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In the Shadow of Djoser’s Pyramid

Research of Polish Archaeologists in Saqqara


Karol Jan Myśliwiec

The book presents the discoveries made by the Polish archaeological mission in Saqqara, the central part of the largest ancient Egyptian royal necropolis. The area adjacent to the Pyramid of King Djoser on the monument’s west side, so far neglected by archaeologists, turned out to be an important burial place of the Egyptian nobility from two periods of Pharaonic history: the Old Kingdom (the late third millennium BC) and the Ptolemaic Period (the late first millennium BC). The earlier, lower cemetery yielded rock-hewn tombs with splendid wall decoration in relief and painting. The book also describes methods of conservation applied to the discovered artefacts and episodes from the mission’s life.

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Chapter 2. From Edfu to Saqqara: Polish archaeology in the Nile Valley

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Chapter 2. From Edfu to Saqqara: Polish archaeology in the Nile Valley

Abstract: Polish contributions to the archaeology of Ancient Egypt and Sudan alongside the Nile Valley. Seventy years of the “school of Mediterranean archaeology” created by Kazimierz Michałowski.

Keywords: Edfu, Alexandria, Faras, Tell Atrib, Theban temples, Naqlun.

Between the 21st and the 23rd of October 2007, an important international event took place in Cairo, entitled “Seventy years of Polish archaeology in Egypt.” It was inaugurated with the opening of an exhibition entitled “Polish archaeology in Egypt” (Fig. 6) in the Egyptian Museum, the same one in ←53 | 54→which the mummies of the most famous pharaohs and the treasures from Tutankhamun’s tomb are presented. The exhibition showed a few dozen of the most important artefacts discovered by Polish archaeological missions in this country throughout history. This provided a real cross section of Egypt’s almost five-thousand-year-long history.1

The second act of the event took place in front of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, next to the tomb of Auguste Mariette, whose pioneering achievements for the archaeology of the country have already been described in the previous chapter. Following the decision of the Egyptian authorities, a bronze bust of Professor Kazimierz Michałowski, the founding father of the Polish school of Mediterranean archaeology, was placed in the exedra containing the busts of the most famous researchers of ancient Egypt. The Polish scholar, and – along with him – Polish Egyptology, archaeology and science as a whole were awarded a symbol suited to the rank of our achievements in the field. The bust is the work of the sculptor Ewa Parandowska, one of the most prominent restorers to have worked with the archaeologists of the Polish school in various countries over the course of many years. Ewa captured his facial expression with great precision, portraying the most typical features of our master’s character: his energy, discipline, curiosity and creative passion.

That same day, I returned to the museum in the afternoon to take a closer look at the exhibition as it had been difficult to squeeze my way through to the display cases during the morning celebrations. Much to my surprise, in front of the exposition of the artefacts from the Polish excavations, I saw a solitary figure, elegantly dressed, who turned out to be the museum director, Dr Wafaa El Saddik. “What are you doing here at this time of day? Have you already become so attached to the new artefacts?,” I asked my dear friend. “I’m waiting for the president of Austria and his wife, who are in Egypt on a state visit,” answered Wafaa. I have no idea how many more presidents, prime ministers, secretary generals and directors have since visited the exhibition. One thing is sure: aside from its high scholarly significance and museum value, archaeology also performs an important opinion-forming function that can hardly be overestimated.

The following day, in the headquarters of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities, an international symposium took place, during which renowned scholars from various countries talked about the significance of ←54 | 55→the Polish discoveries and the cooperation between their missions and Polish archaeologists in Egypt. As a result, those gathered at the symposium came to the realisation that currently archaeological research is becoming more and more international. Many renowned Polish specialists in various fields are invited to join the excavations conducted by French, German, American and other missions. Our ceramologists and restorers are especially ‘popular.’

The latter group brings us the most glory, as Polish conservation – especially in light of the post-war reconstruction of our country – has the reputation of being one of the best restoration schools in the world. The Egyptians were able to discover this for themselves, in particular in Deir el-Bahari (Upper Egypt), where – thanks to the joint efforts of our Egyptologists and restorers – two temples from the period of the Eighteenth Dynasty ‘are being brought back to life’ from thousands of fragments: the temples of the female pharaoh’s named Hatshepsut and her stepson, one of the greatest rulers of the country, Thothmes III (Figs. 25–28).2

Another showcase of Polish conservation activity in Egypt are the buildings from the Graeco-Roman and Byzantine periods in the centre of present-day Alexandria in the place called Kom el-Dikka in Arabic (Figs. 13–17). The anastylosis of the monumental colonnade accompanying the ancient buildings was the result of the work done by the prominent architect Sc.D. Wojciech Kołątaj. Thus, it comes as no surprise that when, at the turn of the 1950s and 1960s, Egypt was undertaking one of the riskiest tasks related to activities aimed at rescuing the monuments of Nubia from being flooded by the waters from the lake formed south of the newly-constructed Great Aswan Dam, Professor Michałowski was entrusted with the most responsible of the tasks. He directed the international committee of experts supervising the pioneering work of carving out two enormous temples (dedicated to Ramesses II and his wife Nefertari) from the rock in the Nubian Abu Simbel, near the border with Sudan.

Following the remarkable success of Polish restorers during the so-called Nubian campaign, organised by UNESCO to rescue the monuments in the area to be flooded after the construction of the Great Aswan Dam, when Poland – as the press wrote all around the world – “won the lottery” and performed “the Faras miracle” by discovering an Early Christian cathedral situated on top of the ruins of a Pharaonic temple, as well as separating a few layers of paintings decorating its walls (Figs. 78), and finally transporting them in part to the Sudanese National Museum in Khartoum and in part ←55 | 56→ ←56 | 57→to the National Museum in Warsaw,3 the international reputation of our school of conservation reached such heights that it obscured the academic achievements of Polish archaeologists. It was not until the anniversary exhibition at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo that the younger generation was made aware and the older generation reminded that the creative input of Poles into the archaeology of Egypt had not only involved rescuing monuments but also their discovery, academic research and publication, which in their majority had been done in the international languages.

Discussing the Nubian campaign and the discoveries in Faras, it is worth mentioning that the artefacts from Sudan, and especially the famous Faras frescoes, have become some of the most valuable exhibits in the collections in the National Museum in Warsaw, almost its showpiece. It may perhaps not house The Gioconda or any other works of European art of this class, but it does have Saint Anne with a finger on her lips, a masterpiece of Christian art in north-east Africa, captivating in its very simplicity.4 This piece painted by a Nubian artist was for years the emblem of our National Museum. No other European or American collection has at its disposal such valuable collections of Early Christian paintings from the Nile Valley. Both the Warsaw- and the Khartoum-based paintings from Faras are systematically subjected to conservation works by Polish specialists. The newest, most modern exposition of the Faras gallery in the National Museum in Warsaw opened its doors in October 2014.

Let us nonetheless return to Egypt. It is time to explain why a few years ago we celebrated the seventieth anniversary of Polish archaeological studies in this country. This was in fact the round anniversary of the first campaign of the French-Polish excavations in Edfu (Upper Egypt), directed in 1937–1939 by Kazimierz Michałowski (Fig. 6).5 The professor of the University of Warsaw had at the time received an academic scholarship to the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology in Cairo. Even then, he was already highly renowned in international research circles. The outbreak of the Second World War meant that only three excavation campaigns to Edfu took place; nonetheless, the significance of these studies was enormous, both for the archaeology of Egypt and for the Polish school of Mediterranean archaeology.

The ruins of the ancient Apollinopolis Magna fill today’s Tell Edfu, a high hill located right next to the huge, well-preserved temple of the god Horus, ←57 | 58→constructed and then enlarged during the reign of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, i.e. in the final centuries BC.6 Before beginning the Polish and French excavations, the hill had been explored primarily with the aim of acquiring new texts written down on papyrus. Professor Michałowski initiated scientific excavations at this spot. The stratigraphy of the hill, encompassing a sequence of layers from the moment of the formation of the land of the pharaohs until the Arabic era, i.e. 4000 years, was finally meticulously investigated and subjected to analytical exploration. The archaeological context of all the findings, even the tiniest of them, and not only the papyri, was studiously recorded. The artefacts from all the subsequent periods were treated with the same attention, including those which had previously been ignored, such as the Arabic Middle Ages. Groups of artefacts previously barely noted by researchers have finally become an object of scholarly studies; for instance, pottery, a very important criterion in the dating of subsequent layers and testimony to everyday life in various eras. The bone material from the cemeteries was meticulously studied, which was a bit of a novelty, as even just a few years earlier enormous necropoles, including some in Nubia, were unearthed without any anthropological research done whatsoever. It can without a hint of exaggeration be stated that Professor Michałowski became the precursor of modern methodologies in the archaeology of Egypt.

