Updated: January 2014
Q11 was on a steep hill in the middle of Qurna, and contains the remains of five houses, numbered structure 54, 55, 56, 57, and 58. These houses, home to both Muslims and Christians, incorporated a number of ancient rock-cut tombs in their construction, sometimes using them as store rooms.
Structure 55, formerly owned by a man named Abd el Baset, is the largest and longest structure in the Q section, and it presented archaeological puzzles that were repeated throughout Qurna. Many of its walls were crudely made using large limestone fragments; a fact that stands in stark contrast to the majority of the standing walls recorded by ARCE’s archaeologists.
At the same time, more than 25 of structure 55’s internal living spaces had floors made from layers of animal dung. Why some of Abd el Baset’s walls were made haphazardly, and why his indoor rooms used for everyday life were made of dung, gave the archaeologists pause.
The answer to these mysteries came to us from the project’s workmen, many of whom were from Qurna. They explained that expanding a house in the Qurna hamlets required one to be creative when dealing with the local authorities responsible for monitoring the site. According to Egyptian laws, the Qurnawi were prohibited from expanding their homes or building new structures. In order for someone like Abd el Baset to expand his living space, he would first create a small outdoor animal pen. This pen would be used for a short period of time so as not to arouse the local inspectors’ suspicion. After awhile, and at night, an owner like Abd el Baset would quickly dismantle the pen and build more substantial walls where the pen once stood, using local debris from the area, such as limestone fragments. The result were hastily built walls and rooms with dung floors. With the animal pen converted, the animals that had been kept in that space would be re-housed in a new pen. This then gave owners such as Abd el Baset the opportunity to repeat the pen-extension routine.
Abd el Baset’s house also contained a workshop, which was run by his son, al Nagar Abd el Baset. The workshop comprised two rooms for carving alabaster objects to sell to tourists, and employed at least seven people. In addition to the workmen’s testimony about this portion of structure 55, all the archaeological evidence pointed towards an alabaster workshop: the floor had clearly been gouged by stone cutting tools and it was covered in fine alabaster powder. Such household workshops in Qurna were well known, and their products formed an important part of the local economy.
In addition to the expected mix of modern objects collected during clearance work in Abd el Baset’s house, a number of magical spells were discovered. Such magic has long been practiced in Upper Egypt to help or hinder village life, and can be found written on a variety of different materials: paper, leather, bones, pottery, and water jugs. A field analysis of the spells found in Abd el Baset’s house was conducted by ARCE’s archaeologists with the assistance of a local Sheikh, Said Amer, employed by ARCE to oversee the site workmen. Sheikh Amer gave considerable insight into these spells, and, after documentation, they were burned to reassure the project’s workmen that their power had been removed.
One spell, written in code in blue ink, was well-known amongst the Qurnawi. Called "Taskaret Dawod", it was designed to harm the health of a man, and to render him impotent. The main text contained a symbol in which a genie (djin) would reside, and stars were drawn on its cover to imbue it with more power. These stars also indicated that it was written on a Tuesday night. Another symbol would activate the genie, while another star guaranteed that it could activate itself each month.
A second spell, written on tissue paper and designed to increase the love between husband and wife, used portions of the Qur’an, written out of order, to imbue it with power. The meaning of the text and symbolism of a third spell, written in red ink, remains a mystery. Yet another, stored inside a plastic cover, and kept within a textile bag, names a genie (djin) to protect the user and help him to have children. A fifth spell was written for one Ahmed Ibn Nawal. It used sections of the Qu’ran to force people to buy items from his local market. It begins with a reference to the pilgrimage to Mecca and, just as all Muslims should make the pilgrimage, it states that everyone should buy from Ahmed’s shop. A final spell was created to render a man named Abas impotent. In addition to its text, the spell depicts a crudely drawn scorpion, representing a woman, and a phallus with an X through it.