2009 Field Season Archive

The hounds of Giza

Posted on Mar 23, 2009

Anubis was the ancient Egyptian god of embalming. He is often pictured on tomb walls attending to the deceased during mummification. The inspiration for the god’s identity probably came from the wild dogs that roamed the ancient cemeteries.

The AERA osteo team uncovered a Late Period (747-525 BC) burial this week with five well-preserved canines. They are actually better preserved than many of the Late Period human burials.

Votive offerings to Anubis?

Votive offerings to Anubis?

These are not the first Late Period animal mummies (if we can call them that; they appear to be mummified) but they are the first from the cemetery at the Lost City of the Pyramids. Experienced as the diggers here are, the dogs generated quite a bit of excitement on the team.

Animals were often used as votives in late antiquity Egypt, objects given in dedication to a specific god or goddess. There are huge animal cemeteries containing mummies of ibises, cats, and other animals such as those at Saqqara.

Detail view of the canine’s spines, craniums, and canines.

Detail view of the canine’s spines, craniums, and canines.

These dogs were possibly buried in the Late Period cemetery as votives to the god Anubis. Like most ancient funerary material, they were a device to ensure the everlasting peace of the dead.READ MORE »


A force of nature

Posted on Mar 22, 2009

With her blond, surfer-girl looks and vernacular, it would be easy to mistake Jessica Kaiser for just another cute denizen of the California beach … until she starts talking osteo-archaeology.

Jessica directing field school students.

Jessica directing field school students.

Osteo-archaeology is the archaeology of human and animal remains, particularly skeletal remains. Jessica is completing her PhD based on her research of the Late Period (747-525 BC) burials that overlie the pyramid settlement at Giza. Born in Sweden, she lives in California and speaks flawless Californian, along with Swedish, Arabic, and other languages.

Jessica wants to examine the origins and diet of the people buried in the LP cemetery. Were they from the area or were they buried here because Giza was a pilgrimage site? She also has done a typology of Late Period coffins. 

Whether tossing about Latin names for skeletal pathologies, warmly discussing her students, or relating a visit to the Egyptian coast, Jessica is always very animated. But she seems most passionate about two things: old bones and the AERA/ARCE Field School.

Late Period canine burial at Giza.

Late Period canine burial at Giza.

Jessica has excavated with AERA since 2000 and her team has recovered nearly five hundred Late Period burials, 390 of them complete burials. They recently found one that shows clear evidence of Late Period mummification.READ MORE »


Key grips

Posted on Mar 21, 2009

“Quiet!”

Shouldn’t I get a film credit now that I’ve schlepped camera equipment up and down the inside of the Great Pyramid?

Mark Muheim is shooting a promotional video of AERA’s work. He’s been filming all over the project for a week. Today he shot Mark (AERA’s Mark) walking and talking inside Khufu’s pyramid.

Mark being Mark inside the Great Pyramid.

Mark being Mark inside the Great Pyramid.

The pyramid was closed, so there were only six of us inside: Mark, the film crew, Mohsen Kamel, Alex Jacobsen, and me.

Ah, the movie biz: walk a little, shoot a little, shoot it again, shoot it again, shoot it from another angle, and then move on. It was, “Hold this bag”, “Step out of the shot”, and “Quiet!”

Mark Lehner is such a natural at this. There was no script; it was all impromptu; but he has so many facts and stories at hand, he appears completely at ease before a camera. It’s rather marvelous to watch.

Schlepping with Mohsen in the Grand Gallery.

Schlepping with Mohsen in the Grand Gallery.

Nearly everything that AERA does in Egypt would be so much more difficult if Mohsen Kamel was not there to push the right buttons and pull the right levers. An Egyptian-American and former Giza antiquities inspector, Mohsen knows how the system works, which unfortunately means he is depended upon, it seems, 24 hours a day.READ MORE »


The sounds of antiquity

Posted on Mar 19, 2009

I spent my afternoon yesterday doing what anyone at Giza might do: timing the intervals between car horns outside my hotel. On average, there is a car horn every 3.5 seconds.

All manner of traffic at all hours.

All manner of traffic at all hours.

Sometimes multiple horns blared at once, although there was one outlier period of 23 seconds with no horns. Some beeped in gentle alert, some ran on for several seconds in exasperated exclamation, and some seemed to tap a rhythmic song to their fellow drivers. This goes on long into the early morning hours every day.

