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We have also finally succeeded in relocating a large rock-cut well excavated by Reisner in 1919. As he said, grandly, in his notebook: “Here I take it was the palace of Piankhy.” This is no small claim—Piankhy was the king of Kush who succeeded in conquering Egypt in the years after 750 BC, and obviously discovering his palace would be a major find.
The well itself in Reisner’s notebook was cut into the rock, about 6 meters by 4.5 meters (20 feet by 15 feet) in size, and Reisner dug down 5 meters (16.5 feet) until he hit water. Reisner’s drawing suggests that a staircase outside the well wrapped around it and would have led water carriers down to the level of the water.
People in the village preserved some quite detailed memories of this well and after about a week of conversation, they remembered where it was. Reisner commented that he had to arrange to cut through the wall of a house owned by a man named Gabullah, and it turns out that his descendants still live in the village and could direct us.
Our excavation ironically also required us to dig through the wall of someone’s house, this time a man named Abdullah. He has been remarkably tolerant of the disturbance, even bringing us coffee each morning as we work.
One of the strange aspects of this particular part of the dig has been that we have had to dig through modern garbage heaps as we have excavated. So even if this was part of the palace of Piankhy—and we would have to entirely destroy Abdullah’s house to figure that out—it has become a dump for an amazing variety of plastic bags, dead batteries, cassette tapes, cologne bottles, and other detritus of modern life. It reminds me of Shelley’s poem Ozymandias, about the ruin of an ancient pharaoh’s statue: “Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away.”