Posted by Ana Tavares
This week we launched the 9th AERA/ARCE field-school, the Mit Rahina Field School (MRFS). Twenty kilometers to the south of our usual excavation site, the modern village of Mit Rahina is at the core of Memphis, the ancient capital of Egypt. According to legend the capital was founded by King Menes, the first ruler of unified Egypt. This would have been around 2,900 BC. Although later, Kom Fakhri, the area where we are excavating, is the oldest known part of Memphis.
We carry out the MRFS in collaboration with the prestigious Egypt Exploration Society. In 1981, to mark their Centenary, the EES launched the Survey of Memphis (SoM) project, aiming to map and record the dispersed remnants of the ancient capital.
Memphis is a difficult site to grasp as its scattered remains are either obscured by urban development or lie in cultivated fields inaccessible to even the most intrepid visitor. We were asked to run a field-school at Memphis by the local Inspectorate ahead of a future tourist development for the area. Kom Fakhri, is tailor-made for a field-school: it was previously excavated and partly published, and it has mud brick settlement remains. The site provides the opportunity to teach augering and survey as part of the long-standing SoM project, which has tracked the movement of the river and the expansion of the city of Memphis across millennia.
At Kom Fakhri on the west of the site there is a series of stone-lined, mudbrick vaulted tombs with titles mentioning Ptah (the patronymic god of Memphis). A north-south street separates the cemetery from the settlement. Here on the east a series of houses was excavated by the SCA, under Mohamed Ashery, in the early 1980s. These houses seem to date to the Middle Kingdom (c. 1,900 BC). This is the area where we intend to concentrate our efforts.
We planned a standard Beginners’ Archaeological field-school, which covers the basic skills needed to record and excavate a site: survey, excavation techniques, site recording and illustration, photography, and burial excavation. The students will also spend one week rotating in the laboratory where they will be introduced to the study of ancient ceramics, archaeological illustration, object recording, conservation, animal bone (faunal) and archeo-botany (flora). The EES team brings their knowledge of landscape, augering and geomorphology. These are new elements in the field-school and an essential component of the work of the SoM project. The majority of the team are now SCA inspectors graduate from previous AERA/ ARCE field-schools. They teach, excavate and process material culture with endless enthusiasm, despite the harsh conditions on site (heat, dust, and strenuous physical work).
As we walked onto site on the first day of work, Dr David Jeffreys (director of the SoM) noted that it was 30 years, almost to the day, when the EES launched their overarching project … so, Happy Birthday to the Survey of Memphis!