Category Archives: Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey

Between the Desert and the Nile. Theban Harbours and Waterscapes

The West Bank of Thebes

The West Bank of Thebes

Back in 2011 the Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey (THaWS) started with a field season of geophysics. This Egypt Exploration Society project (www.ees.ac.uk), directed by Dr Angus Graham,  was established with the aim of using different techniques to study the settlements and temples on the east and west banks of the Nile, and how they relate to the changing floodplain and river. Unfortunately the season had to be aborted after the 25th January revolution, and the survey was postponed to the 2012 season, when the fieldwork progressed at a cracking pace.

After five years of the project a large quantity of survey data, together with sedimentary data from auger samples, has been collected and is pushing forward some tentative interpretations about the archaeology and geomorphology of the area. Fieldwork in areas as diverse as Malqata, Birket Habu and the floodplain in front of Kom El Hetan and the Ramesseum has provided food for thought on the depth of ancient ground levels and the organisation of the waterways on the West Bank, with interesting results from some of the East Bank work, including Karnak.

For the 2015 season the fieldwork has shifted up a notch with a larger and more diverse team. The plan was to run different geophysical survey techniques, while also continuing the auger sample strategy and processing of samples from the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Work has very much focused on Electrical Resistivity Tomography (ERT) surveys on the West Bank, particularly in the area to the east of the Ramesseum heading up to the current course of the Nile, with Ginger Emery working on the instrument. This has been complemented by an intensive season of auger work conducted by Ben Pennington and Willem Toonen, to investigate changes in the sediments represented in the ERT.

ERT survey under way on the West Bank

ERT survey under way on the West Bank

Auger work along ERT profile 32, West Bank

Auger work along ERT profile 32, West Bank

The survey has allowed a solid dataset to be collected running from c.600m to the east of the Ramesseum all the way the the modern banks of the Nile, with the resistivity and auger data integrating to allow some more nuanced interpretations of the development of the floodplain and the presence of possible man-made canals to be ascertained. The work in this area relates closely to the function of temples further to the south between the Birket Habu and the Ramesseum.

ERT profile running at the foot of the Colossi of Memnon, Kom El Hetan

ERT profile running at the foot of the Colossi of Memnon, Kom El Hetan

This week we have focused the work in the area of Kom El Hetan. Previous seasons provided information on the axis of theTemple of Amenhotep and the possible presence of channels associated with the temple. The aim this week has been to expand on this information with more intensive ERT and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) survey in the area.

ERT survey at Kom El Hetan

ERT survey at Kom El Hetan

Hopefully by the end of the week we will have a series of close (5m) profiles of ERT data to model, and GPR data at 0.5m intervals across the front of the Colossi, in the first court, and in the third court for comparison, with a second plan to conduct more GPR profiles in the fields to the south to detect the possible enclosure of the temple. It promises to be an exciting week.

There have been trials and tribulations in the fieldwork, including negotiations with landowners, and issues with the burning of sugar cane chaff during the first two weeks. There have also been compensations, not least in the form of tea and cake, the latter being provided by the wife of Sumara, one of our workmen.

Burning sugar cane chaff promises to engulf the ERT equipment

Burning sugar cane chaff promises to engulf the ERT equipment

Husam cuts the cake provided by Sumara's wife. One of the perks of fieldwork in Egypt!

Husam cuts the cake provided by Sumara’s wife. One of the perks of fieldwork in Egypt!

The fieldwork will be carrying on at Thebes until 1st April. However, results from the previous seasons of work are presented in the last three editions of the Journal of Egyptian Archaeology, and in other papers listed below. Happy reading!

 

Graham, A. and Strutt, K. 2012, The Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey. Recent Fieldwork to Investigate the Canals and Harbours on the West and East Banks at Ancient Thebes (Luxor), Egypt. The Newsletter of the International Society for Archaeological Prospection 31, April 2012, 6-7.

Graham,A., Strutt, K., Hunter, M., Jones, S., Masson, A., Millett, M., Pennington, B. 2012, Reconstructing Landscapes and Waterscapes in Thebes, Egypt. In Journal for Ancient Studies eTopoi, 3, 135-142.

Graham, A., Strutt, K.D., Hunter, M. , Jones, S., Masson, A., Millet, M., and Pennington, B.T. 2012, Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey, 2012. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 98, 27-42.

Graham, A. and Strutt, K. 2013, Ancient Theban Temple and Palace Landscapes. In Egyptian Archaeology 43, Autumn 2013, 5-7.

Graham, A, Strutt, K., Emery, V.L., Jones, S. and Barker, D. 2014, Theban Harbours and Waterscapes Survey, 2013. The Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 99, 35-52.

Graham, A. and Strutt, K. (forthcoming), Ancient Theban Temple and Palace Landscapes. Egyptian Archaeology. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 100.

