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What happened to the people who built Egypt?

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Who killed Kheny?
Explorations of what happened to the ancient people who built Egypt

One of many skeletons found in looted tombs. Photo by Maria Nilsson

Created by the Gebel el-Silsila Team
Funding period

Expedition periods
(initial target 200,000 SEK/20,000 $/€ per season)
Season 16: Autumn 2022
Season 17: Winter 2022
Season 18: Spring 2023

View of Gebel el-Silsila's west bank and the River Nile. Photo by Maria Nilsson


Ancient Kheny (modern Gebel el-Silsila) was a non-elite and quarry industrial community – it was home to the people who built ancient Egypt. Our recent archaeological work has revealed how this community experienced an intergenerational transformation and eventual collapse, potentially caused by environmental changes and a disease of epidemic nature (not that different from what we experience today). Now, we set out to answer what happened to the people and why –perhaps we can learn something from this that can help us in dealing with such topics in today’s society.

Detail of ancient architect adoring the royal name of his pharao. Photo by Maria Nilsson

To reconstruct their lives, we will apply an interdisciplinary and multiscale (from the microscale of artefacts and skeletons to the macroscale of landscapes) approach. We will break new ground by studying for the first time this material and focusing on the lives of ordinary people rather than following previous biased elite-driven urban studies of Egyptian archaeology. For this, our work will contribute to a more truthful, holistic description of ancient life and work spaces during the New Kingdom.

Men moving the sands of time! Photo by John Ward

This unique site requires immediate action as the risk of collapse and complete erosion is imminent due to water damage to the sandstone structures, and as part of the Egyptian tourism business, new archaeological sites are planned to be opened to visitors, including the east bank of Gebel el-Silsila that is home to the final resting place of the people of Kheny.

Quickly eroding sandstone of 3400 year old chamber tombs. Photo by John Ward

work in the 'water tomb', ST42. Photo by Anders Andersson

This crowdfunding is aimed to raise money to cover the daily costs of the archaeological excavations, conservation and preservation: all funds (minus handling fees) will go straight into the project, supporting the local community through employment!

Happy Egyptian team! Photo by Maria Nilsson

­­­­­­­­­­­­The results of the work will be presented in (academic and popular scientific) publications, presentations and TV documentaries. 

Filming for National Geographic Channel's 'Lost Treasures of Egypt'. Photo by Robert Mittelstaedt

We hope you will join us on our exciting archaeological journey into the lives of the ancients and investigate how they coped with a world in transition!

Who is the Silsila Team?

We are an international team of archaeologists – scientists and volunteers – excavating [on behalf of Lund University and in cooperation with the Egyptian Antiquity Services] the unique ancient site of Kheny in Egypt, comprising a 30 km2 archaeological area spanning over 10,000 years of recorded human activity.

map of Egypt marked with Gebel el-Silsila. courtesy of Google Earth

the gorgeous landscape of Silsila. Photo by Maria Nilsson

Private shrines on the west bank. Photo by Anders Andersson

The ‘Gebel el-Silsila Project’ now celebrates a decade on site with several exciting archaeological discoveries, including the lost crocodile-Temple of Sobek, the extensive New Kingdom Necropolis (‘city of the dead’), an extraordinary sphinx workshop as well as rock art and ancient graffiti ranging some 8500 years – all set within he vast quarryscape of golden Nubian sandstone.

Subterranean gallery quarry from the reign of Amenhotep III. Photo by Anders Andersson

Our work has shed light on the overall development of the site over time and its functions, extensions, and chronology. Some questions remain omnipresent and unanswered, including Who were the people of Kheny, and why did their community collapse? We still have not found the actual village of Kheny, but we do know that their occupation ended abruptly, and that the site was never re-occupied other than by seasonal external workforces. With the furious and energetic destruction of the crocodile cult, something went wrong around 3,000 years ago. We want to find out why!

