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Labib HabachiThe Life and Legacy of an Egyptologist$

Jill Kamil

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9789774160615

Published to Cairo Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5743/cairo/9789774160615.001.0001

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Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

Chapter:
(p.69) Chapter 3 Bridging the Gap
Source:
Labib Habachi
Author(s):

Jill Kamil

Publisher:
American University in Cairo Press
DOI:10.5743/cairo/9789774160615.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords

Labib Habachi's transformation from a roving inspector into a perceptive Egyptologist came about slowly. As he moved from post to post, he developed a sharp appetite for knowledge, a flair for seeking out archaeological clues, and an eye for an anomaly, whether a subtle change in the color of the soil, a sandy mound in a field, or an object out of context. Habachi early developed a keen sense of social structure. The 'umda in rural areas, like hereditary chiefs in ancient times, had social and legal responsibilities. The gap between foreign and Egyptian Egyptologists grew progressively narrower. The most exceptional of the first generation was Selim Hassan, a disciple of Ahmed Kamal whose career was held up during World War I, when he resorted to secondary school teaching.

Keywords:   Labib Habachi, Egyptologist, Ahmed Kamal, Selim Hassan, 'umda, foreign gap

Labib Habachi's transformation from a roving inspector into a perceptive Egyptologist came about slowly. As he moved from post to post, he developed a sharp appetite for knowledge, a flair for seeking out archaeological clues, and an eye for an anomaly, whether a subtle change in the color of the soil, a sandy mound in a field, or an object out of context. While stationed in Cairo on one occasion, he went to north Saqqara where Walter Emery of University College London was working on a large archaic cemetery of First and Second Dynasty brick-built tombs on the edge of the escarpment. On the whole, they were nearly twice as large as the counterparts of those discovered at Abydos in the 1890s and more complex in structure. “They caused much excitement,” he said. “The cemetery at Saqqara was known to exist before the First World War but work was interrupted and not resumed for twenty years. I listened to Emery and his colleagues argue about whether the tombs were the cenotaphs, sepulchres of the pharaohs who were buried at Abydos, or whether they were royal tombs (only much later were the tombs at Saqqara accepted as beloging to the nobles in the civil service at Memphis, the royal tombs being at Abydos), and it thrilled me to see how previously held ideas were revised as evidence came to light. Their discussions about the different (p.70) strata of society as indicated by the types of tomb constructed in the First Dynasty fascinated me. The large tombs with storerooms for provisions for the afterlife were for the upper classes, smaller tombs close to the royal tombs were for craftsmen and workers in the king's household, and the poor classes had simple graves with branches or matting on top and covered with a mound of sand. Such organization five thousand years ago!” He appreciated archaeological discoveries that tallied with his understanding of contemporary society.

When he was appointed to al-Kab on the eastern bank of the Nile north of Edfu, the starting point of the caravan route leading to the gold-bearing regions of the Eastern Desert, he appreciated the work of Belgian Jean Capart, who was excavating for the Belgian Egyptian Foundation of Queen Elizabeth University. He watched British philologist H.W. Fairman transcribe texts in the newly restored temple of Edfu. At first unskilled in professional fieldwork, he turned his close contacts with foreign archaeologists to advantage, and his natural good humor, curiosity, and enthusiasm made him an agreeable companion.

Deeply versed in the lore of his country and in tune with the sentiments of his countrymen, Habachi early developed a keen sense of social structure. He looked beyond the monuments, the objects they yielded, and their place in history. He understood the class-based system in ancient times, with its differences in status, rank, and prestige, because he had been exposed to it daily as a child. The 'umda in rural areas, like hereditary chiefs in ancient times, had social and legal responsibilities; they were highly respected men who played an active part in all aspects of community life, from birth to burial, as was the case in ancient times. Also, because he was aware of the common empathy between Muslim and Christian in rural communities, where he witnessed a sharing of feasts and festivals and respect for the other's saints, he could appreciate how the same deities could be worshiped under different names in Ptolemaic temples or be considered manifestations of the single deity. “You should know,” he said, “that just as the ancient Egyptians addressed prayers to whichever god they thought most able to fulfill their desires, religious people today address prayers or write magical texts to any number of saints and spirits.”

(p.71) A discovery at Kom al-Wist in the Delta provided him with what he called conclusive evidence of priestly deception in ancient times. He described two mounds lying about a kilometer and a half distant from one another, where the local guard showed him some objects. They were an odd assortment: four blocks of limestone, a bronze object in the shape of a pylon, and part of a cylinder two meters and thirty centimeters long which comprised a base and a bronze cover with the edges turned up on each side forming a funnel. Guy Brunton was in the museum at the time and he took the objects to him. He supervised their cleaning and found that the parts fitted together. That is to say, the bronze object in the shape of a pylon appeared to be the pedestal for a statue and the funnel extended from the pedestal to the limestone blocks. Brunton could not explain what it was except to suggest that the statue base and its associated funnel were for oracles. “I instinctively knew he was right. I could picture an ancient Egyptian making offerings before a sacred statue and posing questions, then listening for the answers that were echoed along the funnel from a priest crouching out of sight behind the limestone blocks” (Habachi, 1947; Brunton, 1947).

