Do you feel like you are more of an archaeologist or a teacher?
Neither one. I studied geodesy and cartography at the Czech Technical University in Prague and I went from being the head mining surveyor at an opencast mine and a surveyor on construction sites, to doing scientific work with the Institute of Regional Ecology ČSAV, to being a specialist in GIS at a foundation engaged in environmental issues in the Ústí region.
At the end of the last century I landed again as a surveyor at the Institute for Archaeological Heritage Preservation for northwestern Bohemia in Most. There I introduced the digital documentation of archaeological objects and also, with colleagues, implemented one of the first GIS projects in Czech archaeology. This involved roughly 60,000 archaeological sites in northwestern Bohemia which were visualized in the environment of GIS and we conducted on this basis the first spatial analyses. And then came my “teaching” era at the Faculty of the Environment… in 2000 the foundation of the Department of Informatics and Geoinformatics and also the establishment of the Laboratory for Geoinformatics from the FRVŠ project. The first projects came (http://oldmaps.geolab.cz) and in 2000, I became acquainted with Prof. Miroslav Bárta from the Czech Institute of Egyptology at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in Prague, and I received an offer to participate in an archaeological expedition to Egypt. Of course, you don’t refuse that.
How should a reader visualize modern explorers and archaeologists? Comfortable clothes, a brush for dusting off bones, a computer?
It depends on the conditions in which you work. Egyptian archaeology has its own characteristics. Expeditions take place in the spring and in the autumn in the desert in high temperatures, intense sunshine, wind, high humidity, conditions which accompany work in the desert. Our clothes match the conditions, sturdy shoes, long-sleeved shirts, a hat, sunglasses, and suncream with high protection factors. We use proven equipment and instruments, belt, plumb bobs, a measuring rod, graph paper, a leveling device, and a total surveyor’s station. In recent years we do documentation with the help of a spatial laser scanner and from an unconventional perspective, at the archaeological site, we use a tied kite with a camera. A terrain archaeologist, of course, should not be without his brush, special shovels, and other tools for his work.
An Egyptologist never knows what he will find in the desert,
he only knows that in a given area there are archaeological
objects hidden beneath the sands. And he suspects this by signs on
the surface of the desert, the color of the sand, the concentration
of bones, the remains of limestone walls, and more…
At the end of March and the beginning of April, you were in Abusir as part of the Czech Institute of Egyptology, where you took part in the documentation of a unique boat which was about 4,500 years old. What was this boat, and what did you find out during the documentation?
It is most likely one of the oldest wooden boats which was found in the autumn of 2015 and then completely unearthed in April 2016. It was discovered about a meter below the sandy surface and was excavated only on the inside. The bottom and the surfaces of the boat stayed in the sand. The condition of the wood was very bad. The boat had to be preserved and very carefully cleaned. We created a 3D model of the boat and a publication is being prepared by two specialists in historical boats from the United States of America who were a part of our expedition.
Did the boat stay in Egypt?
Yes, it stayed in its place. We covered it with geotextile and a layer of sand. Nature alone will help. The wind will smooth over the place and it won’t even be recognized that there is a boat there. It is impossible to raise it; it would immediately fall apart. There are two watchmen guarding it all day from 6:00 to 6:00. The place of our work is also guarded by the army.
Do you expect to find other boats?
We expect the unexpected. An Egyptologist never knows what he will find in the desert, he only knows that in a given area there are archaeological objects hidden beneath the sands. And he suspects this by signs on the surface of the desert, the color of the sand, the concentration of bones, the remains of limestone walls, and more…
You were at the same time a part of a project with the Czech Institute of Egyptology at the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University in Prague and with the Faculty of the Environment at UJEP connected with research in ancient cultures in Sudan. Which cultures were these?
We have regularly participated in expeditions to Sudan since 2009. There are two sites which are near the sixth cataract of the Nile, at the Sabaloka site, which contain prehistoric, mesolithic and neolithic findings, and the Usli site, which is found between the third and fourth cataracts of the Nile and, according to findings, dates from the Napata era, about 1000 BC.
Did you also get to the Nile?
Of course. In both Egypt and Sudan we never miss the Nile, especially the Nile cataracts or the Nile delta. Unfortunately, in recent years the security situation in Egypt does not allow for free movement in most regions.
How do you personally feel about the current situation in Egypt?
After the revolution, when there was such chaos everywhere and many monuments were destroyed, the situation has calmed down. If I said that I wasn’t afraid, I would be lying. Every traveler has a little fear, and in Africa this is doubled. Before we lived for years at the embassy and commuted every morning at 6:00 by car to Abusir, and back in the afternoon. It was demanding, especially the traffic in Cairo, and daily we lost 2-3 hours of time in travel. For roughly four years we have rented a villa in Saqqara in a complex of the inspectorate and warehouses which is divided from the village by a high wall. Here we are in relative safety. Czech Egyptologists have worked at Abusir since the ’60s and the locals are considerate. They know that we bring money and employment, so there is no reason for them to create conditions there that would give us a reason to be afraid. Of course, there are situations when, for example, we go to Cairo and would rather use taxis so that we aren’t so conspicuous and unnecessarily attracting attention to ourselves. In short, we just follow the rules of the game set by the embassy and our Egyptian inspectors and the police.
Which other places in the world would you like to explore?
I have visited the Middle East, Israel and Palestine, where I have seen a few significant archaeological sites. I have seen archaeological objects and sites in Iceland, in Norway, and in Slovakia. Of course, I am attracted to archaeological sites in South and Central America, and Iran is also interesting. But I must say that I am not an archaeologist, but rather a surveyor with “an extended jurisdiction”.