John Billman: Journey to South Asasif

November started with a pleasant surprise – John Billman, Head of the South Asasif Conservation Project Registration Department and Director of the South Asasif Conservation Trust joined us at the site.

John is the first (and hopefully not the last) UK or European team member who made it to the site this season. Elena Pischikova and Katherine Blakeney are delighted to welcome John to the site. We are hugely appreciative of the hard work and dedication of those of our team members who are working remotely this year. Marion Brew consults and advises our excavation team and Erhart Graefe, Ken Griffin, Francesca Jones and Annie Howard work with the conservation team on the reconstruction of various texts.

Remote registration of finds is hardly achievable and John’s arrival resolved our dilemma.

John is already in his “office” in TT 390 working with the conservators on the restoration  and reconstruction of the amulets.

We congratulate John on the success of his heroic journey to the site and give him the stage to share his experience. Hopefully John’s notes will assist our team members and colleagues who are planning their trip to Egypt.

“Like so many others all my overseas travel plans for the spring and the summer this year were cancelled including an April study tour I was leading to Egypt.  As a result this trip to Egypt was my first for almost a year and my first venture outside of the UK since the pandemic, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  The first task was a PCR test, this is a requirement for flights to Cairo (or Luxor) and from London Heathrow should be completed 96 hours ahead of travel.  I was worried about the timing but everything worked out fine, I drove to Oxford on the Friday morning to have the test done privately and by Saturday evening I had the result, in good time for my Monday Egyptair flight to Cairo.  The airport and flight was reassuring, with COVID precautions in place and much lower traveller numbers making things such as check-in, security and boarding all much easier than usual.  On arrival in Cairo the only extra step was a quick one to show my PCR test result, and I was through immigration and baggage claim in almost record time.  As my Uber navigated through Cairo traffic to my hotel it was at first a little surreal to be back, and I was struck by how little had changed – the world really is still there! 

View of Cairo from the Ramesses Hilton. Photo John Billman.

 The hotel again had a strong emphasis on COVID security and was certainly quieter than usual, but most services were operating.   Since the current flight schedules necessitate an overnight stay in Cairo to reach Luxor I decided to extend for an additional night and take the opportunity to re-visit the Cairo Museum.  While not deserted it was wonderful to enjoy a long leisurely visit to the many galleries of the museum in a quieter and less crowded atmosphere, ideal for taking images for teaching and research. 

Gilded Chair of Princess Sitamun from KV46, Cairo Museum. Photo John Billman.
Golden Mask of Sheshonq II from Tanis, Cairo Museum. Photo John Billman.
Fig. 6. Heqa Sceptre from tomb U-j at Abydos, Cairo Museum. Photo John Billman.
Fig. 7. Scribal statue of Nespakashuty who briefly attempted to usurp the tomb of Karakhamun, from Karnak, now in Cairo Museum. Photo John Billman.
Statue of Amenirdis I, the first Kushite Gods Wife of Amun, Cairo Museum. Photo John Billman.

The next day after a short flight I landed in Luxor and it is wonderful to see familiar sights and old friends once again.  Arriving at the South Asasif site I was impressed by how much had been achieved since the start of the season at the end of August.  In many ways the normal now seems almost extraordinary – our Egyptian team, the site and our work are all very much as they are every year with many familiar faces.  Of course a few things have changed – temperatures are checked every morning and masks are no longer just for the dust.  However these minor adjustments are a small price to pay for having the privilege to continue to with our work at the South Asasif for another year.”

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