Posts Tagged ‘archaeobotany’

Learning How to Unravel the Evidence

Posted on Feb 26, 2015

by Claire Malleson (Director of Archaeological Science, Lab Manager and archeo-botanist)

Once again, we are back working in the AERA lab workroom on the Giza plateau. Every year a team of specialists gathers to study, record, draw, photograph and analyze all the archaeological materials; ceramics, animal bones, plants, lithics, pigments, mud seal impressions, mudbricks, soil cores, human skeletons and objects.

I first joined this team in 2007 (during an AERA/MSA fieldschool season) to assist Dr. Mary Anne Murray, who was the Director of Archaeological Science, Lab manager and Archaeobotanist. After several weeks at the microscope I was hooked, continued to train with her here, and I now work as a specialist at many sites in Egypt. Since 2013 I have also been Director of Archaeological Science and Lab Manager here for AERA. I love working with plant remains and I love running the lab; looking after the team, managing the work we do here. One of the things that I loved most about AERA during my first season was the fieldschool, but it is only this season that I am fully involved for the first time, so returning this year to run the lab and teach Archaeobotany and Lab/workroom management is especially exciting for me.… 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 »

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.


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 »

Tweezers, Tunes and Tea

Posted on Mar 21, 2011

Posted by Claire Malleson

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 »

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.

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.

The discipline itself is called archaeobotany – the study of ancient plants.… READ MORE »

Where data goes to live

Posted on Mar 27, 2009

“Do artifacts ever leave Giza?” Good question. The answer is NO! Nothing ever leaves Giza. AERA collects and analyzes everything they excavate and everything goes into SCA-sanctioned storage.

The Giza storeroom and lab are overseen by Dr. Mary Anne Murray. I have a special affection for Mary Anne. With her warm and witty personality, she was the first one to really make me feel like part of the AERA team.

After stumbling through a couple of weeks of supervised digging and a set of menial tasks designed to see if I would quit in 2004, she said one day, “You’re doing ok. We’ll have to see if the boss [Mark Lehner] will have you back.”

Five years later, I spent a recent morning talking to her about her work as AERA’s Director of Archaeological Science.  Her international and interdisciplinary team of specialists from 12 countries analyze the artifactual and environmental evidence from the excavations.

Mary Anne herself is a highly experienced archaeobotanist (studying ancient plants) and a field archaeologist who has worked on archaeological digs every year since the age of 16. With her knowledge of the field, she also hires most of the diggers and specialists. 

Having worked with Mark Lehner since 1997, Mary Anne was initially unenthused about taking on the task in 2006 of organizing the growing stores of cultural material from the dig.READ MORE »