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Theban Waterscapes and Harbours Survey THaWS 2014 – Measure for Measure

The current season of THaWS fieldwork has given the team some time for reflection on the survey results from 2012 and 2013, and has provided an opportunity for addressing some of the outstanding issues related to the mapping of Thebes on the west and east banks. Survey work throughout the 2012-2014 has been carried out by the team members, including the project director Angus Graham, who oversees the work with the Egypt Exploration Society (EES; http://www.ees.ac.uk/),  Sarah Jones from the Museum of London (MOLA) and Dominic Barker and the author from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. In 2012, due to some problems with equipment, much of the surveying in of the geophysical survey areas and profiles was conducted using a total station. In 2013 an RTK GPS was used for surveying topographic points and giving elevation data for the topographic correction of GPR and ERT profiles. While these surveys gave sufficient data for processing and interpreting the results of the geophysics, it still left some largely unanswered questions in the minds of the team. How does the current GPS survey relate to the existing local surveys on the west and east banks at Thebes? What remaining survey markers or stations exist in the landscape, allowing THaWS to tie material in to the current survey? Most importantly perhaps, we returned to the issue of what elevation above sea level to use for the project. THaWS is interested in looking at the increasing levels of Nile sediment over thousands of years, and how the natural and man-made changes to the floodplain relate to the archaeology of the area. Having a standard benchmark or datum for this is crucial.

Assessing the different surveys and coordinate systems utilised around Thebes, using sketches and charts, the Survey of Egypt and Reimer maps and field notes

Assessing the different surveys and coordinate systems utilised around Thebes, using sketches and charts, the Survey of Egypt and Reimer maps and field notes

The first step in relating the different local surveys in the study area was to list and assess the nature of the different coordinate systems and datums utilised by different surveys.

It is good to give a bit of historical background to the mapping in the area. The data that we have relate ostensibly to national mapping programmes, or individual projects utilising local or arbitrary coordinate systems. We also have mapping dating from the 19th century, in the form of sketch maps and plans. Of these the map data that has provided the most relevant data is the map produced by John Gardner Wilkinson (1797-1875). Wilkinson published The Topography of Thebes and General View of Egypt in 1835, describing the monuments and landscape around Thebes. No graticule is present on the map, and no information regarding datum or coordinate system are presented. The map does, however, relate standing archaeological remains with features on the Nile floodplain, and therefore provides a crucial document in building up a picture of the study area.

A detail of Wilkinson’s map

A detail of Wilkinson’s map

The maps that are perhaps most pertinent to the THaWS work are those produced by the Survey Department between 1892 and 1907 for the cadastral mapping of Egypt. Lyon’s 1908 description of the cadastral survey includes some notes on technical aspects of the survey, including the use of metal chains and some of the practicalities of surveying this vast country. The maps based on the Survey of Egypt for Thebes all utilise the Egyptian Red Belt datum and the Survey of Egypt coordinate system. These systems were also adopted by the map produced by Schweinfurth, published by Reimer in Berlin in 1909, and drawing on Wilkinson’s map, the Survey of Egypt cadastral survey.

One of the principal aims of the 2014 survey was to try and locate trig points and bench marks created by the Survey Department for the cadastral mapping of Egypt. Locating the remaining markers is, however, another matter. The reconnaissance in 2013 and this season has found only two markers; one a trig point above El Gorn on the heights above the Valley of the Kings, and a benchmark on the corner of the wall of one of the alabaster shops to the south of Hatshepsut. The lesson from this experience is clear: the survival of even official survey markers in the landscape at Thebes is unlikely.

Survey marker on the heights of Biban el Muluk, one of the only markers in the area of El Gorn where the marker survives

Survey marker on the heights of Biban el Muluk, one of the only markers in the area of El Gorn where the marker survives

Survey benchmark at the alabaster shops to the south of Hatshepsut

Survey benchmark at the alabaster shops to the south of Hatshepsut

 

In addition to the national and regional mapping projects being assessed, many of the local surveys on the east and west banks are of relevance to the project. In particular survey of markers from the Theban Mapping Project (http://www.thebanmappingproject.com/) and markers from the ongoing project work at the temple of Amenhotep III provide useful ancilliary data for the THaWS work. These surveys use their own local coordinate systems, however, the use of reduced heights above sea level for the projects makes the survey of points vital to allow current survey data to be related to existing publications showing the relationship between monuments and the ancient Nile flood levels.

Survey this season with the GPS allowed a transformation to be performed between the UTM 36N coordinate system with WGS84 datum being used by the GPS, and the Theban Mapping Project survey markers. The result of this shows some large error caused by the probably moving of survey markers within the landscape over the last 20-30 years. The systems of these projects give useful elevation information that is germain to the aims of the current THaWS work.

 

Dominic Barker and Kamal Helmy Shared positioning the GPS rover on a survey marker at the temple of Merenptah

Dominic Barker and Kamal Helmy Shared positioning the GPS rover on a survey marker at the temple of Merenptah

One final set of survey data has been essential for resolving the issues surrounding elevation: the survey datum and account of Hölscher for the excavations at Medinet Habu. A datum point, set at 0m, was established by Hölscher on the threshold of the first pylon at Medinet Habu. He wrote:
‘For the leveling of Medinet Habu the threshold of the first pylon was chosen as the zero-point. This point lies 77.09 meters above sea-level. A bench mark of the Survey Department on top of the granite threshold between the two guardhouses of the Eastern Fortified Gate stands at +76.82 meters, that is, 27 centimeters lower than our zero-point of leveling.’