One other, exceptionally important but rarely noticed, aspect of Professor Michałowski’s excavations deserves to be emphasised as it played a primary role in acquiring new excavation concessions, when – 20 years later, after the end of the Second World War– the Polish researcher and scholar returned to Egypt. The professor was well-known for his natural kindness to the local workers. He talked with them, asked about their problems, advised them and – if he could – he would help them. He was very much liked and respected. They reacted immediately when word reached Egypt after the war had erupted that the professor was a prisoner of the Oflag in Woldenburg. The rais, or the boss of the Egyptian labourers employed at the excavations in Edfu, immediately packed some dried dates and rusks, after which he sent them by post to the German camp in occupied Poland. The package reached the addressee and lifted his spirit. He was actually more cheered by the very fact of receiving the parcel than by its contents.7 The professor was ←58 | 59→quite reluctant later to talk about the war period, but – if he did – he most frequently referred to this event.

The war and its political consequences deprived Professor Michałowski of twenty of the best years of his academic life. When he was finally able to return to Egypt towards the end of the 1950s, the exceptionally favourable disposition of the authorities of the Egyptian Antiquities Service also returned. This turn of events coincided with the propitious political situation for Poland after the revolution led by Gamal Abdel Nasser. The professor could have received practically any archaeological site he dreamt of. He was of course offered the option of returning to Edfu, which he refused out of loyalty to his French colleagues. The French Institute restarted work there thirty years later, but without the participation of the Poles. However, in 1996, a Polish and French academic symposium took place in Cairo, during which the researchers from both countries presented the results of their most recent studies concerning the artefacts from the French and Polish excavations in Edfu, considered to be the beginnings of the Polish presence among the pioneering countries of Egyptology and the archaeology of ancient Egypt.8

The presence of Poland should not be mistaken for the presence of Poles. Many of our compatriots, especially during those times when the country did not exist on European maps, travelled to Egypt and left behind abundant records in the form of descriptions and drawings, which sometimes – similarly as in the case of the testimonies of the journeys made by the French, English, Germans, Italians or the Austrians – are the only traces left of artefacts and monuments that no longer exist. These Egyptophiles even include such people as Juliusz Słowacki (1809–1849), one of the greatest Polish poets.9 It is also worth mentioning the activities of the Count Michał Tyszkiewicz, a collector, who in 1861–1862 visited Egypt and returned with some magnificent artefacts that are today housed by museums in various countries, including France (the Louvre in Paris) and even Poland.10 The first Polish ←59 | 60→Egyptologist to read hieroglyphs was Tadeusz Smoleński (1884–1909). He studied and participated in the excavations of Gaston Maspero, the discoverer of the Pyramid Texts. Unfortunately, Smoleński died young, leaving behind a legacy in the form of some very competent academic articles.11 Bolesław Prus’s book The Pharaoh merged ancient Egypt with our national culture. This text was in fact based on the most recent written sources available at that time and portrayed the spiritual culture of the pharaonic civilisation in such a way that requires few significant revisions today.12

The land of the pharaohs became such an important part of our own cultural identity that without any hesitation Professor Michałowski answered the question asked by some journalists of whether our country could afford to conduct excavations in Africa using the following words: “Poland cannot afford not to conduct excavations in Egypt.” The voice of reason led him to immediately add that “Poland could not afford to dig anywhere.” For this reason, he chose archaeological sites especially important from both the historical and opinion-forming perspective. The excavation chantiers of the founder of the Polish school of archaeology were and still are the object of much envy for many a foreign archaeologist. As a patriot, he also considered the possibility of enriching Polish museum collections by adding new artefacts. In these terms, the choice of Faras as the location of his excavations within the framework of the international action to rescue the artefacts of Nubia was a real bullseye.

One of the most important cultural layers uncovered at Tell Edfu by Professor Michałowski’s mission dates from the Old Kingdom.13 This important administrative and religious centre, the capital of one of the provinces (nomes) of Upper Egypt, situated a few hundred kilometres south of the capital of the country, Memphis, took on special significance during periods when the authority of the pharaohs was weakened and their prerogatives, especially in more provincial areas, passed into the hands of the noblemen, who frequently created local dynasties, almost completely independent of the central authorities. One such period was the final phase of the Old Kingdom, during the reign of the Sixth Dynasty. The number and quality of the artefacts and monuments from this period, discovered during the excavations ←60 | 61→in Edfu, are impressive. By virtue of the ‘partage’ (division) done following the last excavation campaign, the preserved part of the mastaba belonging to a high-level nobleman named Izi14 made its way to Warsaw. This was one of the most important artefacts, which following the excavations in Edfu formed the beginnings of the Egyptian art gallery in Warsaw. In turn, other unique artefacts from this period remained in Egypt, such as an exceptionally fine alabaster vessel of a ritual character, mesmerising in the elegance of its simplicity, adorned with hieroglyphic inscriptions engraved onto its surface. The inscriptions contain such elements as King Teti’s name indicating that the vessel was a special gift from the ruler to a high-ranking nobleman from this province.15 Today we would say this was a tangible material benefit of the best kind. It was precisely this vessel that represented Edfu at the exhibition at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of Polish archaeology in Egypt.

The quality of these artefacts reminded those visiting the exhibition of the Old Kingdom – the first apogee of Pharaonic culture, famous not only for its pyramids that were the burial places of kings but also for the exceptional level of its art in all its fields. One would think that after the discovery in Edfu of such important artefacts from the third millennium BC, the Polish school of Egyptology would have developed its research into the Old Kingdom after the war. However, the opportunity to deepen our knowledge about this period through making new archaeological discoveries appeared only towards the end of the 1950s, when the University of Alexandria invited Professor Michałowski as visiting professor. At that time, the Egyptian Antiquities Service offered him an excavation concession in Abusir, a place located a few kilometres north of Saqqara. This is an archaeological site at which rulers and noblemen were buried during the times of the Fifth Dynasty, the former in pyramids, while the latter in mastabas. The fact that Abusir was a necropolis that had been studied earlier only to a very small extent gave high hopes there would be great discoveries.16

However, at the time the Professor deemed the Polish academic staff underprepared for such a serious task. At Kazimierz Michałowski’s side, Tadeusz Andrzejewski, a real genius in the field of the language of ancient Egypt, had developed; yet, nonetheless, the entire Polish school of Egyptology, taking its first steps in the field, could not compete either in ←61 | 62→academic aspects or logistics with the large archaeological institutions that had long existed in Cairo, primarily the French and German institutes. As a result, Abusir became the domain and the showcase of Czech (at the time – Czechoslovakian) Egyptology, which was already legitimised by a considerable and uninterrupted scholarly tradition.17 In turn, Professor Michałowski modestly chose the Pharaonic province, if this is the term one can use to refer to the capital of one of the Lower Egyptian nomes, one of the most important administrative and religious centres from the Old Kingdom to the Byzantine era.18 Tell Atrib, the present-day Arabic name for this place, which is an eastern suburb of Benha, an industrial town in the Nile Delta, comes from the Greek name Athribis, which functioned for 1000 years (the Graeco-Roman and Byzantine periods), and which was the Hellenised version of the Old Egyptian Hut-(ta)-heri-ib(et), meaning ‘abode [located] at the heart’ or ‘abode in the middle’ (implicitly – in the Nile Delta).19 Like almost all the ancient cities located in the Nile Delta, once vibrant, teeming with life, creative and cosmopolitan, Athribis has been destroyed in modern times, to a large extent due to its climatic and geological conditions (the earth permeated by water from the thousands of canals cutting through the fertile land of the Delta), as well as by rapidly expanding industrialisation and chaotic urbanisation, especially at the turn of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries. While archaeologists dug up the temples and tombs in Upper Egypt, which owed their relatively good state of preservation to the best conserving factor in existence in nature, i.e. dry sand, the Nile Delta, discouraging to archaeologists due to the complete lack of papyri and monumental buildings that had simply fallen apart, was for many decades a target for looters and hasty construction activities. The situation of the monuments in the northern part of Egypt became so dramatic that in 1979, during the second International Congress of Egyptologists, Labib Habachi, at the time the most renowned Egyptian Egyptologist, made an appeal that every academic institution applying for an excavation concession in Upper Egypt be ←62 | 63→additionally obligated to also undertake research in the Nile Delta. The significance of this proposal was heightened by the fact that the congress took place in Grenoble (France), i.e. the homeland of Jean-François Champollion, the founder of Egyptology.

