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“Beit Nimsawi”:Home for Norman and Nina de Garis Davies

The "De Garis Davies" House in March 2011.
fig. 1. The "De Garis Davies" House in March 2011.


Dig houses often appeal to the mind of those, interested in the history of Ancient Egypt: At least, they do to us.

Reminiscing on all the great discoveries that have been made in this country, often referred to as  the “cradle of civilization” and thinking of the people who have made these discoveries, often makes us wonder what the walls of these houses would have to tell you, should they have been able to speak.

They would talk about happiness or sadness, after a successful or lost season of hard work. They  would talk about anger and disappointment; you would be able to hear  the many conversations between the members of the team. About friendship, hostility, loneliness, love, happiness and sorrow.

They would, if only they could talk.

Norman and Nina Davies. Photograph probably taken outside  the house at the beginning of their married life. Davies MSS. 13.151 (copyright the Griffith Institute, Oxford).
Norman and Nina Davies. Photograph probably taken outside the house at the beginning of their married life. Davies MSS. 13.151 (copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford).

Unfortunately, walls can’t speak, so it is up to your own imagination, to hear what they have to say. It’s either that, or some meticulous and, at times, painstaking research to try and recall the history of these “homes, away from home” as these houses have been just that for many of the best-known Egyptologists over the last century.

And that is what we have been doing.  Research into the history of the “de Garis Davies” dig house. Research through photographs; research through reading many, many sources in books, on the Internet, in newspapers and from recollections of people who have actually lived there,  or who know people who have lived there.

Painstaking research at times, due to copyright issues, or not having (or not being granted) access to valuable sources, such as certain newspaper articles, Internet archives, etc. Then there were  people simply not answering our questions (there are still many e-mails left unanswered), and so on.

Nevertheless, in the end, we do believe that we have gathered 99% of what there is to be known about this house. Of course, should important information emerge over time, we will add to this report, or change it accordingly.

‘t Veld, The Netherlands, October 2011
Marcel and Monica Maessen


General Information.

Name:

“Davies House” (to Egyptological missions) / Beit Nimsawi (local population)

Latitude

25°44'0.66"N

Longitude

32°36'36.41"E

Location:

Luxor West Bank, Qurna, up-hill from the Metropolitan House

Originally build for:

Robert Mond (September 9, 1867 — October 22, 1938), 1903 – 1905

Other Occupants:

  • Nina and Norman de Garis Davies (1907 – appr. 1939)
  • Unknown (1939 – ???)
  • Office and residence of the local inspector, Mohamed el-Daly (??? - 1978)
  • Austrian mission (Appr. 1978 – 1983)
  • German Mission to the Theban Tombs (Appr. 1984 – 1987)
  • Various missions (Appr. 1987 – 1990)
  • Rest house for SCA Inspectors (1990 – current day)

Other use of the house

In 2005, the house was used as a setting for the BBC Documentary about Howard Carter.


History of Beit Nimsawi.
(some parts are quoted and adapted from Nigel Strudwick's article in JEA Vol. 90 (2004) pp 193-210)

When Norman and Nina de Garis Davies started working in Luxor, they were able to obtain the use of Robert Mond’s dig house.

Robert Mond had worked in the Theban Hills between 1903 and  1905, so it’s quite certain that the original house was build around 1902 – 1903.

The original house was quite small, which was clearly not enough for Norman and Nina to live in the manner they wished. The house was expanded on various occasion; the first time in 1912/1913 and then again some years later. It’s uncertain if any changes have been made after that. (Note: There have been more changes in later years, as photographs will show)

Considering the many rooms the house has at the moment, the Davieses must have made the house in quite a “home away from home”. This was most likely due to the fact that they stayed there from roughly November through April, each year.

Presumably guests stayed in the house as well, from time to time, but there are no records telling us, whether the rest of Davies’ team stayed in the house as well or in the main MMA house (Metropolitan House / Beit Bulandi), only a two minutes walk away.

Nina de Garis Davies, seated against a sheeted panel in front of a door.
fig. 2. Nina de Garis Davies, seated against a sheeted panel in front of a door. MSS. 12.6 (copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford)

Those who did visit the house report it as being charming and comfortable, and some mention how Nina did her best to establish that pride and joy of the English, a flourishing garden, on the otherwise inhospitable terrain of the Necropolis.

