Satellite Survey of Western Thebes
A Differential GPS Mapping Project of the
Private Tombs of Sheikh Abd el-Qurnah
October 2005 - June 2006
Data Collection and Field Investigation: Peter A. Piccione, Ph. D.
Lab Investigation: Norman S. Levine, Ph. D.

Methodology and Design

The project will spend over eight months surveying the locations of tombs in the necropolis to help refine the satellite map, to add data where possible, and to correct where necessary. Here it has seven specific objectives:
  1. survey the tombs on the ground by taking their differential GPS coordinates, aligning these ground coordinates with those of the satellite map;
  2. to locate and record the coordinates of tombs that are inaccessible to satellite photography, including new tombs recently uncovered and older tombs covered by modern structures; the latter are documented in early maps and accounts and unpublished plans;
  3. to confirm the designations and identifications of certain tombs which are otherwise unclear or ambiguous;
  4. to make digital images of the exteriors of tombs previously unphotographed;
  5. to identify and map the official SCA monument zones in the necropolis, as well as the individual residential areas, villages and clusters of houses, and to delineate the boundaries among them;
  6. to make notes and observations not previously recorded about the tombs;
  7. if feasible (given the limitations of dial-up networking in Luxor) to upload on a regular basis the new GPS coordinates, images and data regularly to the GIS server at the College of Charleston, where it will become immediately available to all scholars through the OLGIS-TN Web page.

The project will begin by taking differentially corrected GPS coordinates of the 439 individual tombs and structures that it has already mapped visually by satellite around Qurnah hill (Upper and Lower Enclosures, the Plain and el-Khokha). Thereafter, it will continue to map by GPS all the remaining tombs beyond the original 439, including those in other monument zones of the necropolis, i.e.: Qurnah (front and back of the hill), the Asasif, Deir el-Bahari (north and south), Dra Abu el-Naga, Qurnet Murai, Deir el-Medina, and--hopefully--Medinet Habu and the Ramesseum. Special attention will be made to locate and map tombs now obscured or buried by modern structures (houses, enclosures, etc.).

A tally of the tombs in all the main cemeteries of the private necropolis, as listed by Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography I/1 and Kampp, Thebanische Nekropole, reveals a total of 1,014 tombs. This number does not include: the unnumbered tombs at Deir el-Medina and el-Tarif; many tombs in Porter and Moss, Topographical Bibliography I/2; some tombs in the Carter-Carnarvon concessions, and the many unnumbered burial pits of the non-elite which are worthy of recording, if for nothing but to plot the spatial distributions of common folks' burials. The hundreds of Old and Middle Kingdom tombs at el-Tarif are being saved for future study, and they are not part of this tally.

Taking GPS coordinates for the large number of tombs in a single extended season is not an impossibility. An 8.5-month season from October to mid-July translates into nearly 195 effective working days (taking into account weekends, holidays, necessary days in Cairo, etc.). However, given the realities of fieldwork, it will probably be less. Therefore an estimate of 180 days seems more realistic. Thus, recording 5 tombs per day yields a total of 900 completed tombs; 10 tombs per day = 1800 tombs. Hence, the project could probably complete the ground survey in 8.5 months, if it averages between 5 and 10 tombs per day.

Importantly, the project performs no excavation or clearance, other than, perhaps, to clean away just enough debris from certain tomb entrances, where absolutely necessary, to take the GPS readings. With only few exceptions, it does not enter tombs but works only outside (except in the few cases where interior architecture must be compared to existing plans). Whatever the survey accomplishes will be a remarkable effort, and it will go a long way to making the satellite map more accurate and complete.

© 2005-2006. Peter A. Piccione. All rights reserved.