Habachi recalled that, as a child, he had visited the village of Timai to celebrate the mulid of Shaykh Abdallah ibn Salam and was taken to a vaulted room “where various holy people are believed to appear as shadows, upside down at the top of the vault.” He said that the shaykh's followers, believing in his powers, would request the appearance of their special saint, who would then appear in recognizable form. Then the believers fell on their knees and raised their arms in joy. “But the shadows were no more than those of people passing by the tomb, reflected through a small opening at the top of the vaulted chamber. The minds of the faithful are easily seduced and apparitions are not unusual in Egypt, or elsewhere for that matter. Visions can be seen by the innocent and pious. Voices of the deceased can be heard. These may be tricks but I do not see that this is incompatible with sincere religious belief. Priests of ancient Egypt, like holy people today, performed a duty. They served a believing public. With their oracles, they gave them the answers they wanted to hear—whether through a funnel behind a statue; from a hidden (p.72) chamber like the one between the two sanctuaries in the double temple of Kom Ombo where pious pilgrims could pose questions to either of the gods Horus or Sobek; or by shadows on the vaulted roof of a mosque.”

His inspection tours led him to discover the unexpected or find himself in bizarre situations. When the villagers of Araba al-Madfuna in Abydos wanted to build a mosque beside their dwellings, a piece of land was chosen but the Antiquities Service had first to ensure that it was clear of ancient monuments. Habachi was asked to supervise the digging of a series of trenches. “In those days, a dozen workers could be hired for six days at a total cost of only LE5,” said Habachi. During the excavations, a First Dynasty dog cemetery was found. He took notes and published the find in 1939 (Habachi, 1939). On another occasion, he was touring the area of Athribis near Benha when he was approached by the villagers of Qasr al-Deir, a small village of only a thousand inhabitants, to remove what they described as a large statue of a camel from the foundations of a building. “I suggested that they probably meant a skeleton, but they insisted it was a stone statue so I was naturally curious. Villagers do not usually confess to having antiquities on their land because, for one thing, small objects have a marketable value and, for another, they are anxious to avoid interference from government officials. I questioned the village elders and they admitted that they often came across antiquities on their land, which they did not report. But this time it was different, they said. Since they had come across the camel and reburied it, there had been disaster in the village. Many people in the family had died one after the other and they were sure that the evil statue was the cause.” Labib conducted a short excavation and found numerous artifacts and inscribed blocks of stone in the tell. “Needless to say, I never found a statue of a camel. Perhaps the villagers had mistaken the rounded top of a piece of stone or even a stele for a hump. I might add that years later when I went back to Qasr al-Deir I was greeted warmly and told that it was thanks to me that the spell had been broken; the family had been blessed with several births and not a single death.”

Habachi credited Guy Brunton with instructing him in the professional techniques of field archaeology. “Brunton, the brilliant apprentice of (p.73) Flinders Petrie, had a concession to excavate on the eastern bank of the Nile between Asyut and Sohag, where he identified the earliest Upper Egyptian farming community,” he said. “When I was appointed inspector in Middle Egypt, I joined his team whenever I could. I learned how to note the strata and record the objects in situ before removing them from the soil. Not enough attention was given to such things in university,” he added.

The Delta was not given much attention in those days. Sadly ravaged by war in the Late Period, from about 600 BC, its different occupation levels were deeply embedded beneath later strata and the alluvial deposits of countless floods, sometimes to a depth of thirty meters. Some parts were familiar territory to Labib Habachi, who was appointed an inspector in Rosetta in 1941. “I spent several months in that beautiful city of tall houses surrounded by rice fields and orchards. One of the first things I did was to go and see the fifteenth-century fort of Saint Julian where the famous Rosetta Stone was found.” It was situated about six kilometers north of the town and Habachi noticed, built into its walls, some reused blocks from pharaonic buildings. “They were inscribed with the names of the pharaohs of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty and I was so surprised. I felt sure that there must be others around the city. So I decided to go on a treasure hunt. I toured the streets and peered into unlikely places and eventually found what I was looking for. In the subterranean cisterns of two of the larger houses, where water was stored for times of need, I saw that the ceilings were supported by blocks of stone that had at least one face polished and inscribed with texts, also of the same period. Along with those built into the fort, I identified eighteen reused blocks altogether.”

