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Almost all periods of Egyptian history have left their mark at Gebelein and
it is representative of almost every kind of archaeological site found in the
Nile valley. The area was a significant centre in the history of ancient
Egypt, but its exact role and the reasons for its importance still awaits
explanation. Recently, new research has been initiated here by a team from
the University of Warsaw. The aim of the project is to understand the sites
history, functions, and to protect the antiquities in the area. The first three
seasons of the Gebelein Archaeological Project observed that the
microregion presents potential for further research and can greatly
contribute to our understanding of ancient Egypt. The aim of this
publication is to briefly present previous research, history, and topography
of Gebelein and the current project.
Gebelein is located
approximately 28 km south-west
of Luxor on the west bank of the
Nile. The modern Arabic name
el-Gebelein (the two rocks) has
the same meaning as its ancient
name Inerty . The
two hills (east and west) dominate
the area, running from north to
south. This raised massif is
furrowed by numerous peaks and
Location and panorama of Gebelein.
valleys.

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RESEARCH HISTORY

Research history of the area is long and complicated. Most of the results
from previous excavations have not yet been published. Gebelein was
visited by travellers and scholars since the eighteenth century, such as
Ludwig Norden (1735), Richard Pocock (1738), and Dominque Vivant
Denon (1800). However, the first official research was initiated by Gaston

Maspero in 1885 on behalf of Service des Eastern mount in 1800.


antiquits gyptiennes. It is unknown
where at Gebelein he was working. Objects from this research went to the
Cairo Museum after March 1885, and in the following years some objects
were acquired by the British Museum as well as Louvre Museum (though
it is uncertain whether they came from his excavations). Most of them are
dated to the Predynastic Period. Some years later, Eugne Grbau and
George Daressy (1891-1892) copied inscriptions at Gebelein, and their
research was followed by excavations of Willoughby Fraser in 1893. In this
same year, the director of the Service des antiqits, Jacques de Morgan,
sent the inspector of the Upper Egyptian antiquities, Georges Foucart, to
conduct short excavations there. In 1896, under unknown circumstances, a
First Intermediate Period tomb with five sarcophagi was discovered, and
the objects went to the Royal Museum in Berlin.
At the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century, Gebelein was
well-known to antiquities dealers, who looted the site complex. According
to practices of the time, the Antiquities Service could licence local people
such as someone attached to excavations or native dealers of antiquities
to conduct excavations. This system was intended to cope with the

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discoveries of archaeological remains at provincial sites, which were often
thought to be of minor value. Sheikh Omar from Gourna was allowed to
work at Gebelein under this system. Officially, such individuals were
working on behalf of the government, and half of their finds should be send
to the Cairo Museum. However, due to a lack of proper supervision, many
may have pocketed more than the half allocated to them.
Ernest Alfred Wallis Budge was informed that Gebelein is ideal for
finding remains of what he referred to as Neolithic Egyptians, i.e. well
preserved human bodies dated to the Naqada culture. He discovered six of
such specimens there. It is known that Robert de Rustafjaell also possessed
a natural mummy from Gebelein in his collection, but unfortunately
nothing else is known about this specimen. In 1900, James Quibell
acquired a set of artefacts dated to the late Predynastic Period for the Cairo
Museum in Qena, which reportedly originated from Gebelein. In 1907,
Henri de Morgan visited Gebelein during his survey of southern Egypt,
despite it being not in his concession. Most of the artefacts from the
research went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In season
1908-9, two scholars from Lyon excavated at Gebelein Louis Lortet and

Italian excavations at the temple area on the eastern mount.

