News from Luxor, December 1996

I was in Luxor from the beginning of November to the end of December, working on TT99. As in the past, I hope readers might be interested in some notes and news.

House destruction in Qurna

The most important news from the site at the moment is that there is now in progress an active campaign to move out those natives of Qurna who live in the area of the Private Tombs. Readers will know that this wish has been expressed officially for a long time, and about 50 years ago the village of Qurna Gedida was built to rehouse these people, but the take-up was unsuccessful.

The SCA in Luxor has been going around the necropolis selecting houses which, if pulled down, would have the most beneficial effect on the nearby tombs. All areas are being looked at, but Dra Abul Naga at the north of the site is the area of highest priority. Those who know Luxor will realise that there is probably the greatest density of houses there, and the effect of their removal would be great.

Why is this happening now? There is doubtless a resurgence in interest in getting rid of the houses, but the immediate catalyst seems to be the establishment of a new village where the people can be rehoused. This is the village which was initially built to rehouse the people made homeless as a result of the rainstorms in November 1994, and is situated to the north of the Carter House, west of the town of et-Tarif. The houses there are built with electricity and water supplies, and are said to be quite nice, although smaller than those they are supposed to replace.

The problem is going to be to persuade the people to leave. The existence of plumbing and electricity in the new village will hopefully attract some Qurnawi who are, so I am told, starting to think that having a few more facilities in the house might not be a bad idea. Some, however, are concerned that the new houses would be smaller than those they leave behind. Others of course will not want to leave for sentimental reasons, which is understandable. But of course there are going to be a lot of people who are used to living in the tourist area, and their being moved away from there might reduce their income. And finally, there are those who are living on top of undiscovered tombs etc, and whose chances to carry out nefarious activities will be reduced by moving.

I have no idea of financial or other incentives being offered. At the moment it does not appear that strong-arm tactics are being used to get people to go. A number of houses have already been destroyed, belonging to people who have left willingly. These are mainly in Dra Abul Naga, around the areas of TT162 and 164, but there are also some in el-Khokha, near TT181.

Here are three photographs of Dra Abul Naga taken from the road which show some of the houses which have been destroyed (clicking on the photos will enlarge them): *

Here are two closeups of Dra Abul Naga taken in the area of TT161 and 164 showing where houses have been destroyed:

And finally here is the only photo I have which indicates the location of the village; taken from the top of the Abul Kassem hotel looking north to north-west, the village is faintly visible on the horizon, under the large arrow:

Antiquities Service

Changes to the personnel of the SCA, mainly on the West Bank, took place subsequent to the appointment of Dr Aly Hassan to the Chairmanship of the organisation in the middle of September. The Director of Qurna is Dr Mohamed Nasr, and Mr Bakhit has been transferred from Luxor to be the senior Chief Inspector. Sabri Abel Aziz, the former Director, is now the assistant director to Dr Zahi Hawwass at the Pyramids, and Mohamed el Bialey, former senior Chief Inspector, has become Chief Inspector in the Fayum.

The tomb of Ramesses VI has been formally reopened to visitors, as have the restorations at Medinet Habu. Both were undertaken by Faruq Hosni, the Minister of Culture. To accompany the reopenings, a small conference on site management and conservation was held at the Luxor Conference Centre at the beginning of November.

Work is continuing in the restoration project in the sun-court of Amenhotep III in Luxor temple. Soon the columns will start to be reerected. Some of them are being provided with new bases, since the originals have cracked when unstressed.

No mention was made of the rumours from mid-1996 about a royal tomb being found outside the Valley of the Kings, so I assume that it rose out of confusion with stories about a couple of new private tombs which have been found by the SCA in the past few years.

Storms

There was another rainstorm in Luxor on Thursday 14 November. Prior to this, there had been some overcast days, and the occasional spot of rain was felt. I have never experienced a storm in Egypt before, and it was indeed spectacular. We watched the lightning from the roof of our hotel; it was fabulous to see the whole of the gebel illuminated in a split second as if from an enormous camera flash. The heaviness of the rain was astonishing when it started, and the amount of water coming down the road besides the Muslim cemetery from the Valley of the Kings direction was astonishing&emdash;like a small river. The rain did not last long (two bursts of perhaps 30 and 20 minutes), but the effects were seen for several days after, with large pools of water in the roads etc.

A few minor areas of damage were reported in houses, but there was no cascade of pent-up water from the hills as happened in 1994, and we heard of no injuries. The tombs seems to have escaped lightly; the engineering works put into both the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens succeeded in keeping water out of those monuments. No problems were reported in the Private Tombs; I was able to check inside TT139 which was badly damaged in the floods of 1994, and can report that it suffered no further damage. Probably monuments such as temples will suffer most in the long term as they get very wet in storms such as this; Luxor temple looked very drab and damp the day after the storm. The restored outer walls of the Seti I temple suffered some damage, but nothing on the scale of 1994.

Foreign Missions

The usual range of missions was present. Chicago House continued its work in the small temple at Medinet Habu, and was also undertaking conservation work on blocks in Luxor temple. The German Archaeological Institute continued work in the temple of Seti I and in TT84. The Polish epigraphic mission worked on blocks from Deir el Bahari, and also on the small ramesside temple near the valley temple of Hatshepsut; the Polish architectural mission at Deir el-Bahari began its work in December. The University of Rome worked in TT27 (Sheshonq) and a new mission from the University of Milan started study and clearance in TT37 (Harwa). The French mission was working in the Ramesseum, and has also started work in the tomb of Ramesses II in the Valley of the Kings. Kent Weeks' mission continues to find new chambers in tomb VK5, and the Brock missions were active in VK55 and the tomb of Merenptah. The Hungarian mission continues its daily climb to the temple on the Thoth mountain, and the Darnells (Chicago OI) continue their weekly examination of the desert roads in the area around Luxor.

The number of foreign missions in the area sometimes results in a shortage of inspectors!

Salawa! (added Feb 97)

Stories have appeared on the ANE mailing list about a strange animal in the Sohag/Luxor area. I can add this:

The animal is called a Salawa. There is a Salawa Information Centre in Armant, which was visited by John and Debbie Darnell from Chicago House, and they acquired some photos, which I saw.

Apparently several have been killed, but at least one was caught, although how long it would survive is debatable. It is like a dog with a heavier than usual muzzle and longer ears. It isn't a hyaena, but comparisons have been made with the Seth animal. Rumours are circulating that it has eaten people etc, although these are almost certainly exaggerated. Articles about it appeared in the local press.

One idea was that it is an animal which usually is found further out in the desert, but human actions in the desert, like making probes for the suggested Aswan-Oases canal, may have caused it to come closer to the Valley.

 

Nigel Strudwick
20 January 97
updated 19 February 1997

Credits and thanks

The photographs were taken with a Quicktake 100 digital camera kindly donated by Apple Computer. The resolution of the images is 144 dpi, which means there is not as much detail in them as one would ideally like, but the JPEG versions of the images are small (14k each) and load relatively quickly. [go back]

Unless otherwise indicated, © Nigel Strudwick 1994-2012