Dr Ahmed Gamal-ed-Din Fahmy
5 March 1962 – 18 December 2013
In December 2013 we lost a gifted archaeobotanist, a valued team member, and our dear friend Ahmed Fahmy after a two-year battle with brain cancer. His contribution to the archaeobotany of Ancient Egypt, and Hierakonpolis in particular, was immense, He published over 20 scientific papers on the topic alone and, as a professor at Helwan University, trained a number of students to follow in his footsteps.
Ahmed’s involvement with Hierakonpolis began with his PhD dissertation, A Historical Flora of Egypt, Preliminary Survey (Cairo University 1995), a large part of which dealt with the plant remains recovered from HK11C Test A (the trash mound) and the ceremonial center at HK29A excavated by Mike Hoffman. Joining us in 1997, he began building upon his doctoral research with the study of the vast body of botanicals from around the site. As readers of Nekhen News will know, he was responsible for significant discoveries ranging from (among many other things) the contents of final meals of the people buried at HK43 (Nekhen News 9:5; 12:19) to that of the elephant found in HK6 Tomb 24 (Nekhen News 15:11); and from the ingredients of a predynastic incense mixture with the first evidence for the use of dill (Nekhen News 15:20) to the identification of some of the earliest false offerings for the dead (Nekhen News 18:23).
Trained as a specialist on fruits and seeds (macro-remains), Ahmed became interested in phytoliths (micro-remains) and with the aid of an Alexander von Humboldt grant in 2003 began the study of phytoliths in West African plants. In 2006, he shifted that interest back to Egypt, and together we received a grant from the National Science Foundation to undertake the integrated analysis of plant remains at Hierakonpolis. This grant enabled him to create an archaeobotanical laboratory at Helwan University and begin the intensive study the residue from the breweries(see Nekhen News 20:21).
From this study he was able to work out the production steps and recipe for Nekhen beer, research that sadly remains unpublished as we wait for robust radiocarbon dates – something we hope to rectify soon.
In addition to the gifts he gave to us of expertise and dedication, Ahmed is also to be thanked for bringing to us his wife Jane Smythe, who served as our illustrator and part-time potter for many years (see Nekhen News 17:21-23). Their arrival at Hierakonpolis was always much anticipated by the team and the Sidain family. We could be sure that Ahmed’s rye humour would soon keep us all much amused, and Jane’s boundless energy would always give us a boost. No one would ever tell me what was so hilarious about floatation (i.e., dumping soil samples into water and waiting for the botanicals to float), but whenever that day rolled around and the buckets came out, continual peals of laughter would ring out across the house compound followed by Ahmed’s hearty guffaw—sounds I will sorely miss.
Much in demand by other missions and burdened with administrative duties at the University, in recent years we didn’t see as much of Ahmed as we would have liked. Nevertheless, I think he always considered Hierakonpolis his home. He was certainly part of our family and we continue to mourn his tragic passing.
Click here for CV and publications of Ahmed.