It’s been two weeks since we started our work on the north shore of the Fayum and already we have achieved the first set of targets for the season. We began the season working north of Kom K. One of the project goals is to understand landscape use around the stratified Neolithic sites Kom W and Kom K. To answer this we have surveyed the area north of Kom K this season concentrating in the area that is not under modern day agricultural production. We aim to cover large areas systematically but also to record the position, type and nature of individual portable artefacts (mostly stone artefacts and pottery fragments). One of the issues we have to deal with is that archaeological sites are very difficult to define based on visual estimates of artefact density alone. To see the individual artefacts you have to literally walk slowly across the desert gazing straight down at your feet. We cannot cover the whole area of interest locating individual artefacts in this way so we having a sampling design that involves marking out 1900 square meter transects (100x100m lines 10m wide in the shape of a north-south, east west cross). This season, we have completed 29 of these transects north of Kom K.
To ensure comparability, we record each transect in exactly the same way whether or not it contains artefacts. We map in the surface describing the sediments in ways that let us assess how easy it is to see the artefacts we are recording. Obviously if the surface is covered with sand then it will be hard to see artefacts in comparison to those exposed on a gravel surface. By recording the nature of the surface we can determine the density of artefacts on each of the transects allowing for differential visibility.
While it may seem strange to record transects even where there are no artefacts, finding out where people did not leave artefacts can be as informative as recoding places where we find lots of remains. People left artefacts in places where they made and used them. We are of course interested in those places, but we are also interested to know about places where these activities did not happen. By recording both types of places we build up an idea about the way people used the landscape in the past.
Beginning Saturday, we will move to the west, working out from an area called XB11 that was surveyed in previous seasons. Our goal is to extend the survey west to link up with the area in which we worked in 2010. The results will give us an understanding of how people who inhabited the area used the ancient lake shore extending along about 9km. In future seasons we will extend this area even further working along sections of the ancient lake edge still further to the west.
At the half way stage we have made good progress. Rebecca and I have a fantastic crew (University of Auckland and UCLA students) who have worked very hard both in the field and when we return to our dig house each evening. Because the records we take are all electronic we make sure that the data is entered into databases each evening and carefully backed up. Our project data set is approaching 150 gigs in size. It represents a huge amount of work so we are very careful to make multiple copies.
– Prof. Simon Holdaway