Chinese archeologists to continue joint project in Egypt
Published: Oct 21, 2020 08:21 AM

Photo: Courtesy of Jia Xiaobing

Egypt, an ancient country with a history going back thousands of years, is full of mystery for many people in the world including the Chinese archeological team who went there. 

When given the task of going to Egypt for the project, the mood of the head of the Chinese archaeological mission, Jia Xiaobing, was complicated. He told the Global Times that he was very excited at first. 

“Having an opportunity to go to such an ancient country is exciting for every archeologist,” he said. But he also felt a bit worried and stressed since he had never been to Egypt and all his understanding of the country came from books or online information. 

Phased work 

Since this was the first-ever Chinese archaeological mission in Egypt, how to carry out the work was another unknown area for him. 

In November, 2018, the Chinese team from the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences departed to Egypt for a joint archeology project at the site of the Montu Temple, in Upper Egypt’s city of Luxor.

“Luxor is rich in many Egyptian antiquities,” Jia said and explained that the best season for archeology work in Egypt is from late November to April since the temperature in other months of the year can reach over 40 degrees Celsius.

According to Jia, a total of four experts including him participated in the project, and the job in the 2018-2019 season was to clean up the site as there were many weeds and some abandoned rubbish left by some former Western archeologists. 

In the 1940s and 1950s, the French Oriental Archaeological Institute first carried out systematic archaeological excavations in the Montu Temple area. However, the work was interrupted by World War II, so a lot of information could not be recorded and preserved in time. 

In the 1990s and the beginning of the 21st century, archaeologists continued to conduct exploration and surveys in the temple area, but they were all short-term studies of single buildings, lacking a perspective to look at the temple area as a whole.

Jia said the work in the 2019-2020 season involved two areas, the Osirian Chapels (Area 1) and the junction between Montu Temple and Maat Temple (Area 2).

They discovered a paved courtyard with four granite column bases in the area between the Chapel of Amenardis I, the second of three chapels in the temple, and its sandstone gate. 

Pandemic challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic brought a big challenge for the project. 

According to Jia, before the coronavirus outbreak, they usually needed over 50 people to be in charge of one big building, but as the pandemic worsened they had to reduce the number of on-site staff to 20. “All the staff were required to wear masks, and we tried our best to maintain social distancing on the site,” he said.

Although the pandemic did not influence their plan as a whole, it caused a lot of mental stress and pressure for each member in the project. “No one knew how strong the virus was, and we tried our best to keep healthy,” Jia said. 

The work was finished in late March, and they were scheduled to return in April. But due to the travel limit amid the global pandemic, they finally returned to China in May. 

Cooperation and discussion

Since the area they explored covered about 2,000 square meters, it was challenging to conduct the work with high efficiency in a joint team from two different countries. 

According to Jia, they divided the Egyptian-Chinese team into two groups, and they would communicate with each other when someone came up with new ideas.

“We talked a lot during the cooperation, and both sides could get some ideas or suggestions from each other.”

During the cooperation, Jia noticed that one system from Egypt can be learnt from. 

In Chinese archeology work, the project leader usually spends a lot of time and energy in coordinating administrative jobs such as the division of labor and managing each group member. But in the Egyptian team, the administrative work is usually done by another member of the team, so the leader can have more time to focus on the research. 

Meanwhile, Jia said that the Chinese way of marking unearthed cultural relics was praised by the Egyptian team, as the Chinese way can quickly find out the relic’s specific information including the name, location of discovery and order. 

The third phase of work, in the 2020-2021 season, is scheduled to start in November. Although the plan has been approved by both countries, the decision on implementing the plan has yet to be confirmed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

Jia said that in the next season, they are going to continue to explore undiscovered parts of the temples in the area, and plan to give a general layout of the whole area. 

Jia said that through the cooperation, both sides have gained a deeper understanding of each other’s culture. 

“Chinese archeological work would benefit from more international communication, and we will welcome similar cultural projects in the future.”

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