Filling the gaps
March 12, 2009
Driving back to the hotel from the main dig site today, I was reminded of two features of the daily commute during my month digging with the AERA team in 2004: driving through the crowded suburb of Nazlet es Saman past the Sphinx and hearing three or four languages spoken at once in the microbus. French, Polish, Swedish, English, and Arabic were the interwoven music of drive time.
Today I heard almost exclusively Arabic because I was on the bus with Egyptian field school students.
All of these students work for Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities as inspectors. Most of the 1,500 or so inspectors in Egypt are trained in Egyptology, the study of the language and culture of ancient Egypt. The AERA/ARCE field school teaches them modern archaeological technique.
Will Schenck has worked in Egypt for decades and has taught and done illustration with AERA in previous seasons. Will is teaching illustration to the students by giving them hands on training in the field and on computers. He also shows up on Betsy Bryan’s blog from the Mut Temple in Luxor (see Hopkins in Egypt in the blogroll).
One of the students remarked that although they use modern equipment at their jobs, such as total stations, GPS, and GIS, here at the field school they are learning the very basics of modern archaeology: drawing, surveying, excavation, and recording. They feel this enhances their skills and makes them better inspectors.
Yesterday, Janine Bourriau, one of the most prominent ceramicists in Egyptian archaeology was teaching a class for the Egyptian field school students across the room from me in the residence. Seeing me typing, she came over to chat during a break and apologized for being “such a loud teacher.” Of course, her teaching is brilliant and I couldn’t help eavesdropping.
One of the fascinating bits I heard Ms. Bourriau tell the students was about a Middle Kingdom jar of Egyptian origin found in an Egyptian tomb that was inscribed “Wine from Syria.” The wine was apparently imported but then decanted into an Egyptian jar. This is good evidence for importation during the period and shows one method of Egyptian distribution.
Ceramics are an important tool for dating in archaeology. Janine Bourriau, Dorothea Arnold, and Hans-Åke Nordstrom (who arrived yesterday) are responsible for creating the Vienna system: the clay classification system that enables pottery to be analyzed across Egypt in a standard way. One can track the origin of the ancient ceramic workshops and the mixtures of clay used in composition. This way you can see what’s regional and what’s imported.
Out on the site, the students are working hard to carefully excavate the many Late Period burials on the main site. These must be removed before the team can excavate down to the earlier 4th Dynasty levels. The students and instructors work long, hard hours with lectures and exams after a day in the field.
They are astonished that a foreign mission would spend so much time and money to further their education. They pay no fees for attending the field school. They must apply and interview to get accepted for a rigorous eight weeks of daily study, lectures, and exams.
The students are understandably enthusiastic about their opportunity to participate in this school. They all seemed quite attached to their instructors and are surprised that they can easily approach anyone with questions, not just the instructors assigned to them. They feel they are enhancing their skill set and becoming better inspectors. One student summed it up by saying, “We are here filling the gaps.”