Cached copies of two articles on Helwan (Al-Ahram weekly on-line)
in Francesco Raffaele EARLY DYNASTIC EGYPT


Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
21 - 28 January 1999
Issue No. 413
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 BACK ISSUES

Grave discoveries

By Nevine El-Aref

An Egyptian team excavating in Wadi Tumilat, which runs between Zagazig and Ismailia, has discovered more than 60 tombs dating to the Hyksos era (the Hyksos ruled for several centuries from about 1570 BC). These tombs are of special interest because their architectural style is different from that of the Pharaonic period. "The Hyksos buried their dead in caves underneath their houses," said Mohamed Salem, head of archaeology in Ismailia. It was common, he said, for three or four people to be buried in the same cave.
Hyksus hoses-graves
The Hyksos were buried in caves beneath their houses
photo: Saad Fag El-Nur


Skeletons of horses, pottery, bronze knives, amulets and scarabs, all decorated with the names of Hyksos kings, including Khian and Yakob-Har, have been discovered in the tombs.

In Tel El-Daba'a in the eastern Delta, an Austrian-Egyptian team has unearthed the oldest water system found in Egypt. The half-metre-wide pipe is 3500 years old and was found by chance underneath an 18th dynasty royal citadel.

"It is well-constructed, with covers and inspection shafts bearing inscriptions," said Manfred Bietak, head of the Austrian Institute of Archaeology. He described the discovery as "sensational" and said it was the only known pre-Roman underground water channel of its kind. He said it was used to carry water from the Nile but believes it was drinking water for public distribution because only a small amount of sediment was found inside the pipe.

"The system that brought water to the palace has yet to be discovered," said Bietak confidently. "The team will try to trace the course of the aqueduct."

In Ezbet El-Walda in Helwan, excavations carried out by the Australian Centre for Egyptology in collaboration with the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), have uncovered five large, mud-brick mastaba tombs dating back to the first two dynasties.

"The tombs are similar to those found in the Archaic cemetery in Saqqara," said Gaballa Ali-Gaballa, secretary-general of the SCA, explaining that the lower parts of the tombs are hewn out of the mountain. They include a burial chamber surrounded by small rooms, where the deceased's funerary collection was placed.

Mohamed El-Saghir, head of the Pharaonic department at the SCA, said the mission had also found food containers made of schist, marble and crystal, and engraved with the names of the owners of the tombs. A list of offerings and reliefs of the tomb owners were also found at the site.

A shaft tomb dating back to the third dynasty, with its human remains intact, has also been discovered. According to Christiana Kohler of Macquarie University in Sydney, it is unusual to find human remains because most tombs have been plundered over the centuries.

A programme to further the work of archaeologist Zaki Saad, who discovered more than 10,000 graves during the 1940s and 1950s but died before his work was complete, is continuing. Kohler said the aim of the project is to preserve the data that Saad compiled and "revive Helwan's glory as one of the largest and most significant sites of the earliest centuries of Pharaonic history, that is 5000 years ago." The site sheds light on the development of the early Egyptian state and the community that lived on the east bank of the Nile opposite the ancient capital Memphis.  

Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
6 - 12 July 2000
Issue No. 489
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 BACK ISSUES
Previous IssueBack Issues

Help down under

By Nevine El-Aref

When Egyptologist Zaki Saad unearthed more than 10,000 graves and an abundance of funerary objects at Ezbet Al-Walda between 1941 and 1952, the find made quite a splash in archaeological circles. But since then, this historically rich spot has virtually been re-buried in neglect.

Located 25 kilometres south of Cairo on the east bank of the Nile, Ezbet Al-Walda remains one of the most important pre-dynastic necropolises, believed to be the major burial grounds for early inhabitants of the ancient city of Memphis. Grave architecture found at the necropolis is unique in the Memphis region, pointing up the need for preservation work. But after Saad's team concluded its work, all excavations stopped and the site was left unprotected, without even a wall or fence.

Without supervision or barriers to protect the site, Helwan inhabitants started to build their own houses around the site and urban sprawl has virtually infiltrated the burial grounds. In 1984 the Egyptian Archaeological Organisation -- now the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) -- was forced to cede the land to Helwan's inhabitants. Modern villages have already engulfed part of the archaeological area and construction projects further threaten the site.

"It was a mess," remarks Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, director general of the Giza Plateau. In order to save what's left of the site and to salvage the remains of the necropolis, the Australian Centre for Egyptology at Macquarie, Sidney University (ACMSU) started to conduct fieldwork at Ezbet Al-Walda in 1997.

"The situation of Ezbet Al-Walda necropolis is now very bad," declared Christina Kohler, head of the Australian-Egyptian excavation team set up to rescue the site from certain devastation. The team is getting some much-needed help back in Australia, where ACMSU has prepared a photographic exhibition offering an overview of the site; the excavation work that has been executed there, the objects discovered and, of course, the urban encroachment. Revenues from the exhibition will be used to set up a fund for saving this pre-dynastic site half a world away.

The salvage team: an Australian-Egyptian mission picks up where archaeologist Zaki Saad left off half a century ago
photo: David Pritchard
The new salvage mission will survey and selectively re-excavate the site, studying the architectural style of the tombs and recording the artefacts previously discovered. The main goal is to reconstruct the original grave assemblages and establish a detailed spatial and chronological development of the Ezbet Al-Walda necropolis.

"Our work has been very successful, as we are working with modern techniques and were able to study the architecture of the tombs that was known before," said Kohler.

The team has also been excavating new areas around the site and recently uncovered five new tombs just to the east of the modern village. Gaballa Ali Gaballa, secretary-general of the SCA, confirmed that the tombs are very large and include numerous burial chambers. The lower parts are rock-hewn, while the upper levels make up a large mud-brick mastaba built in a rectangular shape.

A large amount of pottery, domestic tools, stone and copper vessels have been unearthed in recent excavations, as well as skeletons and other organic remains. Excavators meticulously execute preservation processes on all fragments and remains found before removing them for storage and further study. Newly discovered objects are stored at the Antiquities Inspectorate, located in the archaeological area, where they await specialised work.

"So far, we have not had many human remains," remarks Kohler, "but the ones that we have found are often very fragmented or were badly affected by mineral salts and not very well preserved."

Thorough studies could take a long time, but most people can't wait to find out what they've found. So it's not surprising that Kohler was eager to share what is known about some of the human remains found in one of the new mastaba tombs. A cursory study revealed that the remains belong to an older man, who was evidently very tall, but this has yet to be determined by a physical anthropologist.

Some of the most significant archaeological work has been a race against time -- usually the threat of impending destruction. Excavation work at Ezbet Al-Walda will resume in December. Let's hope the flame doesn't die before then.