Back to Yesterday, and the Day Before That, and the Day Before That…

Masah el-kheer (good evening),

a flowing spring we encountered on our second adventure around Amheida

a flowing spring we encountered on our second adventure around Amheida

Another report from the Dakhleh Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt! I have neglected this blog for the past few days and, in order to remedy this sorry situation, I intend to catch you up! For this purpose, we will go back to January 31st and move forward to present day from there. On the morn of the last day of January, Miriam (a fabulous Dutch archaeologist and a wonderful person) instructed us on the technique and then the practice of drawing a wall to scale. First we took detailed measurements of every important feature of the segment of wall we were assigned, and for me and my partner Kyera (a recent graduate of the University of Michigan and an anthropology major with a focus in archaeology, a phenomenal artist and genuinely sweet girl), these included two painted windows, a woven throw rug on the mastaba (bench) jutting out from the wall, and a geometrically adorned light fixture. The basic skills required to take the measurements, adhere to the scale, and to account for depth and position of the features and objects being recorded were related to the students as a whole when I was out in the field with Ellen and Johanna, so this experience of drawing was extremely useful for me. This skill and the process by which the features and objects were recorded in extreme detail proved to be not only an enjoyable experience, but an extremely useful and relevant skill to not only our particular excavation but in field archaeology in general, and I was and am extremely grateful to be gaining experience and skills in this completely unfamiliar field of study.

That afternoon I gladly returned to the ceramics area where I have been learning and working for the majority of our “training/field school” time at the dighouse. As I have done several times in the past, I attempted to piece together a ceramic vessel, which turned out to be complete up until the top of the body where the neck would have begun. Sadly, however, that most interesting feature was not included in the sherds given to me, so I did the best I could and pieced together a nice base and body of a relatively large and detailed jar. As always, I find that the uniqueness of each vessel makes the task both exciting and informative, but also the similarities Throughout this process, I have begun to notice that pots have started to align themselves into correlations and patterns as fabrics, colors, firing techniques, and forms come together to create a larger picture of the ceramics of Amheida.

Just before dinner, Dr. Bagnall shared with us his knowledge, discoveries, and theories concerning the ostraka of Amheida. Through is excellent description of both the genre of ostraka in a larger sense and the demographic of samples identified and synthesized from our Roman city, I was able to much better understand both the function of ostraka in Roman Period Egypt, and the nature of their use in Amheida. Also, as a product of the study of these inked potsherds, Dr. Bagnall and his colleagues were able to make many valuable and exciting discoveries concerning the identity and life of the owner of the villa and of the nature of the economy, political system, and private affairs of the people of Amheida. I truly enjoyed this insider perspective into this subject otherwise unknown to me. Although we are unable to excavate, I am finding this experience equally as valuable in education and the acquisition and cultivation of relevant and helpful skills and specialties and am greatly enjoying this unique opportunity to learn from and build relationships with this outstanding group of scholars.

February 1st, true to its nature as a new beginning, was excellent change of pace around the dig house/Dakhleh Oasis-land as we committed the morning to a field trip to the medieval city of Balat and to the “Painted Mountain” as Asharaf called it, a desert crossroads called Darb el-Gubbari where a road to Kharga entered the Oasis. Balat was an amazing and unreal departure from the traditional mudbrick experiences we have explored (mainly of the Roman fortress, geometric and structured city, and temple varieties) as the narrow covered roadways wound back and forth in an dizzying maze of two-story or more fortress-like mudbrick houses, plastered bi-yearly to maintain both the structural integrity and individual identity of the home, some still inhabited today. These homes were dark, small, and like the streets to which their doors narrowly opened, were cool, dank and emanated a sense of intriguing antiquity and utility unlike anything I have yet experienced in the Oasis. In this relatively unconserved and unexcavated city, we were able to re-construct the lives of its medieval inhabitants, cooking on the roof in steam ovens, going to the palm-tree-supported mill, and voicing their political concerns at the house of the Sheikh Balat, 2nd in command to the Mayor of Balat.

