What I did on my winter vacation
Archaeology is not just digging, though that is a very important part of the process. There are many specialties needed to operate a successful excavation. People are needed to document and preserve the finds. Conservators stabilize and repair the damage created by time or removal from under the ground. Artists and photographers record the architecture and items discovered, and the whole process. Photography support staff prepare location identification boards for field photographs, make sure the objects photographer has objects to photograph, and keep a log of all photographs. Another one may change the photographs from raw data to tiff, give them captions, and upload them to the university’s server. Ceramicists study the pottery, complete and in fragments, for information. Bone specialists study the bones of people and animals to learn about disease, what people ate, how hard or easy was their lives, and how they died. Surveyors map the site and record the location of all discoveries in the pit, that we call operations. This excavation adds one more level. There is a team of 3 supervising the conservation of a 5,000-year-old walled arena where the funeral for King Khasekhemway was held.
Abydos was where the first pharaohs of the united kingdom of Egypt lived and ruled. Dr. Adams leads the excavations in the town site and the north cemetery. This year we are working in the north cemetery where the Pharoahs’ funeral enclosures were constructed and where many subsidiary graves for people and animals who were to accompany the pharaoh to the next world were dug; often through existing floors or structures. Later cults worshipped there, more burials and lots of cult chapels to commemorate specific deceased people were built. These were most often built with mud brick. The pharaohs were here for many years then left but came back. I think all of the pharaohs of the Early Dynasty built an enclosure in which their funerals were to be held. After the funeral the enclosure walls were knocked down. For some reason Khasekhemway’s enclosure is still standing. However, time, animals, birds, insects, and Coptic (Egyptian Christians) priests have weakened the structure and have destroyed some areas by burrowing or digging into the mud brick walls. Conservation has been going on for several seasons. You can learn more about that at http://www.abydos.org/blog, Institute of Fine Arts’ blog created by Dr. Adams and some of our team members.
When I began in 2002, I was the only collection manager for the team, and the first. I documented the daily finds and tried to make sense of the storage of the finds and create a location recording system. We have come a long way and Dr. Adams has added more collection managers to the team. Last season there were 3 of us. However, most of you know that that season was abandoned after just over a week because of the revolution. [By the way, some things are better now but there is a lot of frustration that the organizational changes are taking too long. And, because of the uncertainty, tourism is way down and the Egyptians who depend on tourism money are doing very poorly. It’s actually a good time to come for a visit because there are few tourists and the usual huge crowds at the sites are very small. I’m watchful and careful but feel safe.]
Anyway, Dr. Adams invited last year’s team to return this year and continue what we began last year, that included all 3 collection managers. The good news is that my museum board gave me a leave of absence so that I could work the entire season. The bad news is that the other American collection manager was hired by a museum and couldn’t make it. However, Doha, who works for the Cairo Museum, and I are keeping up fairly well. She is doing the daily work and helping me when she can, looking at the condition of the finds from previous seasons, some back to 1966. I’m spending most of my time in the sherd yard supervising a small crew of men who are replacing old deteriorating baskets while I write new identification tags that have been damaged by the sun, wind, dogs, and those who move the baskets in and out of the bedrooms that serve as storage when no is working at the house. Doha and I also assist the conservator when needed. In addition we keep track of supplies for the excavators and make sure they have what they need. (Photos of me are by Gus Gusciora.)
After several years of obtaining permission from Institute of Fine Arts and New York University then fund-raising, Dr. Adams was able have one-third of a new storage facility constructed. One room will be the bio-archaeology lab and the rest storage.We were going to start organizing it last year. During the time we were gone, the entire outer wall of the complex was put up and some shelves were purchased. So my crew and I were able to make a start at organizing the bones. This year an osteologist from Arizona State University and some of her students were to come to set up the lab and supervise the organization of the storage. Unfortunately she became ill and wasn’t able to come. Insha Allah they will make it next season. In the meantime, my crew and I will continue to organize and make her job easier next year.
We are in Luxor for 4 days for our mid-season break. I’ll write soon about what I’ve seen.