Rene, Alex and Jonathan visited from the NZ Embassy in Cairo yesterday. Shezani and Willeke showed them around Karanis before I met them back at the dig house. Over tea and cake I quickly explained the Neolithic project particularly that we were working on the ancient shoreline of Lake Qarun which today is much lower (its 44m below sea level). The ancient high lake level means that the Neolithic material we are looking at is separated from the earlier epipalaeolithic remains and from later Pharaonic and GrecoRoman occupation.
It was a hazy day so we put Shezani in one vehicle and myself in the other for the drive across the clay mine to our work area. We visited the transect we are working on at the moment first. It is in an area with a quite dense scatter of flakes and cores and we have marked this area for detailed stone artefact analysis. As we explained to the embassy people, in the transects so far we have marked flakes, cores and tools as well as pottery and bone using coloured nails to differentiate the artefacts. We then use our total station to locate and code the nails. This gives us a density distribution of artefacts in each of the transects. But we also need details about the size, shape and material from which the stone artefacts were made. Therefore we are beginning to record detailed observations of individual artefacts. To do this we number each artefact, use the total station to record its location, then make observations on the artefact using some data-entry software. The number lets us relate the location and the observations together. Rene and his colleagues saw people standing in a sea of silver tagged nails (they are where we paste the preprinted numbers) calling out observations to a person who types the information into the data-entry computer.
We explained what we were looking at while making the observations and pointed out the dense scatter of stone artefacts resting on the surface. It’s hard to imagine the size of the Neolithic settlement we are looking at so I took the embassy people first to Kom W, to look at our just completed excavations there and then to the Z Basin shoreline. Z Basin is one of the basins along the edge of the ancient Lake Qarun originally defined by Caton-Thompson. It is one of the steeper sections of shoreline near where we are working and so makes it easier to envision where the ancient lake once stood. Looking back across the area we are working you have to imagine a Neolithic settlement stretching across 3km between Z Basin and the adjacent X Basin. This approximates the size of the Neolithic settlement we are working in. Most of this is exposed on the surface giving us a unique opportunity to understand how people 6,500 years ago organised themselves across space.
We packed up as usual around 3pm and drove back with Rene, Alex and Jonathan to our dig house. It was, for once, a calm evening without the northerly wind that so often blows in the evening. Upstairs on our dig house roof, there was a surprise for the NZ crew. The embassy people had brought with them 80 NZ lamb chops and some bottles on NZ wine! All of the crew (there are more than 20 of us working on some aspect of the project) joined the NZ embassy people for a roof top BBQ, a great chance to unwind and compare our Egypt experiences. Rene, Alex and Jonathan had a chance to chat with the NZ students asking about what made them interested in Egyptian archaeology and they had a chance to ask about what life is like working in NZ embassies. We hope our embassy friends will be back for a visit next year to see the progress we have made.