Poor crocodile-god Sobek, whose face has been erased. Photo by Maria Nilsson

Excavations of the Temple of Sobek. Photo by Anders Andersson

The international scientific team, directed by Dr. Maria Nilsson and John Ward, includes c. 100 professional researchers, archaeologists, digital recorders, students, volunteers and an outstanding, dedicated local workforce. The Gebel el-Silsila Project commenced in 2012, and is the first comprehensive archaeological study ever made at the site. We now hold a permit to excavate, preserve and continue the extensive documentation in co-operation with the Egyptian authorities.

part of the team by the sphinx. Photo by Tricia Coletto

Although a scientific expedition, it is also a family affair as the directors bring their children to site, giving them the opportunity to learn about ancient life while enjoying a multi-cultural, international team around them! Photo by Nils Billing

Get a glimpse of our team on (for example)
National Geographic Channel’s Lost Treasures of Egypt and Egypt’s Treasure Guardians
Travel Channel’s Expedition Unknown (episode ‘Great women of ancient Egypt’)
Science Channel’s Unearthed Season 2 Karnak’s Mega Temple and Season 4 Ramses’ buried treasures

Filming with Josh Gates for Expedition Unknown. Photo by Ahmed Mansour

or in this relaxed interview

What we would like to do

The archaeology at Gebel el-Silsila is astonishing and mind-blowing, and we have only scratched the surface! During the last couple of years, we have surveyed and excavated various monuments and quarries from the grand pharaohs Thutmosis III, Amenhotep III, his perplexing son Akhenaten, Ramses II (‘the great’) and his family– as well as female pharaoh Hatshepsut!

Sphinx excavations. Photo by Maria Nilsson

The material we are working with extends across 10,000 years of human activity, and comprises rock inscriptions, human remains, material culture and personal items, not to mention the industrial archaeology of the gigantic quarries that delivered up the stone to build the famous temples of Egypt.

Some of the chamber tombs in the Necropolis. Photo by Anders Andersson 

one of many dangers on site. Photo by Maria Nilsson

With the work, we hope to gain insights into the people that lived and worked at Kheny, to understand their lives and deaths by excavating their burials and studying their remains. We seek to understand their beliefs in the context of the cult of crocodile-god Sobek, his once beautiful Nile-side temple, and the reasons for why the people rejected him and violently destroyed his sanctuaries and eradicated his images.

3D image of one of three headless crocodiles that were found buried outside chamber tombs in the Necropolis. 3D image by John Ward

Another side of our work is to safekeep the monuments and archaeology while preparing the site for tourism in cooperation with the Egyptian ministry. For this, we need to prepare pathways, build protective structures, and put together plaques containing information not only about the monuments, but also how to help us protect the site, where to walk (and not to), and how to best enjoy this incredible site together!

heart amulet from the water tomb. Photo by Anders Andersson

Exploring hidden paths. Photo by Maria Nilsson

What can the site tell us about ancient quarrying, workers’ habitation and social interaction? What can it reveal about the politico-religious development? What was the individuals’ role(s) within the working community – who were they? What can the preserved architecture (temple and tombs), skeletal remains and artefacts teach us about their material status and religious affiliation – their ideology? Why did the people abandon the crocodile-god and why did their community collapse?

Scarab amulet inscribed with the ankh-hieroglyph for life. Photo by Maria Nilsson

the main quarry on the east bank. Photo by Maria Nilsson

What is new?  

Ancient Egypt is often studied based on prejudiced records associated with the pharaohs and their attending elite – pyramids and golden treasures... This is true also for previous scholarship to Gebel el-Silsila, who highlighted monumental architecture and official inscriptions. With such an approach, the lives of ordinary people, their material culture, local infrastructure, ideology and personal practices are habitually disregarded, as are their social and cultural influences on society and the natural landscape. By focusing on the working community, our work fills a considerable gap, and is very timely in introducing new archaeological material to be analysed with innovative objectives that will benefit the development of the discipline at large. This project will present unique perspectives on what happened to the people of Kheny, which also reflects aspects of ancient Egypt at large.

Exploration of the subterranean gallery. Photo by Maria Nilsson

all work is done by hand, no machinery. Photo by Huib van Verseveldt

To generate and share new insights and understanding of the people of Kheny and their community, we will investigate human responses and managements of environmental changes and disease. When and what influence did the changing environment and disease(s) have on the site and the daily lives of its inhabitants: what happened to the people? To answer this, we will use social anthropology and landscape archaeology (interrelations between human occupation and its surrounding natural landscape) and bio-archaeology (primarily paleo-osteology).

