2011 Field Season Archive

Tweezers, Tunes and Tea

Posted on Mar 21, 2011

Posted by Claire Malleson

Claire sorting seeds at the microscope (Photo by Mary Anne Murray)

Arriving in Cairo this time had an extra air of expectation to it. After the events of the past several weeks what might have changed? Well, not much yet! Not that affects the day to day business of archaeobotany (the study of ancient plants) on the Giza Plateau anyway.

I’m settling back into a familiar routine comfortably already. Work days in the lab for me all follow the same pattern; breakfast in the villa, drive up to plateau to the lab, settle down at my microscope with a cup of tea, my tweezers, and my iPod, then sort though archaeobotanical samples all morning until ‘second breakfast’, then back to work until lunch. After a drive back down to the villa, some food then a drive back up, the afternoon work seems more peaceful, the tourists (yes, there are some here!) are all gone by 4pm so the last hour of work is really calm and quiet.

At the moment I’m working though a plant sample taken from the area of round silos in House E in Khentkawes Town (KKT). We had several exceptionally rich and exciting botanical samples taken from under the silos (all charred seeds, grains, straw and wood) from this area.… READ MORE »


An Ecosystem Saved

Posted on Feb 28, 2011

Posted by Richard Redding

The horses and camels are back. As a result the pigeons have returned to Giza. Now, if we can just the tourists to comeback!

Horses and camels are back in large numbers and adding fresh piles of dung to the environment. (photo by Richard Redding)

Pigeons in flight. It turns out that it is hard to get the pigeons to sit still for a photo. But several hundred have returned and are in scattered flocks of 15-20. (photo by Richard Redding)

This is as close as I could get to a small flock that was searching for fresh dung. (photo by Richard Redding)

For more information about the pigeons, see the earlier post “The Mystery of the Pigeons.”

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The Largest House of the Pyramid Town

Posted on Feb 27, 2011

Posted by Yukinori Kawae

We first saw the structural footprint of House Unit 1, the largest house in the Pyramid Town for now, during the large-scale Western Town ‘scrape and plan’ season in 2004. Team members call it “Yuki’s House” but the unit is actually much larger than my apartment: the extent is about 25.0 m E-W and 16.0 m N-S covering an area of 400 m2. To date, we ascertained that the unit consists of at least 21 rooms including a bedchamber in the center, storage for the distinctive beer jars and an L-shaped bench, a series of bins in the southwest corner, and industrial area for bread and/or beer production in the east.

Plan of House Unit 1 at the Western Town

Plan of House Unit 1 at the Western Town

In the 2011 season, we are focused on excavations at the eastern end of House Unit 1, the “industrial area,” which is markedly different in content, character and function to the rest of the building. We presume the area was either a bakery or brewery (or both functioning together) but the nature of this industrial area has yet to be determined.

Brewery in the Pyramid Town?

Bread and beer were the staples of the Ancient Egyptian diet.… READ MORE »


How to Draw Large Limestone Walls

Posted on Feb 23, 2011

Posted by Yasser Mahmoud

We were excited to begin drawing Standing Wall Island’s “jumble of limestone and mud brick walls” (SWI) (see Simon Davis’ “Standing Wall Island” blog post). In the beginning we couldn’t believe ourselves to be honest, because this is the first time for the Egyptian drawing team to draw such extensive walls, containing thousands of pieces of limestone and other cultural material.

Drawing Team SWI

Drawing Team at work on fieldstone wall (photo by Hillary McDonald)

Yasser climbing the tower at SWI

Yasser Mahmoud on a light tower to take and aerial photo of SWI (photo by Hillary McDonald)

The difficulty in drawing this type of structure lies in the position of the stones, because they are located at many different levels and are interwoven with each other. Creating an accurate map is very difficult. After a week, however, I can say that we can now teach the others team members how to approach this type exercise, and accurately map the walls.

One such method is to use a wooden planning frame (a meter-square) that is subdivided with nylon string into10 or 20 cm squares, thus dividing the planning frame into 100 or 25 segments. The planning frame must be laid horizontally on the ground and we use the rocks to prop up the frame, until the planning frame is level.… READ MORE »


This is Archaeology?

Posted on Feb 21, 2011

Posted by Richard Redding

I am an archaeozoologist, which means I identify and analyze all the fragments of animal bone that come form archaeological sites. I use the information I gather from the fragmented animal bones to examine the diet of the inhabitants and to try and reconstruct their subsistence system. What animals are the residents at a site consuming and what tactics and strategies are they employing? At Giza, in a larger sense, I am trying to understand the economic and social infrastructure of pyramid construction. To get an idea of what I do I suggest you see the “Feeding the Pyramid Builders” article.

To identify the fragmentary bone remains from a site I need to have comparative skeletons of all the animals that might occur. I am always on the look out for animals that I can skeletonize and a big part of my job on any site is compiling a comparative collection. Many years ago, when I had just started in archaeology, I was working in southwestern Iran, and a very famous French archaeologist said to me, rather dismissively, “This collecting of animals, this is not archaeology.” Well, it most definitely is. Some of the most interesting insights about our site have come from analyzing the animal bones.… READ MORE »


Khentkawes Town East: Returning to the Lower Buried Building

Posted on Feb 17, 2011

Posted by Dan Jones We re-started our excavation on the enigmatic structure that is situated at the eastern limit of the L-shaped Khentkawes mortuary complex. The 2008 and 2009 seasons revealed a wealth of information on this structure, aptly named the Lower Buried Building (LBB) due to its position at the base of an extensive quarry cut in the limestone bedrock.