After carefully weaving our way out of the mangled city we drove out to an area of exquisite rock formations as layer upon layer of cross bedded, loosely cemented, vibrantly-mineral-tinted shades that can be eroded by the hand into million-grained rainbows just beneath the wind-blown sandy surface. Personally, as a huge rock nerd, this site was one of my favorites as the geology was not only visually captivating but intriguing as I tried to make connections between the landscape and environment during their formation and tried to extrapolate the dominating influence of the scarp which ushered in the traders and pilgrims from Kharga.

After lunch, Sara (my beautiful and extremely computer-savvy roommate, a recent graduate of Pitzer College) gave Andrew (a Columbia Ancient Studies major, and a junior also) and I a crash course in AutoCAD, a very intuitive and quite extraordinary program wherein you can digitize exact plans of entire sites (i.e. the villa which we used for demonstrative purposes today) and minute details within the individual rooms, stratigraphic units, features, an objects therein. Although I am typically technologically inept, I found this tutorial very straightforward and am excited to apply these skills and watch as an archaeological site is immortalized and made extraordinarily available to the masses through digitization. It was cool, needless to say ☺.

To conclude our day, we listened to a fascinating and particularly interesting discussion of the meshing and eventual evolution, selection, and exclusion of Egyptian and Greco-Roman funerary iconography and the depiction of the deceased, particularly in the Behnasa Stele group from the late 2nd to early 4th century AD. In his presentation Sander (another fabulously kind and intelligent Dutch archaeologist) included comparisons between the depictions of the deceased as a Greco-Roman statesman from a tomb in local Muzawakka, a similarly represented stone relief of the deceased in a Behnasa Stele, and further the also analogous depiction of the deceased in traditional Greco-Roman garb from the Faiyum Portraits. Interestingly, the Faiyum portrait and the local tomb painting depict the deceased in a traditionally classical manner, but were surrounded by Egyptian figures and popular funerary iconography, including interaction with Egyptian gods. This melding together of cultural, societal, and religious conventions was particularly interesting to me as it displays how the integration of two cultures was manifested in funerary art as well as how the individuals within the culture chose to construct their identity in death in visual iconography and cultural association. I very much enjoyed his insights and studies and found them particularly relevant to the Oases where the clash of cultures must have been a relatively frequent conflict as we see the Sheikh Muftah, Pharonic Egyptian Pagans, Greco-Romans, Persians, Christians etc. came to this isolated island in the desert and were forced by sheer remoteness and centralization of resources to interact and find some cultural camaraderie and collective identity.

The morning of February 2nd morning marked another very useful and fascinating lesson for our pseudo field-school; photogrammetry with Fabritzio and Sylvia. Before this instruction, I had had no idea what this skill entailed or the purpose in an archaeological setting, but I soon discovered that, for the purposes of publication and educating the masses, creating a comprehensive and accurate picture of the excavation, and for reconstruction, this particular set of integrated skills is of tantamount importance and value. First, we were shown the theory of photogrammetry with the “Total Station”, a automatic level-on-steroids of sorts that can swivel on 2 axes and works in cooperation with a prism and a laser beam to extremely accurately plot a series of many points from a fixed point, that will eventually be compiled together in the computer to re-construct the feature (for our purposes the wall at the front of the dig house). These coordinates in combination with a digital photograph of the feature can be placed into AutoCAD and then made into an amazing 3-D image of the entire villa for example, in all three building stages. This truly was an incredible experience and I was awed by the precision and the detail available in these digital renderings of archaeological sites as the paintings and graffito on the walls of the villa were placed upon the walls of their original context so one could digitally stroll through the same environment as the archaeologists on site.

In the afternoon, I took the very much pleasure and relief in working on my research paper. I had been feeling slightly anxious about this project as of late (mainly due to the obvious time constraints, limited comprehensive information, and my laughable inability to actually do valuable work in paper writing in the library) and this time, used to research my topic and scan into PDF on my computer any valuable or relevant information, established a sort of safety net (for if I cannot finish or do quality work here, then I have the materials I need when I get home to feel comfortable and prepared) and made me feel much better. Although I have miles to go and many hours to devote to research and collection of thoughts and formation of theories, I think this time helped the process along, and I look forward to further developments and discoveries concerning this most interesting of topics (to me at least hehe).

