Feature: With love of antiquities, Egyptian family devotes a century to excavation works
An excavation worker cleans an artefact in Luxor, Egypt, Oct. 10, 2019. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)
by Marwa Yahya
LUXOR, Egypt, Dec. 23 (Xinhua) -- "What our ancestors left are precious treasures that need honest workers to deal with," Ali El-Silik, chief of excavation workers in Upper Egypt's monuments area of Luxor city, told Xinhua.
El-Silik, 54 years old, has inherited his job from his family that had worked for generations since 1904 in the excavation, cleaning, restoration, and transfer of monuments across the country.
He has spent 40 years unveiling the secrets of monuments during his work with the Egyptian and foreign excavation missions in different places in the country.
"Our love and passion for the pharaohs are endless," El-Silik said, adding that his six brothers are also working in the excavation and restoration work at sites, temples, and museums.
"Working with many foreign missions, my family has gained lots of knowledge about the new techniques of excavation, but the foreigners also learned from our long experience and many secrets about the nature of sand and limestone, the structure of tombs, and details of the restoration," he said.
"Excavation is not merely digging, it's a science and talent," El-Silik said, noting that he once insisted to complete digging in Dra Abu el-Naga area in western Luxor, against the will of a head of a foreign mission because "I knew I was going to find something."
"With more digging, I found a group of wooden ushabti statues (figurines used in ancient Egypt's funerary practices as servants for the dead people) wrapped in linseed, and a room containing a tomb of a wooden child who embodies Ahmose, the high priest of Amun in the mortuary temple of Thutmose III," he continued.
He and his father also contributed to the discovery of Karnak temple cachette in 1989 that contained 15 intact statues for kings and gods, during the cleaning and maintenance work of the temple ground.
However, his passion for unearthing monuments was met with hazards sometimes. Five of his team were locked in a tomb, six meters under a hill of sand after a collapse of a part of the tomb. He rescued them after swiftly digging a hole by using a plank of wood.
El-Silik is also a vice-president of the excavation workers syndicate in Upper Egypt that includes 4,000 members and workers with the ministry of antiquities.
His most precious discovery was the finding of a garden built with mud bricks near Ghahouti tomb, son of Horus of East, who dates back to the 26th dynasty, in the al-Qourna area in Luxor.
He said he used to head 800 workers sometimes in big excavation, and 5 in ordinary work, adding that the restoration work is very sensitive and needs highly talented people.
"I spent almost five months with my team for restoring and putting the small princes of a colorful box of granite together," adding also that raising very heavy covers of a sarcophagus from small tombs with preserving its colors and shape requires lots of efforts.
He doesn't use salt or cement in restoration because it poisons the monuments and changes their nature.
His grandfather was among the team who worked with the British archeologist Howard Carter who discovered the golden king Tutankhamun tomb in 1922.
His brother Mahmoud is a restorer with the Egyptian Museum in downtown Cairo and his sister works as an inspector of monuments.
The youngest member of the family Omar, 40-year-old, has started working with his father at the age of 12. "I love this work very much. It's mysterious and enjoyable," Omar said.