Habachi divided the blocks into groups according to the nature of their inscriptions, studied them, and concluded that, without exception, they all came from the monuments erected by kings whose capital was Sais (Sa al-Haggar). This was the main cult center of the goddess Neith in the western Delta, one of the greatest temples in the land. Serious excavations had never been carried out there because little remains of the ancient city that was so grand in the Persian period when Herodotus wrote about it. Some nineteenth-century scholars made plans and drew views of the site showing huge brick walls enclosing large structures, but (p.74) most was gone when Mariette, Brugsch, and others saw the site. They concluded that the blocks of the ruined temples had been transported and reused elsewhere, and suggested Alexandria. “However, I now knew from my search around Rosetta that many had been taken there,” said Habachi. “I wondered how many, but did not have to ponder long because fate played into my hands. Not long after, I completed my appointment in Rosetta, then I found myself in Sais.

“Most of the ancient city was covered by a modern village,” said Habachi. “Even the remains of the tell had been totally destroyed by sabakhin. But I did find stones from the main temple reused here and there. One was on the threshold of a mosque and showed the king between two gods. Another was built into the lavatory of the same mosque and made mention of Osiris. I hunted in the surrounding areas, especially around the deep swamp to the north of the village, which was waterlogged for most of the year and probably the area of the sacred lake. There I found more blocks imbedded in the earth. The inscriptions showed that all the kings of the Twenty-sixth Dynasty, almost without exception, built monuments at Sais. All I had to do was get to Alexandria to see whether Mariette and Brugsch were right about most of them having been transported there.”

Many years passed before Habachi was posted to the northern coast again. When eventually he did get to Alexandria and had an opportunity to study blocks from ancient temples incorporated into contemporary structures, he was not surprised to find that not one was from Sais. “Most of their inscriptions indicated that they came from Heliopolis, transported down the Canopic branch of the Nile.” Certain now that vast quantities of stone from the temple of Sais had been transported to Rosetta, Habachi knew he had to locate a sufficient number to prove his hypothesis. “But the Antiquities Service had other plans for me. I was posted at one Delta site after another, but not Rosetta. I traveled from east to west and then back again, forever hoping for a posting there.” When he eventually did get to Rosetta, with sharpened vision and concentrated attention, he found the expected blocks all over the place. “There was hardly a street in the town that did not have them. Most of the houses and mosques, (p.75) especially those built in its flourishing days from the end of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century, contained blocks from Sais. It would have been no difficult matter to transport them down the Rosetta branch of the Nile and, if that were so, it followed that there might be other towns lying along the waterway that had blocks of inscribed stone from the same source.”

As he was already a familiar figure around Rosetta, the villagers frequently accompanied Habachi on his search. He found blocks in the villages of Dibi, Foua, and al-Nahhariya. No fewer than fifty were found, all inscribed. “When the villagers of al-Nahhariya told me that some fifty years ago the inhabitants of Tanta had taken columns from a derelict mosque in their village to reuse them in the construction of a mosque of their own, dedicated to the popular saint Sayed Ahmed el-Badawi, it occurred to me that perhaps some of those originally usurped from Sais and taken to Rosetta may, in turn, have been reused elsewhere.” He was soon rewarded. At Birma, eight kilometers east of al-Nahhariya, he found a large block on the threshold of a deserted mosque, and another formed a doorstep of a mosque at the neighboring village of Terraneh. “That presented a problem,” he said, “because al-Nahhariya did not lie on the Rosetta branch of the Nile at all but some distance from it.” Compelling evidence to support his notion emerged in the peaceful atmosphere of the Egyptian Museum library. Lepsius had visited al-Nahhariya and recorded mounds extending for half an hour's walk near a village called al-Dahrieh, which suggested that it might be the old bend of the river. “I found blocks there, so I knew that this was so,” said Habachi.

The passing years had brought a sense of wholeness to Labib Habachi's character. Experiences such as those at Rosetta, Sais, and Alexandria, which took him out of the orbit of specific archaeological areas, honed his talents and refined his skills. While he played the game of seek-and-discover artfully and with pleasure, he came to realize the enormous potential of the Delta. It was littered with archaeological sites, yet relatively few serious studies had been carried out there. The reasons were many. First, it was believed that there was small chance of finding objects because of silt deposits over millennia. Also, digging was complicated and (p.76) costly. Many sites lay well below the water table or were buried beneath modern roads, buildings, and contemporary cemeteries. Acutely aware of the threat to the remaining sites by adverse environmental conditions, looters of antiquities, and the demolishing of structures for reuse elsewhere, Habachi determined to draw attention to Lower Egypt before it was too late. He was, in fact, instrumental in encouraging the Brooklyn Museum and the Faculty of Fine Arts of New York University to carry out systematic excavations in the area of Mendes-Thmuis, which continues by different sponsors to the present day.

Late in life, Habachi recalled that he once received a report from some students in a local school that they had found inscribed granite blocks near Mansoura. “As a child, I had walked round the temple of Isis at Behbeit al-Hagar about twenty kilometers northwest of the town and seen a high mound of blocks of granite from the collapsed temple, so I was sure that was their source. Later, I went to see the students at school to congratulate them on their report, tell them a bit about their heritage and the importance of what they had done, and I presented each with a popular book on magic and how to find treasures. I was sure that would fascinate them.”