Of course, the draconian principles proposed by Labib (as we referred to him in archaeological jargon) were never imposed. Nonetheless, his speech brought to the limelight the tragedy of this part of Egypt, which in antiquity had housed the most creative centres, open to other cultures of the Mediterranean, both Asiatic ones and European.20 New civilisational trends flowed from here southwards, all the way to Nubia, where they merged with African cultural elements.

Undertaking excavations in the Lower Egyptian Athribis, Professor Kazimierz Michałowski once again turned out to be a precursor. He anticipated Habachi’s appeal by almost 20 years. At that time, few archaeological missions conducted works in the Nile Delta area, exceptionally difficult in terms of the logistics (the high, fluctuating level of subsoil water), but extremely important from the academic perspective.21 The choice of Athribis as the first excavation field after the war was dictated not only by the historical role of the ancient city, which had disappeared underneath the fundaments of modern-day Benha, but also by the field survey on the eastern edges of today’s metropolis. In the 1950s, this was still an area completely lacking in buildings, while its surface looked like a battlefield following a long devastating war, on which many monumental temples – testaments to various époques – had perished. Granite blocks and fragments of statues with inscriptions bearing the names of the Ramesses lay alongside the remains of later structures, from Ptolemaic and Roman times. They were proof that for at least 1500 years Athribis had been an important centre of administration, religion and art.

However, the excavations initiated by Professor Michałowski in 1959 showed that the blocks lying on the surface must have been dragged to this empty area from other places, probably at the turn of the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, when this ancient city centre was rapidly turned into the industrial city of Benha. Traces of former glory could be found almost everywhere, but who had then thought, while digging ditches for the foundations, about any kind of documentation, much less about excavations? Obstacles ←63 | 64→in the form of inscribed stone blocks were removed, carried beyond the construction site, or shattered into pieces.

A similar fate awaited the small ancient pyramid recorded already at the turn of the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries by the authors of Description de l’Égypte.22 It seems that this was one of a few buildings of this type constructed using mud brick, probably from the beginnings of the Third Dynasty, in different parts of the country, perhaps as a kind of cenotaph (false grave) similar to an authentic royal tomb, but fulfilling a political function, i.e. of consolidating the capital with the provinces in a recently established state organism. Only traces of the lowest layers of brick from the pyramid in Athribis, visible underneath the new hospital building located not far from the site of the Polish excavations, have been preserved to this day. A trace has also been left behind in the contemporary name of this part of the city: Atrib. This is yet one more piece of evidence of how urgent rescue excavations are becoming in the Nile Delta, especially in places that have not yet been subjected to construction activities or transformed into cultivated fields.

Professor Michałowski’s first excavation campaigns in Tell Atrib led to the discovery of an enormous complex of public bathhouses from the Graeco-Roman period. Their extent, monumental architecture and rich décor (e.g. elaborately sculpted column capitals) confirm the information available in the written sources, especially from the Roman period, that Athribis was a large and popular health resort.23 One would go there ‘for the waters.’ Only here and there have remains of earlier structures been preserved, for example, a foundation deposit of a small temple from Taharqa’s times (Twenty-Fifth Dynasty).24

In turn, surprising research results were obtained from the rescue excavations conducted in the eastern part of Tell Atrib in 1985–1999 (Fig. 9). A small hill, called Kom Sidi Yusuf, is located there, while at the top – a slowly disintegrating tomb, which is an object of cult among the local Muslims. However, written tradition claims that in Christian times, preceding the Islamisation of Egypt, one of the first Egyptian churches was located there, within which various miracles were supposed to have occurred before it disappeared ←64 | 65→underground, where – according to what is believed by many Copts (Egyptian Christians) – it supposedly functions to this day. Independently of the legends, the fact remains that as early as in the first centuries of Christianity, Athribis was the seat of the bishopric and played such an important role that it was included in a unique mosaic map from the middle of the sixth century AD adorning the floor of a church in the town of Madaba in Jordan.

In the 1960s, the Coptic Committee decided to dig up the legendary temple. The Polish mission already working in Tell Atrib, directed at the time by Dr Barbara Ruszczyc, was invited to join the excavations near the Sidi Yusuf hill. The remains of a sacral building from the first centuries AD were discovered there, including stone capitals with a gilded surface, ritual items, large numbers of coins and Coptic pottery.25 As shown by later works conducted by the Polish mission, the church dedicated to the Holy Mother was most probably constructed here on the ruins of an earlier temple, dating from the reign of the Ptolemies, in the last centuries BC.26 We found numerous limestone block ←65 | 66→fragments decorated with bas relief and polychrome hieroglyphic inscriptions both in the vicinity of the Sidi Yusuf hill and inside the nearby lime kilns from the Roman period, in which the material evidence of ‘pagan’ cults was eagerly remade into lime. Our mission was able to put two such fragments together to make a whole, on which we could read the inscription Setep-en-Re-meri-Amon (‘Chosen by [the god] Re, beloved by [the god] Amon’), or the Egyptian name of Alexander of Macedon, complied by local theologists based on two different names attached to Ramesses II, the great pharaoh-warrior from 1000 years earlier.27 The scale and breadth of Alexander’s conquests matched the military feats of the most famous of the Ramesses, with the latter even being perceived as an ideal prototype for the pharaoh-god, who in turn drove the reviled Persians out of Egypt and whose embalmed body was as a result laid to rest on Egyptian soil. The small temple, with walls that many years later were used as raw material for the production of lime, might have been constructed at the beginnings of the Ptolemaic period and dedicated to one of the most important local deities, e.g. Isis or Osiris, in any case frequently equated with Greek gods similar in character. Was the Ptolemaic temple the first sacral building erected at this spot? The tradition of the resacralisation of select places, once hallowed by the cult of one god or another, was extremely widespread in Egypt, even though the religions and deities would change.

From the academic point of view, the results of the Polish rescue excavations in the area adjoining the Sidi Yusuf hill to the east and south turned out to be even more interesting (Figs. 912). Excavations were initiated in 1985, when the area was handed over by the Egyptian Antiquities Service to one the richest Egyptian banks. They rapidly built two residential blocks there. It was only then that the Egyptian authorities asked the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw in Cairo to conduct a rescue mission.

However, the new owner of the land did not give in that easily. When the mission first arrived in Tell Atrib, its members saw a pyramid consisting of old equipment thrown out of office buildings, scattered on those parts of the archaeological area on which nothing had yet been built. Disintegrating cabinets and drawers had become tangled into a single ‘archaeological layer’ with toilets, tables and chairs with broken legs. The Antiquities Service was powerless. To avoid wasting time, we began negotiations with the bank. It took a long time before we were able to come face to face with the director, who – in accordance with Egyptian hospitality – first offered us some superb coffee. The rest did not run so smoothly. Slightly surprised by our stubbornness, nonetheless, after a month of fruitless conversations, the director agreed to a ‘compromise:’ he promised to clean the area up in a few places, where we could do some surveys, but under one condition. That we would not find ‘anything important’ there and the bank would be able to continue building on ‘its’ land. As the director of the mission, I of course made such a promise, mainly so that we could quickly forget about it and get to work. It was also made clear that this would be the first and last excavation campaign. Every year after that it was ‘really’ the last campaign. One can easily imagine what conditions this provided for planning and organising our work.

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If we dedicate so much space to this tragicomic situation within a description of the rescue excavations, this is mainly with the aim to make the reader realise the importance of one of the fundamental skills of any archaeologist: diplomacy. There were times when diplomats became archaeologists; nowadays, every archaeologist, especially the mission director, must be a diplomat.

