Ancient History in a Modern University: Proceedings of a Conference Held at Macquarie University, 8-13 July, 1993 - Vol. 1

By T. W. Hillard; R. A. Kearsley et al. | Go to book overview

EXCAVATIONS AT EL-HAGARSA, UPPER EGYPT

N. Kanawati

In selecting a subject with which to honour Edwin Judge it seems appropriate to write about the results of some of the recent work by Macquarie University in Egypt. It was due to Edwin Judge's vision for the Ancient History discipline at Macquarie that Egyptology, which was not taught to any advanced level at any Australian institution, was introduced in 1980 at this university. His guidance and support in developing the subject over many years are here acknowledged.

For fifteen years Macquarie University's fieldwork in Egypt has centred around the town of Sohag in Upper Egypt, with excavations and/or recording of cemeteries at El-Hawawish, 1 El-Mashayikh, 2 Awlad Azzaz, 3 and finally El-Hagarsa. 4 The last site, subject of the present paper, lies on the west bank of the Nile, approximately ten km south of Sohag and near the border between the ancient Upper Egyptian Nomes 8 (Abydos) and 9 (Akhmim), but probably belonged to the latter. 5 Such a location became extremely sensitive at the end of the Old Kingdom and during the First Intermediate Period, since it frequently formed the boundary between the two sections of Egypt then in conflict — the North led by Heracleopolis and the South led by Thebes.

It was Petrie who first excavated and published the cemetery of El-Hagarsa in 1908. 6 In our present attempt to study the history of the region, particularly during the closing years of the Old Kingdom, El-Hagarsa was re-examined. A number of inconsistencies in Petrie's record were observed and some new and important decorated tombs were discovered. These escaped Petrie's attention as their walls had been covered by layers of mud and gypsum plaster with no decoration. The tombs were most probably occupied by Coptic hermits between the fifth and eighth centuries A.D., according to the ceramic evidence from the site, who plastered the Egyptian wall scenes, presumably to cover what they considered to be pagan art. This plaster, however, protected the Egyptian scenes and when it was carefully removed the original decoration was found to be in good condition.

The tombs of El-Hagarsa were cut in the eastern face of a very steep limestone cliff, approximately two hundred metres high, now covered with huge amounts of rubble resulting from the original cutting of the tombs as well as from past and present excavations (pl.1). The tombs are arranged in clearly defined tiers in chronological order starting from the lower level upwards and covering the period from Dynasty 5 (Level A) to the end of Dynasty 8 (Level D), when the Old Kingdom collapsed. There is no evidence that any of these tombs belonged to the Heracleopolitan Period, which followed the Old Kingdom, as previously believed. 7

____________________
1
N. Kanawati et al., The Rock Tombs of El-Hawawish: The Cemetery of Akhmim, vols 1-10 (Sydney 1980-92).
2
B.G. Ockinga and Y. Al-Masri, Two Ramesside Tombs at El-Mashayikh, 2 vols (Sydney 1988-90).
3
To be published shortly by B.G. Ockinga.
4
N. Kanawati et al., The Tombs of El-Hagarsa, 3 vols (Sydney 1993-95).
5
See H.G. Fischer, Dendera in the Third Millenium B.C., Down to the Theban Domination of Upper Egypt (New York 1968) 11, n.51; W. Helck, Die Altägyptischen Gaue (Wiesbaden 1974) 93-95, map 2; F. Gomaà, Agypten während der Ersten Zwischenzeit (Wiesbaden 1980) 87.
6
W.M.F. Petrie, Athribis (London 1908).
7
For example, Fischer, Dendera 130, n.574; W.K. Simpson, 'Polygamy in Egypt in the Middle Kingdom?', Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 60 (1974) 100.

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