Travel Series: My Night on Mt. Sinai

This story took place in April of 2007, on the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. Although I understand that it is not the safest place to travel at the present, 5 years ago it was a popular destination. The main tourist hub was around the boardwalk town of Dahab on the gulf of Aqaba. While there most people chose to climb nearby Mt. Sinai; the mountain scaled by Moses in the Old Testament.

The View from the top of Mt. Sinai

It was suggested to us that we choose to climb the mountain at night, as it was much cooler than the day. And so, after procuring the necessary flashlights,  we did.

………………………………

“Only 750 steps to go,” my Bedouin guide informs me, as I stare up the seemingly vertical surface of Mount Sinai. This morning the idea of making this legendary climb seemed like a fun idea. I figured it would be nothing more than a nocturnal hike up a mountain to watch the sunrise, what could be nicer? A trail and stairs have been added since Moses made this climb, so how hard could it be?

At 11:00pm my friends and I catch the bus that will take us to meet our guide at the base of Mount Sinai and start the two and a half hour climb.

Excitement level – high.

‘This was not the leisurely hike that I had anticipated;’ I think, an hour into my climb, as I trudge up the mountain. I am turning down the constant offers of “Camel? Camel?” In my basic knowledge of Arabic I answer, “La, Shukran.” – “No, Thank You”

Excitement level – waning.

“Only 750 steps to go.” I look up. ‘These are not steps!’ I’m slightly panicky. ‘These are boulders arranged by giants to vaguely resemble what we mere mortals refer to as steps.’  I groan; it’s roughly 3:00 in the morning.

Excitement level – gone. 

About 400 ‘steps’ up I narrowly avoid being knocked back down the mountain by a rampaging donkey.

Excitement level – In pain.

I made it! I’m at the top, the sunrise is beautiful, but I’m freezing cold, wrapped in a heavy wool blanket; my Bedouin guide answers my complaints with, “Cold is a state of mind.” I look him in the eye and reply, “I’m from Canada, No it’s not.”

It was worth it.

Bundled up in my blanket watching the sun rise over the mountains.
– Photo credit: Diana Ziegler

………………………………

I had written this narrative of my climb a few years ago, but it is missing the best part. When we arrived at the top, our bedouin guide led us to his spot – the place on the mountain he has claimed exclusively for his climbers to rest and wait for the sun to rise. His spot was circular, approx. 8 feet in diameter and completely convex, with nothing between you and a 2285 metre drop to the jagged rocks below. So, of course, he tells us to have a nap… better not roll in your sleep.

We met up again with the donkey on the way back down the mountain.
– Photo credit: Diana Ziegler


Book Review: Ladies of the Field

Ladies of the Field: Early Women Archaeologists and Their Search For Adventure, by Amanda Adams.

Recently I have needed something to remind me of why I love archaeology and why I do what do.  This book has done that for me and more.

Ladies of the Field, by Amanda Adams tells the story of seven of archaeology’s early women trail blazers. Women who broke down gender lines and stood out in what was then very much a man’s world. She examines how each of these amazing women got into archaeology and why they loved it so much.

The women in the book span about 70 years from the earliest days of archaeology in the 1870s with Amelia Edwards to Dorothy Garrod, working in the 1930s & 40s; but they are all wildly influential and inspiring. Their lust for adventure, travel and archaeology so often mimics my own. I see myself in their shoes, and I know that they, unlike so many people in my life, would actually understand me.

Adams suggests; “Perhaps a certain type of personality is attracted to archaeology – an adventurous one to be sure. A little headstrong. Passionate and willing to take risks.”

As an archaeologist myself, I know many women archaeologists and many of us fit this description, but I have also found that most of my lasting friendships have been with other archaeologists. – Even many of the friends I have met and worked with in the museums field are often archaeologists first. It just seems to be how things work.

In 1968 Dorothy Garrod was awarded the Grand Gold medal for her work in archaeology by the Society of Antiquaries of London – which up until that point had been an entirely male institution. During her acceptance speech she commented on the growing number of women in archaeology – She hinted that the flood gates were opening, it was just the beginning.

However, while reading Ladies in the Field it became very apparent that even though these women were some of the most important players in the development of archaeology as we know it today, I was largely learning about them for the first time.

Gertrude Bell set up the Baghdad Museum in Iraq (then Mesopotamia) and was single handedly responsible for drafting legislation that would keep Mesopotamian artefacts in the country – at a time when artefacts were whisked away to the West faster then the soil they came from could settle.

Dorothy Garrod worked tirelessly organizing data on prehistoric settlements throughout the old world, basically developing a chronology of the prehistoric world allowing for us to study the prehistoric world as a cohesive whole.

These feats are astounding! I have to wonder why I did not know these women’s names? Why have all the early archaeologists I have learned about in school been men? When these women clearly deserve to be counted in the ranks of Flinders Petrie and Leonard Woolley, etc..

It is some comfort that today archaeology programmes all over the world are dominated by women, so maybe Garrod was right – the flood gates have opened.  So let’s change the male domination of the history of archaeology and talk about these women with undergrads, write about them, as Amanda Adams has done, and allow them to take their rightful spots in history.

I will leave you with another quote from Ladies of the Field: 

“Archaeology has never been work for the faint of heart. It takes some daring. Its reward is the process (never the treasure alone): the experience of excavation and the little things you find along the way.”

My offering to the Jerash Nymphaeum, Jordan

In 2004, while on field school in Jordan, we would spend most Saturdays traveling to many of the countries rich archaeological sites – in other words – It-Was-Awesome!

On one particular Saturday we drove north to the area around the 2nd century CE Roman city of Jerash. It’s amazingly preserved, complete with an hippodrome (racetrack) and a theatre, adjacent to the modern city (click here for more info on Jerash).

The morning of our trip to Jerash, in my half asleep stupor as I got ready for the bus, I put on my flip flops instead of running shoes. Now, flip flops are pretty much my default foot attire, but really not appropriate for climbing around archaeological ruins.

When I arrived at the Nymphaeum,  a fountain dedicated to the Nymphs, I stubbed my toe on part of the foundation. Leaving behind a nice blood offering to the city. I then spent the next half an hour asking around for a band-aid.

The moral of this story?

Always carry your own band-aids when visiting archaeological sites!

….What? Was I supposed to learn something else? 😛

Nymphaeum c.190 CE, Jerash, Jordan

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