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“‘Wonderful Things’: Highlights from the Past Seasons” Cédric Gobeil (EEG Study Day, April 2018)

In the third talk at the Essex Egyptology Group study day Cédric Gobeil broadened his focus to tell us about the work carried out by the whole team over the last 7 years – his time as director. His aims when he took on the job were threefold: to restore & preserve the archaeological structures, to enhance the site with the development of a site management programme and to continue the study of the monuments & objects (both in situ and in the storerooms). The talk covered each of the areas of the site in turn, giving an idea of the sort of things that were done in each place and some of the more interesting discoveries.

In the settlement area he started his term by seeing what repairs were needed, and it turned out that about 15% of the site needed emergency repair which took 2 years to accomplish. Their remit doesn’t stretch to rebuilding the site to look as it would when it was occupied, instead they return it to what it looked like in Bernard Bruyère’s time (but correcting mistakes). They try if at all possible to reuse the antique material, but sometimes that’s not possible and they have to use modern mudbricks. These are always noticeably different from the original bricks so that it’s clear which bits are rebuilt. They also cleared out 30-40cm of sand from each house.

Despite the assumption that Bruyère had done all the excavation possible at the site because of his haste there was a lot there for Gobeil’s team to discover. They even found structural elements like walls that he hadn’t recorded. There were around 1000 objects in the village that had been left behind by the previous excavation. These included ostraca, beads, stamped mudbricks and even bits of doorjambs. He showed us an example of an ostraca which had a god on it. It was found in situ in a wall, and was actually a votive stela. To the naked eye the design was only partially visible, but they’ve used software to enhance the photograph to show the whole thing.

They’ve also remade the map to correct Bruyère’s mistakes, using modern technology including GPS to make it much more precise than he could ever have achieved. They’ve used this map to render 3D models, and will eventually reconstruct the houses virtually to the state they would’ve been in whilst occupied.

Gobeil next told us about the work they’ve done on 2 of the votive chapels. CV1 is to the south of the Ptolemaic temple and was in need of conservation work when he started as director – the roof was collapsing. So in 2012 they started work on this chapel – they cleared out the debris from the floor and rebuilt the roof more sturdily. They also restored the inside and it’s now open to the public.

As they cleaned up CV1 they also excavated it. Again despite the idea that Bruyère had found everything there were still tens of objects from this small chapel alone – these included ostraca & a statue head. The contexts that these were found in also seemed plausible, meaning that they hadn’t been moved by Bruyère’s excavation. Gobeil told us about the texts on some of the ostraca. One talks about cyclic feasts, and another has the rather cryptic phrase “the wrath of Amenhotep I”. There are other examples of this phrase on ostraca & they are probably the answers to questions that have been put to oracles. So this suggests that the chapel may’ve been an oracular chapel.

The interior of the chapel is also interesting in its own right. It was decorated with paintings and some of these still remain. There were seats round the edge of the chapel which were inscribed with the names of the people who sat on them (these are now in Turin). Chapels of this type are very rare and are only found in Deir el Medina and Amarna so studying them is important for understanding these sites.

The other chapel Gobeil told us about was CV4 where they have restored the building to the state that Bruyère left it in. Sadly the traces of decoration that Bruyère found on the shrine walls are no longer visible to the naked eye, but once again modern technology can be used to enhance photos of the chapel and reveal this decoration. One of the images is of a royal child, which Gobeil compared to a well known depiction of Ramesses II as a child which is now in the Louvre. Due to the similarity in style they think the chapel is from the Ramesside era and built to celebrate a king’s jubilee festival.

In the Western Necropolis Gobeil’s team have re-surveyed the area using the same technology as in the village. Again their goal is to generate 3D models of the area, and to use the photo enhancement software to reveal the decoration that has faded. So far they’ve done tombs TT2, TT6 and TT8. The Ministry of Antiquities is also very keen for them to prepare the tombs to be re-opened to the public. So they’ve been putting in wooden floors and lighting. They’ve also been restoring and conserving the tombs as they go.

Gobeil finished off this talk by telling us about another feature of the site that he thought they’d discovered but in 2017 it became clear they hadn’t. The building they were hoping to excavate is called the khetem, which was the administrative office for Deir el-Medina. It was the place where the bureaucracy, the sheriff and the site security were based when the village was occupied. There are 60 ostraca which name this office, but it hasn’t yet been found. So when initial investigation of a Ramesses II era structure near the entrance to the Ptolemaic temple showed it wasn’t the simple house Bruyère had identified it as Gobeil was hopeful they’d discovered the khetem. It seems to be near a gate, a wall and a delivery area. It has a structure that looks like it would contain food & water for donkeys, plus a structure (also found in Amarna) linked to water delivery. However in 2017 they finally got a chance to excavate and it turned out to be the front section of a Ramesside era temple. The bits he’d thought were storage areas turned out to be part of a staircase and some side chambers. So not as exciting as they’d hoped, but they did discover some objects there including 150 ostraca and a stela. In the question & answer session after this talk Gobeil still seemed fairly optimistic they might find the khetem in the same sort of area. But it’s possible the Ptolemaic temple is built on top of it (and in that case the ostraca in the Great Pit might’ve been dumped there by the Ptolemaic builders from the khetem’s archives).