Blog Archive

Plaster, Pits and Pots: Feeling Smug in FS1

Posted on Feb 16, 2015

by Freya Sadarangani (AERA Post-Excavation Manager)

It’s great to be back excavating at HeG, and great to be back teaching at the AERA fieldschool. Teaching in this fieldschool is a pretty special experience for me – the students are always so incredibly keen and interested, serious about learning but always there’s a good mix of site banter and laughter. And this season is no exception, I am teaching fieldschool Unit 1 (FS1), with my colleague Rabee Eissa Mohammed. We have five great students (Aly Ahmed Aly, Hanaa Hagag Sayed, Kholoud Abd el- Naby, Mohammed Abd el-Maqsoud, Rahel Glanzmann) and two trainees (Ibrahim Samir Ibrahim and Mohamed Arafa), and are joined by archaeologist Virag Pabeschitz.


Rabee Eissa Mohamed teaching the FS1 students and trainees how to use the Auto Level.
Photo by V.Pabeschitz.

We’re only a week into the fieldschool, but already the students have learnt and experienced the importance of cleaning the site thoroughly, identifying different deposits by their composition, colour, and types of inclusions; co-ordinate systems and our own 5m grid; planning archaeological features at scale 1:20; setting up and using the Auto Level – and loads more.


FS1 students planning in Area AA-S, view to the East. Photo by F.… READ MORE »

The Riddle of Standing Wall Island

Posted on Feb 8, 2015

by Kirk Roberts (archaeologist)

It’s the first week on site, and the AERA team is excited to be back at Standing Wall Island (SWI). This year, a team of Egyptian students will be working in the Eastern part of this intriguing area, and trying to understand how this enigmatic island of archaeology fits in with the houses, streets and galleries that make up the rest of the site. Unusually, this large, walled enclosure features rounded corners – elements that point towards the management of animals. Previous work by our animal bone expert Dr. Richard Redding, has suggested that the area may have functioned as a cattle corral, and this exciting possibility means that SWI may help us to understand how Heit el-Ghurab was provisioned with meat – an important food resource for which we find abundant evidence. This year, we will test this theory by carefully targeting excavations to look for evidence that might point towards the area having been used as a stock enclosure.


Field School Team 3 begin the work of clearing Standing Wall Island (SWI),
view to the North. Photo by Kirk Roberts.

When the team got to the site last week, we were confronted with a thick mass of weeds and plant-life.… READ MORE »

New Archaeologist on Board

Posted on Feb 5, 2015

By Virág Pabeschitz (Hungarian archaeologist)

Working in Egypt a stone’s throw from the pyramids? This is a real archaeologist heaven!

My first impression is that the AERA team has done a very professional and important job. This excavation associated with the field-school is a very useful experience for everyone

team_410 The team so far. Photo by Yasser Mahmoud.

We have busy days which start early in the morning, but it’s never too early to start your day in Giza to excavate in one of the most important archaeological sites. Have you ever seen the pyramids early in the morning without tourist? Truly amazing.

It is very heart-warming to see the field school students as they gather around their teacher and soak up the new knowledge in the field and after they put it into practice. I think they will be very successful and professional archaeologists.

survey_410 Survey class on site. Photo by Virag Pabeschitz.

In Hungary we use similar excavation techniques and databases as here but this is a very useful experience for me to work in an international team and meet with other materials, artifacts and conditions. I can learn every day from my professional teammates about lots of topics like flints, GIS, or cultural heritage, etc.… READ MORE »

The AERA 2015 Field Season Begins!

Posted on Jan 30, 2015

A Season of Migration to the South

By Ana Tavares (joint Field-Director)

Gradually the team assembles at Giza for the 2015 excavation season. For most of us, this involves travelling south – away from cold weather, storms and snow. It is wonderful to be back in the warmth of the Giza plateau.

We have been preparing for the season for weeks; assembling equipment, organizing documentation, surveying the excavation grid, cleaning the site from vegetation, and removing the protective layer of sand (backfill) which protects the mud brick ruins in between excavation seasons. We also prepared manuals, lectures and equipment for the field-school students. Field-schools are an important component of AERA’s fieldwork and this year we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the AERA/ARCE field-school. We would like to assemble alumnae from all over Egypt and celebrate with a party towards the end of the season!

Beer and Meat
The site work also takes us south. This season we are back in the Heit el-Ghurab settlement, investigating two areas in the southern part of the site. These areas are named AA-south and SWI (for Standing Wall Island). The research questions for the season centre on ‘beer and meat’.

The southern part of the site is occupied by a neighbourhood which we named the ‘Western Town’.… READ MORE »

Perunefer or ‘bon voyage’ in ancient Egyptian

Posted on Oct 7, 2014

We reached the end of the 2014 Mit Rahina field-school.

‘All too short’, is the unanimous feeling of the team. But we have managed to do a lot in only 4 weeks. Our aims were to train students in advanced ceramics analysis and archaeological illustration; and analyse certain categories of material – Old Kingdom ceramics, objects, mud sealings and ground stones.

Every morning we left the Giza Archaeological Centre soon after 6am, to drive to Memphis where we arrived to see the sun rise over the palm groves. We worked there until 1pm with a short break for breakfast at 10am. September-October is date harvest time at Memphis so often we had trays of different types of dates brought to us for tasting. Some prefer the bright yellow fibrous dates, others the dark brown soft dates, dripping with ’honey’. All washed down with strong tea made over a wood fire.

