2014 Field Season Archive

Part Four: Is that a person bowling? Or is it just hot today?

Posted on Jun 5, 2014

*This is the fourth installment of a series by AERA Sealings Team Member and Managing Editor Ali Witsell. Read part one, part two, part three and John Nolan’s introductory sealings blog from the beginning of the season, for a refresher course on sealing terminology.

The real story of the informal sealings at Giza was brought to light with re-excavations in an area called AA a few years ago. What the Pottery Mound corpus was to defining “formality” at Giza, I think Area AA will be to our finally defining “informality.” Area AA lies in the Western Town of HeG and is composed of three structures that seem – based on the formals that we reconstructed from that area – to have been related to the administration and potentially the provisioning of a group of priests working for the Royal Funerary Workshop (or the wabet), largely dating to Menkaure’s time. (John has an article on these priests slated for publication in the next issue of AERA’s newsletter, AERAGRAM 15.1. Keep your eyes peeled!)

But mixed in with these formal priestly sealings were informals in a number that we had not really encountered in any other area of the site. And not only were they numerous, they were duplicates, and by piecing them all together I came up with a snazzy informal theoretical of my very own.… READ MORE »

Part Three: Person to Thing?

Posted on Jun 3, 2014

*This is the third installment of a series by AERA Sealings Team Member and Managing Editor Ali Witsell. Read part one, part two and John Nolan’s introductory sealings blog from the beginning of the season, for a refresher course on sealing terminology.

So to recap a bit, broadly, John and I see all the seal types at Giza (and the Old Kingdom Egyptian glyptic corpus as a whole) as holding positions on this continuum between our formal and informal categories. That’s all fine and well art historically, but if we project our seals out into society and try to assign person to thing, what does this difference mean? If the Official seals represent scribes, priests, and all things royally administered, who or even what in ancient Egyptian society and economy do the informals represent?

Although it would be convenient for the Giza glyptic material to fall into two simple categories of “formal” and “informal,” with a corresponding continuum of “royal” and “individual,” the reality of the situation is probably as complicated and nuanced as the various contributing components of the larger Old Kingdom economy. There is a high likelihood that all sorts of sealed goods were shipped in from the countryside surrounding the plateau, all intended to help fuel Giza’s vast pyramid-building machine and the upkeep of the staff in the temples of the deceased pharaohs.… READ MORE »

Part Two: Lions and lizards and…wait, is that a giraffe?

Posted on Jun 1, 2014

*This is the second installment of a series by AERA Sealings Team Member and Managing Editor Ali Witsell. Read part one here and read John Nolan’s introductory sealings blog from the beginning of the season, for a refresher course on sealing terminology.

Early on, our ideas on the informal sealings were largely based on their lack of serekhs and some not-so-stellar carving, such that their overwhelming characteristic was really their decided un-royalness. For me, “informal” became a sort of catch-all term for stamp and cylinder seals with geometric motifs, animal scenes that could be wild and chaotic, and often crudely carved, blocky hieroglyphs – quite honestly, “informal” was the soup that contained everything that didn’t get passed to John’s side of the table for registration.

But in our corpus, there were glimpses of brilliant sigillographic fun that truly broke from the Official mold – a fabulous baboon, a tumbling acrobat, rows of catfish. And sometimes those glimpses looked really Mesopotamian to someone like myself with a non-Egyptological background. But they were one-offs, and in the world of sealings, sometimes a one-off just doesn’t cut it.

You see, finding an actual complete cylinder seal is rare. The vast majority of the time, we work from the sealings alone.… READ MORE »

Part One: Worlds in Miniature

Posted on May 28, 2014

*The next installments of our field blog will be a long story in four parts, by AERA Sealings Team Member and Managing Editor Ali Witsell. Before you read these next installments, we suggest you read John Nolan’s introductory sealings blog from the beginning of the season, for a refresher course on sealing terminology.

In a way, ancient clay sealings are a lot like postage stamps. To a philatelist, stamps encapsulate much about the society that they represent, be they a first-day issue 1847 5-cent Benjamin Franklin, an Egyptian 1879 5-piastre gray Sphinx and Pyramid, or a US 2013 Johnny Cash Forever stamp. A perusal of the offerings available in any US post office will give you a quick snapshot of that which American society values today: civic history and the battle for human rights; military history and heroes (even those 200 years removed from our own daily lives); beloved musicians, poets, athletes, and inventors; celebrated religious holidays and their most evocative imagery. But some stamps are purely decorative-colorful flowers, butterflies and birds, geometric designs-images chosen from the natural world around us. Just as the stamps you choose to buy in the check-out line of your post office speak volumes about you as an individual, so too will the images chosen for next year’s batch of new stamps tell philatelists around the world a good deal about your country.… READ MORE »

In search of seeds!