(Hölscher 1934, 3)

Although the Survey Department benchmark is no longer visible, the stones on either side of the central axis at the threshold remain in situ, and provided a useful datum to record with the GPS. In fact when this point is considered together with the other points of elevation on the West Bank there is a discrepancy of 0.12m over points spread some 5km across the landscape, a considerable achievement in terms of the accuracy of the original Survey Department benchmarks and the traversing of these elevations to the different projects concerned. For the THaWS survey we are now in a much better position to use a suitable benchmark for elevation above sea level that relates to the work and published material of the different projects at Thebes.

Kamal Helmy Shared and Dominic Barker surveying on top of the mounds at Birket Habu

Kamal Helmy Shared and Dominic Barker surveying on top of the mounds at Birket Habu

There is still work to do in relating our survey data with work on the West Bank and at Karnak to ensure that THaWS data is compatible with other datasets, in terms of spatial location and elevation. However, the relationship between our geophysical survey and borehole data, our current survey, and its relationship to other survey data at Thebes, is perhaps more transparent and congruent to existing material.

 

References
Hölscher, U. 1934, The Excavation at Medinet Habu. Volume 1 General Plans and Views. The University of Chicago Oriental Institute Publications Volume XXI. Chicago; University of Chicago Press.
Lyons, H.G. 1908, The Cadastral Survey of Egypt 1892-1907. Cairo; National Printing Department.
Wilkinson, J.G. 1835, Topography of Thebes and General View of Egypt, being a Short Account of the Principal Objects Worthy of Notice in the Valley of the Nile. London; John Murray.

 

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End of Theban survey and up to Antinoupolis

The internet connection at Sheikh Ebada near El Minya is terrible, so no blogging for the last week. This is the first time I have managed to get set up so there is plenty to write about. We finished the survey at Thebes on 7th February, and Angus and the team departed for the UK on the 8th. We caught up with some American colleagues before the end, and enjoyed an amazing view of the West Bank including Kom el Hetan, one of the focal points for the THaWS survey.

The West Bank at night, with the Colossi of Memnon in the middle distance

The West Bank at night, with the Colossi of Memnon in the middle distance

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Geophysics at Karnak – Intensive GPR survey and the beginning of the end of the survey

The latest work on the THaWS project has been marked by the intensity of survey profiles and survey areas covered, and  the fact that the team have been working almost exclusively in and around Karnak temple. The transition of the GPS survey from the West to the East Bank went smoothly, as reported in the last post. We established a base station on the roof of Chicago House on the West Bank, with the very kind permission of the staff. Some wonderful views were visible across the Nile to the banana plantation and desert edge on the West Bank, andthe set-out made survey convenient for the work at Karnak.

Sarah setting up the base station

Sarah setting up the base station

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Kom El Hetan, Thutmoses III and Karnak – from the West to the East Bank

A few days of work have happened since the last blog, and plenty has happened since the weekend. The team woke up on Monday to find that it had been raining all night in Luxor, and it continued until the middle of the morning. So much so in fact that a huge pool of water developed next to the flat entrance. The inadequate drainage meant that around 3pm a van turned up and pumped the water away.

Reis Omer by the pool

Reis Omer by the pool

The poor weather, pretty incredible by Luxor standards, prevented any fieldwork that day (everything shut down, and it seemed pointless to survey using ERT and GPR on the West Bank) so a day of office work was planned instead. Continue reading

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Day Two at Kom el Hetan

More area to survey today behind the Colossi of Memnon on the West Bank. We started the day one person down, as Dom’s insides are still rumbling, possibly due to the Egyptian cuisine.  He stayed in to do some office work, and the rest headed out to cross the Nile. We continued the GPR survey behind the Colossi of Memnon, and ran two ERT profiles in front of the same. In addition Sarah’s search for survey stations from previous years continued with the GPS rover. She managed to find most points located between Kom el Hetan and the temple of Merenptah, and completed the morning surveying the bases of the Colossi for comparison with the survey data.

Sarah surveying in the north Colossus

Sarah surveying in the north Colossus

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THaWS Project – Start of the week survey at Kom el Hetan

The start of another busy week in Thebes and the team headed back to the West Bank to commence GPR and ERT survey in the vicinity of Kom El Hetan and the Colossi of Memnon. The bus stopped however for a short visit to the impressive brickworks on the east bank to the south of Luxor. A massive chimney and a series of arched entrances leading to the kilns mark the site on the banks of the Nile.

Chimney at the brickworks

Chimney at the brickworks

Staircase on western curved side of the brickwork kilns

Staircase on western curved side of the brickwork kilns

In addition to the main double row of kiln entrances and the office building, a set of mudbrick stairs run up to the terrace of the kilns. A great little industrial site in some disrepair, and a diversion to the main tasks of the day on the West Bank. Continue reading

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