Last weekend, my Egyptology class took a field trip. It was the same trip that I referred to in one of my last posts, where our bus was accompanied by armed police officers who had their sirens on for the entire trip. Besides that aspect of it, it was awesome! A quick overview:
I woke up at around 8 AM and headed to the “Pepsi Gate” (the main gate into campus) with my friend Gwen who’s also in the class, and Alex, who isn’t but decided to sneak along anyways. We all boarded a charter bus and headed North. Our professor, Dr. John Swanson, was our main tour guide for the trip. The only way that I can really describe Dr. Swanson is that he’s like a real live audio book, which is both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand, he speaks more eloquently than I can write, and knows more information off the top of his head (about every subject known to mankind) than I have ever heard before. On the other hand, he never stops talking.
So, we drove, and Dr. Swanson talked about the vegetation that we were passing, the highway system in Egypt, the patterns of the Nile, the distribution of stone, etc. etc. etc. At least he has a sense of humor- the first information packet that he handed us that day consisted of “16 likely locations of the Lost Ark” from the Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Our final destination for the day would be Tanis, which is one of the “likely places” listed in the packet, and is referred to in the movie. Cool!
Our first stop was Zaq-a-Ziq, which is the site of Ancient Bubastis at Tell Basta. At this stop, we saw the Ramesside Colossus, which is basically a huge statue that’s in almost perfect condition. We then walked for a couple of minutes into the Sanctuary, Pylon, and Courtyard next door. This looked like a sort of graveyard for pieces of the Great Temple of Bastet that had been there. Many of the granite blocks were inscribed with hieroglyphs, and some remnants of the columns and sculptures were still intact. Story has it that the Holy Family visited here, causing the temple to fall in their presence. So, many of the pieces of granite were sideways, or completely upside-down. There was also a “Nile-ometer” nearby, which is a deep well used to measure the rise and fall of the Nile. This is also a famous landmark for Egyptian Christians due to the alleged presence of the Jesus and Mary there.
After Zaq-a-Ziq, we had another couple of hours to drive (and listen to Dr. Swanson) until we arrived in Tanis. A little background about this site: Tanis would have been the greatest archeological discovery of its day, if King Tut’s tomb had not been revealed. It remains one of the least visited, but greatest sites today. The area contains temples of Horus, Amun, Mut, and Khonsu, not to mention Royal Tombs, a Sacred Lake, and the original enclosure walls. The best part is that it’s still mostly unexcavated, so there could still be more treasures to be found. Tanis is also one of the proposed sites of the “Lost Ark”, as I mentioned earlier. The site was not open to tourists for quite some time, and was just been re-opened a few years ago. Nonetheless, we were still the only people there- it’s off the beaten path for normal tourist sightseeing.
Basically, I got really excited and took way too many pictures. By “way too many”, I mean I literally tried to take a picture of every single inscribed rock there. I shouldn’t be allowed to have a camera. There were pieces of granite all over the place, and tons of obelisks- Tanis has the largest known collection of them. The original enclosure wall surrounded the site, which was deeper than the surrounding land. It was pretty cool- you could see the individual bricks of the wall that had been there since about 1000 BC. The Royal Tombs consisted of rooms of stone that were completely closed off except for one small window. They were also submerged in the sand, and had been emptied out long before we got there. There was one tomb that had been raised above ground and opened up- we were actually able to climb up onto the walls and look down inside. The inner walls were covered in hieroglyphics, and two sarcophagi had been crammed together inside.
The Sacred Lake looked like more of a giant crater than a lake- it had dried up long ago, but you could still see its original shape. Beyond the lake, there were still some blocks of white limestone basking in the sun. Dr. Swanson commented on how rare it is to see limestone at these ancient sites, since most of it had been stripped by later generations in order to grind it down to make adhesive paste for bricks. This is why many sites appear to be graveyards of the granite and sandstone that was left behind. This is also the reason why many of the temples in Northern Egypt are still intact, while those in the South are not- there is a larger supply of sandstone in the north, so many of the temples are composed of it. In the south, most monuments were constructed out of limestone, which was then taken and used for other purposes, hence the dilapidated structures.
After Tanis, we were all exhausted and covered in a thick layer of dirt, sand, and sweat. Dr. Swanson joked about how he would finally shut up, and we appreciatively enjoyed the quiet, air-conditioned ride back to campus. It was a great trip, and definitely something that I never would have experienced on my own. I can’t wait for our next field trip- Alexandria in December!