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Ccil Gaillardwho found numerous objects which are now in the
collection of Muse des Confluences in their home city.
The Italian mission from the Turin Museum of Egyptian
Antiquities, directed by Ernesto Schiaparelli, began its works at Gebelein
in 1910. The following seasons were either conducted by Ernesto
Schiaparelli or by his field director Virginio Rosa in 1911, 1914 and 1920.
After the death of E. Schiaparelli in 1922, works were directed by Giulio
Farina (seasons: 1930, 1934-1935, 1937). The Museum of Egyptian
Antiquities in Turin conducted the most complex research at Gebelein. The
majority of the artefacts from the area went to the Cairo Museum and the
Turin Museum. After a long break, the Italians returned to Gebelein for
three short seasons (in 1995, 1996 and 1999), which were conducted by
Anna Maria Donadoni Roveri, Giovanni Bergamini, and Alessandro
Roccati. In the meantime, Egyptian archaeologists conducted one season
of salvage excavation in 1998.
The previous excavations enriched museums collection but
contributed little to our understanding of the topography and history of the
area. In 2013, a one-day reconnaissance was conducted by Wojciech
Ejsmond, Julia Chyla, and Cezary Baka from the University of Warsaw. It
appeared that the situation was critical and urgent works were necessary to
document and protect the local antiquities. Without this, important
information would be completely lost. In the next year, the first season of
survey was conducted, which initiated a new program of field research at
Gebelein.

GEBELEIN THROUGH THE CENTURIES

What we know about the area come from the analysis of objects, although
in most cases their archaeological contexts are unknown. Therefore,
information that they could provide are reduced.
Gebelein played an important role in the history of ancient Egypt.
The most famous finds from the area are several well preserved natural
mummies dated to the late 4th millennium BC. The dry conditions at
Gebelein enabled excellent preservation of human bodies. The most well-
known is the Gebelein man, now in the British Museum. Alfred Wallis
Budge brought to London six of these Neolithic Egyptians and the

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The Gebelein man (Naqada II). Artefacts surrounding the body are not from the
original furnishing of the deceaseds grave, but rather, they demonstrate how a typi-
cal Nagadian grave may have looked.

seventh specimen came to the British Museum from the collection of


Robert de Rustafjaell. Another important find is the Gebelein linen, which
dates to Naqada IIa-b based on its artistic style. It was discovered by the
Italian Mission working at Gebelein in 1930 and was found lying next to a
human body in a tomb located in the northern part of the area. This artefact
raised the question whether it was related with some person of royal status,
like the similar depictions from the decorated tomb no. 100 at

Fragments of the Gebelein linen (arranged hypothetically).

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Hierakonpolis, which
is thought to be burial
place of a local ruler. It
is hard to answer this
question without
knowing the Gebelein
tomb itself and the
accompanying
artefacts, which could
provide additional
information on its
dating and furnishing.
The provenance of a
set of objects acquired
by James Quibell at an This dagger with a golden handle is part of the rich set
of artefacts dated to the late Naqada II or early Naqada
antiquity market in
III purchased by J. Quibell.
Qena is also
problematic, since the
archaeologist was only told by a dealer that the entire set was found at
Gebelein. Only a portion of it was published, and the objects date to late
Naqada II or early Naqada III. They constitute one of the most opulent sets
of objects from a predynastic tomb, which is comparable with the
furnishings of royal sepulchres at Abydos and Hierakonpolis. These
artefacts, along with other finds, suggest that some local predynastic rulers
may have been buried in the area. Therefore, the exact role of Gebelein is

Another
interesting pre- or
early dynastic
object is the lion
statue (now in
Berlin). Some of
these are quite big
and could have
once been part of
the architectural
decoration of a
temple.

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This early dynastic limestone
block was found in the walls
of the Hathor temple on the
eastern mount. It is one of
rear examples of early relief
work.

the subject of some


controversy. Despite this, it
is ostensibly one of the key
sites that can further our
understanding of the origin
of ancient Egypt.
Many important
artefacts shed light on the
history of this area during
the Old Kingdom. The most
famous find of this period is
a 4th Dynasty set of papyri
related to a local estate and
temple. They were
discovered in a tomb located
in the northern part of
Gebelein in 1935. The documents possibly date to the reign of Menkaure.
They list some 300 people from two villages that comprised an estate in the
Gebelein area. Their titles show several of the same occupations we see in
scenes on the walls of Old Kingdom tombs belonging to large estate

Two (potentially)
predynastic stone
knifes with
depictions of
crocodiles. Their
unusual form is
of particular
interest here.