(All timing was done only for horns honked directly in front of the hotel. I ignored the ones I could hear in either direction down the street.)

 

All day and all night.

All day and all night.

 

A recent study found that the AVERAGE (not peak) decibel level on Cairo streets is above 80db. This is near the range of pain and injury, which starts at around 90db.

The horns don’t bother me. In fact, I’ve awakened at 3:00 am and been startled by the relative quiet; relative being fewer horns spaced farther apart.

Noise levels that would drive me insane at home seem like part of the music of Cairo when I’m here.READ MORE »

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Occupation

Posted on Mar 18, 2009

A small group of us had dinner with Mark Lehner last night and I caught up with him at the dig site this morning. One of the fascinating stories he told today was about the apparent pattern of occupation, abandonment, and then reoccupation of the Menkaure valley temple (MVT) and perhaps the Khentkawes town (KKT) as well.

Column base at entrance to MVT; recorded by Reisner, re-excavated by AERA.

Column base at entrance to MVT; recorded by Reisner, re-excavated by AERA.

AERA is re-excavating areas that Reisner and Hassan both recorded. In general, those researchers, however, did not do an in depth study of the phasing of the two sites, which was not common in their era (although Reisner did two phases in MVT). Phasing refers to an examination of the relationships between stratigraphy or layers of archaeology to determine when structures were built relative to each other. This is one of AERA’s key goals at MVT and KKT.

Reisner recorded evidence of perhaps 350 years of occupation in the town that eventually overtook the Menkaure temple. When the temple town was abandoned, layers of aeolian (windblown) sand accumulated. Those layers were subsequently built upon when the site was reoccupied. The last king of the 6th Dynasty, Pepi II, left a record that he restored the temple during his reign, hundreds of years after Menkaure’s son had inaugurated his father’s cult.READ MORE »


Dig fare

Posted on Mar 17, 2009

Team leaders, Jessica Kaiser and Freya Sandarangani at lunch in the hotel.

Team leaders, Jessica Kaiser and Freya Sandarangani at lunch in the hotel.

Feeding time for AERA archaeologists is a communal affair. There are four meal times at the residence: breakfast at 6:00 am, morning break at 10:00, lunch at 1:30, and dinner at 7:00 pm. 

This season is somewhat scaled back, but the large team still eats in shifts because of the lack of space in the main residence.

First shift.

First shift.

The fare varies but is usually a mixture of some kind of meat (chicken, fish, or lamb), rice, and vegetables. Today’s lunch was soup and sandwiches.

The daily lunch spread.

The daily lunch spread.

There’s usually plenty and is both nutritious and flavorful. At the evening meal there are often sweets for dessert as well. 

Morning breaks are taken on the dig site. There are usually taamiya (falafel) sandwiches, coffee, pickled vegetables, and fruit. At the main dig site, morning break is attended by some of the many feral dogs in the area.

Morning break at the main dig site. Corner of Khufu’s pyramid can be seen above the tent on the far right.

Morning break at the main dig site. Corner of Khufu’s pyramid can be seen above the tent on the far right.

The field school students and instructors live and eat at the hotel where I’m staying. I have breakfast and dinner there most days with them but often eat lunch here at the residence.READ MORE »


Khamseen

Posted on Mar 16, 2009

Even when there is no dust storm in Cairo, it seems there is always a bit of dust in the air during this time of year. As I mentioned in another post, it’s the season of the Khamaseen (Arabic for “fifty”) named for the fifty days of potential dust storms from mid-March through April. 

This first photo was taken the other day and you can see that the air is a bit dusty. Note large triangles on horizon.

View from my hotel room the other day.

View from my hotel room the other day.

The second photo was taken this morning during a very mild dust storm. Note large triangles disappeared. This all blew through within about a half hour of taking the second photo.
 

View from my hotel when the dust is flying. View from my hotel when the dust is flying.

 

There are times when it’s very bad and you can’t see across the street, although I haven’t experienced that on this trip. You cannot keep it out of anything, including eyes, ears, throat, house, car, and clothing.

It’s also a bit humid here right now and when tramping around the hot Giza plateau, like I did this morning, the dust stuck to me like a barely discernable layer of talc.