Harry Smith, one of the most penetrating and inquiring minds in modern Egyptology, holds that history is best served by sticking to the evidence. While this may have been the recommended approach in the first half of the twentieth century, such a restriction can be an impediment. It can set Egyptology on the slow track, as demonstrated by Habachi's observations at Tell al-Dab‘a, near the villages of al-Khata’na and Qantir in the eastern Delta. Habachi inspected the area in 1942 and found the ruins of grand monuments, including pedestals for statues and obelisks: “They were all located in an environment that so exactly fitted a description written by an ancient scribe—a wonderful place with ponds for fish, pools for birds, meadows with every kind of fruit, and marvellous palaces—that I was sure that it was the Hyksos capital of Avaris. Montet, of course, was convinced that Tanis was the Hyksos capital, and that Tanis later developed into the city of Pi-Ramesses or the ‘House of Ramesses.’” Habachi wrote a report on his observations to the Antiquities (p.77) Service, “but no one paid any attention,” he said and added, “Montet was a respected scholar and an expert on Tanis, so there was no changing his mind or that of his peers. He was convinced that it was built of stone usurped from Giza, Abu Sir, Saqqara, Memphis, and even as far south as Hawara and Lahun. Believe me, it is so hard to dispel a conclusion that has gained currency and a professional hearing. What Montet had actually found in Tanis were monuments usurped from the Hyksos capital not far to the south, at Tell al-Dab'a.”

When a detailed study of the topography of the site and its surroundings was made by Manfred Bietak of the Austrian Archaeological Institute in the 1980s, Habachi's hypothesis was confirmed. Bietak's mission revealed that the actual Hyksos capital was indeed Tell al-Dab'a, a site ideally located on a mound south of a lake fed through a channel from the Pelusiac branch of the Nile where there was a harbor. It was a strategically important area protected by a huge drainage system that provided an important water link with the Mediterranean. It appears that when the Pelusiac branch of the Nile began to silt up, it caused a problem to the ancient inhabitants, who tried to dredge the river; they created great dumphills, but to no avail. So the city was abandoned and Tanis became the northeastern frontier. Montet did not live to learn that Tanis was no more than a secondary construction built of stone and architectural elements pillaged from other sites.

In 1943, news reached the Antiquities Service that workmen were actively engaged in leveling the land to build a military road across Tell Basta (the ancient town of Bubastis), strategically situated where the Pelusiac and Tannitic branches of the Nile joined the Wadi Tumilat. Étienne Drioton, then director-general, sent inspector Labib Habachi to check on the report. Habachi described the site as a disaster. He found that the military road designed to connect Port Said with Alexandria via Mit Ghamr was well under way and had already traversed about three feddans of the site. He reported that the temple was a mass of broken papyrus bud columns, pillars, and lintels and that blocks of stone with inscribed texts were impacted into the earth. He confirmed that the tell was being systematically depleted for raw material to make bricks for houses in the (p.78) ever-expanding urban area surrounding it. As for the activities of the sabakhin, he wrote that they totally disregarded antiquities “unless theywere gold and silver.” Drioton instructed Habachi to document the site and his resulting book, Tell Basta, was to win him a state award.

Ancient Bubastis was once the capital of a major Delta province sacred to the goddess Bastet, a point from which trading missions branched out to Sinai for turquoise and copper, and a departure point for military missions to Asia by land or sea. Its political influence peaked between 945 and 715 BC, when Herodotus wrote, “No other temples may be larger and more costly, none is more pleasing to look at than this.” The ancient site was visited by the learned scholars with Napoleon's mission to Egypt, who described the temple in glowing terms. Whether from personal observation or a perusal of the records, they repeated Herodotus' description of the city's annual festival as the greatest in the land and mentioned thousands of pilgrims in joyous and orgiastic celebration, as well as the quantity of food and wine consumed. This picture of a brilliant ancient capital was also painted by British Egyptologist and traveler John Gardner Wilkinson who visited Tell Basta in 1840, but he mentioned that the rambling ancient city that covered an area of about one hundred and fifty feddans was by that time largely in ruin. Slightly more than forty years later, between 1887 and 1889, Swiss Egyptologist Henri Edouard Naville carried out an archaeological survey of Tell Basta and traced various stages of the main temple's development. Most of the structures were built in the Libyan dynasty in the ninth century BC, but some blocks, he noted, bore the names of Fourth Dynasty kings. Naville unearthed fine pieces of statuary that were sent to the British Museum and, to the north of the sacred enclosure, an enormous cat cemetery containing mummified animals in their thousands, along with beautiful bronze statuettes of the sacred cat. These were exported and passed to museums around the world and into the collections of the curio-hungry.

