Belfast Telegraph

The Ulster archaeologist who is unlocking the secrets of ancient Egypt

Jordanstown woman helps unearth unique artefacts at excavation

By Linda Stewart

This is the intrepid Jordanstown archaeologist who may have unlocked the secret to how the temples of ancient Egypt were built.

Dr Sarah Doherty said her team, which is excavating a rich series of quarries at Gebel el Silsila near Aswan, has discovered more than 600 images carved into the walls.

They include rare inscriptions revealing how massive obelisks were detached, transported onto boats moored on the nearby Nile and ferried to ancient monumental sites such as Luxor.

The Swedish dig has also found a ram-headed sphinx, an unusual image of the Moon god Thoth and rock art of giraffes and boats that date back to hunter-gatherers, who lived there 100,000 years ago.

Dr Doherty joined the dig as a ceramicist after she spotted a Facebook message looking for more team members.

"It's such an incredible site, so fascinating to work at. I date the site using ceramics - every 50 or 100 years you see changes in the style of the ceramics so you can work out the dates from that," she revealed. "Huge corridors had been cut straight into the sandstone walls. You have these huge 30-metre corridors carved from sandstone, and on them are quarry marks, inscriptions, hieroglyphs - basically all the ordinary folk saying 'I was here' from the time of Emperor Claudius back to 2,000BC," she said.

"I've been there since March 2014 and we've discovered some really quite rare scenes on the walls of the quarry faces which are Pharaonic, including one image of the obelisks being transported to boats.

"There was another of the god Thoth which has never really been in a relief in that area before, and we've found a ram-headed sphinx.

"We've hoping to do more excavation in the new year to see what more can be found in the area."

Meanwhile, the rock paintings push back the estimated dates for the earliest human to live in the area and include scenes with boats, giraffes and elephants.

"That's several hundred thousand years of history on one site," Dr Doherty said.


The discovery of a series of camp sites formed in clusters of up to 20 drystone huts shows that quarry workers would have been brought in for a couple of months at a time and used copper chisels. Some pyramids were built beside the quarry where their stone was sourced, but this dig shows that many of the temples in Luxor were built with sandstone cut from the Gebel el Silsila quarry and shipped along the Nile.

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