In the evening (pre-dinner) I also helped Andrea (an alumni of this program and a 3 year returning ceramicist, an enthusiastic and joyful girl), Iris (Barnard College Junior archaeology major), and Kayla (Cornell Junior archaeology major) sort pottery from room 15 in the villa at Amheida (famous for its amazing wall paintings) into diagnostic forms (straight sided bowls, small bowls with incurved and outturned rims, basins, bases, handles, jars, and miscellaneous collections of sieves, body sherds, and other strange pieces). This process allows ceramicists to collect important data concerning the numbers and types of pottery contained within a constrained, positive context and allow them to extrapolate demographic data from these numbers, further illuminating the function of the room, the wealth and kind of family or individuals using it, and the purpose of the vessels. It is this kind of activity that, although tedious, makes me appreciate and enjoy ceramics so much, as it provides an excellent and exciting view into the lives of the inhabitants of an area, and that is a unique gift only clay carries.

outcrops and fields from our lunch spot

outcrops and fields from our lunch spot

an old well beneath the colorful mineral remnants of a spring mound

an old well beneath the colorful mineral remnants of a spring mound

Yesterday, was the lovely and talented Ellen Morris’ birthday, and to celebrate (well not really, but it was a celebration for me!) Ellen invited me to accompany Johanna and herself once again into the field to discover litihics, pottery, and other cultural material of the distant, Paleolithic past in the area around Amheida. In the company of these amazing women as well as my fabulous roommate Sarah and the ever-endearing Andrew, we set out from the Bedouin village of Amheida in the morning ad proceeded, with many wanderings, hill (or as often happened, rubble pile) scalings, and collections of flints and sherds, all the way through Quasr to the foothills of the escarpment, where we rested our eager feet (that had not stopped pressing forward from when we arrived until about 1pm when we gave in to hunger and sun-educed tiredness) and ate lunch with a view that rivaled anything I had yet seen in the Oases. To the left of our picnic spot was the majestic and intriguing escarpment, foothills, outcroppings, and a beautiful hilltop hotel to the front, and an Islamic cemetery, the city, and miles of impossibly green agriculture crisscrossed with imposing sand dunes to our right. It was incredible. On the way back to the village we took the “scenic route” through the fields, wells, springs, farmhouses, and palm trees, enjoying our beautiful, yet intense walking tour of the Western Oasis. To put the day into perfect conclusion, we stopped atop a hill right on the edge of the village to look for more cultural material and rest a bit before continuing our search and were almost immediately joined by about 10 children and several men who had worked at Amheida. These kind and welcoming people brought us ice-cold water (a liquid everyone treasured as they had not had cold water in a month) and delicious mint-tea. The last half hour of our day or so was therefore spent taking pictures with the kids and enjoying our friendly encounter with the local people. Admittedly I was rather uncomfortable as the many, MANY children giggled, danced, and yelled following us all the way to the bus, but even though I cannot seem to understand and therefore appreciate children as I wish I could, I still found their little parade amusing.

Walking back to the bus with our Kid Parade

Walking back to the bus with our Kid Parade

); well, at least I'm consistent) on the top of our foothil, that's the amazing scarp in the background

me (looking foolish as always :); well, at least I'm consistent) on the top of our foothil, that's the amazing scarp in the background

Back at the dighouse, the after dinner hours until bed time (a very short span for my old-bones) I had the great pleasure of listening to Olaf Kaper’s discussion of Ein Berbeia, a badly destroyed limestone temple to the unique, local god Amun-Nacht here in Dakhleh. This quite extraordinary temple was interned in sand up to roof level and for years, the land atop and around the temple was fed by a well and used for agriculture; therefore the temple was severely cracked and damaged by the wet soil. I really enjoyed learning about its many idiosyncrasies and innovative attributes as Olaf presented them; mainly the unusually precise date given to the decoration of the temple with the deciphering of the cartouches of Galba in his early and later names as well as the influence of Osiris, Seth, Horace, and possibly many other gods in the iconography of the oasis-made-protector god Amun-Nacht. I very much enjoyed this unique piece of Oasis religious architecture, iconography, and cult practice, and am very excited to view the parallels and influences on the characteristics of Amun-Nacht in the valley temples during the tour.

