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A Pilgrimage to Burg el Hamam
by Alan M Fildes


The Rock of the Vultures, a very ancient place of reverence, is situated at the head of the Wadi Hilal, a kilometre or so East of the New Kingdom tombs of Paheri and Ahmose sa Ibana. 
The drive from the main Aswan/Luxor road is fraught minor mishap - boulders litter your path and a multitude of shallow pits contribute to a bumpy passage. At most the maximum speed achieved is a miserly 5 mph.
The scenario is of little concern or surprise to my friend Awad, my driver on many of these adventures since 1986. The rest of our small party is made up of my wife Christine & the Gaynors our travelling companions.
The first sight of the Rock is always memorable. It compares well with seeing your first pyramid at Saqqara or Abusir. The next hour or so will be treasured in  the memory for the rest of your life.
We judder to a halt just east of the massif, alighting from our vehicle we make the short walk across the boulder-strewn waste to start our adventure. Skirting the dry stone roofless hut (a refuge of a bygone time, difficult to date - is it 20 years old or? - who knows?), conscious of our responsibility to mankind’s heritage, a careless act could destroy or deface a masterpiece some petroglyphs here are over 5000 years old.
On starting the climb we are aware of an eerie silence punctuated only by a pair of hawks imperiously gliding by on the desert thermals, gracefully surveying their Kingdom. We are, of course, the intruders and are treated as such. They know we can only admire & pass by - no humans can survive here without considerable resilience and knowledge of the terrain. Alas, no vultures sad to say.
Scattered around the base of the actual massif are numerous monoliths of friable Nubian sandstone rock in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some are mammoth they are testament to the violence periodically unleashed by nature. The debris makes it difficult under foot sharp rocks weighing many tonnes lie smashed to pieces after being tossed around like chaff in the breeze, by the ancient torrents that inexorably swept through the Wadi Hilal every 50 years or so.
Vulture Rock is suffering from the ravages of time brought on by the Aeolian winds, its great antiquity calling soulfully to any passer by willing to linger & listen to its lament. A solitary remnant of a landscape worn down over millennia, a sentinel for a bygone age.

Burg el Hamam
As the title of the article suggests the day was a pilgrimage to a very special site under extreme & constant danger. Far more danger than I had expected, progress is rapidly obliterating the ancient landscape.    

El Kab
Dates to the 1890s before the Aswan/Luxor Road and the Railway Line

MAP FROM JEA VIII. EL-KAB

After bidding farewell to V.R. may be a last farewell considering the constant hassle my party faced from many directions, not at V.R. thankfully silence mentioned earlier in the essay is an essential part of a rewarding if demanding day.

Leaving towards the East we pass by the small 18th Dynasty Temple of Amenhotep III dropping the tomb guardian off much to his obvious chagrin. Shortly we leave the bumpy track to join a newish tarmac covered road, turning right we head south for a ¾ of a mile. The Inselberg appears almost apologetically only 100 yards from the road. Eagerly anticipating the next hour I was shocked to see the wanton vandalism inflicted on this irreplaceable treasure.

PHOTOS & EXPLANATION. Burg el Hamam 1/3/2/4/5.

The modern graffiti in white chalk across the petroglyphs although abominable could not destroy the dignity of the site. I had a great feeling of satisfaction at finally spending time at a site I had long wished to visit. Sites off the beaten track are becoming increasingly difficult to gain access. This day there were no signs of wild life, in the past I have witnessed timid gazelle & desert foxes today only the relentless sun bleaching the bones of  long dead animals. As we stooped beneath the underhang of the rock we discover the remnants of a charcoal fire one can only speculate at the age?. No date palms here only range after range of grey inhospitable cliffs in the near distance. I gaze in their direction wondering at the secrets they hold.

A continual stream of large lorries / trucks overloaded with stone & aggregate thunder by leaving trails of billowing dust as far as the eye can see. Destined for road building projects the drivers stare in amazement at us shouting greetings “I think “& of course “ Hogan”. We wave and they laugh all good humoured. On our return journey I notice another interesting rock standing on its own, beckoning Awad to pull over to the side of the road, I am informed time is of the essence if we are to join the convoy at the Black Horse café just South of Esna. Only a cursory inspection can be made on this occasion due to time limitations revealing nothing, but who knows what closer inspection may divulge?    

Alan M Fildes - February 2006

Further reading:

Bearer of the Sun, Discovering Archaeology Jan/Feb 1999. Dirk Huyge.      

ELKAB VI,1 & VI,2  Die Felsinschriften Des WADI HILAL  2001.

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Vulture Rock, Burg El Hamam
A view of Vulture Rock
Burg El Hamam
Early Dynastic Temple circa 2900 BC
Burg El Hamam
Nefershemem - The Priest of Nekhbet.
The Dignitary.
The Administrator of the Great House.
Circa 2300 BC
Burg El Hamam
Ankhws. The Administrator.
The Dignitary. The Great House.
Circa 2300 BC
Burg El Hamam
Old Kingdom Bovines - Circa 2500 BC
Burg El Hamam
Ostriches, Bovine, Ibexes & Giraffe
Late pre-dynastic/Early Dynastic
Circa pre-3000 BC
Burg El Hamam
Helmsman steering a late
pre-dynastic boat
Burg El Hamam
Asses, Ibexes & Cattle. Circa pre-3000BC
Burg El Hamam
Ibexes & Giraffe. Circa 3500 BC
 
 
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