FIELDWORK

Egypt's own most famous Egyptologist, Dr. Zahi Hawass, once estimated that 70 percent of his country's ancient treasures remain to be discovered.

Before sites and objects can be studied, they must first be found. A major focus of 21st-Century Egyptology is defining new sites and establishing accurate boundaries for well-known sites, as well as restudying sites cursorily studied in past centuries, by using new technologies.

Hundreds of years ago, the emphasis was on treasure hunting and trophy collection, often with no detailed mapping or recording of provenance.

Today, the most careful and exacting measurements and documentation are performed in the field, according to established scientific protocols. Goals include:

 
 
Overview of Egyptology
Fieldwork
Specialties:
  Bioarchaeology
  Conservation of Artifacts, Monuments and Mummies
  Education
  Epigraphy
  Experimental Archaeology
  Museum Curation
  Philology
  Underwater Archaeology
The Ancient Egyptian Language: Not Just Hieroglyphs
Becoming an Egyptologist
1. Determining the boundaries of settlements.
2. Establishing the hidden foundations of walls, dwellings, temple precincts, and storage structures.
3. Determining the extent of cemeteries or animal husbandry areas.
4. Finding the footprint of ancient harbors and quays.
5. Determining the usage of specific buildings or neighborhoods: i.e. barracks, brewery, grain storage, etc.

It is within or adjacent to these ancient structures, that artifacts themselves are found and their context analyzed.

Excavation Planning
To commence field study in an organized manner and to utilize expedition funds effectively, archaeologists will often perform surveys over a large swath of land in order to systematically document features that are visible to the naked eye and collect and analyze artifacts that are lying on the surface. Archaeologists may also excavate sample (or "test") trenches, or take deep core samples of soil, and then analyze the results prior to deciding upon a particular excavation site. Surveys and samples are economical and ethical ways of learning about a large site without having to excavate it completely.

 

Core sampling at an excavation site.

Stratigraphy
Archaeologists working in Egypt utilize numerous techniques to understand the soil features and artifacts that they uncover. One of the most basic techniques is studying the stratigraphy, or the horizontal layers ("strata" or "contexts"), that make up an archaeological unit (a "square" or "trench"). Looking closely at the strata visible in the course of excavation, including those apparent along the edges, or profile, of a unit, helps archaeologists to understand the past natural and human activities at a site.

Ceramic Analysis
Another indispensible tool is ceramic analysis. Since pottery produced in Egypt changed in form, material and decoration over time, archaeologists are often able to date their strata using pot sherds uncovered there. For example, a particular type of blue-painted pottery from ancient Egypt was only manufactured between the mid-18th and mid-20th Dynasties. Thus, the appearance of a sherd of blue-painted ware in an excavation can date a stratum to that period. The current standard for ceramic analysis is the Vienna System, an internationally recognized schema for classifying Egyptian pottery.

Seriation
The relative dating technique called seriation (or "sequence dating"), whereby objects are placed in chronological order according to changes in their shape and decoration, was developed by William Matthew Flinders Petrie, the "Father of Egyptian Archaeology", while excavating Predynastic burials at the site of Diospolis Parva (Hu) in the late 19th century. The technique can be used to date ceramics as well as other types of artifacts that display changes over time, such as stone tools. Seriation is especially useful when scientific (i.e. carbon-14) or stratigraphic dating is not possible.

New Technologies
Archaeologists are always making use of new technologies to aid in their research. Today, archaeologists may incorporate into their work technologies such remote sensing and satellite archaeology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), 3D laser scanning and visualization, X-ray flourescence (XRF), mass spectrometry, and neutron activation analysis (NAA).

Digital Humanities
Digital Humanities (also known as Humanities Computing) is a fast-growing research area in which scholars combine methods from the humanities, computer technology, and digital publishing in order to ask new questions of data and produce new, digital outcomes. Egyptologists are increasingly utilizing tools like data mining and visualization, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and extensive metadata to augment and enhance our knowledge of ancient Egypt and trace the history of the field. Examples of Egyptological Digital Humanities projects include online resources such as American Egyptomania, Digital Karnak, and the Giza Archives, Sarah Parcack's use of satellite archaeology in Egypt, and open access publications such as the UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology

Archaeological Teams
Archaeological teams are frequently composed of a group of students and specialists from a variety of fields, from classically trained Egyptologists and archaeologists to architects, art historians, bioarchaeologists, ceramicists, chemists, conservators, engineers, epigraphers, geologists, photographers, surveyors, and others. Archaeological teams are typically diverse, international teams with members from Egypt and around the world. Archaeological fieldwork is truly collaborative, and the results are featured in websites, blogs, magazines, journals, and books in a wide variety of languages.

Field Schools
Archaeological field schools help to train archaeologists and conservators of the future. You can read more about ARCE-sponsored expeditions and field schools here.

 

 

 

 


 
 

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