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Chinese archaeological mission in Egypt makes discovery

Chinese and Egyptian archaeologists working together at the Montu Temple site in Luxor, Egypt Photo: XINHUA
 
The Montu Temple is the shrine of Montu, the Egyptian god of war. The falcon-headed god is one of the most prominent gods in ancient Egyptian religion. He was particularly worshipped in the district of Thebes, the capital of ancient Egypt. The rise, fall and evolution of the Montu Temple directly reflects changes in the ancient Egyptian religious beliefs regarding Montu, and it also intimately relates to power struggles in ancient Egypt. The exploration of the Montu Temple site is a major opportunity to interpret ancient Egyptian civilization and early humanity.
 
Exploration of early times
Since the beginning of 2020, the joint team has faced new challenges from COVID-19. However, the joint efforts of China and Egypt have overcome the impact of the pandemic. The excavation work has entered an important stage of site excavation. The joint archaeological mission has also become a highlighting humanitarian cooperation between China and Egypt.
 
Jia Xiaobing, the Chinese executive leader of the joint archaeological project and an associate research fellow from the Institute of Archaeology at CASS, said that to date, the Egyptian-Chinese archaeological team has carried out excavation and documentation work at Montu Temple area for two working seasons.
 
During the 2018–2019 season, the archaeological team mainly cleaned up the temple area. The team members weeded and demolished broken constructions that were built in later and modern years. They also removed mounds left by previous excavations. At the same time, a new work area for the project team was built, providing a material basis for the later operation. Furthermore, the team conducted a detailed inspection of the temple area and its surroundings to look at the distribution and preservation of the site as well as the conditions of the unearthed relics such as scripted or carved building components. The researchers carried out three-dimensional modeling and mapping of related buildings.
 
Entering 2019, the excavation work began. During the 2019–2020 season, the excavation work has been conducted in two areas. One mainly targets the excavation of the Osiris Temple area in the site’s southwestern part. Researchers found mud-brick enclosures and other forms of auxiliary buildings as well as many important relics, including stone-carved statues and a bronze statue of Osiris. These discoveries have provided new materials for studying the worship of the god Osiris in ancient Egypt. The other excavations focuses on the junction of the Montu Temple area and the Maat Temple area in the site’s eastern part. In the excavation area, cultural heritage workers unearthed mud-brick walls and ground and found mud bricks with marks concerning the throne names of Amenhotep III during the New Kingdom (1540–1070 BCE), providing definite evidence used to estimate the construction period of the Montu Temple. 
 
To understand the comprehensive formation process of the site, the team members conducted stratified excavations in the eastern area. They discovered traces and relics of ancient Egypt during the Old Kingdom, getting a preliminary understanding of ancient Egyptians’ behavioral evolution in this area. The archaeological team also researched and systematically recorded the inscriptions and carvings on the surface of the building, including components that French scholars had discovered and collected. They finished the reinforcement of the second and third Osiris temples (there are a total of six such temples) and the cleaning and restoration of unearthed relics. There have been improvements in the protection of cultural relics at the site. 
 
During the pandemic, the Chinese personnel of the archaeological team promoted active communication and collaboration with Egyptian authorities. They have kept contact with the Chinese Embassy in Egypt to obtain the latest information on the pandemic and adopted targeted prevention and control measures to minimize the impact. As a response to the menace of COVID-19, the archaeological team reduced the number of workers, leaving only a few workers in key areas to do necessary work. They distributed masks to all staff and required social distance on site, and they canceled some academic activities to avoid gatherings. In daily life, the Chinese archaeological team also reduced unnecessary outings.
 
Mutual learning
In more than two years of joint archaeological work, both sides have worked together to introduce their own traditional culture and customs to each other, cementing mutual understanding. Jia said the basic principle for cooperation is to pursue “mutual understanding, mutual respect and seek common ground while preserving differences as well as deepening friendship.” 
To better exchange ideas, the Egyptian members were invited to teach basic Arabic to all the Chinese members on each Friday, their rest day, while the Chinese professionals also taught their Egyptian counterparts some daily Chinese.
 
Regarding academic cooperation between the two countries, Jia said their systems for recording excavation discoveries are quite different. To better complete the excavation and research, the Chinese archaeological team has integrated the advantages of the two systems based on a full understanding of the Egyptian team’s ideas. The two sides held repeated meetings, combined with field discussions, and amended the draft several times, finally reaching a work plan. In this process, scholars from the two countries have deepened mutual understanding and developed a profound friendship.
 
Jia held that both China and Egypt have splendid ancient civilizations, but they vary in their manifestations and formation mechanisms, leading to differences in their concepts and methods of archaeological study. China has a vast territory, and regions have their respective mechanisms and characteristics in terms of the origins of civilizations and countries. Their timeline of historical developments also diverges. These civilizations, however, have finally been merged into the process of the pluralistic integration of Chinese civilization. Therefore, research objects of Chinese archaeology are more diverse and the methodologies are more abundant. In recent years, thanks to the development of disciplines, many natural scientific methods have been applied to archaeological research, and multidisciplinary comprehensive research has become a feature. These are advantages that can be gradually applied to Egyptian archaeological research.
 
From the perspective of disciplinary traditions, since the French scholar Jean-FranÇois Champollion deciphered the Rosetta Stone and the Egyptian hieroglyphs, founding the field of Egyptology, Egyptian archaeology has focused more on the study of inscriptions, as the ancient Egyptian civilization has a wealth of written materials. Jia pointed out that, China mainly uses stratigraphy and typology to construct the temporal and spatial framework of archaeological culture. He hoped that China and Egypt would integrate these two forms of traditions and push forward the development of Egyptian archaeology.
 
This trip to Egypt for archaeological excavation and research is a crucial aspect of Chinese archaeology’s taking part in global exchange. It is also the first time that a Chinese archaeological team has entered and researched the central area of another ancient civilization. The significance of this mission is self-evident. The study of Egyptian archaeology and ancient Egyptian civilization has offered a great reference for understanding the origin and development of Chinese civilization. As the saying goes,“Advice from others may help one to overcome one’s shortcomings.” Learning about the Egyptian academic tradition and system through practice will also feed the discipline of archaeology in China, Jia added.
 
This article was translated from Guangming Daily.

 

edited by MA YUHONG


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