Bubastis suffered the fate of many ancient Delta cities. Its great monuments were used as convenient quarries, stripped of limestone for the construction of modern buildings and, as attested by the number of chips that dotted the landscape, for millstones. In more recent times it (p.79)

Bridging the Gap

Ruins of the hypostyle hall of the temple of the goddess Bastet at ancient Bubastis, in 1943.

was plundered by robbers in the pay of antiquities dealers, by sabakhin in search of fertilizer, and by local traders who openly sold antiquities at Zagazig railway station. British chemist Alfred Lucas, who worked for the Antiquities Service from the mid-1920s to the 1940s, wrote that dealers in antiquities were always present to meet passengers at the railway station and show them objects for sale from Tell Basta. Rumors were rife in Zagazig about people who became rich through a discovery, or discoveries, made in the ruins. There was some truth to this. The decision in 1904 to establish a railway link between Cairo, Mansoura, and Belbeis meant a large section to the west of Tell Basta was to be cut off. Two years after work began, workmen engaged by Egyptian State Railways found two hoards of gold and silver about 160 meters west of the main temple. The workmen hid the treasure until nightfall, when they were able to divide it among themselves. By the time the news reached it, the Antiquities Service was able to recover only part of the hoard, including a silver jug with a gold goat handle that is now in the Egyptian Museum (inv. no. 53262). A month later, a second hoard was discovered some meters from the first. This time the authorities were ready, and these coins are now in the Egyptian Museum. The area was carefully examined by (p.80) C. Edgar, chief inspector of Lower Egypt, but he could locate no building from which they came and concluded that the hoards had been buried in a secret place for safety and later retrieval. Other gold and silver objects continued to be found, most dating from the Saite (Twenty-sixth) Dynasty, although some were from the earlier reign of Ramesses II. In 1925, when State Railways was still extending the tracks, it was reported that three chambers filled with treasure had been discovered some 220 meters southeast of the Coptic cemetery that lay to the east of the cat cemetery. News of the discovery was either late in reaching the Antiquities Service or it was tardy in reacting to it because one of the rooms was found empty and all that remained in the other two were granite sarcophagi. One was already broken and left in situ, and the other, which dates from the Ramesside period and bears some interesting representations, was taken to the Egyptian Museum.

It seems incredible to us today that such an important archaeological site should have been neglected for so long. Habachi first undertook to study the main temple recorded by Naville in order to reestablish its ground plan and describe some of the blocks not adequately recorded by the Swiss Egyptologist. Outside the temple walls, however, he found some statues and traces of a Roman temple, as well as a Twentieth-Dynasty mound. He deliberated over the names of the deities and localities inscribed on the stone and concluded that they were reused blocks from other sites. Moving away from the main temple, he found that about thirty-seven feddans of the archaeological site identified by Naville had been handed over to the municipality of Zagazig for agricultural development and to provide a drainage installation for a farm. Also, he saw that a further eight feddans had been earmarked for the transfer of a Muslim cemetery. Habachi's rapid report to the Antiquities Service on the infringements on an archaeological site resulted in the first serious steps being taken to protect the area. The Muslim cemetery project was abandoned, and he himself was granted funds to excavate and document the surviving ruins.

Habachi focused his attention on an area about 140 meters west of the Bastet temple, across the Port Said-Alexandria track. He noticed there a (p.81) large block of limestone measuring about 6 meters by 160 centimeters by 100 centimeters, which the farmers told him had been unearthed by road workers. This and other blocks were unpolished with more or less regular sides, and they were clearly in situ. When he cleared the surrounding area, a beautiful relief was revealed of the Old Kingdom ruler Pepi I with some deities. It was a significant find as little was known in those days about Old or Middle Kingdom temples, apart from funerary monuments attached to royal burials. Encouraged to survey the surrounding area, Habachi found, about 60 meters to the north and on almost the same axis, four-sided pillars of the same material that were still standing. Some bore vertical lines of inscription and also the cartouche of Pepi, from which Habachi deduced that they formed part of a large building dating from the Sixth Dynasty. His report resulted in an additional grant to continue excavations, and Habachi recruited a team comprising Abdel-Fattah Eid to take photographs of the site, Ahmed Sidky and Maurice Farid to take tracings of visible inscriptions (and record others as they came to light), and Fawzi Ibrahim to make a map of the area and plans of the monuments. In 1944, he submitted his report to the Antiquities Service.

Pepi's monument was a ka-temple, dedicated to the soul or spirit of the king, and although such monuments were known from later periods, none was known to have been built as early as the reign of Pepi. It was very large and appeared to be an independent temple not annexed to another monument. The area of the discovery should have been properly cleared and studied, but Habachi said, “Lack of time and funds limited my work to making two cross trenches near the sanctuary of the temple. The foundation of a building in sun-dried brick was found, consisting of eight small compartments of various shapes. In some were bones of animals and pottery that were contemporary with the temple or a little later. Unfortunately, the subsoil water that covered the whole area in the inundation had drastically affected these bones. I decided that careful preliminary treatment was needed before their removal and wrote to the Agricultural Museum in Cairo to delegate one of its scientists to deal with the matter. Abdel Raouf Tantawi, head of the ancient Egypt section of the museum, came twice and identified the finds. Later he sent me his (p.82) report.” At Tell Basta he also found traces of a Roman temple and a Twentieth Dynasty family tomb was discovered on a mound about two hundred meters north of the main temple. “Drioton visited the site frequently and encouraged me with my documentation,” said Habachi. “Professor Fairman made a final reading of my work and it was handed over for publication to the Antiquities Service.”

