2011 Field Season Archive

Memphis Field School, 2011

Posted on Sep 27, 2011

Posted by Dr. David Jeffreys (Director of the Survey of Memphis, Egypt Exploration Society)

One week into excavation and the site is certainly taking shape. The mountains of local refuse have been cleared by machine and real archaeology has begun.

It is a pleasure to be back at Memphis – we have been working on the desert edge at Saqqara for some years, but Memphis (the site around modern Mit Rahina) is now on urgent priority.

The atmosphere on- and off- site is a delight – one of the happiest crews I have experienced in nearly 40 years of work in Egypt. The area has now been hand-stripped and students are at work learning basic surveying and recording techniques, guided by an excellent team of Egyptian and foreign teachers/supervisors.

My role while I’m here is to prepare students and supervisors for the excavation with talks about Memphis and our work there over the last 30 years, and helping with the survey and sediment coring. One challenge has been to provide global map references for this area, and we have been helped in this by Olivier Onezime and Mohamed Gabr of the ‘Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale’ (IFAO), who have taken GPS readings on our local survey points.… READ MORE »

Augering at the Mit Rahina Field School 2011

Posted on Sep 19, 2011

Posted by Dr. Judith Bunbury (Cambridge University)

I’m glad to be back in Egypt, my first visit since the revolution and a time of great optimism as well as a little uncertainty. We arrived at the site on the first day to find that it is beautifully clean and that all sorts of features are visible in the pared surface of the old Egypt Exploration Society excavations. Of course, an important part of the field school is the teaching of the students and we have five groups each of whom will be initiated into the rites of augering. So far two groups have had the training and some of the students have already expressed a wish to become ‘berimistas’, the Arabic for auger being berime. All the students are new to sediment analysis so we are proceeding very carefully to make sure that everyone understands and everyone has a chance to learn every skill from the muscle work to the detailed identification and recording of the finds. Even so our results from the first few days are wonderful with one borehole to a depth of nearly nine metres and another down through occupation to sand and, tantalisingly below this evidence of an earlier occupation level.… READ MORE »

Moving to Memphis

Posted on Sep 19, 2011

Posted by Ana Tavares

This week we launched the 9th AERA/ARCE field-school, the Mit Rahina Field School (MRFS). Twenty kilometers to the south of our usual excavation site, the modern village of Mit Rahina is at the core of Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt. According to legend the capital was founded by King Menes, the first ruler of unified Egypt. This would have been around 2,900 BC. Although later, Kom Fakhri, the area where we are excavating, is the oldest known part of Memphis.

We carry out the MRFS in collaboration with the prestigious Egypt Exploration Society. In 1981, to mark their Centenary, the EES launched the Survey of Memphis (SoM) project, aiming to map and record the dispersed remnants of the ancient capital.

Memphis is a difficult site to grasp as its scattered remains are either obscured by urban development or lie in cultivated fields inaccessible to even the most intrepid visitor. We were asked to run a field-school at Memphis by the local Inspectorate ahead of a future tourist development for the area. Kom Fakhri, is tailor-made for a field-school: it was previously excavated and partly published, and it has mud brick settlement remains. The site provides the opportunity to teach augering and survey as part of the long-standing SoM project, which has tracked the movement of the river and the expansion of the city of Memphis across millennia.… READ MORE »

Giza Field LabGiza Field Lab

Posted on Jul 7, 2011

Posted by Mary Anne Murray

Well, that was a long and interesting Giza Lab season!  The Giza Field Lab was open from January 8th and closed its doors on May 31st.  There were scheduled to be 36 specialists working in the Lab on the material culture and environmental evidence excavated from our sites in 2011, however due to recent events in Egypt only 24 specialists participated this time around.   The main objective of the 2011 season overall was to have each team member finish the analysis of their class of material culture from Area AA at Heit el-Ghurab (HeG) for publication,  including ceramics, all manner of artifacts, clay sealings, human bone, animal bone, plants, lithics, and pigments.   We also made inroads into two new areas of endeavor, however, by having specialists in environmental change and residue analysis visit to assess possibilities of future analysis.

Dr. Roger Flower, University College London, visited the lab for a week in March.  He primarily looked at an array of our many drill cores from our sites to detect Nile silts lain from flood deposits by processing and analyzing soil samples microscopically for the sedimentary remains of microfauna indicative of former lakes, pools or wetland areas.… READ MORE »

Volunteering Time At Giza

Posted on May 18, 2011

Posted by Steve LaPidus

I have spent the last six weeks as a volunteer on the AERA Giza Plateau Project with some of the most interesting and knowledgeable people I have ever met. I went on a site tour set up for the team early on in the schedule. We had a chance to walk through the sites, to listen to presentations and to ask questions on the project’s operations. It was easy to understand why there was a requirement by the Egyptian Government and AERA to submit your security paperwork six months in advance. It is obvious how much thought goes into the selection of the team members because there are multiple openings on the project and for each opening, there is a specific expert with just the right background and interest.

