Life at Uronarti in the present day is difficult, as it must have been in the past. The challenges we face suggest questions to us about the past that might not have occurred to us if we had electricity or running water, or even a settlement nearby. Nonetheless, the chance to be so far away from the modern world, in a place where the Milky Way indeed looks milky and one can look endlessly in every direction without seeing a power pole or often a person, is a treat.
We camp in tents, with a tin hut that we use for computer work when sandstorms come up. The Nile is our water source. Our local companions are few, but sometimes there are seasonal farmers or fishermen in the area. We entertain ourselves outdoors.
Not just the emptiness, but the landscape itself help us ask questions of the ancient occupation of Uronarti. The water of the Nile rises and falls annually here. This was true in the ancient past for everywhere on the Nile – the inundation was the engine that fed ancient Egypt, depositing silt and bringing irrigation water every year.
Since the construction of the Aswan High Dam, Egypt no longer experiences a flood, and for Egyptologists of our generation this is a real hole – we lack the visceral understanding of what it is like to live in a place that changes shape so fundamentally for months a year, and over the course of years. At Uronarti we are returned to a flooding landscape, though even here the height of the water is conditioned by dams both downstream and up. We see our own movements conditioned by the height of the Nile. Some seasons we can walk from camp to site, some we need a fisherman to ferry us.