The American Research Center in Eygpt



Portions of Sheikh Abd el Qurna and el Khokha have been surveyed many times in the past 30 years. Despite these mapping efforts, there was neither a professionally available topographic map of the area done to a scale appropriate for this project, nor a comprehensive map of the area’s tombs and surrounding structures. In response, ARCE generated its own topographic map and established its own survey system for the entire site. High resolution satellite images of the area were purchased, showing the landscape prior to the demolition in 2005, and again in 2011. ARCE’s goal when addressing this material was not to clean the full 1 km2 area, but, instead, to address those areas of debris visible in the satellite images.

Satellite image from 2005, prior to demolition, clearly showing the hamlets’ structures. Photo: ARCE

Satellite image from 2011, after demolition. The debris areas are visible as dark grey patches against the light grey background. Photo:ARCE

The mapped debris piles. Photo: ARCE
The debris piles were mapped using handheld GPS units and were then numbered from Q01 through to Q29 (Q for Qurna) for the ease of organization. A composite image of the area was then generated by Mr. Alban-Brice Pimpaud, who worked within the MoA’s GIS Center. Mr. Pimpaud’s map overlaid all data from prior mapping efforts in the area, including: the 1922-24 Survey of Egypt’s contours of the modern buildings; tomb locations and numbers listed in B. Porter and R. Moss’ Topographical Bibliography of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphic Texts, Statues, Reliefs and Paintings and F. Kampp’s Die Thebanische Nekropole, the results of GIS mapping done by Dr. Peter Piccione, and ARCE’s mapped debris pile outlines. The result allowed the project archaeologists to visualize where former structures stood, and the approximate locations of known tombs, prior to the clearance work in each area.
Composite map of the area: tomb locations, tomb numbers, the outlines of some of the former houses, and the outlines of our debris piles. Photo: ARCE
A detail of the composite map. Photo: ARCE
To complement the ethnographic data that the project amassed, and in order to better contextualize its findings, other kinds of maps were developed. Egyptologists conceptualize the area as having two broad divisions: Sheikh Abd el Qurna and el Khokha. Such a visualization, however, has little grounding in how the people who work there, and who lived there up until recently, view the area. The MoA West Bank Inspectorate, for example, generally visualizes divisions based on geographic features or tombs. The Qurnawis who lived in the area, on the other hand, broadly visualize the area using divisions based on kinship networks. The area of El Rasayla, for example, is named after the Abd El Rasoul family and the houses they traditionally owned. Similarly, the area of el Hurubat is named after a number of different families who lived in the area, but who viewed themselves as part of a larger family unit descended from a legendary founding father named Harb. Two exceptions to this broad division were the houses of the Habashis, a Christian family that lived in the area, and those of the Tamalaya family.
A basic Egyptological conception of the area’s houses. Photo: ARCE
A generalized conception of the area with houses by the West Bank MoA Inspectorate. Photo: ARCE
Generalized conception of the area by former inhabitants. Photo: ARCE

With the planning phase of the project done, work began on site in October 2012 with a small number of workmen and archaeologists. The first Q sections in which work was focused were beside the parking lot used by tour groups to visit the Tombs of the Nobles. For further information on a selection of the project's Q sections, please click on the accompanying links.

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