Ancient Egypt Research Associates

Posted by Richard Redding

Why I go to the fish market at Giza is a story that is best told with photos.

I work on identifying the animal bones that come out of our excavations at Giza. I use them to study animal use in the Old kingdom and to development models of the Old Kingdom animal economy.

My workspace in our laboratory looks like this:

Notice all the recent, comparative skeletons. The table with the blue lights has piles of sorted archaeological bone fragements.

Fish remains form an important part of the fauna we get in the excavations. The fish looks like this:

In order to identify these fish bones I need a comparative collection composed of recent (modern) specimens that I have identified to species using external characteristics.

Below is an archaeological bone that I identified as the maxilla of a Nile Perch (Lates niloticus) using a recent skeleton of a Nile perch. Trust me, they are the same.

The top bone is a maxilla from the recent skeleton and the bottom one is an archeological maxilla fragment. The recent maxilla is from a fish about 67cm long, so the archaeological specimen is from a much larger individual. The Nile perch can reach up to 2m and weigh 400 hundred pounds.

Here is my comparative collection of fish:

This is a close up of three modern specimens. The fish in the center is the Nile catfish (Clarias gariepinus).

So, I buy fish in the fish market that I need for comparative material and I cut away the large muscles:

Then dry them for 24 hours:

I then put them in my “bugbox” that has a colony of flesh eating dermestid beetles:

The beetle larvae arrive:

They are almost done!

So, I go to the fish market to buy fish to skeletonize for my comparative collection at Giza.

This is the bayad (Bagrus bayad) that was the top fish in the previous photo.