Back at Giza, after a late lunch, the afternoons were spent working in the library and on the computers. The illustrators digitally ‘inked’ their drawings; the ceramicists translated articles and researched comparative material for their reports. The students also downloaded the cameras, entered data on photo and ceramics databases, scanned and archived their work.… READ MORE »

Choose the short straw…

Posted on Oct 5, 2014

By Rudeina Bayoumi, Rehab Ahmed Mohamed and Aisha Mohamed Montaser (MSA ceramic students)

Our supervisors in the ceramics team gave us some topics to read and discuss together the following day. They also assigned pages or topics for every one of us.

One day they gave us some pages with a lot of topics, and they asked us to divide it between ourselves. But we didn’t know how to do that! If we divided it by pages the topics would not be complete, and if we divided it by topic some of us would have more than 5 pages and the others less than half page. So what could we do?

The break time came and the answer also came with it. Guess what? It is “the short straw” game we decided to play, to divide the topics by luck. We played it and finally Rudeina was the unlucky person in our group, because she got the biggest part of these articles. Better luck next time!… READ MORE »

Making flour…and not only

Posted on Sep 28, 2014

By Dr. Giulio Lucarini, University of Cambridge, UK

When I spoke for the first time with Ana Tavares about the food production research project I am currently carrying out in several regions of North Africa* and, in particular, about the analysis I am doing on grinding stones, she experienced a ‘light bulb moment’ and, smiling, exclaimed: “I have finally found somebody who may be interested in our fantastic querns and grinders! Do you think we can apply the same approach to the tools coming from the ancient capital of Egypt?” She did not have to wait too long for my reply. I was absolutely delighted and honored by receiving this proposal, especially considering that the importance of stone assemblages coming from dynastic contexts is very often underestimated or, at least, not considered at the same level of other classes of materials, such as pottery. As an archaeologist and prehistorian I have to admit that making the stones ‘speak’ has always been my greatest passion and the possibility to analyze assemblages from such an important Middle Kingdom site is a new challenge for me. This is the reason why I am writing this blog today.

The work I have carried out during the 2014 season of the MRFS investigates potentials of grinding tools to provide information on the functional nature of different areas of the Kom el-Fakhry settlement and on dietary and non-dietary uses of such tools, by applying an integrated approach of use-wear and residue analysis.… READ MORE »

Special guest

Posted on Sep 26, 2014

By Mahmoud Nour-Eldin Mohammed, Illustration trainee

As usual, we wake up at 5:45 am to prepare ourselves for another working day. After breakfast and tea we got in the microbus on our way to the stores room at Mit-Rahina (Memphis).


But this day is not like any other day because there was a special gust with us in the microbus in the form of a big fan. This fan was to provide us with cool air during our work in the store room.

But sometimes things never go according to plan. When we arrived at the store room the electricity was not working. At first we thought it would be off for only one or two hours, but it seems that the electricity did not like our new guest, the fan; because it stayed off the whole working day.


At 11:30 am there was a surprise. Very Egyptian cups of tea were made not by the modern way, but in the ancient Egyptian way using a Hearth.


At the end of the day, our guest returned with us to the AERA Giza centre without performing its job, because of the electricity. However, we had amazing very Egyptian tea, thanks to our natural style of life.… READ MORE »


Now comes the hard part…

Posted on Sep 22, 2014

By Dr. David Jeffreys (director Survey of Memphis, Egypt Exploration Society)

Everything is coming along very nicely with this advanced Mit Rahina field school, with an enthusiastic and highly committed group of students and their typically professional, critical but supportive tutors. Everyone seems content with their specialist subject areas (ceramics and illustration), and each gave a short and lucid presentation to the others just before the weekend. The tutors are also following their specialisms such as the sizeable collection of seals and seal impressions from the Kom Fakhry site.


My job, as last time three years ago, is to introduce the students to the site of Memphis and the challenges it faces. I will be giving short illustrated talks on the background to the history, and the history of exploration, of Memphis, and we have started a series of site tours, beginning with the Mit Rahina museum with its showpiece, the colossal limestone statue of Ramesses II (Abu’l Hol) and the various objects inside and in the museum garden, including the two standing restored / rebuilt colossi in granite, partners to the limestone one.


We discussed the nature of and reasons for patterns of erosion on the limestone statue and the nearby travertine sphinx, where one side is deeply damaged but the other is a pristine state (apart from the loss of paint) – a result of permanent submersion in ground and flood water (the well preserved side) in contrast to the half that has been subject to alternate wet and dry conditions and has therefore suffered.… READ MORE »


The Canary in the Data Mine

Posted on Sep 16, 2014

By Rebekah Miracle (AERA GIS specialist)

As the geographic information specialist (GIS) at AERA, my job is to digitally archive, synthesize and present our excavation data in ways that make it more understandable and usable to other people – both to our own researchers and, through articles and illustrations, to other people who may have never seen our sites before. Working with the Mit Rahina site data from Memphis is a bit different than working with our Giza data. While I know the Giza sites backwards and forwards, I’ve never seen the Mit Rahina site in person.

In some ways this makes my job harder, as I have to orient myself solely through our excavation archive. In other ways though, this helps me to do my job better, as I can’t take anything for granted and I know that if something doesn’t make sense to me, it probably won’t make sense to outside researchers either. I feel like I am the canary in the coal mine for data clarity this year!

Though I am working from my home in Austin, Texas, we have twice-weekly team meetings and constantly send documents back and forth. Despite the 7100 miles between my home and the site, it actually works very smoothly.… READ MORE »

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