Where Djinn are Watching

Kafr Amir © Barbara Nickerson 2009

The Polish magnetometer team arrived at the dig house just short of 9am.  Their leader, Tomasz Herbich, who is fiercely Polish with a grey mane and arching eyebrows, was accompanied by two younger fellows who were going to do the brunt work.  Rafaat, my second-hand man, was available to chauffeur us around the site.  He’s an attractive man in his late 30s, with a dashing pair of light green eyes.  I like Rafaat and I trust him.  I met him on the excavation last year.  He had come from the nearby town of El Senbellawein (home of the famous singer Umm Kulthum) with a crew of tough workers who helped in the dig.  I preferred his men to many of the lazy brats we hired from the villages of Timai el-Amdid and Kafr Amir.  On the weekends he would drive me to El Senbellawein, much to the disapproval of the local police.  From there I would catch a minibus to Cairo for five dollars.

I arranged lunch for the crew with our cook Salah.  Though he did not officially start working until the University of Hawaii field school began, he agreed to cook for our guests.  The four of us loaded into the back of Rafaat’s white pick-up and headed out to the Tell.  The streets of Timai el-Amdid were beginning to come alive and the shops were opening.  The people gawked at us as we drove through the little town.

The Streets of Timai el-Amdid © 2010 Veronica Morriss

We turned onto one of the dusty roads which traverse ancient Thmuis. Two wild dogs trotted through the dry halfa grass that obstructs most of the northern regions of the site.   There were four areas we wanted to survey with the proton magnetometer: a suspected cemetery in the west, a potential temple in the southeast, an area adjacent to the northern Ptolemaic temple, and the area I suspected was a harbor.  After showing the Polish guys where they would be surveying, I decided to do some reconnaissance.

The suspected cemetery is located nearby the more recent Arab cemetery, though I suspect many of the tombs date back several centuries.  The suburbs around Tell Timai were established by at least the 9th century CE during the Medieval Arab period.  It’s difficult to not be humbled by the rich and colorful history of the region which spans five millennia.  The countryside has changed considerably since antiquity, and a sense of mystery hangs heavy over the landscape.  Call me superstitious, but sometimes I feel the djinn of the desert watching me.  Other times it’s the local pack of wild dogs, staring me down and licking their chops.  Last year, an undergrad was nearly eaten by those dogs.  They are ferocious and it is highly advisable to bring a stick along if you are venturing alone into the interior of the Tell.  I, myself, find them quite likeable.

Guardians of Timai © 2009 Barto

I had Rafaat drop me off alongside Kafr Amir.  Two girls shouted from a nearby window.  When they succeeded in grabbing my attention they squealed and darted away.  The town was building a new well and a gigantic drill had dumped mountains of wet earth alongside the ruins of Timai.  I poked around the heaps of mud.  Clam and snail shells stood out in stark contrast to the black earth.  I rubbed a pinch of soil between my fingers.  Gritty sand.  Perhaps the drill had cut through a former tributary of the Nile.  I’d have to show this to our local geologist. Rafaat motioned that the Polish guys were ready to move on to the next location.  I grabbed a couple of clam shells and hurried to the truck.

The Girls from Kafr Amir © 2010 Veronica Morriss

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Categories: Adventure, Archaeology, Egypt

Author:Veronica Morriss, M.A.

Maritime archaeologist

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