Well into the second half of the twentieth century, the house was taken care of by the wives of archaeologists, who accompanied their husbands, while they were working.

The precise reason for their departure from Egypt in 1939 is not yet clear, but it is very likely to be a combination of MMA policy and Norman’s age. The uncertain political situation may have played a part, since it is clear that the house in Qurna was by no means finally closed and emptied, clearly implying that there was some expectation of a further visit to Egypt.

Sir Robert Mond (1867 – 1938)
fig. 3. Sir Robert Mond (1867 – 1938)

The house was originally built for Sir Robert Mond, who excavated in the area for about two seasons.

The same as many dig houses in the area, limestone blocks were used for the foundation of the house. Although it cannot be said with absolute certainty, at least some of these blocks must have been picked up, lying around near the tombs and temples in the area.

Mud-brick and wood (and, at a later instance, steel  railway bars) were used for the construction of the house. Although not very clear, in some parts of the house, a double roof can be seen. This was just one of the means used, to keep the temperature inside at an agreeable level.

Where the original house only had high windows, in later additions, smaller windows were used.

Although Nigel  Strudwick writes in his article that the house has been expanded two times, comparing photos from 1925 and now suggest that there has been at least one other time, in which the house has been expanded.

A small wall, added to the roof during the 1912/1923 expansion has been removed after 1925. Also, what appears to be a triangular dome, has been removed after 1925. A round (fake) dome was added in  2004 or 2005 for the BBC documentary about Howard Carter.

Nina de Garis Davies in front of the house, around 1907, before expansion. Adapted from the original image MSS 13.151a (copyright the Griffith Institute, Oxford)
fig. 4 Nina de Garis Davies in front of the house, around 1907, before expansion.
Adapted from the original image MSS 12.15 (copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford)

The current house has several rooms that can be classified as “living-” , or at least sleeping quarters. So it is quite possible that besides the Davieses, other members of the team stayed in the house as well, during excavation season. If not, the most likely explanation for so many rooms (see map) would be that they were used as storerooms and that later missions (e.g. the Austrian and German missions) used these rooms as sleeping quarters.

A garden might have been present at one time or another.  One appears to be present in the 1925 photograph. It is definitely gone now. The whole area inside the fence used to  be paved, as have all floors within the surroundings of the house. In some areas though, the pavement has been removed.

The adding of extra rooms to the house has been done by the same building method, still used in Egypt today: mud brick and layers of plaster within wooden frames.  At the time of our photographic survey (March 2010 and March 2011),a lot of 60’s and 70's furniture and paraphernalia could be found inside; most likely used for the 2005 documentary.

The house after the 1912 expansion. Clearly visible, the new wing added to the house and the “new” wall surrounding it.
fig. 5. The house after the 1912/13 expansion.
Clearly visible, the new wing added to the house and the “new” wall surrounding it.
MSS. 12.10
(copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford)

The house is now (March 2011) in use as a rest house for SCA inspectors, but wouldn't it be a great place to use as a base for excavation teams again!

Although the house has been restored during the time of the Austrian and German missions (the house was at that time in “a completely dilapidated state”), it could do with some more repairs in order to restore it to it’s former glory.

Especially inside the house there are lots of traces of “wear and tear”. Inside walls are damaged; wiring of electricity is dangerously exposed at some places; a lot of rubbish laying around both inside and out; windowpanes and doors could do with some new layer of paint.

Tiles in the courtyard should be restored to their former glory, sanitary facilities could do with some cleaning or replacement, but all in all, the house is in very good shape, considering it has been around for more than 100 years!

Using your imagination takes you back to the early 1900’s; to the glory days of discoveries in the area.

In some parts, railway tracks have been used for construction.
fig. 6. In some parts, railway tracks have been used for construction

In some parts, railway tracks have been used for construction. Most prominent location where you can see this, is when entering the courtyard from the main hall. There, the rail is used to support an overhang.

Reading from the text on the track (“Krupp 1897), the beam came from the German Krupp Iron factory. Although we cannot be sure, what it’s origin was, this is what Dr. Ralf Stemmel form the Krupp archives has to say about the tracks:

“According to our records in 1892 negotiations were held between the Krupp company and the firm “Friedrich Lenz” in Stettin, Germany, concerning the order of 14.000 tons of rails for a railway project in Egypt which was to be realized by Friedrich Lenz.