When part of the archaeological terrain in Tell Atrib was liberated from under the bank’s ‘occupation,’ we initiated our research. It began with geophysical prospection, the first survey of this type to be conducted on Polish excavations in Egypt.28 The instigator and executor of this pioneering ←68 | 69→activity was Tomasz Herbich, currently one of the best and most experienced geophysicists within international archaeological circles. Both geophysical prospection and the first surveys done at a few points in the area brought us to the realisation that the archaeological layers here contain artefacts and monumental buildings from the Ptolemaic, Roman and Byzantine periods, i.e. they represent over 1000 years of ancient history.

What we did not yet realise during this first campaign was the fact that the sequence of layers in a few important spots was completely undisturbed, which is extremely rare in the archaeology of the Nile Delta.29 We also did not know that these layers were saturated with rich dating material, i.e. artefacts that allow for a precise attribution to specific historical periods, e.g. the reigns of particular rulers. This was especially true of the early Ptolemaic layers, in which, thanks to numerous coins and stamped amphorae imported from various regions of the Mediterranean, we can distinguish the archaeological contexts corresponding to the reigns of Ptolemy I and II (305––246 BC) from deposits originating from the period of the reign of Ptolemy III–V (246–180 BC), not to mention that of Ptolemy VI (180–145 BC), forming a layer especially distinct, which stands out morphologically from neighbouring layers. None of the earlier excavations in the Nile Delta area had provided the opportunity for such a clear stratification of the Ptolemaic period, and – as a result – for the precise dating of various groups of artefacts based on the objective criterion of the archaeological context and not just on the subjective analysis of stylistics.

The scientific consequences of this fact exceeded all the expectations previously held by the discoverers. It turned out that similar artefacts (terracotta figurines (Fig.12), oil lamps, pottery vessels, items made from faience, etc.), exhibited at various museums around the world (e.g. in the Parisian Louvre or the British Museum in London), had to be ‘re-dated,’ sometimes by even as much as over 500 years, which simultaneously led to the changing of the captions under the items in light of our discoveries. I even noted that the replacement of such labels sometimes occurred during the night after I had given a lecture at a museum.

However, not all the places in Tell Atrib were suitable for geophysical prospection. Especially one spot, striking due to its regular square shape and complete lack of vegetation, resisted the electromagnetic apparatus. It did not react at all to the stimuli. Despite the fact that the reason behind the resistance was later established and turned out to be very trivial, i.e. the strong salination of the thick layer of excrements left by camels belonging to the Bedouins, who had at one time camped there, I decided to check ←69 | 70→what was concealed by the earth in this banal spot. The sondage brought a revelation already at a depth of sixty centimetres under the surface. First, a beautiful marble figurine, depicting the half-naked Greek goddess Aphrodite (Fig. 10), emerged from the muddy earth (this was the beginning of the wet season), and then fragments of other figurines made from similar material, imported from Greece and betraying the style of one, doubtless Greek, sculptor.30 On many of them, the polychromy had been preserved, e.g. the blue on the goddess’ robe and the russet red of her hair. There was no doubt that these could only be the remnants of the atelier of a good artist, who must have settled here during the reign of the first Ptolemies. The numismatic (coins) and epigraphic (stamped pottery) material, which was very homogeneous, dated the context very clearly.31

During the excavations, it turned out that we had discovered a whole district of craftsmen and artists producing diverse artefacts from different materials.32 Most of them bear the traits of ritual items, probably used in the cult of the deities revered in a nearby temple, perhaps the one once located on the Sidi Yusuf hill. This is indicated by the fact that another structure of a ritual character has been preserved between the workshops and the supposed temple, i.e. public bathhouses dated to the times of Ptolemy VI. Both the architecture of this building and the items found inside, bear hints of having religious connotations, most probably related to the fertility cult personified by the old local Egyptian deities, Isis, Hathor and Osiris. These gods were associated with the Greek Aphrodite and Dionysus – the dynastic deity of the Ptolemies. The fertility cult is witnessed primarily by the terracotta and faience figurines of an erotic character, e.g. anthropomorphic representations of deities with exaggerated sexual traits, i.e. a large phallus or an overly prominent female bosom.33

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One of the discovered terracotta figurines is particularly diagnostic in character: it depicts a naked woman with a marked bosom, sitting in a pool, which has precisely the same oval shape as the small pools we discovered in the public bathhouses. The woman is pouring water over her body, holding a bowl in her hand identical in form to the hundreds of vessels we discovered near the pottery kilns, frequently not yet fired. The figurine in the bathhouse clearly illustrates the function of the structure, which might have been similar to the role of the above-mentioned chamber with Bes’s figurines, discovered 100 hundred years ago by the English mission in Saqqara.34 Pregnant women might have come here for hygienic, magical or ritual purposes, or perhaps women participated in rituals aimed at ensuring they would soon be in the family way. The figurine is lacking its head, but it can easily be reconstructed based on the analogies with other terracotta items found in the vicinity of the bathhouses. Some also depict a naked woman squatting, indicating her prominent bosom with her hand. She is wearing a flower diadem on her head. Others portray a woman standing, wearing a long robe, raised so high in the front that it uncovers her naked bosom.35

The discoveries made by the Polish mission in Tell Atrib have very much enriched our knowledge about the life of Graeco-Egyptian society in the last centuries BC, consisting of indigenous Egyptians and settlers who came to Egypt with Alexander the Great’s army, a community ethnically, religiously and culturally diverse. The symbiosis of Egyptian, Hellenic and Oriental traditions bore fruit in the form of an eclectic culture, usually referred to as the Hellenistic koine. This culture was adopted without any drastic changes by Roman Egypt, and was then modified by Christian Egypt.36

This Graeco-Roman-Christian millennium, during which Hellenistic culture and the Greek language competed with old native Egyptian civilisational elements, is the period predominant within the Polish studies conducted in the Nile Valley. Almost simultaneously to the excavations in Athribis, works were initiated in Alexandria, one of the most important metropoles of the Hellenistic world. The Egyptian authorities offered Professor Michałowski ←71 | 72→excavations in the centre of the present-day city, on a hill bearing the Arabic name Kom el-Dikka.37

The ongoing research and conservation works have enriched our knowledge about Roman and Byzantine Alexandria, underneath which the archaeologists reached as far as the architectural remains from the Ptolemaic period. Joined by a monumental colonnade, two ancient buildings are predominant in the landscape of this sophisticated neighbourhood: the enormous public baths (Figs. 1517) and the theatre or Odeon, whose function was a point of contention from the moment it was discovered in 1964 (Figs. 1314). It would have come as quite a surprise for Professor Michałowski, who at the beginnings of his post-war activities in Egypt rescued this monument from the ‘creative’ activities of the bulldozers boring a deep ditch under the modern building, if he had lived to see the discovery made by his students at the beginning of the twentieth-first century. The excavations next to the ‘theatre’ surprised everyone with a ←72 | 73→sequence of rooms architecturally characteristic for lecture halls at ancient universities (Fig. 15). The amphitheatre building turned out to be a university aula, which was secondarily ‘decorated’ with graffiti carved into the walls here and there, indicating a fierce ideological struggle between representatives of various political and religious groupings at the turn of the sixth and seventh centuries AD.38

A valuable supplement to our knowledge about ancient Alexandria was provided by excavations conducted from 1986 onwards a few dozen kilometres west, in the town of Marina el-Alamein, not far from the place of a famous battle during the Second World War (Fig. 18). Among various other discoveries, the archaeological mission directed by Professor Wiktor Andrzej Daszewski unearthed a necropolis containing the tombs of noblemen carved into the rock, similar in architectural shape to the Alexandrian tombs. The stone monuments constituting the aboveground cult part of the tombs have ←73 | 74→been well preserved, while such elements were completely destroyed in similar structures in Alexandria.39

←74 | 75→ ←75 | 76→

The activities of Professor Michałowski’s students over the last 30 years, i.e. after our master passed away, have also enriched our knowledge about Christian and Muslim Egypt. The final phase of the Mamluks’ reign (the turn of the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries AD) is represented within Polish studies by a conservation and reconstruction mission, which between 1972 and 2000 conducted works in the unique burial complex of the great Amir Qurqumas in the Cairo North Necropolis. The excavations in Naqlun in the Fayum oasis, directed by Professor Włodzimierz Godlewski were hugely significant, inspired by the research done by Professor Ewa Wipszycka-Bravo into early monasticism in Egypt.40 A few dozen hermitages, i.e. monks’ residences carved into rock, as well as the ruins of a monastery located not far from a still active church, have turned out to be an invaluable source of information, provided not only by written documents but also countless testimonies of material culture (Fig. 19). Among the documents, there are texts written in Arabic, Greek and Coptic. This last group of sources is extremely ←76 | 77→significant not only for historians but also for philologists studying the final phase in the development of the language of ancient Egyptians.

