Ancient Egypt Research Associates

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.

Site tour. Photo by Hilary McDonald

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. Johnny then reworked the sketches of the bones in a GIS program to identify the placement of each burial.

The others in the apartment included a group of Egyptian archaeologists drawing the plan and section views of the sites. Those of you who think that being an archaeological draftsman is not a highly skilled and professional job should try to trace a plan view differentiating all of the fine materials in an archaeological dig while the sand is blowing in your face and the sun is in your eyes. Many of these archaeologists participated in AERA’s Field Schools being offered by the ARCE and the SCA and are part of an ongoing effort to put the responsibility for the history of this country back into its citizens. Living with and talking to these new friends reminded me each day not only of how much they are proud of their past history, but of the present history that is shaping what Egypt’s future history is going to be.

Egyptian pottery experts participating in a site tour. Photo by Mary Anne Murray

Other specialists in the fields of ceramics, lithics, excavation, surveying, conservation, archaeobotany and archaeozoology all made daily impressions on me with their welcoming comments and offers to teach me some of the details of how their specialties make uppart of Egyptology.

Steve hitching a ride through Giza.

Being the only one here without a specialty, I was a bit out of place but it made me popular by those who needed an extra pair of hands, especially in the Archives and the GIS (Geographical Information Systems) departments. There are thousands of bricks and stones making up the walls and architecture on the sites that I helped to add to the GIS models for the Lost City, for the Standing Wall Island and for the Khentkawes complex. On other days, I was scheduled to help the Archivist add to the digital e-library all of the scanned articles and books that the specialists brought for their own research and are also available for the other team members. The time went quickly and I felt that I was accomplishing something to help the project move forward. Now as I sit here on the last day of my time in Egypt, I want to say thanks for letting me volunteer on the AERA team – it was a pleasure and a challenge!