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holders. Titles such as
baker, brewer, craftsman,
boat maker, sailor and
rower, mason, metal
worker, stockman, grain
measurer, a sealer of the
granary, as well as the
hunter and nomad were
attested. These are the
basic specialists we
would find in any large
farm, ranch, or plantation
in an Old Kingdom
estate. Some scribes are
also included, as well as
employees of the archive
and their spouses, Fragment of the Gebelein Papyri.
children, and parents
who generally go unnamed.
Much of our knowledge on Old Kingdom crafts and economy
comes from the chapel walls of tombs, which depicts an idealised world.
In the Gebelein Papyri, one can glimpse a more realistic image of life
during the pyramid age a centralised state, a bureaucratic mind, and the
controlling of the pan-regional economy of the country.
Several Old Kingdom high dignitaries were buried at Gebelein,
such as Ini, who was a
priest of Sobek, royal
treasurer, and nomarch.
His sepulchre was
discovered intact at the

Furnishing of Inis burial


(Egyptian Museum in Turin).

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Part of the furnishing from the Tomb of the Unknowns (Egyptian Museum in
Turin).

northern necropolis. The furnishing includes wooden models and a statuette


of the tomb owner. Other individuals, those buried in the so called Tomb
of the Unknowns, are dated to the 5th Dynasty. None of the people buried
in this rock-cut sepulchre were named. Regardless, one can see from the
opulent tomb furnishing that they must have been important.
Another well-known sepulchre is that of Iti and his wife Neferu,
which dates to the First Intermediate Period. This saff-tomb (discovered in
1911) was partially hewn into the rock. Itis titles were priest of Sobek, the
royal treasurer, and army commander. Despite the tomb being robbed
before excavations, it still yielded many artefacts. Due to the well-
preserved decorations on the pillars, corridor, and chapel, the tomb contains
one of the most
important examples
of First Intermediate
Period art.

Funerary stela of
Iti and Neferu
(Egyptian
Museum in
Turin).

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Portico of Itis and Neferus tomb during the excavation in 1911 and the painted
decoration (Egyptian Museum in Turin).

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Stela in the so-called Gebelein style.

Unfortunately, nothing remains of


the tomb today, but luckily, the
painted decorations were removed
and transported to the Egyptian
Museum in Turin.
Nubian mercenaries also
lived in the Gebelein region at this
time. Attestations to their presence,
as well as contacts with local
Egyptians, are found on numerous
stelae which combine Egyptian and
Nubian elements. The tombstones
found at Gebelein and er-Rizeiqat
lead to the conclusion that they were living in Sumenu which was once
situated between Gebelein and el-Rizeiqat.
At the turn of the First Intermediate Period and Middle Kingdom,
Mentuhotep Nebhepetre constructed a chapel dedicated to Hathor Lady of
Dendera. Blocks from this building have been re-used in architectural
structures of the following periods at the northern part of the eastern mount.

Fragments from Mentuhotep II Nebhepetre chapel at Gebelein (Turin Museum).

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A Block with the cartouche of the Hyksos king Apepi (Apophis).

Dated to the Second Intermediate Period are two limestone blocks


which bear the names of two Hyksos kings: Apophis and Khyan. Alongside
the evidence from other sites in the region (e.g. el-Kab, Sumenu, and
Medamud), these artefacts suggest that Gebelein was controlled by the
Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period. Additionally, the names of
some local Upper Egyptian kings dating to the Second Intermediate Period
are also attested at Gebelein.
The local temple of Hathor was modified during the New Kingdom
and there is some evidence of prosperity at Gebelein, which is possibly
related to stone quarrying in Dibabiyah on the opposite bank of the Nile.
Some New Kingdom stelae dedicated to Hathor are found in the temenos.
This suggests that it was a popular sanctuary. Unfortunately, none of the
previous missions working in this area produced any published plan or
documentation of the architectural structures.

This New Kingdom


votive basin was
found in pieces in
the Hathor temple.
It was placed in the
temple as a votive
offering to Hathor
by a woman named
Tamit (Egyptian
Museum in Turin).

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Another New Kingdom find from the temple precinct is the foundation deposit of
Thutmose III (Egyptian Museum in Turin).