Posted on May 11, 2014

by Claire Malleson

The excavations this season have all taken place in or around the Silo Building Complex (SBC) to the east of the Khentkawes town area. These excavations began in 2012, and the results of work by specialists on those materials helped us decide where to dig this year. Each specialist had a set of questions about their materials based on the results from 2012. Now we are starting to have a look at the materials excavated this year, hoping to answer some of our questions!

The questions I have about the plant remains from SBC 2014 excavations are based on both the 2012 SBC materials and the plant remains from House E in the nearby Khentkawes town which I spent 6 months studying in 2013 (See AERAgram 14:2 for some preliminary results of this).

One of the most interesting features for me in the House E botanical samples was a large deposit of ash which had been laid down as a foundation beneath a set of four silos to act as insecticide – repelling grain weevils.


Some of the ash had probably been gathered from kitchens and bakeries in the House E, the rest was from heaps of straw burned specifically to bulk out this foundation material.… READ MORE »

Discovering very old archaeology…after eating sweets on site

Posted on Apr 20, 2014

By Rabee Aissa and Hussein Rikaby (MSA archaeologists)

Our colleague Hanan Mahmoud, archaeologist in the Giza pyramids zone and AERA team member wrote a blog three weeks ago under the title ‘Fighting for Archaeology – the Silo Building Complex’. She talked about the 2011 AERA season when the mission exposed the Silo Building Complex for the first time. Then she mentioned that there was big ‘fighting’ between her and us (Rabee and Hussein) about who will excavate this area. But in the 2012 season, it was Hussien and I who excavated the Silo Building, with four Giza pyramids archaeologists who trained in the AERA archaeological field-school as students.… READ MORE »

Mysteries and Puzzles

Posted on Apr 2, 2014

By Emmy Malak (AERA archaeologist and object registrar)

Mysteries and puzzles can be very exciting, especially when it comes to understanding the lives of the ancient Egyptians. When I started working at Heit el-Ghurab (HeG) nine years ago, I was puzzled by the artefacts of the site. At first, most of the artefacts looked like broken stones.

Just broken stones? A closer look shows these are drill stones indicating the crafting of stone vessels at the Heit el-Ghurab settlement. Photo by Emmy Malak. … READ MORE »

Fighting For Archeology – The Silo Building Complex

Posted on Mar 25, 2014

By Hanan Mahmoud (MSA archaeologist)

Joining the AERA team at the beginning of March 2014 was one of my dreams. Finally, I could work in the Silo Building Complex (SBC)!

I remember in 2011, after the revolution, my colleague Rabee Eissa and I worked in the Menkaure Valley Temple with the AERA team. By the end of that season and directly to the east of KKT-E basin the workmen exposed rounded silos enclosed with marl brick walls. There were also bins, a kitchen, rooms, corridors and an enclosure wall – all part of a building. Dr Mohsen Kamel, AERA field director, asked me and Rabee to draw this building. Then, we start fighting about who will be the one to get the chance to excavate this amazing Old Kingdom silo building.

A site tour of KKT-E+ area during season 2012. Dr Mark Lehner discusses with Rabee Eissa.
Photo by Sayed Salah.


Echoes of the Past

Posted on Mar 7, 2014

Using Sealing Fragments to Hear Ancient Voices

by John Nolan

Digging the SBCAs strange as it may sound, much of our understanding of our excavations at Giza, rests on how we interpret small, broken chunks of clay that come out of the site. These fragments come from sealings, which were daubs of refined clay that were attached to doors, jars, boxes, and papyrus documents. They were often pressed down over a knot on a rope or cord when wet. Sometimes while it was still wet, the person who owned the item would roll a cylinder seal, inscribed with texts or pictures across the front of the sealing leaving behind an impression of the seal’s inscription. … READ MORE »

Digging in a Sand Bowl

Posted on Mar 2, 2014

by Dan Jones

Depending on the location of the site the amount of physical and visual contact an archaeologist has with everyday life going on around where they work greatly varies. This season the AERA team is continuing its excavation of the Silo Building Complex (SBC) located just a stone’s throw away from the Great Sphinx and Valley Temple of Khafre.


The Giza Plateau with its awe inspiring monuments has countless visitors on a daily basis however, it is only a few intrepid wanderers on foot that are aware of the AERA excavation when it is stumbled upon accidentally. This mainly has to do with the fact that neither the excavators nor the archaeology can be seen by visitors. … READ MORE »