As projects like this take time to be finished it may be possible, that your rail stamped “1897” was a part of the delivery which followed the negotiations of 1892. This supposition may be backed by a notice of a Krupp workshop about the production of iron plates for the Egyptian railway authorities in 1897. Detailed information about the delivery of the respective rails unfortunately are not available.”

Another place, where railway tracks were used, is to the north of the main office. There too, they support a roof.  Although not marked as originating from the Krupp factory, it is highly likely, that these were made by Krupp as well and were originally used for the mining carts, used to remove debris from excavation areas. This is what Dr. Stremmel had to comment:

“Referring to your question we have no further details about the rails delivered to Egypt but it surely may be possible that small rails for mining carts in the contracts were included as narrow-gauge railways usually are used for earthmoving works like constructing railway lines.”

During the time of the Austrian Mission
The Austrian Mission (Institute of Egyptology and Austrian Archaeological Institute) first used the Carter House for a while and then from 1978 onwards the Davies House as headquarters for their activities for the restoration and excavation of the tomb of Ankh Hor and the eastern part of the Assasif.

The Austrian Mission restored the Davies House which was at that time in a completely dilapidated state. Before they occupied the house it had already been in use as the office and residence of the local inspector, Mohamed el-Daly.

After Mohamed el-Daly had moved out, the House stayed uninhabited for some time until  the Austrian Mission suggested to restore the house and to use it for their activities.

In the 1980’s, the German Mission to the Theban Tombs Project, directed by Karl-Joachim Seyfried used the Davies House as their base.

Mr. Seyfried also made quite an extensive report on renovations and took several “before” and “After” photographs of these renovations. Unfortunately, we have not been able to contact Mr. Seyfried yet, to hear about these renovations or see any of the photographs. We hope we can add this information in the near future.

In the late eighties or the early nineties the Antiquities Department, under Professor Sayed Tawfik, reclaimed the Davies House for the SCA.

The Construction of the house.

The same as most houses in the area, the “De Garis Davies” house has been constructed from mud-brick, covered with mud.

Over time, there have been a lot of additions to the house, the first time in 1912 and then again in 1913 en 1925.

Bits and pieces have been added and removed over the years and even a (fake) dome, which adorns the house today has been added for a BBC documentary about Howard Carter in 2005 (I wonder why they didn't use the original house).

A scene form the BBC Documentary, where the house was used as a "stand-in" for Howard Carter's  house.
fig. 7. A scene form the BBC Documentary, where the house was used as a "stand-in" for Howard Carter's house.

Most of the doors, windowpanes, tiles, etc. seem to be original, although one can never be sure for 100%. When Alan Gardiner said that it was a “hospitable house in the midst of the Theban tombs”, he was quite right.

With some renovation and proper care, I am sure that it could be used again as a dig house and make the people who would live there, feel at home in this magical environment. Especially since they have installed lights that shine on Hatshepsut’s mortuary Temple.

The house is divided into several parts:

Going right after entering the house you enter the office, To the left are three rooms: two larger ones that  at one time must have been in use as living quarters and a smaller room, which could have been in use as a small office as well.

From the main hall you enter the courtyard in which there are two buildings: To the right a kitchen and storage facility, to the left you enter the toilets and three sleeping quarters. Immediately to the right, once you leave the main hall, is a storage room for water.

The other (storage) rooms can only be entered when you go around the outside. These have probably been stables of some kind or extra storage space.

The house is surrounded on one side by a stone fence (south side) and a mud-brick wall (north and west side).

In front of the house there’s a veranda.

A Photographic survey: Then versus Now.

“Then versus Now”
Comparing old photographs with current ones, can tell you a lot about what’s left from the original house and what has been added, removed or remodeled. Now, we were only able to find about eight old images (most of them copyright, the Griffith Institute, Oxford), but you will be surprised how much information can be gathered from these.

General view in 1907
The house as it was, when Norman and Nina de Garis Davies moved in, around 1907. Comparing this to a photograph  taken from appr. The same angle shows, that in the current building, only the two high windows on the right side are still in place; the door has been replaced by a small window. One of the two windows on the left has been replaced by a small window as well and the other one has been removed altogether. The flagpole is still in place today as are parts of the overhang.