For the first five weeks, I shared a local apartment with a Swedish human osteologist Johnny (“Bones” for all of you who watch the TV show). He explained to me how he reviewed the excavated burials and drew the skeletons while determining the sex, age at death and whether there was any obvious disease before he had to remove the bones quickly as they easily crumbled apart if left for too long.… READ MORE »

Fragments of History

Posted on May 2, 2011

Posted by John Nolan

It’s been a very busy 18 days for the AERA Sealings Team, consisting of Ali Witsell (University of Chicago graduate student and AERA Publications team member) and John Nolan (AERA Associate Director and Senior Epigrapher). Way back on April 7th we hit the ground running, trying to catch up with the past two field seasons’ worth of unprocessed clay sealings and then focusing on the sealings from the next area to be published in a full-length monograph, Area AA.

For the uninitiated, clay sealings are the bottle caps of Ancient Egypt. These pieces of highly refined clay were used to cover the mouths of jars as well as to seal doors, boxes, bags, and even papyrus documents during the Pyramid Age. They were often impressed with cylinder or stamp seals bearing titles or graphic imagery, or incised with a stylus.

Once these sealings were broken in the past, they were simply discarded as trash and have since found their way into the back rooms, unused hallways, and garbage dumps in the Heit el-Ghurab site. According to our meticulous method Ali and I have been sorting out pieces of ordinary mud, and counting, weighing, and registering the thousands of sealing fragments that awaited us when we first entered the Giza lab almost three weeks ago.… READ MORE »

Stories from the Stones

Posted on Apr 18, 2011

Posted by Sabine Boos

As everybody knows, people in ancient Egypt used stone to build their monuments and statues. What is much less known, however, is that a large number of their tools were made of stone and this holds true for the Predynastic period as well as for a major part of Pharaonic times. Chert, sometimes referred to as flint, was the preferred stone for making their tools. Nodules of chert can be found almost everywhere in Egypt’s deserts and because of its good quality with robust, sharp edges people chose chert as raw material to produce many types of tools.

Most people associate stone tools with the Paleolithic period (the Old Stone Age) and thus with a time, when people have generally been thought to be more “primitive”. A term that we wouldn’t want to use to refer to the advanced civilization of the pyramid builders. Nevertheless, the inhabitants of the Lost City of the Pyramids preferred tools made of chert for a wide variety of purposes. Many of these tools are quite similar to those Homo erectus used 2 million years earlier.

I have studied Egyptology and prehistory and see a great chance to combine my two main fields of research by looking at the lithic industry of Giza with the background of prehistoric technologies as well as in the Egyptological cultural context.… READ MORE »

Light and Shadows

Posted on Apr 10, 2011

Posted by Hilary McDonald

Archaeological photography is a diverse field. Much of it is a waiting game dependent on sun and wind to work with everyone’s schedules. The time must be right when a full excavation space can be cleared of tools (and people) and look its best. Sand is swept, shadows shift and the unit is ready to be presented.

By researching old archives – photographs from areas excavated 101 years ago, almost to the day, were matched up to some areas we had open this season. Images like these remind archaeologists that we aren’t necessarily seeing the architecture and features exactly the way the ancients left them; we are also seeing what previous archaeologists left behind in their own search. The archaeology of the archaeology, so to speak.

Old photographs reveal changes in imaging technologies where digital files have replaced glass plates and chemical developing. Software can now help piece together long expanses of walls and instantaneous electronic developing can reveal onscreen if millimeters of pottery inclusions are in focus or have to be redone.

There are a lot of moments on an excavation, however, that have nothing to do with the cleaning of trenches, the placing of meter sticks and the proper positioning of the north arrow.… READ MORE »

The Giza Archives

Posted on Mar 29, 2011

Posted by Emma Johnson

The 2011 excavation season might technically be coming to an end this week, but work in the archive is never finished.

In the archive room at the villa, we collect and manage the documentation for every project undertaken by AERA. Our floor-to-ceiling bookshelves are filled with every feature form, every drawing, and every notebook used by staff and students. This season we’ll be adding much more including new excavation areas, a reconstruction project, a Luxor study season, and new specialist data.

But we don’t just archive new data in one place. We also have a matching archive in Boston, a digital backup, and an online database where information is accessible to AERA staff anywhere in the world. There is a lot of information, and a lot of places to archive it – and with over 20 years of work on the Plateau, you can imagine how daunting it is for a newcomer like me to manage it!

Luckily, I’m not alone. In addition to a few volunteers who help me out, I have the support of Soha, who knows the archives better than anyone, and Mari, AERA’s long-time archivist who continues to oversee our work. Both of them seem to have an unlimited supply of patience, considering how often I ask them questions and seek their advice.… READ MORE »

Backfilling And Back To Writing

Posted on Mar 23, 2011

Posted by Dan Jones

As the 2011 excavation season at Khentkawes draws to a close, it is a chance for me to reflect on the past few weeks. The last week on site was very busy as we finished excavating, did extensive mapping to record the exposed archaeology, and organised post excavation photographs. The last few days were particularly hectic as back filling began.

Kasia and I were doing last minute note taking, checking, and measurements as the workmen moved ever closer covering the valley complex in a thick layer of sand. Although this season has been very eventful and time has as always flown by (there is never enough time!), we left the site for the last time with a sense of achievement. We answered many questions and obtained a great deal of information on the enigma that is the complex below the Khentkawes causeway.

We are back at the villa now pulling together all that new information and writing up our end of season reports. By combining this season’s work with that of the past years, we are able to build a fuller picture of the Khentkawes site as a whole. How the site was constructed, modified, grew over time, and was used is beginning to take shape and we look forward to publishing our findings.… READ MORE »