Tag Archives: Cairo

Places of burial

Another unnecessarily picturesque spot in which ancient Egyptians buried their dead people

Another unnecessarily picturesque spot in which ancient Egyptians buried their dead people

I’m out in Middle Egypt and back to looking for dead people to disturb. I had a weary time getting to Cairo via three delayed flights and an unplanned visit to Geneva, which looked very nice from what I could see as I ran through the airport. I also suffered the most invasive and thorough pat-down I’ve ever experienced (and I’ve had some crackers) from an expressionless German security woman in Frankfurt. They lost my bags, natürlich. Thanks Lufthansa, you’re on a roll.

We’ve started excavation at a brand spanking new cemetery, untouched by the hands of archaeologists, although thoroughly pawed by the hands of 3000 years’ worth of Egyptian looters. After three days of digging I’ve found absolutely nothing but gravel, but the view is lovely. I’ve been assigned my old crew of elderly workmen who have now been moving very small amounts of sand for me as inefficiently as possible for almost ten years, on and off. When I ask my head trowel man if we can go a little faster he smiles at me and lights another cigarette.


The extraordinary dynamism of the Near Site excavation team

In my ten days between coming back from Iraq and flying out here I sewed a regency period dress and had a rubbish birthday. As all my birthday plans fell through, and my twin sister was in Chile posting smug facebook status updates, I ended up going to Chester with my mother and then drinking six pints at the pub. I consoled myself a little two days later by going to Leicester to meet up with an old friend, drink, gossip and see Richard III’s new tomb in the cathedral.

Richard III's tomb. Just the right height for a nice little sit down

Richard III’s tomb. Just the right height for a nice little sit down

Poor old Richard III. I know that on the balance of evidence he probably wasn’t a very nice man, and he probably did kill those kids, but I don’t think he deserved to be buried in Britain’s most underwhelming cathedral in a tomb that looks like a bench. But Leicester council are clearly keen to make the most of what they see as a tourist attraction and have invested in a shiny visitor’s centre and covered the town with ‘Welcome home Richard III’ banners; by which I assume that Leicester council considers ‘home’ to be a place to which one is dragged by one’s enemies, horribly mutilated and buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave. Richard might be fuming away in whatever afterlife is reserved for mediocre, slightly evil English kings, and looking longingly through brochures for York Minster and Westminster Abbey, but Leicester city council are doing a roaring trade in fridge magnets and commemorative mugs so at least someone’s happy. As we tell archaeology undergraduates in their introduction to burial practices, funerals are for the living not the dead.

I'm sure Richard III would be delighted that the high street shoe shops of Leicester welcome him to his new home

I’m sure Richard III would be delighted that the shoe shops of Leicester welcome him to his new home

The nail in the coffin

Bandits: not as much fun as I'd been led to believe.

Bandits: not as much fun as I’d been led to believe.

I’ve just arrived back in Crewe, where me and dad are watching the snooker while I work my way through all the pork products in the fridge. I left site yesterday morning, although that feels like quite an abstract statement as there hasn’t really been any sleeping since then. The dig director tells me that work at the site was disrupted today by banditry, which goes to show how quickly things fall apart once I’m gone. This particular bit of banditry was the work of Omar The Bandit, who is a famous local ‘character’ (violent armed criminal) who, as well as stealing things, killing people and building his own village, also blew up one of our ancient boundary stelae with dynamite a few years ago. I have no real thoughts on the crime, but I wish he’d leave the antiquities alone.

Taking a (not quite) solitary moment

Taking a (not quite) solitary moment

It was with a heavy heart I quitted the cemetery this time because, as things stand, this is our final season of excavation. It was a younger, less grizzled me, with higher ideals and better liver function, who started the cemetery site way back in 2006, and many human bodies and bottles of Bombay Sapphire have passed through my hands in the intervening years. On my last day I took a little walk up above the site, sat down in the sand and listened to some sad music on my ipod. Then I realised one of the workmen was going to the toilet in the next gully which slightly spoiled the moment.

I had a pretty good evening in Cairo, involving burger, pizza, smoking, shopping and watching Egyptians fighting. I bought a little tent. I had a frankly terrifying late night taxi ride to the airport, for which an hour is usually allowed; my driver Mohammed did it in under twenty minutes, hitting 125kph down the Heliopolis road and managing to scrape at least one bumper. I thought about saying something but realised my British fear of social confrontation is greater than my fear of a messy, pointless death. At the airport I found a human finger bone in my rucksack – there must have been a hole in one of the finds bags. Not wishing to illegally export ancient remains, I put it in the bin.

Quote of the season:

“I thought it meant ‘I’m fine’ in Arabic, then I realised it was a word from Avatar.”         –          J– the conservator 

Back in the saddle

I lie incapable in my hotel bed, being rejected for jobs and eating a dinner of Fanta and cheese Doritos

I lie incapable in my hotel bed, being rejected for jobs and eating a dinner of Fanta and cheese Doritos

Today finds me in a budget hotel in Cairo feeling very crappy. I flew in last night from Manchester via Frankfort. During the second leg I sat next to a German girl who had the amusing habit of tearing a sheet of her enormous German newspaper in half next to my ear every time I was in danger of falling asleep. When she wasn’t doing this she was talking loudly to herself and throwing her salad at me. Having not slept for two nights and having a fever, I didn’t wholly appreciate her efforts, but I comfort myself with the thought that she might now also be unwell.

My preparation for going back to Egypt, as you may have guessed hasn’t been ideal. I went down to Oxford for a week to stay with my sister as it was our mutual birthday. This coincided with the start of the strange sub-zero cold snap that’s happening in Britain, meaning that I spent most of the week cold and drunk.


how to save money on shoes

how to save money on shoes

By Monday night I was feeling too ill to sleep but still had to get up at 6am to go and learn about conventional and unconventional weaponry in London. I can’t pretend this wasn’t interesting; the tutors were a former Met police officer who’d worked on the Alexander Litvinenko case and talked affectionately of the poisoned bodies he had known, and a former SAS explosives expert who told us all about how bombs work and what happens when they do. He showed us videos of people doing it wrong and went pink in the cheeks when he talked about fuses. I learned that landmines are Bad, and that if I am exposed to mustard gas I should drink milk and take my clothes off. Anyway, it would all have been better if I could have been tucked up in bed instead of sitting in a freezing cold classroom.

how I walk now

how I walk now

Feeling by now very unwell, I took an evening train back to my parents where I picked up my stuff for Egypt, failed to sleep and went to the airport. I don’t feel shivery anymore, which is a good sign (unless it’s hypothermia), but all the horribleness seems to have congregated in my throat so talking and swallowing are messy. Another serious cause of unhappiness is the horse riding me and my sister did as a birthday treat on Monday, which is leaving me increasingly crippled as the week goes on. I did a lot of the lesson at the canter without stirrups; today I think my hips surely must be broken. Basically I feel like I’ve had my throat cut, been hit on the head and then beaten up.

I realise none of this has anything to do with archaeology. I’m off to cry over my broken body and have another sleep.