Monday 29th September 2014
Tonight it feels as though autumn is coming! At the end of last week and through until Saturday we had unbelievably hot weather again - up to about 41 degrees in the shade - it was just about as hot as it had been during August at Quesna…which now seems a very long time ago! Thankfully today the clouds rolled in and tonight it is actually quite cool and fleeces and blankets have come out .. odd to feel cold after so many months of the heat!
Work has progressed well in the last few days - we had a visit for Dr Mansour Boraik yesterday, which was great pleasure for us all, both the team and others living close to where we are working - we were able to explain the work that we are doing, and how we are really trying to record as much as possible when faced with the agricultural expansions in the area. It was enjoyable for us all and we are grateful to him for coming up to see and discuss our work!
Today work is progressing for the construction project in the area, and we are also working hard, documenting what we can in this area whilst possible to do so. Work in one of the construction test pits has finished and the pit has been backfilled - and new areas are under examination with interesting results! Up on the Wadi Gamal terraces, the gridded survey is now into its third 10 x 10m area, and the fourth will be opened tomorrow. There is a real range of material from the Middle Palaeolithic through until the Neolithic which is all found together in deflated layers! We are also investigating the presence of material just beneath the surface too, so that we can get a real idea of the range of material types, tool types and debitage … as well as date range … in the area.
Grid square after the different types of finds are flagged with coloured nails!
Tass, Omer and Mamdouh flagging finds in the 3rd square of Area 3
Back at the house, all is well, and it is great to be welcomed home every night by our host family! There is always something lively happening, which acts as a good momentary distraction - but there is also much to occupy us in the evenings as we take care of much of the paperwork and computer-side of the day’s work - not to mention labelling, downloading and backing up the photographs!
Talking of photographs - many thanks to our ‘remote’ team member in London - Carl Graves at the EES who is uploading our photos to tumblr!!
Thursday 25th September 2014
In spring 2013 we made a gridded collection survey in the Wadi Gamal terrace area. The Wadi Gamal is close to Merimde Beni Salama (MBS), the Neolithic area, and is probably one of the reasons why the area was so suitable for settlement. People passed through the region much earlier, however, including during the Middle Palaeolithic period and the Epi-Palaeolithic, but without settling as farmers and growing their own crops until c. 5300 BC. Up on the Wadi Gamal terraces, on the edges of the old wadi there are dense scatters of lithics - in 2013 we succeeded in making a gridded collection survey obtaining very important material of all of these dates. Today, having spent yesterday gridding up an area of 60 x 50m, we strung up a smaller 30 x 30m grid into groups of 10 x 10m and then into 1 x 1m squares which have all been labelled! Today we chose our sampling strategy and will examine in detail every seventh square on the grid. We made good progress and made our way through 9 squares today, making notes, taking photographs before and after, and also marking the position of the different kinds of lithics, firstly with nails with coloured markers, and then with the total station! We will continue on Saturday - there is a long way to go - but we should get a lot of ground covered!
The gridded area ready for survey
Sunday 21st September 2014
Sorry for the intermittent delays in uploading photos - we are still having problems uploading from the Delta!
Today thankfully all was calm in the Beni Salama area and everyone is well. The work focussed in the area of the test trenches for a local construction project, where we had been watching progress this last spring. We were able once more to look at the sections, which provides a huge amount of information - and also at the backfill material. This is really important in terms of looking at the original spread of the site of Merimde Beni Salama, which is not known until now!
We were accompanied, as every day by our inspector from Abu Ghalib - Ramadan. Abu Ghalib is also a location that we will visit next week, which is also important for our understanding of the prehistoric settlements of Egypt, but not well known. The site guardians, ghaffirs are also with us during the work and we are very grateful to all of them! Our team is small this time, but we are working very efficiently, fuelled by good breakfasts and ‘smokey’ tea in the field as well!
Rais Omer making the smokey tea - the best tea in Egypt!
We were also able to sieve through some of the spoil today, from the previous trenches and examine it by trowelling and it has been most revealing in terms of the different number of types. We record locations with a ‘Zeno’ GPS unit, loaned to us by UCL (thanks to Liz Jones once more!!), and also by using the EES’s total station, the Leica TCR307! We set up all of the stations that we will need this year, yesterday, and were all ready to record some of the finds/drawing points today.
Rais Omer and Am Yasseen comparing surface finds
Back at the house there was great excitement last night and this morning as school started today. The girls who live here all went off this morning sporting their new uniforms and really excited about the new term. We also look forward to the return of the school donkey - who rests here while its three young owners go off to school for the day.
