February 7th, 2011

never there

Essex Egyptology Group: Talk by Elena Pischikova

Yesterday afternoon we headed off to Witham for a meeting of the Essex Egyptology Group (which we've now paid up to become members of), where we listened to a talk by Elena Pischikova on the work she is doing at South Asasif. She was a good speaker, who presented the story of her discoveries of and in the tomb of Karakhamun as it had happened. Karakhamun was a Late Period priest in Thebes (so c.700 BC, during the 25th Dynasty) of Nubian origin. Pischikova has seen references to his tomb in 19th century documentation, and became convinced she'd located it practically underneath a modern Egyptian village inhabited by descendants of a notorious 19th Century tomb-robber family. When she got funding (direct from Zahi Hawass initially, in 2006) she had no idea if they were going to find anything left at all, after all those years when it may have been looted, had been used as a cellar, as stables and finally as a rubbish dump. It apparently took them 4 weeks to find the first sign that the site was worthwhile, which she said was very stressful - was she wasting everyone's time and money, and trashing her reputation. But then they started to find fragments of decorated wall! It was an underground tomb, but the ceiling had collapsed - so most of it is in fragments. Their work is not just to uncover what is there and catalogue it, but they are also reconstructing it. So far they've done most of one pillar from one of the two pillared halls, so it's very early days. They are also still excavating, their most recent discovery is of the burial chamber below these pillared halls which is much more intact and contains some stunning looking painted walls plus some of the burial equipment is still there (it sounds like it had been looted, however, probably in antiquity).

As well as being a great story the tomb is an exciting find on two different levels. Firstly, it's full of really high quality art - even if it is in fragments it's really beautiful stuff. And Pischikova took the time to point out some of the details and to let us admire the carving (and painting) of it all, during her talk. It's also tremendously interesting from the point of view of finding out more about the Late Period Nubian Egyptians - this was a period of renaissance in Egypt, where they were both looking back to their past and re-interpreting it and also producing a great new flowering of culture. And this is a richly decorated tomb from the early part of this period. So things like the decoration on the walls of this tomb will tell Egyptologists something about things like the structure of the Book of the Dead in this period, or what symbolism about the judgement of the deceased they had. And the burial chamber, even tho looted, still contains some of the original burial equipment which will tell a story about how high status Egyptians were buried in this period. And the man himself seems interesting - he didn't have a very high status himself (it seems) but the decoration and scale of the tomb are impressive, so did he have family connections to royalty? The writing on the walls might shed some light on that, once it's pieced back together.

All in all, a very good & interesting talk. She finished up by introducing her daughter, Katherine Blakeney, who is Assistant Director on the project and they explained the various ways people can help both financially (including by buying t-shirts) and in the actual work. Astonishingly a large part of this is done by volunteers (which is helped by the working being done in the traditional "off-season" for Egyptian archaeology) and donations are an important part of their funding. We bought a t-shirt for J :)