Below the temple, a rock-cut chapel was built, probably during the
time of Hatshepsut. Sunken relief decorations show Hathor Lady of
Gebelein and another male god whose depiction is badly preserved.
A fortress operated at the top of the eastern mound during the Third
Intermediate Period and the Late Period, but little is known about the area
due to the lack of sufficient reports from archaeological works conducted
there, as well as remains of necropoleis that could reveal more about the
local population.
The situation changed during the
Ptolemaic Period, when Pathyris (Greek
pronunciation for the town Per-Hathor)
became an important administrative
centre (capital of the Pathyrite nome
until c. 88 BC), and was inhabited by
both Egyptians and Greeks. Numerous
family archives in Demotic and Greek
have come from Pathyris, which has
shed light on daily life in a provincial
centre during the Ptolemaic Period. In

So far two concentrations of graffiti have


been discovered at Gebelein. The eastern
mount includes the Ramesses IV inscription
here.

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Brick with the name of a high priest of
Amun Menkheperre from the Hathor
temple area.

the mid-2nd century BC, Ptolemaic


kings founded a military base in
Crocodilopolis (Greek name for
Sumenu), and later Pathyris received
a subsidiary camp.
Regarding the papyrological
material, Horos and Dryton/
Apollonias archives should be
mentioned. The archive of Horos,
son of Nechouthes, is the only
closed find known from Pathyris. It
appeared on the antique market as a result of illegal excavations, where it
was sold intact in a jar to Lord Adler in 1924. The jar was filled with 21
Greek and 49 demotic papyri, dating from 134 to 89 BC, of which the most
exciting finds being two Demotic marriage contracts pertaining to his
daughters. Dryton and Apolonias archive consists of 53 papyri texts and 8
ostraca, which are located in several museums around the world and date
largely to the 2nd century BC. Apollonia, in particular, was an interesting
figure, who is one of the few examples of a female entrepreneur in Egyptian
history. She made a substantial fortune, and used her mixed Graeco-
Egyptian origin to her
advantage. Therefore, the
papyri and ostraca from
Pathyris have significantly
contributed to our perception
of Graeco-Egyptian

Part of a Greek papyrus


from the archive of Horos
(Carlsberg Papyrus
Collection, Copenhagen).

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relations during Ptolemaic Egypt.
Some construction work was also done on the Hathor temple during
late Ptolemaic times. Yet, the nome capital was moved to Armant and the
city seems to be abandoned for an extended period from c. 88 BC due to
the likely destruction of the settlement as a result of a rebellion.
The historical Gebelein became a political centre for the last time
in 6th century AD, when Blemmyes tribal rulers took residence. We know
this from several parchments from Gebelein, which are connected with a
local royal residence.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES IN THE REGION

As demonstrated, Gebelein is well-known from numerous important


artefacts, but their context and the topography of the site complex is poorly
recorded, making them less informative. Despite years of devastation and
looting, there are still several archaeological sites in the area.
Starting from the north, destroyed remnants of a settlement
(possibly Sumenu), which have been recorded on a map drawn in late 18th

The map made during Napoleons expedition to Egypt is highly accurate and
depicts now destroyed archaeological sites as well as a preindustrial landscape.

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Distribution of archaeological sites at Gebelein and location of Dibabiyah (satellite
image by Google).

century as a kom, should be mentioned. It bordered with a necropolis, which


was used from the Predynastic Period to the Middle Kingdom (with some
Ptolemaic burials in one Middle Kingdom tomb). Little survived from this
settlement and necropolis today. Further south, in the central part of
Gebelein, a largely destroyed cemetery is located. The oldest finds from
this area are dated to Naqada I. Its pivotal point is a natural spur, which has
the shape of a pyramid from an east/south-east angle. There are two large,
mudbrick saff-tomb at the foot of this natural pyramid. One of them was
partially excavated in 1996 and yielded pottery dating to the 11th/12th
Dynasty. A similar natural pyramid is located north from the
aforementioned example, but due to the level of destruction, the type of the
tomb located at its foot cannot be determined. Recently, a 300-metre-long
section made by a bulldozer revealed some other tombs in the necropolis.