The importance of Tell Basta cannot be underestimated. Recent excavations by German Egyptologist Gunther Dryer reveal that settlement occurred much earlier than realized. It was an important settlement at the end of the predynastic period, before the unification of the Two Lands. But it is still not clear if or when Bubastis lost its importance or was destroyed during one of the recurring invasions of the Delta. What we do know is that it did decline and by the Roman period was no more than a small town. When Bilbeis (about twenty kilometers to the south) became an important town, stone was usurped from the remaining ruins of Bubastis. This archaeological site provides an example of how an important ancient capital can be slowly and systematically destroyed over time until little remains amid modern Zagazig's urban expansion, apart from miscellaneous architectural elements and broken steles and statues. In the 1970s, when the University of Zagazig undertook excavation of the surviving remains and a cat cemetery was found to the north, the idea of developing a museum compound was considered. Yet agricultural development and urban expansion further infringed on the much depleted archaeological site.

Labib Habachi differed from his colleagues in that he perceived the significance of what others might have seen as trivial. His approach to a site, research into its history of excavation, personal observations, and his instinct together provided a spur to an intellectual outlook that resulted in a carefully considered focus for his work. Moreover, as Habachi was not too proud to mix with the farming communities, some of his finest investigative archaeology came from his contacts with them. Because the farmers in the Delta knew him and sensed his sympathetic attitude, they were encouraged to help him search for those things that were important to him.

(p.83) Although Habachi conscientiously took notes of all his excavations, observations, and discoveries, it is worth recording that his first serious drive to publish in the 1930s was to transcribe part of an already documented text in the Fayoum. He regarded it as a milestone in his life. “This fertile depression in the Western Desert contains archaeological sites of all periods scattered over hundreds of square kilometers,” he said. “In the early dynasties, the Fayoum remained largely undeveloped because only a part of the flood water from the Bahr Yusif canal flowed into the depression. Most of it was carried to the Mediterranean. But Egyptian engineers four thousand years ago decided to remedy this loss. They built a kind of barrage and directed the water into a catch basin where it could be regulated for irrigation. It was as huge a scheme for the reclamation of land as is our green revolution today, and it took three reigns to complete. The great barrage was finally inaugurated in the reign of Amenhotep III who. …” He paused and with a saucy smile continued, “took credit for the whole enterprise, which is something that our illustrious leaders do to this day!”

Habachi was invariably accompanied by the inspector of irrigation, Ali Shafik, when he surveyed archaeological sites in the Fayoum. “He held a position more important even than a governor of a province,” Habachi observed. “He was extremely interested in ancient monuments and looked forward to my visits.” On one occasion, near the modern town of Kiman Faris in the southeastern part of the depression, they came across the ruins of what was once the colonnade of a large temple. Stone was scattered about. “It looked as though finely sculpted lotus-bud columns had collapsed from an earthquake and shattered,” Habachi said, “but closer examination revealed that the sections were of regular size and had evidently been intentionally cut to pieces—probably for reuse in some building.”

Habachi checked the records and found that numerous scholars had transcribed sections of texts on the columns, but that no systematic study had ever been made. On subsequent visits, the two men measured the segments, Habachi calculated the dimensions of a complete column, and they recruited local labor to sort out the sections according to size. “There proved to be fourteen columns altogether, each inscribed with (p.84)

Bridging the Gap

The columns from Kiman Faris cut to regular size for reuse were found.

hieroglyphics. I collated the texts on each section and was able to establish the full text of each column. Earlier scholars had identified the Horusname of Amenemhet III, so it was known that he was the builder of the colonnaded hall. But none—not Golénischeff, Brugsch, Shäfer, Worringer, nor even Flinders Petrie—had transcribed beyond the names and epithets of the king. Yet the following lines of text on each column were extremely interesting. They described the building itself, a pavement of red granite, and doors of a mixture of gold and silver. It must have been a magnificent monument and,” said Habachi, his eyes sparkling in recollection, “I suddenly saw an opportunity to add something to the corpus of ancient Egyptian literature!”

He carefully recopied the eight columns of inscriptions and then went to see his old professor, Vladimir Golénischeff, “then living in a modest boarding house where he had finally settled down with one wife to devote himself to research.” Habachi described the site and how he had set about the work and Golénischeff perused the texts. “I was so anxious to have his approval, but after a long wait, all he said was ‘take it to Gauthier!’” Henri Gauthier, then in charge of the Antiquities Service, was well-known for his systematic methods in transcribing texts, especially royal names. Six vast portfolios, testimony to his achievements, include all known examples of occurrences of every king's titulary with variants. (p.85)

Bridging the Gap

Text that was transcribed by Labib Habachi from columns found at Kiman Faris.