During the early Christian period, many monks used the rock tombs preserved at the necropoles of the pharaonic period as residences. Such cases are especially numerous in Western Thebes, in the vicinity of the temple of Queen Hatshepsut from the Eighteenth Dynasty, which became a Christian monastery during its last phase of use. This is where today’s Arabic name for the place, Deir el-Bahari (‘Northern Monastery’), comes from. One of the tombs of the noblemen from the New Kingdom, studied in recent years by Tomasz Górecki (1951–2017) from the perspective of its secondary usage by the monks, revealed the spiritual and material world of a servant of god living in the desert. The most valuable findings from this spot included some Coptic manuscripts from the ninth to the tenth centuries AD, written down on papyrus and parchment, containing, for example, a canon of laws regulating the life of the Christian community in Egypt (Fig. 20). Polish restorers are currently working on unsticking the pages of these priceless documents.41

←77 | 78→

The excavations at the site of Marea, located some 45 kilometres south-west of Alexandria, are just as important for expanding our knowledge of the history of Egypt in the first centuries AD (Fig. 21). They were initiated in 2000 by Professor Hanna Szymańska (1944–2010), through the unearthing of a Christian basilica located on the ruins of earlier buildings, including a huge pottery kiln.42 The most recent sensational discovery, made by the mission subsequently directed by Krzysztof Babraj, and presently by Tomasz Derda consisted of a large set of ostraca with Greek texts, which have shed new light on the construction process of this temple (Fig. 22). At the southern edges of Graeco-Roman Egypt lies Berenika, an important port commercially and strategically, located on the western coast of the Red Sea, at which American and Polish excavations have been conducted since 2008, directed by Iwona Zych.43

←78 | 79→ ←79 | 80→

In Nubia, in northern Sudan, the research conducted by Polish archaeologists into early Christianity is being continued. After the waters of the Nubian Lake (also called Lake Nasser) covered the Polish excavation field in Faras, our team of Nubiologists moved to the capital of the Christian kingdom of Makuria, which later merged with Nobadia to become the United Christian Kingdom of Nubia. This is Dongola, a city of medieval churches, monasteries and pilgrim shelters (Fig. 23). One of the centres of early Christianity lying furthest inland on the African continent, in which Greek was used at least for ritual purposes,44 Dongola has provided unique discoveries, sacral and sepulchral buildings decorated with paintings and inscriptions: unparalleled testimony to the mutual permeation of Mediterranean culture and local ‘pagan’ traditions. Research into this area was conducted by renowned Nubiologists of various specialisations, such as ←80 | 81→Stefan Jakobielski, Włodzimierz Godlewski, Bogdan Żurawski and Adam Łajtar. In 1998–2002, 2004–2009 and 2013, Professor Bogdan Żurawski also directed the archaeological prospection and excavations connected to rescue activities between the Third and Fourth Cataract, preceding the construction of subsequent dams on the Nile, this time in Sudan.45 The most interesting discoveries from these campaigns include not only monuments of early Christianity but also the remnants of cult and sepulchral buildings from earlier periods, frequently completely unique with respect to the architecture, paintings and religious literature of the area (Fig. 24).

←81 | 82→

Only a few archaeological sites that were the object of the research of the Polish school of Mediterranean archaeology in the second half of the twentieth century represented époques preceding the reign of the Ptolemies. At the beginning of the 1960s, Professor Michałowski brought his ‘school’ to the above-mentioned Deir el-Bahari in Western Thebes, where a temple dedicated to Hatshepsut, one of the few female pharaohs, was preserved at the bottom of a rocky scarp (Fig. 25).46 These were the first Polish excavations in Egypt with a par excellence Egyptological profile. Before initiating conservation works in the temple, it was necessary to first clear the adjacent area of the rubble remaining after earlier excavations, mainly French and American. To the enormous surprise of the archaeologists, it soon turned out that this ‘rubbish dump’ was covering yet another temple, ‘squeezed in’ between the building of Mentuhotep II, a ruler from the Middle Kingdom, and the structure dedicated to Queen Hatshepsut. The previously unknown temple was erected for Hatshepsut’s stepson, the third king from the Eighteenth Dynasty to bear the name Thuthmosis.47

←82 | 83→

The newly discovered temple was preserved in thousands of larger and smaller fragments, which were quite a ‘puzzle’ to put together as some parts of the decorations had been destroyed or they might perhaps have been re-used as raw material for construction purposes (Figs. 2627). What does make it easier to put the stone blocks together into a larger whole is the polychromy, well preserved on the surfaces of the bas reliefs. There are few temples in Egypt from the pharaonic period on which the colours have remained intact to this degree, as if the painter had just completed his work of art. The huge importance of the new temple discovered in Deir el-Bahari results from the fact that its polychromy has fully revealed the richness of the important details rendered by the painter, which in turn had been omitted by the sculptor in the relief used as its base. For over 50 years, Polish Egyptologists have been working on the reconstruction, interpretation and conservation of this unique building. The team of researchers was directed by Professor Jadwiga Lipińska (1932–2009) for many years, while it is currently directed by Dr Monika Dolińska.48 The value of this temple as a historical source is additionally increased by the secondary decorative elements. Graffiti were left behind by pilgrims, who a few dozen years later, during the Ramesside period (the Nineteenth and the Twentieth Dynasties), visited the nearby temple of Hatshepsut in large numbers, and even slept there, ←83 | 84→believing in the magical effect of the gods. These inscriptions, written on the temple’s columns and walls using hieratic script (a simplified form of the hieroglyphic script), were translated and published by Dr Marek Marciniak (1937–1996).49

Belief in the magical or sometimes medicinal influence of the deities worshipped in the Hatshepsut temple survived over the centuries, and in the Ptolemaic period it was even institutionalised. It was merged with the cult of a saint, the legendary architect Imhotep (creator of the Djoser pyramid), equated in Graeco-Roman Egypt with the healer Asclepios, and included into the framework of the royal cult. To put it shortly, he was made into an instrument of political theology. The temple sanctuary was then modified ←84 | 85→and became an actual sanatorium. Research into the Ptolemaic part of the temple was conducted and published in a separate monograph written by Professor Ewa Laskowska-Kusztal.50

Reconstructing the history of the temple erected by the female pharaoh in Deir el-Bahari is especially challenging for researchers of ancient Egypt (Fig. 28). While it was created as a classical example of a ‘Temple of Millions of Years,’ linked to the posthumous cult of every ruler buried on the other side of the ‘mountain,’ i.e. the famous Valley of the Kings, she herself, and especially her gender, required original solutions from the general concept ←85 | 86→to the most minute details. The design was modified many times, which signifies that – in order to understand the intentions of its creators – an Egyptologist must first conduct a virtual ‘delayering’ of the temple into subsequent alteration phases. For 100 years, many researchers from various countries have puzzled over this, creating many theories, which attempt to capture the ideas of the ancient architects, theologians and artists.