Thursday 18th September 2014
Today was a short work day, but a very successful and important start. We will be focussing mainly on a survey in the Wadi Gamal, on the higher ground heading west-southwest away from the ‘site’ of Merimde Beni Salama. Here we expect to find material ranging in date probaby from the Middle Palaeolithic through until the Neolithic - as we did back in spring 2013 on the other bank fo the Wadi! We will start here next week on a gridded collection survey!
We also continued looking at the test trenches as in spring 2014, recording sections and assessing the potential dates of features visible - this is again really important work as this is an area of much development to keep pace with the needs of today;s population. We have our work cut out for us - but we are excited to make a good start on Saturday and today served very well to refine our plan for the season. We will also make some visits to other sites on survey, but focus more on these in the spring season!
We stopped early today as Jo ran for the 2pm train to Cairo to give a lecture at the AUC! All went well and she returned on Friday afternoon to organise our materials together with Stephanie, to be prepared to load everything straight into the car on Saturday morning!!
Wednesday 17th September 2014
Last night and early this morning we packed up all of our things in Shibin el-Kom and loaded two cars set for Merimde Beni Salama! The journey took a little longer than planned, however, was followed by pleasant meetings with our new head of the Abu Roash office of the Ministry of Antiquities, Ahmed Moussa, and then visiting friends and arriving in the early evening at our home for the next few weeks!
It didn’t take long to settle in and everything had been prepared for our arrival which was really good! A good night’s sleep was had by all to get ready for our first full day of work on Thursday!
The car of our landlord for the next few weeks, Reda, ahead of us on the road to Beni Salama!
As usual it was all hands on deck for the last couple of days of work. We were joined again by our geoarchaeologist from Cairo University to continue examining the sections of the trenches and we spent part of the day in a new location where test trenches are now being dug. Tass recorded many more lithic finds today on Wednesday, with Sebastian taking care of the object photography. Jo worked with Mona and our inspector, Mustafa, to record the locations of finds, measuring in the test pits, photographing selected sections and making GPS recordings of their locations. After dinner on Wednesday (excellent as usual!) Jo joined the recording team to input the database information on the lithics! On Thursday it was time to make final photographs of sections and take final GPS points before packing all the finds made thus far in the construction trench area for our colleagues in the MSA to take.
Our inspector Mustafa in discussion with Tass
Sebastian taking photos of the view from the top of our house! A change from lithics!
This rescue mission was a great opportunity to investigate a part of the site that may never have been made available to us to excavate other wise. The occurrence of Neolithic material in the area had already been recorded by Eiwanger, but no trenches had ever been placed in this location. The amount of material and range of dates is all new will help in completing the spatial range of these communities.
Jo with our inspector and site guardian and the team of workers who have been digging the test trenches and (2nd picture) also with Rais Omer Farouk
Reis Omar and Ramadan were busy on the last day packing up ready for the next season, organising storage of the material in secure metal boxes and making sure that nothing got left behind. It is sad to leave the friendly faces of Merimde, but we will not miss the confused cockerel who starts crowing as early as midnight!
The traffic back to Cairo was awful on Thursday afternoon and the journey took rather longer than expected, but we made it back by early evening, we said goodbye to Ramadan from Quft as we got him safely onto his bus to Luxor and got some food and rest before the flight home to the UK for Jo and Germany for Tass and Sebastian. We will all be together in Berlin in April, and the ‘TOPOI’ project will continue, with Tass and Sebastian making visits to a number of museums in Europe throughout the remainder of the year. We are already thinking about and planning our next season later this year. The next season will be much longer and we will keep you all updated on our progress!
We are very grateful to our colleagues at the MSA for allowing us to be involved in this project! Thanks to everyone at the local MSA office, to our hosts, to Rais Omer Farouk and Ramadan and to all the local villagers and farmers too. We look forward to seeing you all in the summer!
The last few days have been quite busy as we have given field working numbers to the material found as the construction project continues and our short season already nears its end! On Saturday we mainly worked from home, but we also went to look at the old dig house from the mission of the German Archaeological Institute who worked at Merimde over 30 years ago. The house is in quite a bad state of repair now, but we were looking at the old photographs of the house at the time of the excavations and it would be wonderful to see if it would be possible to restore it to its former glory!