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The eastern part of the northern necropolis, the arrow indicates the location of the
tomb of Iti and Neferu.

Central necropolis with shafts in the foreground and two natural pyramids at the
back (the indicated by the arrows).

A large part of the cemetery is also recently destroyed by agricultural fields


and the development of settlements. In the northern part of that necropolis,
on the slopes and top of the rock, rock-cut tombs can be found.
Several rock-cut tombs have been discovered in the south-eastern
part of the eastern mount, and are comprised of three major elements: an
outer rectangular courtyard, an inner square chapel (supported by one or

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more pillars), and a descending
passage linking the latter to a
burial chamber.
A few hundred metres
north of these tombs is a small
rock-cut chapel (speos). The
entrance to the structure is located
c. 3 m above the ground level. The
speos consists of a broad vestibule
and a narrow cell. In the western
part of the cell, some sunken
reliefs have survived. Of particular
interest is the representation of the Photogrammetric 3D model of the
Hathor Lady of Gebelein. Hathor speos.

Directly above the rock-cut


temple, there is a shelf leading to a small grotto. Around the entrance to the
cave are numerous graffiti mentioning Hathor Lady of Gebelein, as well
as some private names.
The temple of Hathor once stood above the shelf. The oldest
attestation of her worship at Gebelein (with the cultic epithet Lady of
Dendera) are the aforementioned decorated blocks dated to reign of
Mentuhotep Nebhepetre. On the slopes of the hill was the town of Per-
Hathor (Greek Pathyris), of which only modest remnants survive. The
northern part of
the eastern mount
was inhabited
from Predynastic

Epigraphical
works at the
rock-shelf above
the Hathors
speos.

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Top and slopes of the northern part of the eastern mount was once occupied by the
flourishing city of Pathyris, its temple, and fortress. Only some loose bricks, as
well as a few walls, survived into present day. The area requires urgent protection
and research in order to save the archaeological heritage of Gebelein.

to late Ptolemaic Period, possibly even later.


Opposite the temple on the western mount a large concentration of
graffiti is located. These are dated from the prehistoric to Coptic Period.
From those dated to the pharaonic times, a large inscription with the name
of Ramses IV is especially important.

SUMMARY

Gebelein was a significant centre during different stages of Egyptian


history. It is also greatly threatened by human activity and requires urgent
attention.
The site complex has been frequently mentioned in Egyptological
literature. Although many important objects have been discovered here, the
area is still poorly understood in terms of its topography and archaeological
sites. Most of the objects discovered lack their archaeological context,
which makes it difficult to discern any formal patterns or interpretations of
their functionality in ancient Egypt. The aim of the current research of the
Gebelein Archaeological Project is to provide a better understanding of this
area and its importance, as well as protecting the local archaeological
heritage.

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Archaeological sites at Gebelein have great potential to shed light
on different aspects of ancient Egyptian history. To mention just some of
the most significant elements of the current research: studies on the
predynastic material from the area can provide clues to the role of Gebelein
during the earliest stages of ancient Egyptian civilisation; the large tombs
in the southern necropolis, which are preliminary dated to the First
Intermediate Period, can help to better understand the significance of the
region during this time and the reasons for the Nubian mercenaries to settle
here. The diverse papyrological material from the city of Pathyris will
require additional topographical contextualisation in order to further our
understanding of provincial Egypt during the Ptolemaic Period. Recent
examinations of previously unpublished objects and archaeological
features, e.g. the southern necropolis and the speos, also make this area
more exciting and necessary for further research.

The northern
necropolis at
the beginning of
the 20th century
and now.