This task is made no easier by the fact that the thousands of decorated blocks from the temple are today located outside their original context. A lapidarium of larger and smaller fragments awaiting the establishment of their original spot within the temple are today lying in front of the temple, while museums in various countries house other blocks from this spot, exhibited as outstanding works of art. Just the recording of these materials, and then the theoretical reconstruction of the walls preserved only partially, will take years of work. Not all the seemingly logical solutions turn out to be so during attempts at placing a particular block in a preserved part of the decoration. In light of the 50-year-long research conducted here by Polish Egyptologists, many reconstructions made by earlier missions to this place turned out to have been mistaken. Close cooperation between Egyptologists and architects is necessary. This was well understood by the longstanding director of the Polish mission, Eng. Zygmunt Wysocki (1923–2013), whose work was later continued by the distinguished Egyptologist, Dr Zbigniew Szafrański, as well as by Professor Janusz Karkowski, one of the leading epigraphers studying the decorations in this exceptional building.51 The spectacular ending to an important stage of this mission’s work involved the opening of the upper terrace in the Temple of Hatshepsut to tourists in 2002. For many years, this building had been the object of the Benedictine work of Egyptologists, architects and restorers.52

While tons of sheets of paper have been printed around the world, in all the possible languages, containing subsequent attempts at a comprehensive interpretation of this unique monument of political theology conceived for the female pharaoh by the greatest minds among the Egyptian priests, the full truth remains a mystery. Will the Poles have the last word on this topic? In the meantime, the struggle the younger generation of researchers are involved in with the thousands of unattributed blocks gathered years ago in one of the storehouses in Deir el-Bahari has led to… the discovery of yet ←86 | 87→another temple from the early Thuthmoside period. Its virtual assemblage is one more ‘puzzle’ to solve, this time for Jadwiga Iwaszczuk.53

The history of the Temple of Hatshepsut in Deir el-Bahari knows no end. During the New Kingdom, its decorations were ‘amended’ many times, i.e. chipped off and then re-carved in accordance with the current political and theological trends, especially during those times when the female king became the victim of neither the first nor the last damnatio memorisation the history of Egypt. In the first millennium BC, the temple was changed into a cemetery, i.e. the burial place of many Theban noblemen, while in the Ptolemaic period it functioned mainly as a type of sanatorium and simultaneously the centre of the cult of Imhotep, at that time associated with Asclepios. In Christian Egypt, a monastery was built on top of the temple ruins; a monastery which was still partially preserved when the first European researchers (towards the end of the nineteenth century) became interested in its original form and function.54

The search for graffiti, i.e. inscriptions carved into the rock surface in the area around the royal temple in Deir el-Bahari, was a valuable contribution made by Polish Egyptology into the research of the history of the Theban necropolis. Initiated by Professor Andrzej Niwiński, and then continued by Professor Sławomir Rzepka, this research – frequently requiring from the epigraphers skills similar to mountaineering acrobatics – enriched our knowledge both about the actions of the personnel responsible for the safety of the tombs and about the pilgrims, who were so willing to visit this holy place. A study of the new inscriptions, recorded here by the Polish mission, is one of the newest achievements of Polish Egyptology.55 Professor Niwiński, responsible for initiating this research, also conducts excavations on the rock ledge located behind the temple of Hatshepsut. In turn, his student, together with some young Slovakian Egyptologists, have initiated rescue excavations in the eastern part of the Nile Delta, in a town now called Tell Rataba, which played an important political and religious role during the reign of the rulers named Ramesses and their successors from the so-called Third Intermediate Period.

Similarly, the Middle Kingdom, considered to be the classical period of Old Egyptian culture and represented in Western Thebes by the tombs of ←87 | 88→noblemen, recently became a point of interest for Polish archaeologists. A group of young researchers decided to continue the work initiated by the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art many years earlier, where they are recording the architecture of these monumental sepulchral complexes with the aid of the most current technologies. We have the impression that the Netherworld has ‘come to life.’

In turn, another team representing the youngest generation of Polish Egyptologists has begun studies in an important, but archaeologically neglected administrative and religious centre, located south of Thebes, referred to today in Arabic by the name Gebelein (‘Two Hills’). It played an especially significant role in the beginnings of the pharaonic civilisation. The work by the Polish researchers in this spot is of a rescue character, as the local population is gradually changing subsequent parts of the ancient cemetery into cultivated fields.

The times preceding the New Kingdom, i.e. the first 1500 years of dynastic Egypt, until recently constituted a huge gap in the academic research of the Polish school of Mediterranean archaeology, even though two research teams made a very significant contribution to our knowledge of the processes shaping Egyptian statehood. Two important sites located on the antipodes of pharaonic civilisation became the object of their excavations. The first of these was Kadero, situated not far from Khartoum, where in 1970–2003 Professor Lech Krzyżaniak (1940–2004) conducted pioneering studies at a cemetery from the final phase of the Neolith. Both in methodological and content-related terms, these excavations became a model for the next generation of researchers interested in this period, while the discoverer, at the time the director of the Archaeological Museum in Poznań, always so full of energy and ideas, but who unfortunately passed away prematurely, turned the capital of Greater Poland into an international centre of research into the Nile Valley during the formation period of the Egyptian state.56

The last great achievement of this tireless, well-liked and highly valued Poznań-based researcher was gaining a concession for Poland in the Nile Delta, where the Italian archaeological mission had relinquished continuing excavations in the ‘not-too-promising’ site of Tell el-Farkha (‘Chicken Hill’) in the eastern Delta. His extensive knowledge and field experience led Krzyżaniak to conclude this was a place of particular importance from ←88 | 89→the academic perspective. Could he imagine at the time that it would be as important as it later turned out to be? I think no one expected such a turn of events.

From the moment when the Kraków-Poznań mission, directed by Professor Krzysztof Ciałowicz (the Jagiellonian University) and Dr Marek Chłodnicki (the Museum of Archaeology in Poznań), began its work here in 1998, one sensation followed another (Fig. 29).57 The exceptionally rich and clear sequence of archaeological layers, containing large amounts of pottery, i.e. an inestimable source of information about the period, allowed the Polish researchers to first answer a question that had for decades troubled Egyptologists: how did statehood form here, developing a country with imperial ambitions? Did – as many thought – two parts of the country, i.e. Upper Egypt (the Nile Valley and oases) and Lower Egypt (the fertile Nile Delta), merge as a result of the conquest of one area by the other, or perhaps – as others claimed – this occurred as the result of gradual evolution? Detailed studies based on the stratigraphy of Tell el-Farkha left no doubts concerning this ←89 | 90→issue: the gradual merging of separate political organisms into one country took place by way of the mutual infiltration of Upper- and Lower-Egyptian elements, the exchange of achievements between various centres.58

However, at the turn of the fourth and third millennia BC, trade took place not only between the Delta and the Nile Valley but also extended to areas of Asia, as attested, for example, by some elements of the jewellery, e.g. raw material for the production of necklaces, or by sherds from ceramic vessels imported from the East. It was a genuine archaeological sensation when a bunch of twisted golden foil was found. Unbent, it turned out to be part of statuettes representing nude men, doubtless local rulers (Figs. 3031). Another rarity came in the form of the contents of one clay vessel: a few dozen miniature figurines made from hippopotamus bone, representing various deities venerated at that time, including a hybrid linking anthropomorphic and zoomorphic elements (Figs. 3234).59 Both the form and the content of these masterpieces of local handicraft clearly indicate that already in the period preceding the formation of the pharaonic state, the spiritual and material development of the society inhabiting the Nile Delta was much higher than had previously been imagined. The beginnings of this evolution should probably be shifted by a few hundred years back. Many elements of Egyptian civilisation had reached a mature form before the state was constituted, usually referred to as ‘Two Lands’ in the hieroglyphic inscriptions, probably in reference to its genesis.

←90 | 91→ ←91 | 92→ ←92 | 93→

It also cannot be excluded that the Kraków-Poznań mission, functioning – similarly as the other above-mentioned missions – under the auspices of the Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of the University of Warsaw, also unearthed one of the oldest known temples from this period. Among the buildings made from dried brick, one especially stands out both in terms of its size and exceptionally sturdy construction.60

The most interesting items from the Polish excavations at Tell el-Farkha were first presented in 2007 at the anniversary exhibition in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. They evoked such rapture due to their originality and fineness that the Egyptian authorities decided to include them into the permanent exhibitions of this museum. This is currently one of the first display cases, greeting anyone entering the museum, placed right next to the famous statue of Djoser from Saqqara.

Nonetheless, research into the formation period of the Egyptian state, i.e. the turn of the fourth and the third millennia BC, has not filled the enormous hole in the academic profile of the Polish school of archaeology, i.e. the period of the construction of the first and largest pyramids, during the Old Kingdom. Our academic community has matured enough to bring its own contribution to research into an époque that lasted 500 years and was one of the three apogees of Egyptian civilisation. This was the period during which the foundations were formed for all later scientific and artistic achievements in the Two Lands.

