Journal: Saturday 27 November 2004
Feeling much better today – the elephant pills worked, though I’m still a little fragile. As the other sites we wanted to visit in this area are to the south of Asyut, we decided to check out of the hotel and head towards Sohag, visiting the sites on the way. Abdul, Sam and I left at 9.00am taking the ‘farmer’s road’ on the east bank of the Nile which took us past the huge limestone cliffs at el-Badari, with our first stop at el-Hammamiya. I had no information on this site, apart from the fact that it is one of the group of Predynastic cemeteries which form the core of Petrie’s ‘Badarian Culture’ pottery sequence dating system, the earliest predynastic level of occupation in Middle Egypt. It was a surprise to find a site with rock-cut tombs, a new flight of steps and a gafir with a key to three of the tombs. We climbed up to the tombs, which turned out to be Old Kingdom.
The first tomb we went into belonged to a man called Nemu who is seen dressed as a priest in a leopard skin and with a sekhem sceptre. Nemu’s tomb is entered by a corridor with a statue niche and statue of the deceased at the back wall. In the second corridor there are typical Old Kingdom funerary scenes of boats etc which I thought very similar to some of the Giza tombs, though this one was obviously unfinished. A second similar tomb with better reliefs, belongs to Kakhent ‘Chief of the Tens’ and his wife, Ify, named as ‘King’s daughter’ and ‘Prophetess of Neith’. Abdul lured away the gafir for a couple of minutes and we gave some baksheesh to his assistant who let me take a couple of photographs, though he was terrified of being caught poor man. The third tomb above this, which I had to climb over a precarious ledge to get into, belongs to another Kakhent with his wife Khentkaus, ‘Prophetess of Hathor and Seth?’. There is a long passage with statues, badly damaged but which reminded me of the tomb of Irukhaptah at Saqqara. I must do some research on these tombs. When I came out Abdul (who usually stays well away from tombs!) along with the gafir and all the policemen had climbed right up on top of the gebel and were waving down at us. A large bird of prey circled in the clear blue sky above their heads. At the base of the cliffs is another Muslim cemetery on the edge of the village.
The next stop on our route was at Qaw el-Kebir, another predynastic site with tombs dating right through to the Roman Period, and the site of the ancient town of Tjebu or Antaeopolis. There was once a Temple of Anti here which the books say was completely swept away by floods. We stopped by the roadside and looked at the vast area of rock-cut tombs and many quarries but they all look fairly inaccessible. We could clearly see one of the Middle Kingdom ‘pyramid tomb’ complexes with its causeway sweeping down towards the river. Everywhere you look in this area the cliffs are riddled with tombs and quarries. We also drove past the dramatic Gebel el-Haridi where Chris Kirby and Selima Ikram were excavating in the 1990s and said the excavators had to be tied on with ropes to stop them from sliding down into the river. It makes me marvel at just how the ancient Egyptians managed to build the tombs in such a precarious position in the first place.
A little further on we discovered what has become yet another ’mystery site’, as we can find no mention of it anywhere. There are quite extensive remains of a small temple or shrine close to the river, with stone fluted columns, paving and much mudbrick remains, possibly Roman. It fits the description of the Temple of Anti at Qaw el-Kebir which is said to be totally destroyed, but it appears to be too far south of that site and doesn’t much look like the drawing in ‘Description L’Egypte’. It looks like the small canal has been cut through the site and the Nile is just on the other side of the road.
Our last stop before we reached Sohag was the necropolis of el-Salamuni – more rock-cut tombs I had no information on. We found the gafir in the village but he didn’t have the key to the tombs and told us we would have to return next day if we wanted to see them, so we just took photos and drove on to Sohag. While we were waiting at el-Salamuni there was a terrific dust storm which obliterated everything and we had to hang onto the cars not to be blown over, but it only lasted a few minutes before moving on.
The Hotel Safa, on the west bank of the river in Sohag, is brand new and quite luxurious (though relatively expensive at $40 per night). It overlooks the river and there are wonderful views across to the city on the east bank. At about 7.00pm I went out onto the balcony and the full moon was just rising over the mountain on the opposite bank, so I quickly grabbed my camera. We ate in the hotel with Abdul and his nephew Dia, who lives in Sohag and had an early night.