Friday, February 1, 2013

walking in abydos

The Shunet el-Zebib
I walk the desert site of ancient Abydos, Egypt - early in the morning till afternoon, over rises and into troughs. Abydos sits west of the Nile and near the escarpment that divides the high and low desert. It's in the low desert and neither the high or the low desert are the kind dotted by cacti, only sand and sand-polished stone. 
climbing the escarpment above Abydos, Dec. 2008
looking south, the escarpment to the right Jan. 2013
Organic material is scant and limited to places of human activity. Villages and towns bordering Abydos add the energy of daily living. They add the sound of rural life - truck and tractor, pumps and animals, and the call to prayer many times daily. And across some of Abydos they add remnants - organic waste and plastic, animal carcasses, and Nile mud transported to make agricultural fields on top of desert. 

Exposed to wind and sun everything fades and is rebuilt or discarded. This has happened for centuries, as the living towns spill over the ancient town site. Jan. 2013
I step over concentrations of limestone, mud brick, potsherds, and bone fragments - the materials of ritual and burial, homage to another world. In Abydos the chief concern seems to have been life after this one. Many of the mounds, rather than dunes, are heaped debris from episodes of excavation and looting. The structures beneath are tombs, foundations of funerary buildings, temples, and chapels – places where the dead were buried and the living came to remember. These features are the focus of archaeological inquiry and sometimes of illegal looting.

To check the urban growth a wall was begun in 2005 and helps delineate a boundary to protect the archaeological site of Abydos. Jan. 2013 
I am glad to walk, and to work here, again - this season with the PYIFA Abydos Excavation project - and with folks from the west and Egypt, people I've had the opportunity to work with in previous seasons.  
Photo courtesy of Mark Gonzales, Jan. 2013