The American Research Center in Eygpt

Qurna Overview

Qurna Overview

An aerial view of the location of the QSI project taken in 2012. Photo:Owen Murray

Updated: March 2014

ARCE's Qurna Site Improvement project (QSI), funded by USAID, is described here in terms of its archaeological facets.

This project was developed in response to both the demolition of the hamlets in Sheikh Abd el Qurna and el Khokha, and the economic crisis that followed the 2011 Egyptian Revolution.

The destruction of the hamlets left large portions of the UNESCO World Heritage site in visual disarray, with debris piles and the remains of partially demolished buildings in and around tombs open to visitors.

At the same time, employment estimates suggested that 70% of Luxor locals were either directly or indirectly economically tied to aspects of the tourism industry. With the collapse of this industry after the revolution, local populations, particularly those on the West Bank, faced hardship. Funding provided through USAID enabled the creation of a large program of work that, in part, addressed both of these concerns.

OBJECTIVES OF THE QURNA SITE IMPROVEMENT PROJECT

  • To put Egyptians back to work after the economic crisis that followed the Egyptian revolution. The larger program of work, of which the QSI project forms a part, offered a means of employment for approximately 700 people in a variety of capacities. The QSI project itself aimed to employ approximately 600 workmen, many of whom lived, or had ties to people who lived, in the hamlets in Sheikh Abd el Qurna and el Khokha.
  • To improve the general appearance of the area of Sheikh Abd el Qurna and el Khokha, by removing, by hand, the loose debris left by the demolition project.
  • To record the remains of the hamlets in an archaeologically sound manner.
  • To offer archaeological and conservation training programs to Ministry of Antiquities (MoA) inspectors, as well as on-site work training for laborers.
  • To improve visitor access to the monuments by providing non-invasive pathways.
  • To provide security lighting for the non-invasive pathways.

REMOVAL OF HAMLETS

The houses in Sheikh Abd el Qurna in 2008, during the demolition campaign. Photo: Raimond Spekking / CC-BY-SA-3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

The hamlets of Sheikh Abd el Qurna and el Khokha were destroyed between 2007 and 2010, and the people that had been living there were relocated further north and east. Human habitation in this area has been a contentious issue for a long time, given the fact that the area’s modern buildings were constructed atop a large number of ancient tombs.

Government plans to relocate the people living in the area, in fact, have been debated since the 1940s. This debate was made famous by Hassan Fathy’s New Qurna village, which stood as a physical reminder of the concept of relocation for the past 70 years.

Hassan Fathy’s mosque in New Qurna. Photo: Marc Ryckaert courtesy of Wikipedia

A number of motivating factors ultimately prompted the removal of the buildings from the area. One of the goals of the demolition campaign was to remove buildings viewed as modern from the nearby ancient tombs.

As demonstrated by Dr. Kees van der Spek in his work The Modern Neighbors of Tutankhamun, issues of human settlement in the area and separating ancient from modern material are complex. The Theban foothills have been used for habitation by local populations at least as far back as the 1600s, when the records of contemporaneous European travelers commented on people living in and around the tombs.

From the records of explorers in the 1700s and 1800s, we know that people living in the village that was located in the Seti I Temple had a long-standing tradition of migrating from their houses, close to the cultivation, to the tombs in the Theban foothills. They would do so in the summer, when the tombs offered relative cool compared with their village houses; in times of military insecurity, as the tombs offered better protection; and when the inundation made living close to the irrigation undesirable. Dr. Van der Spek argues that the first houses in the foothills were built by Europeans as bases for their archeological and collecting operations. These examples of above-ground dwellings in the area were likely followed by the local population, who incorporated tombs possibly already used by families.

An example of the blending of ancient tombs and modern buildings in the southern area of el Khokha in 1999. Photo courtesy of Kees Van der Spek.

The result, starting in the mid to late nineteenth century, was the development of permanent buildings and communities intertwined with the area’s ancient tombs. This history of building at Sheikh Abd el Qurna and el Khokha means that sorting what is categorized as ‘ancient’ from what is categorized as ‘modern’ is far from straightforward.

PROJECT STAFF

Project Director: John Shearman
Field Director: Andrew Bednarski
Project Archaeologists: Afaf Wahba Ahmed Gaber, Ali Henawy, Mahmoud Shafey, Moamen Saad, Mohamed Abdel Baset, Mohamed Hatem, Mohamed Naguib, Oliver Moran, Saad Bakhit, Sayed Mamdouh, Shimaa Montaser, Yasser Mahmoud
 

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