Back to Ballas

One of the least well known archaeological sites in Upper Egypt is the Second Intermediate Period-early Eighteenth Dynasty townsite of Deir el-Ballas in the Qena Governorate, beside the modern town of Ed-Deir.

Charlie Evers recording the brickwork in the North Palace.
Charlie Evers recording the brickwork in the North Palace.

Deir el-Ballas was originally excavated by the Phoebe A. Hearst Expedition of the University of California under the direction of George A. Reisner in the years l900 to l901. During the season’s work, he uncovered the remains of a large royal palace, a series of cemeteries, and a settlement. Unfortunately, the excavations were never published and the field notes were so brief that any in-depth study of the excavation was impossible.  In order to clarify the records of the expedition and enable publication of the site, I undertook four seasons of survey and clearance at the site in l980, l983, 1984 and 1986 under the sponsorship of the American Research Center and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The results of these seasons were published in a Preliminary report by the American Research Center in Egypt.


During this work, detailed maps were made of the site and plans of the North Palace and a number of the houses excavated by Reisner During the course of survey work we realized that there were many areas of the site which Reisner had only partially excavated or not cleared at all. The discovery of the latter area we owe to the Egyptian Antiquities Organization, who intervened on our behalf to have the land cleared of fuel stacked there by the potters in the modern town, which had obscured the area for many years and was the cause of considerable damage.

The North Palace in the 1980's
The North Palace in the 1980’s

Now, however, the growth of the modern village and the construction of a number of roads along the desert edge now threatens to obliterate significant parts of the site.  Thanks to the concern of Mustafa Waziri, now the chief inspector of Qena, I was alerted to the danger and hope to go back this winter to work with him on ways to protect the site from further destruction.

The North Palace from the same location today.
The North Palace from the same location today.

4 thoughts on “Back to Ballas

  1. Kevin Halbert says:

    CC Zahi Hawass, Peter Lacovara, Melinda Hartwig, Salima Ikram


    My name is Kevin Halbert and I just finished watching the Smithsonian video on the Sphinx.

    I had a couple of theories about the sphinx that I can’t rule out because I know almost nothing about Egyptology… but certain things seemed to add up differently to me than the way they were illustrated in the movie.

    Could it be possible that the wall built around the Sphinx was not built to keep water out… but rather to keep water in?
    To transform the area around the Sphinx into a giant reflecting pool… and a “looking mirror.” And the water reflecting the sun would possibly use the shape of the Sphinx to cast a shadow on the pyramid directly behind it on the equinox or on the the other pyramids during the solstice? And a possible way to bathe in the cosmic rays of the sun and stars or use it as a kind of right angle laser into the sky

    Also couldn’t the causeway have not been a causeway at all… but rather an aquaduct to fill the pool built to hold the Sphinx in the middle much like the Sphinx was an island? And wouldn’t Kufu’s solar boat have floated perfectly within the walls of the causeway/aqueduct? It seems to have a hull shaped like it might fit… barely. Also a possible way to float and transport the blocks of the pyramid to their final destination.

    And if the wall around the Sphinx was used to create a pool around the Sphinx wouldn’t that explain the erosion?

    Wouldn’t the disproportion of the Sphinx’s body to head ratio be due to elongated shadows that compensated for when the sun is at a low angle? A kind of perspective calibration?

    And isn’t the head dress of the Sphinx’s head very similar to the shape of the pyramids… kinda as a obvious “pointer”… obious I know. But couldn’t the shape be decorative while serving a function as are so many sun dials and weather vanes? I don’t think I’d get much opposition on that one… but I needed to say it. But it seems like it would make a perfect triangle… the tip of the pyramid and the angular head dress.

    And didn’t the pyramid used to be covered in marble and wouldn’t it have made a perfect mirror to reflect onto the sphinx and the calendar (temple) at it’s feet? And in the opposite direction also?

    All of this might be confirmed by using some computer aided design software with a RAY TRACING ability

    Perhaps all of this has been ruled out… but one can’t assume

    Thanks for your time,

    Kevin Halbert

    PS Please don’t assume another person has answered my question… which might cause no one to answer them

    PPS Is it possible that some of the Pharaoh’s weren’t murdered but rather sacrificed just in time for the equinox to catch a ride into the heavens?


    1. peterlacovara says:

      The Sphnix sits in a quarry with the eastern end open, so no water would have pooled there. The erosion is not from water, but wind as can be seen in the desert limestone all over Egypt. The Sphinx’s headdress isn’t a triangle, but a nemes that has been broken away at the bottom giving it that appearance. The pyramids were covered in fine, white limestone, not marble, and they would not have been reflective. Of the few pharaohs that were murdered we have texts that record that there was a political struggle that led to their deaths, there is no tradition of such sacrifices.


  2. Kate Dwyer says:

    Greetings, reading the finding of Ramses, fascinating work done on the investigation, restoration and repatriation of the Pharaoh to Egypt. Congratulations! Curious: Can you direct me where I might find information on the Red-headed mummy? Questioning the red-headed mummy’s origin, who had a sojourn with Ramses at Niagara; has his origins and identity been determined? Intrigued when viewing the video from Emory, and saw for the first time the Red-headed mummy. Noticed the resemblance of the mummy to Phillip II, and further curious to the excellent preservations of the remains of a mummy from the Roman Period, too whether the robes were original and authenticated to the same time frame? Extraordinary state of preservation, and the robes the finest of weaving and construction and material. Call me curious, had to enquire! Best Wishes in your present work.
    Ta, Kate Dwyer


    1. peterlacovara says:

      The “Red-Headed mummy” is a Roman Period mummy with hair dyed with henna. The wrappings are not so fine but are an imitation of more elaborately wrapped mummies of the period. It is currently on loan to the Houston Museum of Natural Science.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s