The day dawned fine. Those old familiar words from the February 2012 GMIP echoed in our minds as we woke from our well deserved and unlikely to occur again late slumber. The time was 5:30am. The residents of the Princess Palace (Figure 1) did their morning stretches and emerged from their abode to a delicious breakfast of ~aMaZiNg~ feta cheese, cucumber, and tomato sandwiches and tea. There was a great commotion on the road which transpired to not be a welcoming party, but rather a massive number of cars precariously carrying multiple calves to the cattle market just up the road from the dig house. The cow packing is really quite a marvel, with calves shoved into every available seat, surface or railing. The noise and smell was definitely a new experience, but one which we are told we will become accustomed to as this commotion occurs every Saturday. Following this, the gear for the day was packed in the back of a surprisingly well kept Land Cruiser. And we were packed into a shabab-mobile. Which was less well kept. But it started (somewhat surprisingly)! So off we zipped, into the desert via the Highway of Terror.
The first thing to know about driving in Egypt is that you don’t talk about driving in Egypt. Just know that it is terrifying. After 35 hair-raising minutes we pulled alongside one of hundreds of concrete canals carved into the landscape. Initially these channels were built for irrigation of modern agriculture, but water availability is a problem and so they are unused. While meaning little for modern farmers, they, and other unused agricultural fields, disturb the surface archaeology across the landscape. Sometimes rendering large sections of transects unable to be analysed and potentially losing the context of large numbers of artefacts. Regrettably these developments are growing in number every year.
The first transect of the day was marked out and work for the day began in earnest, marking in geomorphological features and artefacts along the way. Matthew and Natasha ran the total station for the day whilst the rest of us were on transect set up and field walking for lithics, pottery, bone and features.
Despite our initial enthusiasm and vigour we found very little. Understatement. We found nothing. But as Dr. Evil, aka Simon, constantly says: A null result is still a very interesting result. And so we soldiered on, enthused by our lack of finds. By the end of the day we had marked and analysed 2 full transects and found a few Palaeolithic flakes and a bunch of very pretty but naturally occurring rocks and a heap of sand. Rachel our resident pretty rock specialist was particularly pleased with the finding of some particularly sparkly gypsum and a rock which looks like a pyramid. On a more serious note the team is settling into work well and the data being generated is starting to get us excited :3
Another hair-raising ride through traffic bought us back to the dig-house where we unloaded gear and then reloaded personnel for a trip into Fayum city for passport checks, bread, beer, coke, comedy, 90s music and several interesting run ins with donkey-carts. Fayum city traffic is more or less like Tetris, with people manoeuvring their vehicles into very close proximity with each other, using various honkings to signal anything from anger, ‘OMG I’M SLOWLY WALKING ACROSS THE ROAD DON’T HIT ME’, and ‘WHY DON’T YOU LET ME MERGE!?’ to ‘You have a car, I also have a car – cool!’, and ‘Thanks’. We arrived unharmed. The passport checks went smoothly and it wasn’t long before we were back out in the traffic, navigating our way to acquire fresh cooked bread and drinks. Following this it was a quick trip through the backstreets where we encountered a rather angry man with a donkey and a young man sporting the bumper sticker: “Don’t play with me. Sorry girls, memory is full”. We don’t know what that is supposed to mean either. At this point an array of horrifying 90s music was put on at loud volumes and we continued to disco our way back home, dancing and singing along the way.
Dinner was probably fish, and tasted better than the 2minute noodles us post-grads had become accustomed to over the past year. Soon after this it was finishing up with downloads and return to the princess palace where we slumbered soundly till dawn.
What archaeology awaits us tomorrow? How much sand will we encounter? Will Tara’s Hello-Kitty watch survive another day in the desert? – These are the questions awaiting us in the new day. Hoorah!
Sam and Tara
DEAR MOTHERS AND FATHERS AND CONCERNED RELATIVES, know that we are safe and in good health!