Jo and Reis Omer Farouk outside the former dig house
Primarily we have been recording lithics and a very low number of ceramic sherds too. Sebastian is photographing finds, and Tass and Mona have been looking through the lithic material, taking measurements, and discussing the range of tools that have been found thus far. On Tuesday, Prof. Mohamed Hamdan, our geoarchaeologist, joined us for the day to examine the sections that are exposed for information about the geology of the area and will return again on Wednesday. It is really interesting and important to hear what Mohamed has to say about the environment, especially discussing the differences over the vast amounts of time that we are thinking about from the Middle Palaeolithic until the Neolithic period!
Prof. Mohamed Hamdan explaining the sections to Jo
We have managed to get through a large amount of material during the past days, with Tass and Sebastian busily recording first thing with Jo working down on the site in the mornings. In the early afternoon Sebastian and Ramadan have been cleaning the sections of the trenches ready for photographs, with Jo following behind taking the pictures.
We also had a quick visit to the main Merimde Beni Salama site this afternoon and Jo checked the fixed points that we made last spring with the Leica. The points were made during the geomagnetic survey by Eastern Atlas in Berlin, using a differential gps and the readings taken today with the Leica GPS gave almost exactly the same readings.
The weather has been very good for work - with some breeze and light cloud cover - although today has been a lot warmer than yesterday. We are all sitting out working at nearly 10pm, without being cold at all … and it was really chilly last night.
Today is the day off, although it got off to an early start as Tass called at 5.40am to check on the whereabouts of the driver as he had just arrived at the airport!!! Needless to say everyone got a good couple of hours sleep in then until he arrived with our landlord, Reda and was given a hearty breakfast!
Today has been a day of catching up and also of having a lot of new electricity sockets and light switches put in so that we can work with our computers/cameras inside and also out on the balcony. It can get rather cold inside at this time of year, so it’s much better to work outside!
Tass and Sebastian are both currently working on our project sponsored by the TOPOI Excellence Cluster based at the Freie University in Berlin, see:
which includes a review of archival and museum/institute-based objects that have come from the site of Merimde Beni Salama, where we are currently based. It is really interesting to be working on the material from the former excavations at the same time as being in the early years of a new survey in the region. There are many new techniques available for surveying - remotely as well as on the ground - as well as new recording and analytical techniques - so it is really exciting to have the chance to think about and implement new techniques during our work! Tass and Sebastian recently returned from their visit to the Collection of the Institute for Prehistory of the University of Vienna, as well as the archives of the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Tass, Jo and Larry Owens (who works with us at Quesna) have also been recording the objects from Merimde in the Petrie Museum of Archaeology in London!
Sebastian Falk and Prof. Alois Stuppner in the university collection in Vienna
Tass looking at papers in the archive in the same collection
The collection is housed inside this building
A close up of one of the features on the building in Vienna!
We would like to thank the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung of Germany and of course the EES for supporting the work of what is a short, but what we hope will nevertheless be a very successful season.
Today was spent with our colleagues from the MSA and local workers up at the site of the construction project. There are a number of test pits that we are able to examine and record, as well as having the opportunity to examine finds of ceramics and stone that have been located during the tests. The workers are doing a great job together with our inspector from last year who is keeping a horizontal control on the finds from the test trenches. We are helping to separate lithics and their associated debitage from naturally damaged pebbles/stones, and label and bag these finds for later photography and also - time permitting - drawing. We also started the process of cleaning the sections on the pits and then photographing all four sections within each pit for a stratigraphic record, given that the pits will not remain open for a long time. This will enable at least a degree of analysis/comment to be made at a later date. On Sunday this week we hope to be joined by Prof. Mohamed Hamdan from Cairo University for the day to examine the stratigraphy from a geological point of view.
Ramadan from Quft and Sebastian from Berlin taking a brief break from cleaning the test trench sections.
We were lucky to have good cloud cover today, so although it was quite warm earlier in the day, the breeze and clouds meant that the temperature was really good for the work of climbing in and out of trenches on the step ladder. Whilst Ramadan and Sebastian were busy cleaning sections, Jo was following up with camera, scales, compass and the new (to the project!) GPS/GLNSS device, which can be seen with Omer Farouk below.
Omer Farouk with the Leica Zeno next to one of the test trenches
The Leica is giving very accurate readings of up to 1.5m accuracy, which is great for the work that we are doing at the moment. For survey and excavation we would use the Leica total station, which is also with us in the field. The readings are taken on the base of each of the trenches, each of which are between 1m and 1.50m in depth and between 2m and 4m along the edges. We managed to get 5 of the trenches recorded - basically - today and will continue on Saturday morning. The workers will not be with us again until Sunday, so we have a chance to catch up!!
In the evening we attempted to make some music with the drum, but everyone was so tired that we didn’t get very far!!