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November 2002-April 2009Excavating Hierakonpolis
Chicago House, the Luxor base of the Epigraphic Survey
Our faithful guard cat gets some much-deserved attention.
The dig house at Hierakonpolis
The dig house now open for business
The surface of Test Square B
Our first discovery was a nearly complete bottle (left) just below the surface. Sherds of Nubian Black Incised pottery (right) were also found on the very first day.
At work in the Nubian cemetery
Scraping back the surface in Test B, the telltale signs of tombs below begin to emerge
All photos courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition. Click on images for larger versions.
by Renée Friedman

Nubians at Hierakonpolis: Week 1

Before beginning the field season, I had to stop in Cairo to conclude the necessary formalities, such as signing the contract with Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, which grants the permission for us to undertake excavations and study each year. While there, I had the opportunity to meet with its General Director, Zahi Hawass, who made time for me in his busy schedule and has again allowed the results of our field work to be posted to this website in advance of the formal report. We are very grateful for his support in this and other matters concerning Hierakonpolis. Next stop was Luxor and a quick coffee at the ever-lovely Chicago House with the director of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute's Epigraphic Survey, Ray Johnson, whose hospitality and logistical assistance has been a great help to us over the years.

Then on the train to Edfu. We were anxious to get started, and, as always, it was great to see our chief guardian Sidain and our driver Khalid waiting for us at the train station.

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Left, our driver Khalid Ahmed. Right, Hagg Sidain Abdel Razzik, the man who makes it all happen!

And after a few bureaucratic hiccups, we managed to make it home in time to feed one very lonely kitty cat (his pal, the White One, mysteriously having disappeared two-weeks previously, no doubt in search of mice, as none remained to be found anywhere in our compound) and start the tedious task of setting up the dig house after a summer's closure.

With me were Fran Cole, organics conservator and chief pie-maker, who you may remember from last season, and Serena Giuliani, an Italian scholar specializing in Nubian pottery with a particular interest in the Pan Grave culture. She joined us for her first tour of duty in 2001, when we excavated the Pan Grave cemeteries at Hierakonpolis. We convinced her to return to help with the investigation of the C-Group. A really complete understanding of the pottery that characterizes each of these contemporary Nubian cultures has not yet been achieved because in Nubia most C-Group cemeteries also contained a Pan Grave element. Now, at HK27c, we hope to uncover a purely C-group assemblage from which to build up a corpus of their distinctive pottery shapes and see how they change over time.

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Left, Serena Giuliani enjoying Nubian pots, her favorite thing. Above, Fran Cole, our organics conservator.

We would soon be joined by the rest of the crew, but as the advance team our job was to get things going. After the house was set up, the first order of business was to re-establish the cemetery grid, layout the excavations squares, map the surface topography and collect the material on the surface of the area to be excavated.

Considering that we had managed to excavate the seven burials in Test Square A in 2001 in less than three days, we had great hopes of making rapid progress. Our goal was to sample the site--by investigating a 10m-wide transect across the cemetery--in order to determine its chronology and get a handle on how long it was used.

Returning to the cemetery, it was a relief to see that nothing much had changed, and we easily re-established the grid based on the markers left at the corners of Test Square A. We then laid out an additional nine 10x10m squares (two rows of five) running the full length of cemetery N-S (magnetic) and encompassing over half its width in the E-W direction. (Click here to see grid map.)

On the slopes and within the craters that pock the cemetery, we observed many interesting pottery sherds, much stone, and, sadly, shattered and weathered bone--all the result of plundering that has taken place since antiquity, but the latest event clearly was no more than 50 years ago.

Surface mapping Test B was pretty easy. Relatively flat with little stone, there were only seven more or less obvious depressions and two scatters of shattered bone to attract our attention. Although previous experience had shown us that these craters do not always mark the location of a grave below, once we had mapped the area, we divided it into surface collection units encompassing each of the major depressions.

Unpromising as the area looked, the surface collection soon gave us something to get excited about. Lightly brushing back the surface dust with our hands, we came upon a complete vessel--a little bottle made of Egyptian marl pottery. Although we found it in situ within an offering place, we never did determine for sure to which grave in particular (if any) it had been dedicated.

We also recovered many sherds of Nubian Blacktopped bowls as well as, to Serena's delight, one tantalizing piece of the characteristic black incised ware. Over the course of the excavation more pieces of would be found until ultimately we could reconstruct almost an entire bowl!

It was clear that there was not a great deal of overburden, and we looked forward to some quick and rewarding work.

Soon we were joined by our finds registrar, Gillian Pyke, and we could begin. A graduate in Egyptology of Birmingham University, Gillian has been a valued member of the team almost every year since we resumed fieldwork in 1996. Although we have managed to coax her out to the excavations on occasion, she prefers (so she says) to register and record the ceaseless and often daunting stream of finds that come in from the field each day. Her skills are much appreciated and now very much in demand, so unfortunately I don't get to keep her for very long. With that in mind, we assembled the workmen and got started right away.

[image] Among her many jobs, our finds registrar Gillian Pyke also draws the pottery from the Nubian cemetery

During the first week of excavations in the Nubian cemetery we investigated three tombs. Each provided new and in some cases remarkable information about the burial customs, appearance, and cultural make up of the Nubian population at Hierakonpolis.

Tomb 6

Tomb 9

A Loincloth

Tomb 10


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