‘MINI-EXPLORER’ Ron Scrimgeour has returned from an incredible visit to Egypt which found him in the right place at the right time in his quest to track down the real story behind one of the country’s most famous tomb dwellers.
Ron, a former Forfar councillor and retired school teacher, has visited the country many times, but he has described last month’s trip as “a dream come true”.
He said: “I had visited the Valley of the Kings several times, including at least three visits to Tutankhamen’s Tomb and Howard Carter’s house, and the whole valley has a magical quality that draws people back time after time.
“But this time I was keen to find out what had happened to the tomb dwellers of this area on the west bank of the Nile, across from Luxor.”
The tomb dwellers of Old Qurna and their anachronistic way of life was abruptly halted in 2007 when the Egyptian government decided to evict the entire village and move them to purpose built new, modern houses in New Qurna, four kilometres away on the edge of the desert sand.
Ron continued: “The house of the tomb dwellers were strange ramshackle affairs that mushroomed from ancient tombs and burial caves in this sacred area, on high ground between the Valleys of the Kings and the Queens.
“The people of Qurna, essentially descendants of four ancient extended families, had developed a complicated relationship with the burial sites and the treasures that were fabled to abound in them. Nomadic desert peoples had long used caves as shelter from sandstorms, scorching summer heat and cold desert nights.
“It was a natural progression to make these caves and later tombs their semi-permanent dwellings. These stone tomb houses or “bait hajr” are a natural progression for nomads as they evolve into permanent residents.”
Armed with a map and a photograph of one of the most famous tomb dwellers, Ali Abdel Rassoul, on his mobile phone, Ron headed off to the west bank in search of the real story behind the legends. A chance meeting with some European expats who had relocated to Egypt resulted in what Ron has describes as his very own “Howard Carter moment”.
He explained: “While having coffee on a veranda overlooking the Nile with Frau Christiane Richter and Mrs Gloria Johnston, I was introduced to a young family friend, Ahmed Ali who live in Old Qurna.
“Hardly able to believe my luck I showed Ahmed the picture of Ali Abdel Rassoul on my mobile phone and asked him if he knew of this gentleman. His reply stunned me and at first I thought he was just being polite to an eccentric Scottish amateur Egyptologist!”
Ahmed Ali said that the picture in Ron’s mobile phone was of his mother’s uncle, who had sadly died a few days after the evictions four years ago.
“I was stunned,” said Ron. “Within a few minutes I had established that Ahmed was quite correct and I was invited to meet with three of the families descended from the Rassoul clan the following day.”
The most touching moment for Ron was when he showed Ahmed’s mother Nadia the photo in his mobile phone.
He said: “Ahmed’s mother took the phone from my hands and kissed the picture on the screen several times, becoming quite emotional. She also brought out old pictures of her father, the brother of my principal lead in this almost Biblical quest.
“The rest is history”, Ron concludes. “I met with two other families who were direct descendants of Mohammed and Ahmed Rassoul who actually discovered the world famous “cachette” of 40 mummies in 1881 including most likely the remains of Ramses I and II and Seti I. One family member Hosain, had been present as a 13 year old boy when Howard Carter opened the tomb of Tutankhamen in 1922.
“These genuine, friendly, hard working Egyptian people are a far cry from the souvenir sellers and hagglers who flock around tourists at every archaeological site. They took over the rest of my itinerary for the trip and I was able to see tombs not usually open to the public and trek in the mountains to see spectacular views of the valley tombs almost from the air. I visited farming villages off the beaten track and chewed on raw sugar cane to keep up my energy levels in the mid day heat.”
Ron intends to return to his new friends on Luxor’s West Bank to continue his studies but has decided that in addition to a map and a photograph, he will need a good working knowledge of the Egyptian language!