WHEW!!! Well that was excessively wordy and detailed! ☺ Hope my oh-so-dry prattling on about nerdy details did not put you to sleep, and I also hope that you, like me, are having a fantastic week and are making the most of every moment, as is my dearest ambition. Until next time,

Ais

Paint With all the Colors of the Spring Mound

Hello again!

Vibrantly Colored Mineral Deposits from a Spring Mound

Vibrantly Colored Mineral Deposits from a Spring Mound

Another week, another set of adventures for me here in the Oasis. Daily life remains very much the same as we go about our respective duties and lessons in and around the dighouse and, subsequently, every day has been as wonderful, exciting, and educational as the last. Still without our permit, each and every team member has been slowly chipping away at the backlog of information and field reports, drawing and cataloging pottery and small finds, creating a new online database for the project, learning how to digitize and map images from the site, and compiling a new catalog for our ceramicists. In a departure from my usual lesson in the morning ceramics in the afternoon routine, I was invited by Ellen to accompany our newly-arriving geologist, herself, and one other student (Mat, he’s an amazing 32 year old senior at Columbia in New York, planning to attend law school in the fall to practice antiquities law) on a pseudo-geological-and-cultural-material survey in the land around Amheida, a carefully delineated area surrounding our dig site, a great portion of which Ellen had surveyed during last year’s excavation. Of course, I was thrilled and honored to join them on their trip into the desert, and I eagerly packed my backpack the next morning for a day of discovery.

And so, at promptly 9 AM we departed for our demonstrably-not-on-site desert query (it would have been VERY bad to enter the site without our permit, and the last thing we wanted to do was make this already precarious situation more so) about 30 minutes on the other side of the Oasis from our home. The adventure that followed was, honestly, one of my favorite experiences of my already fabulous time spent in the Oasis. We eagerly traipsed up and down brilliantly colored outcroppings of dried up spring mounds, deposits of vibrant orange iron-rich hematite, paleolake sediments (remnants from a time when the Oasis was a much wetter, forgiving savannah environment containing a large lake), and layers upon layers of loosely cemented, crossbeded windblown sand. It was as if we were visitors to an unknown desert planet; an eerily barren yet complex world of sand, rock, and sun, where the stories of eons were intricately displayed for the eager student, diaries of past worlds left behind in the many colors and faces of rocks just waiting to be read. As we hiked and explored we stumbled upon hundreds upon hundreds of flint tools, handcrafted by our sub-humanoid ancestors 200,000 years ago. These unique artifacts ranged from large and formidable hand axes, to delicate yet severe blades and knives, to the cores and flakes of flint left over from the creation of these precious lithics, to pieces of ancient ostrich eggshell, as well as pottery sherds from the Paleolithic all the way to the Roman Period, lying together on the surface of this world dominated by the all-powerful will of the wind, a force of change so powerful that it can erode and uncover meters of earth and sand each year. I think it is this very miracle of the conjunction of earth and humanity that I love so much about geology: the history of our planet and the history of our very selves is recorded in the stratigraphy of our hometowns, beneath our cities, and within our deserts as the earth and the human race change and evolve simultaneously.

You Can See Where the Water Rose to the Surface

An Ancient Spring Mound: You Can See Where the Water Rose to the Surface

Our Strange Desert Landscape

Our Strange Desert Landscape

Some Lithics and A Paleolithic Hand Axe

Some Lithics and A Paleolithic Hand Axe

Exhausted from the unrelenting sun and physical exertion, we eagerly sat beneath the only patch of shade we could find which was graciously granted by an inclined outcrop in the center of this area and ate our picnic lunch of oranges, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, and bread (for the other there of course) which, true to form, meant I got to bring back the notebook-paper-plate I’d grown so fond of in Kharga. The rest of our afternoon was spent exploring and discovering the area, attempting to piece together the story fragments to form a clear environment from which our Roman city and its predecessors would have lived. At 4 that afternoon, we returned from a quick visit to Ain el-Gezareen, an Old Kingdom Settlement only a few kilometers away from Amheida, and boarded the bus that would take us back home. I returned elated at my good fortune, new knowledge and understanding of the geologic past (provided graciously and expertly by Joanna our geologist) and cultural history of the area, as well as my renewed enthusiasm for both our project and the disciplines I have grown to love. It was truly amazing.