The Lower Buried Building (LBB) looking west towards the tomb of Khentkawes. (photo by Mark Lehner)

The Old Kingdom builders put substantial thought and effort into LBB. Two ramps, one leading up from the south and one leading up from the north, give access to the causeway of the Queen’s mortuary complex from a lower open terrace. A higher-level corridor leads in from the east, accessed from the terrace by a stairway.

Our careful peeling back of the collapsed mudbrick during the previous two seasons has given us a better understanding of how the LBB was constructed and developed over time. Our investigations have also given us insight into the purpose of the LBB. We found votive offering pottery of the 4th/5th Dynasty. It is therefore possible that the LBB had a ritual function associated with the mortuary complex of Khentkawes.… READ MORE »


A bucket of water and a bag of dirt…

Posted on Feb 16, 2011

Posted by Mary Anne Murray

A bucket of water and a bag of dirt…an inauspicious start to a journey of discovery.

This journey is an ancient botanical one and the beauty of the thing is that plants float – the key to their recovery. Indeed, the process is known as flotation and it is how we find the many plant species from our two town sites of Heit el-Ghurab (HeG) and Khentkawes Town (KKT).

Plant remains (seeds, fruits, nuts, etc) are taken from the diverse living areas within these towns – hearths, ovens, floors, pits, alleys, storage jars, silos, rubbish dumps and so on – and can reveal vital details about food, as well as agriculture – one of the most important aspects of daily life for most ancient Egyptians.

Mary Anne doing flotation to recover plants at Heit el-Ghurab (photo by Mark Lehner)

The ancient plant remains from both towns are all preserved by charring, i.e. they were burnt, for a variety of reasons, and were therefore preserved. They were originally brought into these settlements as food, fuel, animal fodder (and later in animal dung used as fuel), medicines, dyes, bedding, matting, textiles, tools, basketry, building materials, temper for pottery, plaster and mud brick, and so on.… READ MORE »


Site Tour Sunday

Posted on Feb 13, 2011

Every other Sunday our entire team tours the site, this includes the archaeoscience people working in the Laboratory and the Villa staff (the GIS, archive and photographic teams). The excavator of each unit gives a brief overview of what he or she thinks is going on in their unit and the ideas they are testing. This is followed by a “brain-storming” session with input coming from all specialties and excavators from other units. This is characteristic of a multi-disciplinary, integrated, team approach to archaeological fieldwork.

(photo Hilary Mcdonald)

(photo Hilary Mcdonald)

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The Mystery of the Pigeons

Posted on Feb 12, 2011

Posted by Richard Redding

We returned to the pyramids on Monday, 7 February, for a full morning of work. Three packed vehicles drove off from the Villa at 7am.

We passed through the military checkpoint and headed up the to the plateau. It was eerily quiet, primarily because no humans were around, and then I noticed something else was missing. I saw no pigeons.

Normally pigeons roost on the pyramids in hundreds. They nest high up, on the steps, amongst the rocks and probably have done so for thousands of years. Indeed, the Great Pyramid has its own mini-ecosystem. I have seen insects of many types, foxes, rodents, snakes and many birds, including, not only the pigeons, but raptors, crows and the occasional songbird.

The insects live off the each other and the small plants that grow among the stones. The rodents live off the small plants and the insects. The snakes and foxes live off the rodents and the birds. The pyramid has its very own food chain.

I have thought that if I could get a qualified entomologist to collect insects on the Great Pyramid they would find a new species that was unique to the pyramids.

But back to the pigeons: where were they?… READ MORE »


101 Years of Degradation

Posted on Feb 10, 2011

Posted by Amelia Fairman

This is the second week into our attempt at examining the Menkaure Valley Temple, last seen with archaeological eyes by George Reisner, one hundred and one years ago.  Excavation goals aside, re-visiting a site for which there are countless photographs, backed up by (geo-rectified) plans should be relatively simple…  Should.

Amelia Fairman on site at Valley Temple of Menkaure (photo by Mohsen Kamel)

At this point I should state that, as a rule, I don’t judge previous fieldwork by the archaeological standards of today.  There are many different ways of digging and recording/excavation methods have advanced dramatically over the past century.

HOWEVER, I would be lying if I said I hadn’t cursed Reisner’s name repeatedly over the past week for one simple reason: his  lack of backfilling of the precise area I’m working in.

Egypt has a relatively dry climate but rain isn’t unheard of.  Rain combined with episodes of hot, cold, and wind equates to untimely death for mud-brick structures.  I could describe the state of what I’ve witnessed so far in one simple word, but it would probably get bleeped out.   In polite terms, the temple is basically a bit smaller and rougher around the edges than it might have once been, or even what it could have been had someone taken the tiny steps to put back a bit of sand. … READ MORE »


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