Archaeology’s Dirty Little Secrets by Sue Alcock Part 7 (Old Gurna / Qurna)

Unit 7 Option #2: Story time with the locals

We said early on in this class that archaeologists often learn about sites or other ‘old things’ through conversations with local informants.  Now it is your turn…

Interview at least three people from your community about an archaeological site (or monument or object) to be found near where you live.  These individuals could be local experts (for example, in historical societies or libraries), people who live close to your ‘site’, people who may have a family history involving it, older residents in town… whoever makes good sense and can give you a good  story.  The more different perspectives you can find, the better!  Remember: you aren’t necessarily just looking for ‘facts’, but people’s memories and impressions as well.

Interviews can be done in person, over the phone, or through Skype.  Choosing to learn stories about your own family’s material past is welcome.

When writing up this exercise:

  1. Briefly introduce the site (monument, object) you have chosen.
  2. Briefly introduce the individuals interviewed and summarize their stories.
  3. Notice and comment on if and how people agree or disagree; does everyone ‘know’ the same things or have the same memories?
  4. Did you learn anything new about your site, monument or object?

Your answer should be between approximately 400 and 750 words (with 750 as a maximum), with approximately 200-250 words for each organization.

This exercise should take no longer than three hours.



I have chosen is Old Gurna on the Theban Hills, Luxor, Egypt. This is a deliberate controversial choice to give as wide range of local views as possible. It is a site with hundreds of individual Pharaonic monuments but it was also the home to many locals until very recently. The village of Old Gurna (Qurna) had been there at least  100 years. They were all moved in 2006/7 and the village destroyed despite international campaigns and the protest of UNESCO.


Mohammed Snake


He is a well known local character; he used to run a guest house and restaurant by the tomb of Sennefer. He feels destroyed by the removal of his village and his beautiful hotel. Five years on, he gets tears in his eyes as he remembers his life there. Now he feels isolated and wonders what future he can give his sons.


Ibrahim Soliman


A senior member of the Antiquities department, Director of Karnak and Luxor temples. He was all in favour of anything the government decided; despite being locally born he had no sympathy for the locals and thought they were a blot on the landscape. The removal of the village was a great idea and all the inhabitants were thieves who were robbing the tombs and destroying them with sewage and waste water.


Trisha Mason


Volunteer on the South Asasif Conservation Project and lives in Luxor part time and has been associated with the dig for years. This is one of the digs that benefited from the removal of the old houses.


“My feelings about the removal of Gurna village are mixed. I have sympathy for the people that were removed from their homes, but now that there is access to the area, so many tombs have been found underneath the old houses. Unfortunately, many of them are damaged as they were used as part of the living rooms for the villagers. From an Egyptology viewpoint, there has been much loss of knowledge about the history of ancient Egypt in this area, but from a humanitarian’s viewpoint, the people of the village simply reused the tombs as homes when no-one else was interested in them.”


Mohammed Ismail



A quiet local man who makes a living selling fakes to locals and taking people walking on the hills. He had a house in Old Gurna that his grandfather had been born in. The back of the house was a tomb which was undecorated and empty. It was used as storage for the family. He was given small replacement housing for his family of 9 and nowhere to keep his animals. The tomb had been emptied long ago and his house had its own artistic merit. He is no longer allowed on the hills to sell his goods. He hates what they have done; destroying his village and removing the hundred year old houses and saying they don’t matter. He sometimes goes and sits in the tomb, which nobody is excavating.



Little Mohammed


“It my house”, Mohammed doesn’t speak much English, he lived in a house by the tomb of Ramose. I had an old photo taken in 1979 and he immediately recognised the house of his childhood. He works in the mornings as a basket boy on the digs, he misses his old house and his village but his wife likes having running water 2 hours a day.



Michael Campbell Smith

Jan 07 0141 - Copy

Michael is British but has been visiting Egypt for 60 years, for the last five years he has lived in Luxor during the winter. He has studied Egyptology and used to be Chairman of his local society. He loves to walk the hills and has strong views about the destruction of the ambience and character of the hills. He completely disagrees with the changes and would prefer things left as they were. He views the lightening of the hill as an abomination, the cables and fixtures spoil the walks and the views as well as making obstacles to the walk. He remembers the houses on the hills and the welcome you would get. how their back rooms were a tomb..




This is a very controversial site, some archaeologists feel the removal of the village means they can get to their tomb easily; others documented the old Gurna house on top of their dig in the same way they documented the Coptic hermitage, but destroying both in order to get to the tomb. At what point does a site become a historic site?



The Egyptian authorities made the decision that 100 year old houses didn’t matter historically and could be removed. Now this site is only known in memories, everything in the pictures has gone.  Jan 07 019 - Copy