To complete my week of immense pleasure and discovery, my fellow students and I accompanied the owner of a local hotel, Sammy (as we call him), a band of his friends, and a Bedouin band complete with “flautist”, drum, and tambourine into the middle of the desert for a “Bedouin desert party” last night to celebrate Annie’s birthday (a Junior at Barnard College in New York, a fabulous and sweet girl we all love). After getting over the relatively terrifying ride into the desert that was attempted in patches of total darkness (as Egyptians are not fond of using their headlights and prefer to boost the excitement of the outing by nearly killing themselves and all passengers by running off the road…into a donkey cart…over a ravine…whatever…) despite the rocky, steep terrain, we all exited our exhausted and vehicles (which ultimately were discovered to have been in varying states of disrepair all the way to straight up broken) and were overwhelmed by the cool desert air, the warm, welcoming bonfire, and, most awe-inspiring, the night sky, so full of stars it seemed to blur the limits of the horizon, breaking the traditional heavenly register and completely dominating both the celestial and earthly landscapes.

The evening was spent in music, laughter, dancing, singing, and fellowship between friends, old and new, all enjoying the food, fire, and authentic Bedouin atmosphere of the desert gathering. We departed to cries of “welcome” from our Egyptian hosts and arrived back at the dighouse with a renewed appreciation for the hospitable, kind, and fun-loving Oasis culture, this remarkable experience, and each other. Needless to say, I far overstretched my admittedly early-and-old-ladyish bedtime and am therefore not exactly running on all 4 cylinders today after a very long and active week and a late night, but I would not have changed a second, and would do it over and over again. Now, it is Friday in the Oasis, the Muslim Holy Day (and therefore our only day off in the week), and I am back in the library doing research. Its 4:15 here and the sun is starting to hang lower in the sky, signaling the coming evening and the beginning of a new week in Dakhleh; a week that is sure to bring adventures and lessons as varied and wonderful as the last, and much, much more. Masalema (goodbye), friends. Best wishes from Egypt. I’ll be in touch. ☺

The Real World Dakhleh: Daily Life in the Dighouse

Greetings once again from the Dakhleh Oasis!

My Arabic Class in the Courtyard of the Dighouse

My Arabic Class in the Courtyard of the Dighouse

Well, as I said, I thought I’d now take this opportunity to share with you a bit about daily life here in the desert, my now somewhat familiar and beloved home. The dighouse sits a few miles outside of the capital of the Oasis, Mut, and lies atop a small hill that we share with the dighouse for the Dakhleh Oasis Project proper. Daily life at the house begins at 8:00AM with breakfast (my favorite meal of the day!). Lunch is always enthusiastically received at 1PM and dinner at 7PM. Basically our eager stomachs drive our desires and occupies our thoughts as nearly all the students count the minutes until the next mealtime; a habit we have grown comfortably accustomed to due to our outstanding kitchen and our love of food ;). Tea is served midmorning and mid-afternoon to break up the extended periods of library and work time (and give our stomachs yet another event to look forward to!) and is graciously received. It would be a safe estimate to say that in the past month I have consumed more tea than I did the entirety of last semester and I have grown very fond (dare I day dependent?) on its daily presence.

