Egypt Exploration Fund.
purchases, since I feared thus early, to reduce the margin available for
exploration. This year, as last, Ptolemaic cartonnage cemeteries were the
objective; and it quickly became evident, by the lack of any cartonnage in
the market, that thieves had broken into no Ptolemaic site during the
year, and hence that there, was no clue to be gained from this quarter as to
a likely cemetery.
I had still a licence dating from the previous season for the stretch of
eastern desert lying between JBeni-Suef and the modern Atfieh. The southern
part of this I had surveyed fairly thoroughly during the preceding April,
finding nothing later than the dynastic periods; even the big sites opposite
the modern Bush provided no traces of either Ptolemaic, Eoman, or early
Coptic civilisations. In this concession, therefore, there remained the sites
of the ancient Aphroditopolis (Atfieh), which were known to have suffered
more than ordinarily in recent years from the depredations of the fellahin.
For this reason I felt some doubts as to the advisability of undertaking
work there, and in addition I had set my heart on a flying survey of a long
stretch of desert south of Behnesa, on the west. I compromised, however,
by applying for a concession for the western district, and determined
meantime to spend a day on the site of Atfieh before finally deciding.
On January 16th, therefore, I crossed the Nile from Wasta with this object
in view. The first prospect was the melancholy one of many years'
promiscuous plundering and sehakh-digg'mg carried on unhindered. Only
to the north-west of the site had some systematic excavation been carried
out by M. Daressy and Ahmed Bey Kamal, by whom two large tombs had
been cleared (Annales du Service des Antiqidtes d'figypte III, p. 160 and
IX, p. 113). I was, however, thoroughly surprised by the immensity
of the site, which stretches for more than three kilometres north and south
and is often half a kilometre and more in width. The cliff of the high desert
is here some six miles distant from cultivation, the intervening ground
forming a wide and monotonous gravelly plain, only distinguished as it
nears the Nile valley by rifts anciently hollowed by water-courses. It is
on the wide ridges formed by these intervening channels, running for the
most part at right angles to the valley, that the ancient cemetery lies.
The very crumbling nature of the gravel strata had evidently been
responsible here for the widespread use of mud-brick in the facing of the
tombs, which—with the many huge square and rectangular pits and shafts
—is the first outstanding feature of the site. This fact, incidentally, is the
cause of the wholesale destruction; for as the mounds of the ancient
city vanished, the big modern village, or rather group of villages, of
some 20,000 souls turned more and more to the cemetery for its supply