General view in 1907
fig. 8. General view in 1907. Nina de Garis Davies in front of the house, around 1907, before expansion.
Adapted from the original image MSS 12.15 (copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford)

General View in 2011
A lot of rooms have been added and or changed over the years, Basically, only half of the original house is still standing. The rest has been completely remodeled or added.

General view of the house in 2011.
fig. 9. General view of the house in 2011.

 

The Living room

The livingroom in 19??
fig. 10. The living room in 19??
MSS. 12.1 (copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford)

The same room in 2011
fig. 11. The same room in 2011

 

South side

Looking at the south side of the house under construction. Here the house starts to look like the 2010 version.
fig. 12. Looking at the south side of the house under construction. Here the house starts to look like the 2010 version.
MSS. 12.15 (copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford)

fig. 13. MSS. 12.16 (copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford)
fig. 13. MSS. 12.16 (copyright Griffith Institute, University of Oxford)

And still, some changes. There’s a window where the door used to be. The roof has become more flat and the large window has been removed, making place for the smaller and higher placed window of the toilet area. Besides that, the whole wall you are looking at has been moved (by about a meter),  once again.
fig. 14. There’s a window where the door used to be. The roof has become more flat and the large window has been removed, making place for the smaller and higher placed window of the toilet area. Besides that, the whole wall you are looking at has been moved (by about a meter),  once again. Rooms have ben enlarged since 1912 and the surrounding wall has been added.
The 1925 version of the house. Notice the small garden and the triangular dome.
fig. 15. The 1925 version of the house. Notice the small garden and the triangular dome.
(Copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art: MMA Bulletin 1979, p 8-9)
Although taken from a totally different angle, the differences are clearly visible.
fig. 16. Although taken from a totally different angle, the differences are clearly visible.

More (recent) photographs of the house have been published on our "flickr" account.


The “The Garis Davies” house was only the second house we surveyed. Hopefully a lot of them will follow.

Now, while the history of Ancient Egypt might be more interesting to most of the people in the field; we are sure that these houses have been of the utmost importance to the people who occupied them at one time or another.

A place to come home to, after a long day of painstaking work on the dig. A place to come to rest and relax before yet another new day dawns.

Bearing in mind that so many of the pioneers of Egyptology have lived and worked here, triggered our imagination and made these “homes away from home” so interesting to us.

Starting research in Egypt, especially in places that are labeled as being “antiquities land” is not easy. After all, who are we to walk around amongst bits and pieces, over three thousand years old? Who are we to ask permission to do this?

That’s why we are so grateful to Dr. Mustafa Wasiri, for giving us the opportunity and permission to do our own photographic research “in situ”, so to speak, in order to reveal the history of this particular house, once inhabited by two “pioneers to the past”; Nina and Norman de Garis Davies.

Marcel and Monica Maessen
October 2011
‘t Veld, The Netherlands.
 

Sources:

  • Nigel Strudwick (JEA Vol. 90 (2004) pp 193-210)
  • Dr. Manfred Bietak
  • Ralf Stremmel (Krupp Company)

Photographic copyright:

fig. 1
Marcel Maessen
fig. 2
Griffith Institute, University of Oxford
fig. 3
Painting by Frank O. Salisbury
fig. 4
Griffith Institute, University of Oxford
fig. 5
Griffith Institute, University of Oxford
fig. 6
Marcel Maessen
fig 7.
BBC
fig. 8. Griffith Institute, University of Oxford
fig. 9. Marcel Maessen
fig. 10. Griffith Institute, University of Oxford
fig. 11. Marcel Maessen
fig. 12. Griffith Institute, University of Oxford
fig. 13. Griffith Institute, University of Oxford
fig. 14. Marcel Maessen
fig. 15. Metropolitan Museum of art (MMA Bulletin, 1979, p 8-9)
fig. 16. Marcel Maessen

A special "Thank you" to the Griffith Institute, University of Oxford, for helping me with the photographs and Dr. Mustafa Wasiri (SCA Director, Luxor Westbank) for allowing us our own survey of the house.

Status of historical research
Ongoing
Status of article
Open