The Courtyard of the Dighouse with the "Restront" (notice spelling ;) hehe) on the Right

In the dighouse we also have many curious habits and rules that have been fashioned to adapt to desert living. The bathrooms for example are operated under the maxim: “if its yellow, let it mellow, if it’s brown…” well you get the picture! Also, due to our very limited water resources and fairly temperamental waste disposal tank, we only dispose of really REALY dirty toilet paper, throwing the only slightly soiled stuff in the trashcans that are emptied daily for our olfactory satisfaction and sanity. Showering is similarly a no-funny-business, in and out experience as we are all under the “navy shower” rule: rinse, soap up, rinse, and get out. Usually this is a particularly enjoyable experience nonetheless due to the fact that no matter how much you try, you are always a sandy-dusty-dirty individual by the end of even the most indoor-sedentary day. The only possible hitch in the glorious cleansing is the water temperature, which can be temperamental at best. The bipolar hot and cold knobs, despite patient coercion and attempted mastering of the tricky equation of cold to hot so that it stays consistent throughout your allotted 3 minutes of shower time, the pipes more often than not have a mind of their own, changing temperatures from freezing to scalding whenever the mood strikes them and appear to be unwilling to listen to reason. However, the ups and downs of temperature are greatly preferred to the complete absence of H2O, a state of dehydration that occurs relatively frequently around here. For example: yesterday during the middle of the day (prime shower time, as it is often too chilly in the morning or in the evening to shower in the as-close-to-outside-as-you-can-be-with-a-door-and-a-ceiling shower area) the waste treatment plant at Sheikh Wadi, the little town closest to our dighouse, malfunctioned, sending waste water through the fresh water pipes and effectively mucking things up for an entire afternoon as the water was turned off during this nasty backwash.

The Hallway with Toilets at the Front and Showers Down the Hall

The Hallway with Toilets at the Front and Showers Down the Hall

However, these problems are more entertaining than unfortunate, and are just an amusing part of the Oasis life I have come to love. Having spend the entire morning and afternoon piecing together a shattered Roman-Period fine ware bowl and getting completely caked in charred 2000 year old firing remnants that easily rub off the potsherds, I was filthy and covered in ceramic glue which essentially fused the grunge to my hands, face, clothes, and hair. Of course, I loved every minute of my 3-D puzzle work and grew more and more excited as my teeny tiny sherds, which at the beginning of the process appeared to be as random and unrelated as bread molds and amphorae, began to take shape: coming together to form a piece of pottery that once sat on the table of a resident of Amheida. It was amazing and surreal, and this is just the beginning of many similarly awe-inspiring encounters with the past I will experience as time marches by here in the Oasis.

Our Little Library...we're in here a LOT.

Our Little Library...we're in here a LOT.

Since we are still stuck in “permit purgatory”, we as students have been divided up into small groups to be trained in various aspects of fieldwork and excavation. I have been placed in the ceramics group for both preparation as well as the first part of the excavation (here’s hoping), so I am spending time getting to know the fabrics and shapes of Amheida’s pottery, a task much to my liking. This morning, however, we were divided up into two groups to be taught how to take levels, elevations, and absolute heights in the field; an essential skill and a really fun little workshop put on by Roberta and Miriam, two of our phenomenal archaeologists that are the supervisors of the Temple area and the Villa respectively. They had set up 12 points to calculate all around our little hilltop home and we had a blast moving the automatic level around, fussing with the tripod and measuring sticks, and laughing together at funny little mistakes and not-so-little struggles with the orientation of the level to the points of measurement. This is one of the greatest things I have experienced here in Dakhleh: everyone, regardless of age, nationality, specialty, role, or identity with the larger context of the dig is always patient, kind, jovial, enthusiastic, easy going, and so passionate about this place and this excavation that even permit-imposed doldrums cannot staunch their smiles and enthusiasm. I have so much to learn from them and I am reminded daily how truly blessed I am to have that unique opportunity.

Well now that I’ve TALKED YOUR EAR OFF, It’s time for me to go. Stay tuned for more news from the dunes here in Dakhleh, and I wish you all the best. Take care.

Sheikh Wadi from the Roof

Sheikh Wadi from the Roof

The Dighouse from the Front

The Dighouse from the Front

The Oasis, just outside the front door

The Oasis, just outside the front door

A Shift in Gears

Afternoon all!

