. Anyway, I also had to determine the condition of the hieroglyphics? Are they intact? Are some missing and, if so, what percentage is present and what percentage is missing? And on like that. Then I had to draw they glyphs I could see. Then describe the fragment in writing. Then on the back of the form I got to play like Romare Bearden and draw the fragment the way I interpret it. Fun and not fun, trust me.
|Janice, our guide through the registration process.|
Janice is in charge of our pack the first two days and she does an excellent job of explaining the ropes to us. So me, Tjuan, Bunmi, Nzingha, Renita, and Belinda make up the first group that first day. Between the getting to know each other chatter and the cracking of numerous jokes it’s a wonder we got anything completed. And, try doing all that in temperatures that breach 100 degrees in the shade. The first day it was 103 and it didn’t help we were all worn out because almost all of us got very little sleep…the heat made it even worse. The second day it was 105 and it is expected to be 110 or above the rest of the week. We have Friday off and then we’ll be back to work on Saturday.
An average day starts at 5am and we break for lunch at 9am. Mohammed, our cook, brings us whatever creative concoction he has created and it usually consists of pita bread, cucumbers, goat cheese, and eggs…and then we have some sort of bean dish. Lentils. White beans. It varies. When lunch is over we have about 2 hours left and it’s next to impossible not to start the countdown. That first day I was so sleepy and tired I wanted to pull up a slab of limestone and go to sleep. And, when quitting time finally rolled around none of us could get back to our flat fast enough. I don’t think any of us even bothered showering before taking a nap and I know all of us slept right through lunch because when we finally woke up and converged for dinner Mohammed was a little heated because he’d cooked and no one came to eat. We apologized profusely, scarfed down dinner, and hit the sack to start all over again the next day. This has been my life since Monday. It’s now Wednesday and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. We’re going to Luxor Temple and taking a boat ride on the Nile River to watch the sunset.
|The mountain of the Valley of the Kings|
|Men at Work|
|I just thought this was a cool photo so I took it.|
|My new roommate...I think I'll name him Amenhotep.|
|I take pictures of the balloons every morning now.|
|Our die hard Registration team at work.|
|One mode of transportation|
The Grown Ass Woman Travels