The tomb of Sheikh ‘Abd al Qurna gives its name to a steep hill rising to 170m. It is also the name of the village that once stood here on the Tombs of the Nobles. There were one or two “Tomb Houses” – once occupied by two early “archaeologists” and collectors, most notable “Yanni” or “Anastasi”, famous as the source of the London-Leiden magical papyri, recently given complete publication by H D Betz as “The Greek Magical Papyrus in Translation, including demotic spells” (Chicago 1986).
The whole area is dotted with the tombs of local Shayakh.
‘abn Qurna’s name appears on 1914 printed maps. I was told his name actually means “servant of the mountain” – some sources say he lived 150 years ago and was a local guide – but this has yet to be confirmed. It’s a moot point as to how old the qurnawis community actually is. Locals say they have lived here since the times of the first Arab invasion more than a 1000 years ago. Can this be confirmed?
On a late afternoon walk, I visited the wonderful pharaonic tombs of Senefer & Rekmire. Afterward we retraced the old path to the top of the hill and made our own pilgrimage to the Tomb of the Sheikh. The controversial demolition of the village, including in a sneak rear guard action to destroy two famous tomb houses mentioned above, one of which housed the Qurna Life exhibit. Before all this, Ayman still remembers local women making this same pilgrimage on the eve of their weddings to seek a blessing at the Sheikh’s tomb. The path was steep and a little treaterous but we made it. We removed our shoes and entered the shrine, still well maintained and cared for although it has fewer visitors these days. ‘Iman rehearsed me through the traditional valediction.
(Above) We walked past the TT71 – the “upper tomb” of Viser Senenmut (see Dahr al Bahri picture essay for more about him). The archaeological report is unclear as to whether it was ever used although the remains of his sarcophagus were found under the rubble of an extensive roof collapse. Winlock thought there was evidence that the tomb had been desecrated by Hatsheptsut’s vengeful son Totmoses III – but the final report is less certain, thinking that most of the damage was down to natural causes.
The view from the shrine, north-east across to the temple of Hatshepsut (Mecca is south-east from here)
For a bit of background:
The Modern Neighbors of Tutankhamun
History, Life, and Work in the Villages of the Theban West Bank
Kees van der Spek
Foreword by Kent R Weeks
A historical–anthropological study of the people who lived in the antiquities precinct of Luxor’s West Bank Until their recent demolition, the colorful mud-brick hamlets of al-Qurna village, situated among the Noble Tombs of the Theban Necropolis on the Luxor West Bank, were home to a vibrant community. Inhabiting a place of intensive Egyptological research for over two centuries, it was inevitable that Qurnawis should become part of the history of Egyptology and the development of archaeological practice in the Theban Necropolis. But they have mostly been regarded as laborers for the excavation teams or dealers in the illicit antiquities trade. The modern people inhabiting the ancient burial grounds have themselves rarely been considered. By demonstrating the multiplicity of economic activities that are carried out in al-Qurna, this study counters the villagers’ stereotypical representation as tomb robbers, and restores an understanding of who they are as people living their lives in the shadow of valued cultural heritage.
KEES VAN DER SPEK is an independent scholar who lives and works in Canberra, Australia.
At Kees suggestion I’ve been reading the recently published Ghost Riders of Upper Egypt by Hans Winkler. Winkler was a German anthropologist writing in the 1930s. His study of Egyptian rock art, was published in English, is a classic. Much of his other work remains untranslated, in part due to the tarnishing of his reputation by the Nazification…
This book is objective, and incredibly informative on a disappearing world. A recent BBC TV documentary confirms that the Upper Egyptian tradition of Hajj painting using the figurative style is still very much alive and well (Rageh Omar: “The Hidden Art of Islam” BBC 2012). The book has photographs and description of the shrine of Bakhit, which also had an image of the “mahmal” – a special textile once sent from Egypt each year to Mecca (The practice since banned by Saudi clerics).