It has been almost a week since my return from the trip to Kharga Oasis and my life here has substantially changed gears in the past couple of days. This past Friday marked the end of our first class here entitled “the Oases of Egypt” as well as our daily Egyptian Arabic instruction. The past month has been a wonderful blur of intense academics, trips to sites, research projects and presentations, daily classes, and no days off. So, needless to say, we were all ready for a breather when Friday came and we had the day to relax and prepare for the upcoming excavation. Originally, plans were set to begin the field season Saturday, however, archaeology in Egypt is no simple or straightforward day in the desert with a trowel; it is an arduous process involving many time consuming preparatory arrangements and much paperwork. Despite excellent and timely submission of permit forms and many other bits of antiquities red tape, our dig at Amheida only received 2 of the 3 necessary permits to begin our excavation this season on time. As far as we know, nearly every excavation had been delayed due to this very reason this winter, and the delay ranged from only a few days to more than a week: a probability that is both disconcerting and frustrating to a house full of internationally renowned archaeologists eager to begin their work and to have a successful season. As of this moment, since we have yet to receive this from the Egyptian Military (the missing permit; this is absolutely vital since the Oasis is classified as a military zone in Egypt) we are at a bit of a preparatory standstill in the dighouse. However, everyone is upbeat and all smiles and appears to have made an unspoken yet collective commitment to stay positive and hopeful, and do everything we can to prepare for the season doing whatever there is to do in the magazine, database, and with the small finds and ceramics we have in house.

As students, we have begun training for the tasks ahead by learning how to accurately and properly fill out the forms we will use on site as well as how to enter them into the database, and have been taught how to identify, sort, weigh, and catalog ceramics. These skills are invaluable to us as students of field archaeology and will prove to be essential as we contribute what we can to the team and to the excavation as a whole. Tomorrow, I begin my first assignment working on pottery here, a task very much to my liking as so much about the lives of the ancient inhabitants of Amheida can be used from the clay vessels left behind. Also, (and I recognize that this officially makes me even MORE of a nerd than you already know I am if you have been reading this blog 😉 haha) during training I realized that principles of geology greatly apply to identifying pottery as one uses grain size, mineral presence, identification and form, fabric, luster, hardness, and texture of the material to determine its individual identity, date, use, and place of production; characteristics that in turn speak volumes about the individuals and society that crafted them. In case you did not know, I am a self-declared rock nerd; I love all things related to geology, earth systems, minerals, rocks, etc. and am eager to apply my training in these subjects to the best of their ability. Therefore the chance to further my training in this area by applying these principles to antiquities is a thrilling prospect for me, and I cannot wait to begin my real training and work in the morning! More to come on this as things develop… Sadly, that’s all for now, I must return to the magazine, but bokra (tomorrow) I hope to chat a bit about life here (the boring stuff) and give a brief overview of daily life here. So, until tomorrow: Salamu Aleekum!

A Mosque in Mut

A Mosque in Mut

view from the driveway

The Escapment At Sunset: view from the driveway

"The Arches" that mark the entrance to our dighouse
An irrigation ditch just outside our house at sunset

An irrigation ditch just outside our house at sunset

Bikes in Mut

Bikes in Mut

It’s been far too long….but I’m back!!

Hello again blog-readers!

It’s been far too long since my last post. So much has happened since we arrived and there is much to tell. No time like the present, however, to fill in the gaps! Here goes nothing:

The past few weeks in Dakhleh have been spent largely in the classroom learning about the Oases of the Western Desert, Dakhleh especially. We have been collectively learning about this astounding Oasis’ history through geology, human occupation, and the development of its many cultures and civilizations throughout time starting in prehistory and continuing through Pharonic Egypt, the Ptolemies, the Roman Period, the Christian Period, all the way to present day. Squeezing so much history into a few short weeks was quite the ride, but what I learned from my experiences in the classroom and on the road (we visited many of the sited we discussed in both Dakhleh and Kharga Oasis) was both enjoyable and invaluable.

Around our Oasis, we were guided by Olaf Kaper, a phenomenal archaeologist and a venerated member of our team, who expertly uncovered the secrets and history of Ain Aseel (an incredible Old Kingdom settlement) and its tombs which housed the eternal resting places of the governors of the Oasis (tombs which mimic those of royalty in miniature of the Nile Valley in structure and iconography), the beautiful stone temple of Deir el-Haggar (a temple to Amun associated with Amheida), and el-Muzawakka (impressive stone-cut tombs carved out of the rocky outcropping of an area outside of yet associated with Amheida).

