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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
Posted on Feb 9, 2011
Posted by Valerie Steele
I arrived in Giza in the early hours of Monday morning on my first visit to Egypt. I never imagined I would visit the pyramids and yet here I am, not just visiting but doing a job I really enjoy right next to a pyramid (actually two)! What am I doing here?
My work involves looking at the organic residues that have been preserved in ancient pottery. These residues are the degraded remains of plant or animal material – everything from food and drink to cosmetics, medicines, waterproofing materials, glues, dyes and, elsewhere, even Neolithic chewing gum made from birch bark.
Pottery is a great place to look for these materials because unglazed pottery is full of holes like a sponge so anything liquid inside the pot tends to soak into these pores. Once inside organic material is semi-protected from the effects of water, sunlight, bacteria, air – in fact most things that might degrade them.
Of course over long periods of time some materials do degrade or disappear. For example sugars and starches are very soluble in water and easily get washed away during burial while proteins are easily broken down by bacteria and rarely survive. … READ MORE »
Posted on Feb 5, 2011The Giza Lab, nestled amidst the pyramids, may not look that impressive from the outside as it blends into to the yellowish sand colored landscape of the Western Cemetery.