Monday, November 9, 2009

ASWAN: Underwater Archaeology in the Nile

Aswan is a town in Upper Egypt close to the border with the Sudan.  It has been an important region in Egypt since the Predynastic times, and there are many archaeological sites in the area, making it rich with finds to this day.  In order to further explore this area, they have been conducting underwater archaeology to find artefacts that are hidden in the river.

The area they are working in now used to be a market place, where people would come from the north and the south and meet to trade their goods. Goods from Aswan would include granite, which was quarried locally and traded in other major cities like Thebes and Memphis. The main way of moving goods for trade was on the river, and there was always the possibility that goods could be lost or discarded on the journey. These are the kinds of things they discover through underwater archaeology, showing them what kinds of things were moving around ancient Egypt.

Many churches were built in Aswan during the Coptic Period, and they utilized sandstone from Gebel el-Silsila in forms like this piece, which is a niche that would have been placed near the altar in one of these churches. It could have been decorated in a workshop near the quarry in Gebel el-Silsila, and on its way the boat could have wrecked and lost its cargo in the river, depositing this piece for them to find 3000 years later. Another piece likely from Gebel el-Silsila is this pottery jar that shows there was trade with Aswan extended perhaps as far as Turkey.

Their expedition has been very successful, they have made many important finds. They sayd it is not enough just to dig in the sand, they must go everywhere the ancient Egyptians did, so they where very happy with this underwater project and the big discoveries.

Next season they will move their survey further north from Aswan to Luxor. They hope to find some large statues or obelisks, because they know that many pharaohs built major buildings here and would have brought stone from all over the country.

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