About the Project
The project consists of a survey and excavation at the Gebel el-Asr gneiss quarries and chalcedony mines, Lower Nubia.
Since 1997, this ongoing University of Liverpool project, a joint British-Norwegian-Egyptian geoarchaeological expedition, has been undertaking fieldwork on a region of ancient gneiss and chalcedony quarrying at Gebel el-Asr, 70km northwest of Abu Simbel. The site is frequently referred to elsewhere as the ‘Chephren diorite quarries’ since it has long been recognised as the source of the blue-grey banded metamorphic rock from which at least six life-size seated statues of the 4th-Dynasty pharaoh Chephren (2520-2494 BC) were carved. The best-preserved of these figures is widely regarded as one of the masterpieces of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (JE10062).
Our overall aims are to gain a better understanding of the logistics of quarrying and the living conditions of Old and Middle Kingdom Egyptian quarry-workers working in Lower Nubia, at the very edges of Egyptian-controlled territory in the 3rd and early 2nd millennia BC.
Between 1997 and 2013, with the permission of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), our joint project, organised by the University of Liverpool and the Geological Survey of Norway, Trondheim, undertook six seasons of survey and excavation at the Gebel el-Asr quarries, as well as two study seasons (2004 and 2008) analysing finds from the site stored in the Aswan, Elephantine and Kom Ombo magazines. Our expedition was the first archaeological study of the region since 1938 (apart from a primarily geological survey of the area undertaken in 1990, for which see Harrell, J.A. and V.M. Brown (1994) ‘Chephren's quarry in the Nubian Desert of Egypt’, Nubica, 3/1: 43-57) and it forms part of the international ‘Quarryscapes Project’ funded by the European Union.
For the financial aspects of the project we are extremely grateful to the following institutions:
- British Academy (which largely funded the 1999, 2000 and 2004 seasons at Gebel el-Asr)
- The Wainwright Fund (which partially funded the 1999, 2000 and 2004 seasons)
- The Egypt Exploration Society (which partially funded the 2003 season)
- The Caton-Thompson Fund of the Institute of Archaeology at University College London, which funded the 1997 season
- The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Norwegian Directorate of Cultural Heritage for their financial support of the 2003 season
- The Peet Fund (University of Liverpool) and the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Trust for support of the 2012 season at Stele Ridge.
We are grateful to the following members of the team and SCA colleagues during the 1997-2012 seasons:
- Elizabeth Bloxam
- Judith Bunbury
- Alan Clapham
- Deborah Darnell
- Angus Graham
- Mustafa Hassan
- Tom Heldal
- Salima Ikram
- Richard Jones
- Amir Kamal
- Adel el-Kelany
- Richard Lee
- Hannah Pethen
- Abdou Salem
- Ashraf el-Senussi
- Louise Simson
- Per Storemyr.
Cultural heritage at Gebel el-Asr: modern threats to the site
The Gebel el-Asr archaeological remains were once safeguarded by their extreme desert location but they are now almost engulfed by modern activity, lying as they do in the path of the billion-dollar South Valley Development Project. This hydrological scheme, which has been gradually transforming the landscape of Wadi Tushka since the late 1990s, is intended to bring water from Lake Nasser via the Sheikh Zayed Canal to four larger canal branches (although, at the time of writing, significant work on the project seems to have halted, at least temporarily).
One of these new canals is only 200 metres from a set of ancient quarries discovered in 2002 (the so-called ‘Pounder Quarries’), while the other engineering works have already destroyed some of the archaeological remains documented by Engelbach and Murray in the 1930s. In June 2002, a report was submitted to the SCA concerning the threat to the ancient quarries, and, thanks to the rapid and effective responses of Dr Zahi Hawass and his colleagues at the SCA, a significant section of the Gebel el-Asr region was designated as a protected area.
The most important long-term aim of our Gebel el-Asr fieldwork has been to produce thematic maps and a geo-referenced database of the archaeological sites that can be used by the cultural heritage authorities, land-use planners, and the South Valley Development Project. The maps were partly drawn directly in the field on a pocket computer connected to a hand-held GPS device, using ArcPad software, and partly compiled later from GPS point registrations of a variety of features. All the map themes and point registrations were finally transformed into a series of thematic maps, including area coverage of important ancient sites.