Golénischeff's suggestion that Habachi take his work to Gauthier was an unspoken stamp of approval. “As I was taking leave, Golénischeff stopped me at the door and said a remarkable thing. He said that professor Moret once asked him what he thought of me and he told him that I was very active, and very capable. He then said: ‘Tell me, Labib, why has it taken you so long to produce?’”

As a student, Habachi had found the French scholar somewhat intimidating and was uneasy about going to see him. “But I must say Professor Gauthier was encouraging … and extremely critical. He said that I had done some interesting work but that more remained to be done. He said he would help me. It was a long apprenticeship but he encouraged me, commended my efforts, and guided me all along the way.” Habachi's text was finally accepted by Gauthier and published in 1937 as Une “vaste salle” ďAmenemhat III à Kiman-Fàres (Fayoum) in the ASAE. That year, the Antiquities Service sponsored his first trip abroad. Habachi spent three and a half months in Greece, studying the collections in the Museum of Athens and visiting Mycenae, Corinth, Epidaurus, and Nauplion.

The gap between foreign and Egyptian Egyptologists grew progressively narrower. The most exceptional of the first generation was Selim Hassan, a disciple of Ahmed Kamal whose career was held up during World War I, (p.86) when he resorted to secondary school teaching. Hassan was subsequently appointed assistant keeper in the Egyptian Museum before continuing his studies in Paris at the École Pratique des Hautes Études. On his return, he was made professor of Egyptology at the Egyptian University in 1928. He was the first Egyptian to hold the post. Hassan was delighted when Herman Junker, whom he had first met on his tour of the museums in Europe, was appointed director of the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo and he told Junker that he was anxious to pursue his studies abroad. Junker encouraged and backed him and Hassan gained a Ph.D. from Vienna University in 1935. On his return to Egypt, he was appointed deputy director of the Antiquities Service and he mounted an expedition in Giza on behalf of the Egyptian University that was equal in size to that of any foreign mission of the time. Because he had discriminated against Labib Habachi at the start of his career and was to be among those who prevented his participation in the Nubia salvage operations in the 1960s, it is appropriate to outline Selim Hassan's career in some detail.

Gaston Maspero had granted concessions to scholars funded by foreign institutions to direct clearing operations on the Giza necropolis, and among the largest expeditions were those of George Reisner, who worked on Menkaure's pyramid and pyramid-town, and Junker, who concentrated on the great mastaba fields to the east, south, and west of Khufu's pyramid. Hassan took the central field between the causeways of the pyramids of Menkaure and Khafre, including the Sphinx. For successive seasons he excavated and cleared mastaba tombs and rock-tombs, at first under the guidance of Junker, a scholar of wide interests but primarily an archaeologist. Soon enough, Hassan was himself training university graduates who had become inspectors.

He then turned his attention to the Sphinx, the great rock-hewn monument with the body of a lion and head of a pharaoh that was cleared and partly consolidated by the French architect and archaeologist Émile Baraize from 1925 to 1934. Hassan's work there, from 1936 to 1938, gave the Sphinx and the structures connected to it their present appearance. He noted that the chief architectural features of the temple that stood in front of the Sphinx's feet was similar to the valley temple of (p.87) Khafre that stood next to it. Each featured red granite pillars built around a central court resembling one another in both method and material. From his observations, Hassan deduced that the Sphinx dated from the same period as the valley temple and concluded that the two monuments were related (Hassan, 1936). Foreign scholars working on the plateau questioned his conclusions, and not until 1965 did Ricke and Schott, on behalf of the Swiss Institute of Archaeology in Cairo, make an in-depth study of the surviving elements of the area and concede that Hassan had been correct. Hassan's attention subsequently turned to what was thought to be an unfinished pyramid between the causeways of Khafre and Menkaure. Hassan examined it and concluded that it was not a pyramidal tomb at all. It was a structure in the form of a sarcophagus mounted on a high, almost square podium, with a small mortuary temple consisting of two rooms hewn in the southeastern part. It belonged to Khent-Kawes, a female ruler at the end of the Fourth Dynasty, as attested by her name on the great granite gate that formed the entrance to the tomb. The results of Hassan's work at Giza appeared in ten volumes, thus adding considerably to the corpus of known material. He published a total of fifty-three books and articles on Egyptological subjects in English, French, and Arabic, and earned for himself the distinguished title of bey. This energetic and prolific scholar played an important role in developing the discipline of Egyptology at Fuad I University, a legacy that continues until today.