To fill this gap, a group of young Egyptologists under the direction of the author of this book conducted a survey in 1985 in the necropolis of ancient Memphis, i.e. a many-kilometre-long strip of pyramids, stretching from the north to the south on the western bank of the Nile, where a rocky scarp, lying adjacent to some cultivated fields from the west, marks the eastern edge of the immense Sahara. Starting from the north, i.e. from the three largest pyramids in Giza, we moved along the desert in a southern direction. We reached Zawyet el-Aryan, where a relatively small pyramid is located that remains to ←93 | 94→this day a mystery for Egyptologists.61 It remains unknown for which ruler of the Old Kingdom it was constructed. As it is a ‘step pyramid,’ it seems almost obvious that it was created during the times of the Third Dynasty. However, the technique used in its construction is completely different from that of the Djoser Pyramid in Saqqara. While the latter gradually ‘matured’ to its final form by way of a multistage expansion of the original mastaba, the pyramid in Zawyet el-Aryan was from the very beginning planned in its final shape. It can be seen as a copy of the Djoser pyramid; therefore, it is a later structure than its prototype. However, neither the pyramid nor its nearest surroundings had ever been the subject of thorough scientific research.

As a result, we approached the structure with many expectations. We were so fascinated we did not notice the barbed wire surrounding it in wide arch, leaving only an entrance through which we had accidentally entered, nor did we notice the soldiers, tents and military equipment deployed not far from the monument. Inadvertently, we found ourselves in the middle of a military camp. The predicament we had stumbled into could be explained by the encroaching night and the lack of any fires in the camp. Who was thinking of such technicalities as the recently ended war with Israel!? Our imagination was caught up in the time horizon of the twentieth-sixth century BC.

A moment later, a soldier appeared with a rifle pointed straight at us. Since we were well behaved, the situation simply ended with us being led to face the camp commander. The middle-aged officer, with an affable countenance, was so amused by our valour that as soon as he had ceased choking with laughter, he offered us some fantastic coffee and conducted a short, rather sociable interview, after which we were asked not to repeat our little adventure as in the best-case scenario it would end with us having to sleep somewhere other than our own beds.

The next day, we continued our hike in a southern direction. We crossed Abusir, the necropolis of the kings and noblemen of the Fifth Dynasty, with unfeigned envy admiring the discoveries of the Czechoslovakian mission who had been working there for 20 years. We finally reached Saqqara, a place studied by archaeological missions from various countries for 130 years. However, by some fortunate coincidence, our route took us through an area adjacent to Djoser’s tomb complex on its western side. It was completely empty and silent. If any tourists ever reached this place, it was usually only because they had lost their way. The whole tourism traffic was concentrated on the eastern side of the pyramid, where the entrance to the extensive tomb complex was located, but also by its northern and southern sides, where the ←94 | 95→tombs of other kings and noblemen were visited. The western side had been forgotten not only by tourists but by archaeologists, who for decades had thought that any monuments and artefacts worthy of attention were located elsewhere.

Standing right behind the pyramid, we looked far into the distance across the sandy desert, where no contours of any structures could be seen. The surface of the sand showed no traces of any kind of human activity. Had any archaeological mission ever done anything here? With this question written on our faces, after a long period of silence, we looked at each other. Two young Egyptologists, my first PhD students, Franciszek Pawlicki and Maciej Witkowski, were standing next to me. None of us could recount this sandy area stretching out beneath our feet to have ever been subjected to systematic archaeological research. I finally broke the silence and said to Franek and Maciek, “We will dig here.” But in archaeology, the road from words to deeds is often quite long, also in Egypt.

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1 A. Majewska (ed.), Seventy Years of Polish Archaeology in Egypt, Egyptian Museum in Cairo, 21 October–21 November 2007, Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw 2007.

2 Z. E. Szafrański, “Deir el-Bahari – Temple of Hatshepsut,and J. Lipińska, Deir el-Bahari – Temple of Tuthmosis III,” in: Seventy Years, pp. 91–114.

3 K. Michałowski, Faras – malowidła ścienne w zbiorach Muzeum Narodowego w Warszawie, inscriptions translated by S. Jakobielski, Warszawa 1974.

4 Michałowski, Faras, pp. 78–80.

5 J. Aksamit, “Tell Edfu,” in: Seventy Years, pp. 31–40.

6 K. Myśliwiec, “Edfu – szanse archeologii,” Meander 6 (1981), pp. 309–314.

7 K. Myśliwiec, “Five Wives & A Girlfriend. Exploring the Fabulous Tomb of a High-Living Politician,” Discovering Archaeology (July–August) 1999, p. 65 (paragraph Anonymous Experts); V. Rezler-Wasielewska, “Profesor Kazimierz Michałowski (1901–1981), Łambinowicki Rocznik Muzealny. Jeńcy wojenni w latach II wojny światowej 32 (2009), Centralne Muzeum Jeńców Wojennych w Łambinowicach-Opolu, Opole 2009, pp. 54–55.

8 Tell-Edfou soixante ans après. Actes du colloque franco-polonais, Le Caire – 15 octobre 1996 (“Fouilles Franco-Polonaises” 4), Le Caire 1999.

9 J. Śliwa, Badacze, kolekcjonerzy, podróżnicy. Studia z dziejów zainteresowań starożytniczych, Kraków 2012, pp. 401–402, fn. 2–7.

10 A. Niwiński, “Wyprawy Michała Tyszkiewicza do Afryki i jego kolekcja zabytków staroegipskich,” in: A. Niwiński (ed.), Papirusy, mumie, złoto – Michał Tyszkiewicz i 150-lecie pierwszych polskich i litewskich wykopalisk w Egipcie (Papyri, mummies and gold – Michał Tyszkiewicz and the 150th anniversary of the first Polish and Lithuanian excavations in Egypt), Wystawa w Muzeum Archeologicznym w Warszawie, 12 grudnia 2011 r.–31 maja 2012 r. (Exhibition, State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw, 12 December 2011–31 May 2012), Warszawa 2011, pp. 9–22.

11 J. Śliwa, Tadeusz Samuel Smoleński (1884–1909) i początki polskiej egiptologii, in: J. Śliwa, Badacze, pp. 61–71.

12 Cf. newest bibliophile edition: B. Prus [actual name A. Głowacki], Faraon. Wydanie analityczno-krytyczne z ilustracjami Edwarda Okunia, ed. by A. Niwiński, Warszawa 2014.

13 B. Bruyère et al., Tell Edfou 1937 (“Fouilles franco-polonaises. Rapports” 1), Le Caire 1937, pp. 2–58; K. Michałowski et al., Tell Edfou 1939 (“Fouilles franco-polonaises. Rapports” 3), Le Caire 1950, pp. 1–62.

14 J. Aksamit, Tell Edfu, in: Seventy Years, pp. 34–38.

15 J. Aksamit, Squat Globular Vase with Inscriptions of King Teti, in: Seventy Years, pp. 78–79.

16 J. v. Beckerath, “Abusir,” in: Lexikon der Ägyptologie, Bd. 1: A–Ernte, Wiesbaden 1972, col. 27.

17 Among the numerous academic publications by the Czechoslovakian (later Czech) archaeological mission in Abusir, the twenty-five volumes of source material published in Prague in 1977–2011 under the direction of Professor Miroslav Verner merit special note. On the latest discoveries made by the Czech archaeological mission in Saqqara, see J. Krejčí, “Das Grab des Kakaibaef in Abusir,” Sokar. Geschichte & Archäologie Altägyptens 27 (2. Halbjahr 2013), pp. 26–37.

18 F. Leclère, Les villes de Basse Égypte au Ier millénaire av. J.-C. Analyse archéologique et historique de la topographie urbaine, Le Caire 2008, pp. 233–278.

19 P. Vernus, Athribis – Textes et documents relatifs à la géographie, aux cultes et à l’histoire d’une ville du Delta égyptien ā l’époque pharaonique, Le Caire 1978, pp. 337–356.

20 F. Leclère, Les villes.

21 K. Myśliwiec, T. Herbich, “Polish Archaeological Activities at Tell Atrib in 1985,” in: E. C. M. Van Den Brink (ed.), The Archaeology of the Nile Delta: Problems and Priorities, Amsterdam 1988, pp. 177–203.

22 F. Leclère, Les villes, p. 234, fn. 7.

23 K. Myśliwiec, “Baths from the Ptolemaic Period in Athribis (Tell Atrib, Lower Egypt),” in: B. Redon (ed.), Collective Baths in Egypt, 2. New Discoveries and Perspectives, Editions de l’Insitut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, Cairo 2017, pp. 65–82.

