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San Clemente Journal

Egypt: From Camels to Cartouches

Jan 04, 2021 01:50PM ● By Donia Moore
by Donia Moore

Ride a camel around Egypt’s pyramids on the Giza Plateau in Cairo for an hour, or take e a day-long mini-caravan with Bedouin camel drivers to an ancient deserted monastery on the fringes of the Saharan desert (one where a highway goes near it, but you can’t see or hear it because of its location behind the dunes); and you will definitely feel like you are in an Indiana Jones adventure. 
Surprisingly, you may be safer on a caravan as occasionally the tourist camel drivers may not let you get off the camel until you pay them more baksheesh than originally bargained for. And believe me it’s too high to jump off the camel!

One thing you might have trouble doing on a trip there is getting onto an active dig site, although they are as prevalent as the broken pieces of thousand-year-old pottery and limestone chips strewn about the landscape. Speaking of which - NEVER take a sample, even the tiniest piece is protected by Egyptian law and it could mean a jail term for you if discovered.
I traveled with a small group of Egyptologists and we were very fortunate to visit a number of sites not always available to the public; due to our personal connections with some of the most amazing archaeologists studying Egypt today.

On our search for new discoveries, we were warmly welcomed to the Giza Plateau by Dr. Mark Lehner, an archaeologist who started working on the Giza Plateau studying the Sphinx in 1979. He is currently the Director and President of the Ancient Egypt Research Associates, a dedicated international team of experts who merge archaeology, science, and social history to understand the past. Since 1988, they have been excavating, mapping, conserving, and studying the pyramid complexes of Giza and the towns of the workers who built them. Fascinating knowledge and new discoveries surface at Giza every year including information about what it was like to live as a worker building the pyramids, as well as information about the lives of people carrying out the cult of the deceased pharaoh in his mortuary temple centuries after he died. 

Many people have the idea that the pyramids and tombs were built by slaves. This is not an accurate picture of life in ancient Egypt. Yes, there were slaves, captured by the Egyptians from their enemies, but it was considered a religious duty to work on the tombs of your king or Pharaoh. The Pharaoh was considered a God to the Egyptians, one who must be served and protected.

Dr. Aiden Dodson, Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of Bristol, England has studied Nefertiti closely for much of his academic career. Queen Nefertiti may be the most provocative mystery woman in all of Egyptian legend and lore. The beauty and intelligence of this queen gave rise to a speculation about her accomplishments that has exceeded her lifetime by centuries. 

 Dr. Dodson welcomed us to his latest investigative site at Saqqarra. An important new discovery was made while we were there and excitement was rampant. It was the discovery of a previously unknown 4,000 year old intact tomb buried underground. While it will necessarily take years to unearth, the experience highlights how rich Egypt is in cultural wealth. Another discovery we learned of that occurred the day we were at the site was a cache of 30 well preserved mummies. 
Due to security, most people are not allowed to be in the vicinity of a new discovery. Unfortunately, the black market for Egyptian artifacts is alive and well.

Professor Barry Kemp from Cambridge University, director of the Amarna Project, has now studied and excavated at this city for twice the years of its occupancy, and is the leading expert in the world on this lost city.  He recently he shared with us new findings from his team about the layout of the city, the lives of its inhabitants, their interaction with the Royal Family, and the worship of the Aten.

One thing travelers need to know before visiting Egypt … without the blessing of the resident archaeologist on a dig site you may not visit the sites where active archaeology is in progress. If you are lucky enough to get an invitation - don’t touch anything and wear really comfortable shoes because you may be walking for miles.

That being said … most sites are open to the public when there is no digging occurring. There are, however, permits or tickets involved which must be purchased before your arrival at a working site, and in the height of the tourist season their numbers are restricted. If you are traveling with a reputable company, the traveling counselor will take care of this. If you are traveling on your own as I did with a few close friends, it would be wise to locate a local company with an excellent reputation. In Cairo, we use Memphis or contact one of our many friends who have become private licensed guides. You must travel with an official guide. Guides must be licensed and are trained through a rigorous guide training and education program. Occasionally you may find yourself with a police escort. Don’t balk at it. It’s normal. Going “rogue” here can get you in a lot of trouble, so don’t do it. 
Restrooms come in two forms in Egypt – European (toilet) and Asian (squat). Be prepared to experience either. 

Egypt will be an adventure on so many levels. And don’t forget to go shopping in Cairo’s oldest bazaar, Khan El Khalilli, as you will want to take home a cartouche (an oval or oblong figure, displayed on ancient Egyptian monuments, enclosing characters that represent the name of a sovereign) to commemorate 
your trip.