The faculty of arts of the university, in collaboration with the Municipality of Alexandria and the Antiquities Service, carried out a joint study at Ashmunein (Hermopolis Magna near the modern town of Mallawi) under the directorship of Sami Gabra. Originally a law student whose interest in Egyptology led him to study under Ahmed Kamal, Gabra was sent on a scholarship to the University of Liverpool and the Sorbonne and became curator at the Egyptian Museum between 1928 and 1930. He was then appointed professor of ancient Egyptian history at the Egyptian University. Anxious to get out in the field and excavate, Gabra was largely responsible for building up interest in the site, which included the cult center of the god Thoth and the nearby cemetery at Tuna al-Gabal. Vast catacombs with mummies of ibis birds and baboons, sacred (p.88) to Thoth, were excavated, as well as a feeding place for the live creatures with an attached administrative area for a large number of officials, priests, and scribes. An embalming center for the sacred creatures was also found and a jar filled with demotic papyri that included a copy of a book on common law, of great importance for the history of ancient legal transactions and social customs (Gabra, 1941). Gabra devoted most of his career to studies at Tuna al-Gabal, published his work with the encouragement of Drioton, and was responsible for the construction of the elegant Mallawi Museum that houses the objects.

Ahmed Badawi was active at ancient Memphis (Mit Rahina). Among the palm groves, he found a site associated with the life and worship of the sacred Apis bull of Memphis (JEA 1948, Vol. 34). While searching for a suitable place to deposit debris from the excavation, his team chanced upon five limestone slabs that proved to be the cover of a stone sarcophagus, the bottom of which was a huge block of red granite. It was a memorial stele

Bridging the Gap

A deep well for ritual purposes at Tuna al-Gabal.

(p.89)
Bridging the Gap

Ruins of a small temple of Ptah at Mit Rahina, beneath layers of silt that built up in Medieval times.

of Amenhotep II, on which was recorded an important text: thirty-four lines of hieroglyphics that related to the pharaoh's Asiatic campaign in the seventh year of his reign. Beneath it, another burial site was found: the intact tomb of a prince of the Twenty-second Libyan Dynasty. His funerary chamber was inscribed with chapters from the mortuary literature from the Book of the Dead and the young prince had a rich burial. Four inscribed alabaster canopic jars, hundreds of shawabti figures, and jewels, including one piece in lapis lazuli inlaid with gold, were unearthed. This was one of several burials of the same period (ASAE40, 1941: 181–244).

On the opposite bank of the Nile, at Helwan, Zaki Saad's discovery of an early dynastic cemetery at Ezbet al-Walda made a great splash in archaeological circles. He unearthed more than ten thousand tombs of members of the lower administrative classes and an abundance of funerary objects in two great cemeteries. The tombs conformed to the plan and general arrangements of the largest structures at Saqqara, from which he concluded that he had found a middle-class cemetery of the First Dynasty that perhaps housed the dead of the ancient Memphis. Saad worked at Helwan for over ten years and discovered conclusive evidence, in the form of a relief, of the existence of Osiris and Isis in the First Dynasty context. This suggested that the connection of the royal god Horus with Osiris, the symbol of dead kingship, perhaps had some historical foundation.

(p.90) Interest in predynastic sites between Cairo and Maadi which was actively explored before World War I and made known in a report to the International Congress of Geography in 1925. was revived. Famed Egyptologist Alfred Lucas explored the area in 1928, identifying three specific settlement sites. The following year, Fuad I University decided to initiate a trial project in Maadi under the direction of Mustafa Amer and O. Menghin on the recommendation of Junker. Amer, who was to take the post of director-general of the Antiquities Service after the revolution, had a diploma in education from the Higher Training College in Cairo in 1917, had studied geography at the University of Liverpool, and was appointed professor of geography at Fuad I University. When Menghin left the mission after three seasons, Amer directed the project for the next eight years, during which many early conclusions about the site were revised. It was at first thought that Maadi was an early trading post because of the presence of quantities of copperware and attractive, well-made products carved of a wide variety of stones, and also because huge amphorae found in cellars resembled those of Palestine, which have no prototypes in the Nile Valley. Also, their contents included perfumed vegetable fat and other items imported from the east. Amer's excavations on the twenty-four-feddan settlement revealed that Maadi was not merely a trading post but a settled community. The settlement was involved in agriculture and the domestication of animals, as well as the manufacture of pottery and stone vases. The houses and huts were concentrated in the center of the settlement, while the storage facilities were around its edge. Some 468 tombs were found before the project came to an end with the outbreak of the World War I in 1939, but results of the research carried out on behalf of the university were later published in four volumes by the German Archaeological Institute. The dig-house that served as a repository for the vast array of artifacts was enlarged and turned into a museum. Ibrahim Rizkana, who was Amer's assistant, took over responsibility for the museum's care and compiled a guide which, however, was never professionally published and the site has been neglected for many years.

The work carried out by Hassan, Gabra, Badawi, Saad, and Amer at Giza, Memphis, Helwan, and Maadi resulted in major contributions to the corpus of Egyptological research