24 B. Ruszczyc, “Taharqa à Tell Atrib,” in: E. Endesfelder et al. (ed.), Ägypten und Kusch (“Schriften zur Geschichte und Kultur des alten Orients” 13), Berlin 1977, pp. 391–395.

25 B. Ruszczyc, Kościół pod wezwaniem Świętej Dziewicy w Tell Atrib (“Rozprawy Wydziału I Nauk Społecznych PAN. Archeologia” 1), Warszawa 1997.

26 K. Myśliwiec, “L’acquis des fouilles de Tell Atrib pour la connaissance de l’époque ptolémaïque,” in: H. Meyza, I. Zych (eds.), Classica Orientalis. Essays Presented to W. Daszewski on his 75th Birthday, Warsaw 2011, pp. 389–390; K. Myśliwiec, “Rescue Excavations,” in: Tell Atrib 1985–1995, Vol. 1, Warsaw 2000, p. 32.

27 K. Myśliwiec, “Contexte archéolgique,” in: Tell Atrib 1985–1995, Vol. 2, Warsaw 2009, p. 22 (figs. 4–5), 24 (fig. 7) and 29, fn. 31

28 K. Myśliwiec, “Archaeology Meeting Geophysics on Polish Excavations in Egypt,” Studia Quaternaria 30/2 (2013), pp. 45–60.

29 K. Myśliwiec, “Rescue,” pp. 28–38; “Contexte archéologique,” pp. 27–63.

30 K. Myśliwiec with contributions by Z. Sztetyłło and A. Krzyżanowska, “Remains of a Ptolemaic Villa at Athribis,” Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo 44 (1988), pp. 183–197.

31 Coins: A. Krzyżanowska, “Les monnaies,” in: Tell Atrib 1985–1995, Vol. 2, pp. 75–210; stamped pottery: Z. Sztetyłło, “Pottery Stamps,” in: Tell Atrib 1985–1995, Vol. 1, pp. 53–163.

32 K. Myśliwiec, “Les ateliers d’Athribis ptolémaïque,” Archeologia 47 (1997), pp. 7–20.

33 K. Myśliwiec, “Phallic Figurines from Athribis, in: Warsaw Egyptological Studies, Vol. 1: Essays in Honour of Prof. Dr. J. Lipińska, Warsaw 1997, pp. 119–137; K. Myśliwiec, “Fruchtbarkeitskult und erotische Kunst im ptolemäischen Athribis (Unterägypten),” in: H. Felber, S. Pfisterer-Haas (eds.), Ägypter-Griechen-Römer, Begegnung der Kulturen (“Kanobos. Forschungen zum griechisch-römischen Ägypten” 1), Leipzig 1999, pp. 47–81.

34 See footnote 42 in chapter 1.

35 K. Myśliwiec, “Fruchtbarkeitskult,” pp. 63–66; “Plastyka erotyczna w okresie ptolemejskim. Nowe odkrycia archeologiczne w starożytnym Athribis,” in: T. Hrankowska (ed.), Sztuka a erotyka – Materiały Sesji Stowarzyszenia Historyków Sztuki, Łódź, listopad 1994, Warszawa 1995, pp. 85–86.

36 K. Myśliwiec, “Quelques aspects du syncrétisme dans l’oeuvre des artisans de l’Athribis ptolémaïque,” in: G. Tallet, Ch. Zivie-Coche (eds.), Le myrte & la rose. Mélanges offerts à Françoise Dunand par ses élèves, collègues et amis, Montpellier 2014, pp. 161–170.

37 Z. Kiss, “Alexandria – Past Research,” G. Majcherek, “Alexandria – Current Research,” in: Seventy Years, pp. 115–134.

38 Z. Borkowski, Inscriptions des factions à Alexandrie (“Alexandrie” 2), Varsovie 1981.

39 W. A. Daszewski with contribution of I. Zych, “Marina El-Alamein,” in: Seventy Years, pp. 145–158.

40 W. Godlewski, “Naqlun,” in: Seventy Years, pp. 171–182; E. Wipszycka, Drugi dar Nilu, czyli o mnichach i klasztorach w późnoantycznym Egipcie (“Źródła Monastyczne. Monografie” 3), Kraków 2014, pp. 233–234; E. Wipszycka, “Moines et communautés monastiques en Égypte (IVe–VIIIe siecles),” The Journal of Juristic Papyrology, Suppl.11 (2009), pp. 3–4.

41 T. Górecki, “Sheikh Abd El-Gurna,” in: Seventy Years, pp. 183–190; and the reports by the same author in Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 20 (2011) and 22 (2013).

42 H. Szymańska, K. Babraj, with contributions by T. Derda et al., Marea, Vol. 1: Byzantine Marea. Excavations in 2000–2003 and 2006, Cracow 2008.

43 S. E. Sidebotham, I. Zych (eds.), Berenike 2008–2009. Report on the Excavations at Berenike, Including a Survey in the Eastern Desert, Warsaw 2011.

44 S. Jakobielski, P. O. Scholz (eds.), Dongola-Studien. 35 Jahre polnischer Forschungen im Zentrum des makurischen Reiches (“Bibliotheca nubica et aethiopica” 7), Warszawa 2001.

45 B. Żurawski et al., Nubia II: Southern Dongola Reach Survey 1. Survey and Excavations between Old Dongola and Ez-Zuma. Southern Dongola Reach of the Nile from Prehistory to 1820 AD Based on the Fieldwork Conducted in 1997–2003 by the Polish Archaeological Joint Expedition to the Middle Nile, Warsaw 2003. See also reports on the excavations in Banganarti and at other archaeological sites located in the area between Third and Fourth Cataract of the Nile in “Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean” 16 (2005)–22 (2013).

46 See fn. 2.

47 See fn. 2 in this chapter (J. Lipińska).

48 M. Dolińska, “Temple of Tuthmosis III in Deir el-Bahari in 2008 and 2009: Work in the Stores and Field,” Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 21 (2012): Research 2009, pp. 261–267.

49 M. Marciniak, Les inscriptions hiératiques du temple de Thoutmosis III (“Deir El-Bahari” 1), Varsovie 1974.

50 E. Laskowska-Kusztal, Le sanctuaire ptolémaïque de Deir el-Bahari (“Deir El-Bahari” 3), Varsovie 1984.

51 J. Karkowski, The Temple of Hatshepsut. The Solar Complex (“Deir El-Bahari” 6), Varsovie 2003.

52 F. Pawlicki, “From Edfu to Saqqara. Polish Archaeological and Conservation Activities in Egypt 1937–2007,” in: Seventy Years, pp. 38–39.

53 J. Iwaszczuk, Sacred landscape of Thebes during the reign of Hatshepsut. Royal construction projects, Vol. 1: Topography of the West Bank, Varsovie 2016, pp. 137–145; Vol. 2: Topographical bibliography of the West Bank, pp. 256–260.

54 W. Godlewski, Le monastère de St Phoibammon (“Deir El-Bahari” 5), Varsovie 1986.

55 S. Rzepka, Who, Where and Why: The Rock Graffiti of Members of the Deir el-Medina Community, Warsaw 2014.

56 See also the acts of the international symposia organised by Lech Krzyżaniak and Michał Kobusiewicz in Dymaczewo near Poznań: Origin and Early Development of Food-Producing Cultures in North-Eastern Africa (9–13.09.1980), Poznań 1984; Late Prehistory of the Nile Basin and the Sahara (11–15.09.1984), Poznań 1989; Environmental Change and Human Culture in the Nile Basin and Northern Africa until the Second Millennium B.C. (5–10.09.1988), Poznań 1993.

57 K. M. Ciałowicz, “Tell El-Farkha,” in: Seventy Years, pp. 67–78.

58 M. A. Jucha, Tell el-Farkha II. The Pottery of the Predynastic Settlement (Phases 2–5), Kraków–Poznań 2005.

59 M. Chłodnicki, K.M. Ciałowicz, A. Mączyńska (eds.), Tell El-Farkha I. Excavations 1998–2011, Poznań–Kraków 2012, pp. 201–243.

60 M. Chłodnicki, K. M. Ciałowicz, “Tell El-Farkha (Ghazala) Season 2009,” Polish Archaeology in the Mediterranean 21 (2012), pp. 135–140.

61 N. M. A. Swelim, Some Problems on the History of the Third Dynasty, Alexandria 1983, pp. 15–16, 77–82, 125–177.