Skeletal detail of hand. Photo by Maria Nilsson

the skeleton of an adult man, buried some 3400 years ago. Photo by Maria Nilsson

Project aims for 2022/2023

·    Excavation, conservation and analyses of the Temple of Sobek and the Necropolis 
·    Bio-archaeological analysis of skeletal remains
·    Qualitative analysis of artefacts
·    Preparation of the site for tourism

Each task is carried out to estimate life and living conditions and involves a combination of archaeologists, osteologists, Egyptologists, Digital recorders, students, volunteers and a strong force of local workmen, overseen by inspectors of the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

Western part of the Temple of Sobek. Photo by Maria Nilsson

sorting pottery as part of the job. Photo by Anders Andersson

Already, the initial work has resulted in groundbreaking information, changing (again!) our general perception of the workers’ status and their activity on site. Further studies will allow deeper socio-anthropological understanding of ancient Egyptian workers and their families at large, as well as the day-to-day activities on site. The excavations of the temple and tombs are anticipated to reveal important clues to the socio-economic and administrative climate in Upper Egypt, in which Kheny was seen as the last barrier to Nubia and had to be protected for the sake of political stability for Egypt’s people. Such need was crucial during the Middle Kingdom, and yet again during the post-Amarna period. Our results will add important facets to the study of Egyptology and Ancient History at large, reaching far beyond the local archaeology.

Documentation of statuary find from the Temple of Sobek. Photo by Maria Nilsson

the name of Sobek as Lord of Kheny. Photo by Anders Andersson

What we will use the money for

If we reach our goal with this GoFundMe campaign, we will be able to carry on with our important excavations in the crocodile-temple and Necropolis, to locate their respective boundaries (which will help us protect the monuments when establishing pathways for tourists), and to analyse the artefacts and human remains.

The money will be used to pay for our floating dig house (‘the Sobek’), local workforce and crew, field equipment, rental of a motor boat for the daily commute across the Nile, etc.

[The money will NOT go to wages, flight tickets, or any personal expenses of any of our international team members!]

Floating dig-house 'the Sobek' below the rock-cut temple. Photo by Robert Mittelstaedt.

We will share our discoveries with you through a beautifully illustrated publication written by our team and with stunning imagery produced by our photographers, presenting for the first time the excavations of the Temple of Sobek and the Necropolis. With weekly video updates aimed and limited to our backers, we invite you to join us in this adventure!

If you are interested in learning more about the project and our previous excavations, surveys, and results, check out our blog, Facebook or any of the TV documentaries we have participated in. Of course we sincerely hope that you will back us and be part of our journey!

Excavation of a child burial. Photo by the Gebel el-Silsila Team

There are no limits on how much one can donate. Due to the regulations, we are not allowed to offer any rewards, but only a promise that all funds (minus handling fees) will go straight into the project

In accordance with GoFundMe regulations: "No raffles, sweepstakes, giveaways, or returns on investment are offered in exchange for any donations made to your GoFundMe"

Dr. Maria Nilsson, Director. Photo by John Ward

John Ward, co-director. Photo by Maria Nilsson

Ahmed 'Apet' Mansour, reis. Photo by John Ward

Team of season 15 (2021) on visit to Philae Temple. Photo by Robert Mittelstaedt

the rock-cut temple (speos) on the west bank. Photo by Maria Nilsson

fragment fron the Temple of Sobek. Photo by Anders Andersson


  • Richard Gilroy
    • kr1,000 
    • 5 mos
  • Alethea(Alee) Beaubien
    • kr4,111 
    • 7 mos
  • Florence Maruejol
    • kr180 
    • 7 mos
  • Kerry Atkinson
    • kr190 
    • 7 mos
  • Alethea (Alee) Beaubien
    • kr1,111 
    • 8 mos

Fundraising team: Silsila Fundraising Team (3)

Maria Nilsson
John Watd
Team member
Jo Farmery
Team member

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