November 24, 2012

Notes from the field

Filed under: Egypt, Field photos — acagle @ 9:23 am

Just a couple of new photos today, not particularly clear unfortunately. This first one is at Karanis and is the south temple:
Desert Fox

The thing to notice here — apart from the hot babe archaeologist sitting in the doorway — is that she is sitting at what would have been the level of the surface when the temple was in operation. Where did the rest of the ground go? Into surrounding fields. The sediment from archaeological sites here tends to be rich in organics, as one might expect from human habitations, and for the past hundred or so years, locals have been literally mining archaeological sites for fertilizer. The material is called “sebakh” and the people who dig it out are called “sebakhin”.

Now, at Karanis around 1920 or so, a company was set up to mine the place on really an industrial scale. They had a small railroad for hauling the sediment away and even set up their little company field office in one of the ancient Roman buildings. . .and then started gouging out the middle of the site. What they did can barely be grasped by this photo:

Desert Fox

The low hill in the distance is the other side of their open-pit mine and it’s wider than what appears in the photo so it’s a significant chunk of the city that they tore out. The University of Michigan started working here in the 1920s and actually did some of the first “rescue archaeology” as a result. They arranged with the company such that they (Michigan) would excavate and provide them (the company) with sediment, enough for their allotment for the year. Hence, the company that was legally able to excavate sebakh was, in a way, subcontracting to UM. The latter was then able to excavate in somewhat orderly fashion and get at least a modicum of information out of it. They also did other excavations in addition to that required to supply sebakh. That was how Karanis got on the map, and eventually the site’s importance was realized and the mining was halted.

Lastly, this little bit of a stone:
Desert Fox
That’s a lump of limestone that makes up the bedrock ridge on which the site sits. There are these things all over the place, big and small. These have sometimes been referred to as resulting from differential weathering, but the holes are actually the burrows of marine molluscs, specifically scaphopods which I mentioned in a previous post.

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