After this local exploration, the other students and I, our wonderful and brilliant professor Ellen Morris, our sweet and knowledgeable TA Heather McCarthy, and our remarkable expert guide and friend Asharaf Barakat loaded up the filthy desert-ready “autobis” (bus) to drive the 3 hours to Kharga Oasis. Immediately after arrival we hurried down a picnic lunch consisting of tomatoes, cucumbers, several different kinds of cheese, bread, bread, and more bread, the very popular “Kiko” cookies which my fellow students covet, bananas, oranges, and did I mention bread? Being gluten intolerant and unable to eat the bread which served double duty as plates for lunch, I improvised, eating my veggies and cheese from a piece of paper torn out of my oh-so-handy notebook; an adaptation that made my considerate and light-hearted companions laugh every time we ate.

Lunch having been consumed with fervor, we once again boarded the bus and headed to Hibis Temple, one of the most amazing structures I have ever had the good fortune to experience. This Temple was originally constructed by Darius the First and was dedicated to Amun Ra. It was added on to and re-constructed by the Ptolemies, Romans, and eventually the Christians who added a church onto one side of the temple and served as a major administrative and military center during the Roman occupation of the Oases. Next we journeyed to many Roman temples and mud brick fortresses, Dush temple, Necropolis of Bagawat (a city of the dead housing hundreds of Christian chapels and tombs), a monastery associated with Bagawat (quite a climb to the top of a huge and inaccessible hilltop), and many other amazing sites. Our days in Kharga were jam-packed from dawn till dusk with lessons, hikes, visits, more hikes to sites, and long, seemingly endless treks into the desert at the end of which would lie another architectural and historical secret of the sands.

One such trip was mid-Saturday afternoon where we got off the bus in the middle of nowhere and headed straight into sandy nothingness, an hour long desert expedition during which we encountered some of the most enormous sand dunes I have ever seen. The size of a 2 story building, one particular dune peaked our interest, and, after an unsteady, sweaty, yet amazingly fun and hillarious climb to the top we collectively jumped/rolled/ran/fell/tumbled down the steep edge of the dune (sooooo much fun!!!!!) laughing, and having a fabulous time (an exercise Ellen deemed “dune diving…good for the soul” she says, and she’s right!).

However, all good things must come to and end, and after 3 (ish) days in Kharga, we returned, sleepy-eyed and sandy, to our beloved home in Dakhleh; a welcome and anticipated reunion with our comfortable dighouse and its wonderful inhabitants. This evening was to be our last as our small group of pre-season students and early-arriving archaeologists, for the entire team was to arrive the next day (Yesterday).

The arrival of twenty-some new faces, new specialties, new languages, and new personalities was a much anticipated and exciting event for our little group, as we had only been around the same small group of people for almost a month and, although we love each other and are having a great time, the prospect of so much diversity and the arrival of our respected, accomplished, and brilliant director, Roger Bagnall, was definitely an event. Now, the team has been united for less than 24 hours, but the dighouse has truly come to life and I’m thrilled to get to know and spend time learning from these outstanding individuals in the upcoming excavation.

the view from the top

my feet: the view from the top

this is me peeking out from one of the many maze-like rooms

this is me peeking out from one of the many maze-like rooms

Pre-departure: the Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship

Well hello there everybody reading this blog! (awkward introduction, I know, but how else does one begin such an elaborate yet uniquely detached correspondence?  Ah well, I did my best!)

My name is Aislinn Lowry, and I’m a Junior Greek and Roman Studies major, religion minor here at Illinois Wesleyan University.  I’m thrilled to report that I will be keeping up this happy communication throughout my spring semester, wherein I will be traveling to Egypt (specifically the Dakhleh Oasis in western Egypt) with New York University, and in partnership with Columbia University, to participate in an archaeological excavation undertaken at the ancient city of Amheida (known as Trimithis in the Roman period) in a unique combination of archaeological fieldwork and educational programming.