October 27, 2014

Egypt modernizing?

Filed under: Egypt — acagle @ 7:04 pm

New generation of archaeologists takes ancient Egypt into 21st century

Five years ago, if archaeologists digging up pharaonic ruins in Egypt found any human bones, they would usually throw them away. “Most Egyptian archaeological missions looked at human remains as garbage,” said Afaf Wahba, a young official at Egypt’s antiquities ministry.

But osteology, the study of bones, is standard practice on digs outside Egypt – and Wahba wants Egyptian teams to follow suit. After a five-year campaign, each Egyptian province is now meant to have an osteologist, and Wahba hopes the ministry will found its own osteology department. But, as she put it: “I am struggling to inform people in the SCA [the ministry’s governing body] that human remains are very important.”

That is an excellent development, although it may be a bit of overkill, IMO, to have one in every province, but that’s the goal and if they get at least a couple of osteologists devoted to north and south it would be a Good Thing.

Local archaeologists have their own frustrations. Many want better field training, more opportunities for promotion, and say their ideas for reform are rarely listened to. “If you want to do something, you go to your boss, and from his boss to another boss – and so on to get permission,” said Moamen Saad, another young ministry official, of the process of starting a new project.

I did two field schools (1996 and 2003) that trained about 20 local archaeologists each, but I’m not sure how many have occurred since then (mine in 2012 was canceled due to the unrest). But they do need more trained field archaeologists at the MA level equivalent here, just to do basic CRM work. Even with the slowdown in building projects, you can’t really dig anywhere without impacting archaeological remains, and some of our students went on to monitor just those sorts of projects. Hard to get things like that going locally, however, when the lack of capital puts such a damper on funding for that sort of ‘non-essential’ work (though obviously a lot of money goes to non-essential things).

But I wish them well. They need more local expertise and resources.

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