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The author would like to thank the Polish
Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology of
the University of Warsaw under whom the
research has been done, as well as the
University of Warsaw Foundation, along
with the Consultative Council for Students
Scientific Movement of the University of
Warsaw, who finances the project. Last but
not least are the members of the Gebelein
Archaeological Project who made the
research possible: Julia M. Chyla (GIS, archaeologist), Adam Grylak
(archaeologist), Mina Ili (Egyptologist), Taichi Kuronuma
(archaeologist), Micha Madej (geologist), Vincent Oeters (archaeologist),
Marcin Jakub Ordutowski (geophysicist), Arkadiusz Ostarz (conservator),
Marzena Oarek-Szilke (anthropologist), Aneta Skalec (papyrologist),
Daniel Takcs (Egyptologist), Dawid F. Wieczorek (Egyptologist and
archaeologist), Piotr Witkowski (photographer), Lawrence Xu-Nan
(Egyptologist). Participants of the project would like to thank Prof. Karol
Myliwec and Dr Zbigniew Szafraski for their kind help. The author could
not have carried out the research at Gebelein without help of the of
Antiquity of Southeastern Europe Research Centre, University of Warsaw.
The author would also like to acknowledge Inspector of the
Antiquities of Armant and Esna Mr Abd el-Hady Mahmoud and inspectors:
Mr Ali Mohamed Ahmed, Mr Mamduh Saad Mostafa, Mr Mohammed el-
Amir Mohammed and Ministry of State Antiquities of Egypt.

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WIECZOREK, D.F. 2015. A Rock Inscription of Ramesses IV at Gebelein.
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SCOPIGNO, G. CARPENTIERO and M. CIRILLO (eds.), 2016. CAA 2015
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Credits to the figures if not by the author:


Page 2 V. DENON, Voyage dans la Basse et la Haute gypte, Paris 1802.
Page 3 - DONADONI ROVERI, A.M. DAMICONE, E. and LEOSPO, E. (ed.)
1994. (op. cit.): p 12, fig. 2.
Page 5 Gebelein man:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gebelein_predynastic_mummies#/media/File:Bm-
ginger.jpg; Gebelein linen:
http://xoomer.virgilio.it/francescoraf/hesyra/Gebelein-linen.htm.
Page 6 knife with golden handle:
http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/picture12022002.htm; lion: WENIG, S.
1961. Fhrer durch das Berliner gyptische Museum, Berlin, Staatliche Museen
zu Berlin: 42 Abb. 8.
Page 7 Early dynastic block:
http://www.nefershapiland.de/Biografie%20Djoser.htm; two knives: LORTET, L.

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and GAILLARD, C. 1909. La faune momifie de lancienne gypte, Lyon: 167
168.
Page 8 papyrus: POSENER-KRIEGER 2004 (op. cit.): Tav. 3.
Page 9 stela: https://s-media-cache-
ak0.pinimg.com/originals/31/76/9e/31769e214b2bb35a5c8b457b49ea015d.jpg.
Page 10 Iti and Neferu tomb: DONADONI ROVERI, A.M. DAMICONE, E. and
LEOSPO, E. (ed.) 1994. (op. cit.): p. 46, fig. 48.
Page 11 stela: http://www.wikiwand.com/ca/Gebelein (RMO Leiden).
Page 12 block: POLZ (op. cit.): Abb. 2.
Page 13 graffito: WIECZOREK (op. cit.): Fig. 3.
Page 14 papyrus: http://www.schoyencollection.com/palaeography-collection-
introduction/greek-other-documentary-scripts/greek-cursive/ms-140.
Page 15 map: JACOTIN, P. 1826. Carte Topographique de l'Egypte et de
plusieurs parties des pays limitrophes leve pendant l'Expdition de l'Arme
Franaise. Paris, C.L.F. Panckoucke: pl. 5.
Page 18 model by Piotr Witkowski.
Page 20 archival photo: DONADONI ROVERI, A.M. DAMICONE, E. and
LEOSPO, E. (ed.) 1994. (op. cit.): p. 19.
Page 21 logo of the project by Magdalena Bryk.
Page 24 Naqada I bowl from Gebelein: BARTA, M. and FROUZ, M. 2010.
Swimmers in the Sand. On the Neolithic Origins of Ancient Egyptian Mythology
and Symbolism. Dryada Publishing: p. 31 fig. 7.

The logo of the Gebelein Archaeological Project is inspired by the decoration on this
predynastic bowl from Gebelein, which depicts the two eponymic mounts.

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