Ancient Egypt Research Associates

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.

Roger testing the magnetic susceptibility of drill core samples

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.

Mark Lehner and Roger discussing climate change outside the lab

Roger also tested the relative magnetic susceptibility (MS) of the samples – a simple, non-destructive method to compare the proportion of magnetic minerals in these stratified sediments to detect any Nile silts which have a relatively higher magnetic susceptibility than other soils. MS measurements can help both to characterize sediment properties and provide clues to their water born origins.

The project is an opportunity to test various hypotheses regarding a possible environmental change regionally around the time of the Egyptian Old Kingdom and a gradual drying trend thereafter spreading southward.  This preliminary study will form a basis for future, more comprehensive work and may initiate a new phase of collaborative research for AERA.

Val sampling pottery at the lab

We also had Dr. Val Steele of Bradford University here to assess the feasibility of doing residue analysis at our sites.  The analysis of residues in pottery or plaster can detect traces of ancient oils, fats, waxes and resins from plant and animal products.  This can tell us about diet, food preparation and disposal, the function and use of pottery types, the various activities within a dwelling, as well as insights into foreign trade such as with the analysis of imported pottery.  Val did a preliminary assessment of the pottery and plaster from various parts of HeG, such as the pottery and pedestals in AA, the possible malting floors in AA and House 1 to detect brewing in these areas; and the plaster of the ‘troughs and benches’ in the Hypostyle Hall to see if there is evidence for malting, the drying of food, and so on.  In Egypt, residues from both animals and plants have been identified and this initial study will help us to consider what might be important for future sampling at Giza.

In our new Specialist Lecture Series, presentations were given every other week and subjects included environmental change in the Fayyum; mud sealings and what they tell us about the officials of HeG; the Combed Ware pottery from HeG; a comparison of the plants from the Eastern and Western towns; the pigments, pottery and plants from Area AA; lithics from Early Dynastic Saqqara, the preparations for the reconstruction of House E at KKT; the making of sun dried bricks past and present, the reconstruction of a New Kingdom pyramid in Luxor and the water supply of ancient Egyptian towns.  We hope to continue this popular lecture series in future seasons.

Roger lecturing on climate change in the Specialist Lecture Series

We do indeed live in ‘interesting times’ and we were fortunate to keep the Giza Field Lab all season as planned.  Let’s see what 2012 brings!