Combined with Cairo’s air pollution, it’s a little annoying, although after only a few days, I don’t notice it too much.READ MORE »


Twentieth Year Celebration II: Lectures at the SCA

Posted on Mar 15, 2009

Dr. Zahi Hawass gave warm mid-day remarks about the AERA/ARCE Field School to an already packed auditorium at the Supreme Council of Antiquities on Sunday, 15 March. Dr. Hawass’ statement introduced the second half of the fascinating lectures by AERA team leaders and Mark Lehner.  

Dr. Zahi Hawass talks about the AERA/ARCE Field School.

Dr. Zahi Hawass talks about the AERA/ARCE Field School.

Dr. Hawass said that his friendship with Mark “…is one of the most important relationships showing how an Egyptian and foreigner who are highly motivated and educated can work together for good. Mark does this for us.”

He’s very proud of the Egyptian graduates of the school.

Accent on the international

Typically, with AERA’s international composition, the talks were given in a variety of accented English by participants from nine different nationalities, including Egyptians (accented, of course, to my American ears).

A lot of the evidence presented about the pyramid settlement indicates a formally-established, highly-controlled, royally-provisioned city.

Bones

I arrived a little late (I’d been visiting Egyptian friends across Cairo until about 1:00 am), just as osteologist Jessic Kaiser was presenting. Jessica was explaining how the most common pathologies on the Late Period skeletons at Giza are, not surprisingly, stress related injuries from hard work, and some malnutrition (not related to pyramid building, as this is thousands of years later).READ MORE »


Twentieth Year Celebration I: site tours

Posted on Mar 14, 2009

Mark Lehner and AERA team leaders gave donors, friends, and colleagues tours of the Giza dig site on Saturday, 14 March. 

Mark Lehner and donors listen while Ashraf Abd al Aziz explains work at the Chute.

Mark Lehner and donors listen while Ashraf Abd al Aziz explains work at the Chute.

This is a treat for non-specialists, as it the dig site is closed to the public and requires security clearance to access (thanks to Dr. Zahi Hawass). The guests were shown the Late Period burials, the Western Compound, the double-walled structure called the Chute, and the excavations at Khentkawes Town.

Joining Mark were Ann Lurie, a longtime and generous supporter, Bruce Ludwig, supporter and AERA board member, AERA co-founder, Matthew McCauley and his partner Jane Rusconi, and Suzanne, Nelson, and Nelson Del Rio Jr. Mohsen Kamel and Ana Tavares gave tours to colleagues.

Archaeologist, Freya Sadarangani explains her work in House 1, in Western Town. Archaeologist, Freya Sadarangani explains her work in House 1, in Western Town.

No matter how many times I watch and listen to this group of professionals, I’m always fascinated. I like patterns and archaeology is all about finding patterns from scattered evidence left behind in abandoned homes, buildings, hearths, workshops, and garbage dumps.

Just as an artist may see form differently than you and me in terms of light and shadow, details of a feature or a structure appear to the archaeologist’s eye in ways that we would usually miss.READ MORE »


Busman’s holiday

Posted on Mar 13, 2009

It is often the case that Friday, the only day off in Egypt, is a busman’s holiday for archaeologists. When you work in a fascinating place like Egypt, there’s never an end to fascinating things to see.

When I was here in 2005, Adel Kelany and Ashraf Abd al-Aziz took a group of us on a tour of the Giza Plateau on our day off. Having worked there, they were able to show us hidden aspects of the plateau (hidden in plain sight, if you know where to look).

Tour of the Giza Plateau; Great Pyramid 2005.

Tour of the Giza Plateau; Great Pyramid 2005.

For example, Adel, who is a quarry expert, showed us the Roman cuttings on stones that the Romans had wrenched from Khafre’s pyramid casing. The Romans ruled Egypt until the fifth century AD, so the cuttings were made more than two thousand years after the pyramids were built.

Roman cut on red granite casing block.

Roman cut on red granite casing block.

Mohsen Kamel, Joint Field Director, never seems to stop working even at mealtimes. We are plotting to kidnap him to the White Desert.

Ana Tavares, Joint Field Director, always seems to work her days off. Today she is taking some of her field school students to survey the grounds of AERA’s new villa, in preparation for architectural plans for the field school section of the residence.READ MORE »


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