Ancient Egypt Research Associates

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.  It’s not like sand is in any short supply in the immediate vicinity.

To any aspiring archaeologists reading this, please take heed.  BACKFILL your site!  Preservation in situ is by far the best of way of ensuring a site’s survival for future generations, and you never know what future archaeologists can make of the evidence.

Not that I’m claiming to be a better archaeologist than Reisner.  For a start, to formulate more in depth hypotheses than him would require evidence to begin with.  Evidence I don’t have because he didn’t backfill.

I shouldn’t be too harsh on my predecessor however.  For all his faults, Reisner did backfill the majority of the temple, and his plans, so far, have been remarkably accurate when compared to our grid. No mean feat when you consider the speed with which he uncovered and recorded the structure.

Another useful aspect of his work was an attempt at phasing the temple.  This leads to part of my research aims this year; to test these theories and phases through detailed, systematic excavation.  Phasing a structure entails dividing up archaeological features, walls etc. into general phases, or periods, of use.  A skill that even present day archaeologists can struggle with at times.  No names mentioned.

So, despite depressing levels of preservation work has progressed well and I’m trying to make the most of what is remaining.  It’s not all doom and gloom, as one of the joys of being part of a research excavation, as opposed to a salvage excavation, means I can examine what is necessary and leave the rest, knowing that it will be here in the future should I, or others, wish to return.

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

So, I’m going to remain hopeful that my initial assessment has been pessimistic in the extreme and that the reality is far less bleak.   This is one occasion where I’m genuinely hoping to be proved wrong!  Furthermore, if my techniques seem brutal by future standards of archaeology, I can only apologise in advance.