Open courtyards in ancient and modern Egypt

Amira Noshokaty , Monday 19 Sep 2022

Last week, Egyptologist Fatma Keshk gave a lecture at the French Institute for Oriental Archaeology (IFAO) in Cairo on courtyards in ancient Egypt.



This talk was based on Keshk’s PHD titled “Ethno-Archaeological Study of Streets and Open Courtyards of Ancient Egyptian Settlements and Modern Nubia.”

The talk discussed Keshk’s research on open courtyards from the pre-dynastic period through to the Middle Kingdom in ancient Egypt and how their functionality and similarity still resonates through to the modern period in the Nubian village of Bigge, located on the island of Elephantine.

The village was abandoned by its residents in the 1980s due to the lack of infrastructure. However, its intangible architectural heritage has made it a “Disneyland for any archaeologists,” as Keshk explained in her talk. She emphasised the importance that open courtyards still hold in rural villages, where most of the household social activities still take place.

"Open court yards have always had a social purpose, and this probably has not changed since ancient Egypt, for open courtyards provide a nice breeze in summer and is more of a sitting area for guests close to the family. It is where the housewife prepares food and where she puts the bread dough in a form of circle to fermented in the sun, and it is the place where they raise poultry and rabbits. It is the place where women would sit and work on her handmade looms as well," Keshk told Ahram Online.

Archaeological evidence of open courtyards is found in numerous sites across Egypt such as Elephantine Lahun, Maadi, and Tell El-Daba to name but a few. Her talk revealed the similarities of open courtyard designs and functionality between the ancient Egyptian villages and modern day villages like Bahareet in lower Nubia, Marigergis village in upper Egypt and Dakhla oasis in the Western Desert.

"Open courtyards are understudied and important area of ancient Egyptian houses and all of the daily life activities that happened there. Many things from the ancient Egyptian villages still resonate till now, " she added.

Keshk has always been concerned with connecting ancient Egyptians to the present. Having worked in the field of heritage and community connection for over 13 years, Keshk founded two highly informative and popular initiatives; the first, The Place and the People focuses on community engagement and braiding the tangible with the intangible heritage. Since 2018, Keshk has created several workshops in various communities such as Assiut and Rashid. Her other initiative, Egyptology in Arabic, focuses on intangible heritage themes from ancient Egypt that addresses Arabic speaking general audience.

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