Monday, 13 January 2014

The Archaeological View: A few of my Favourite Finds

I thought in this guest blog post I would share with you some of (in my view) my most interesting finds. It is a question often posed to the archaeologist, aside from the shudder inducing “Do you dig dinosaurs?”  immediately replied with a resounding “NO!”  I have had the good fortune to work in various sites as an archaeologist and ceramicist, both in commercial and research projects, in a variety of locations including the UK, Romania, Egypt and Sudan. I have been lucky enough to dig in some of the most incredible sites of the ancient world.

However, it is often the most every day, mundane item that can inspire you. On my first job as a commercial archaeologist, fresh out of university in 2008, I worked on a site in Shoreditch. The area was about to be developed into a hotel extension and so needed to be checked for archaeology. London is well known to contain a variety of building activities, particularly during the Roman, Medieval, and Victorian periods. We hoped that the site that I was worked at would be Roman date. However, I came across a sole of a leather shoe belonging to a young child in the middle of a soggy London grey clay ditch. It proved to be medieval and so the feature was dated accordingly. The shoe had been beautifully made, formed in a delicate point. (I have rather unevenly drawn it for you within the water it was stored in to conserve it in case you can’t see it). 
The medieval shoe found on Shoreditch high street, London excavations (ASE UCL)

An exciting puzzle came during excavations at the site of Heit el Gurob, el Fayoum, Egypt in 2011. I was helping the team to document and record some of the looted tombs in the area. Many had been sadly trashed and human remains lay scattered all around. We sought to record as much as possible of what was left. We came across a gloriously decorated ceramic coffin that had been smashed to smithereens. We found 72 bits in all, and managed to fit most together. See 
Virpi displaying one of the uncovered painted ceramic coffin pieces

More recently in February 2013 I was lucky enough to join the British Museum team at their site of Amara West, Sudan. The site dates to the Late Bronze Age and was an Egyptian town within Northern Sudan. At that time, Northern Sudan was part of the Egyptian empire and Amara West was a key administrative hub for the area. I was assigned to excavate one of the houses, which was remarkably well preserved including mud floors, benches, plastered walls, ovens and hearths all surviving. As an Egyptologist, I'm often asked if like Howard Carter when he discovered Tutankhamen, I’ve seen “the glint of gold.” Well I have to admit in Sudan, I did, albeit a very small piece within a necklace. 
Some of the rooms of the house (containing the circular hearths). Courtesy of British Museum. Click here 

I found the necklace (F6925) laying curled up on top of a piece of pottery sherd within a layer of debris of ash, animal bones and pottery. It comprised of around 100 very small beads made of Egyptian faience, 2 of carnelian and one beaten gold bead in the centre. Within this same room an incredible stone schist bowl, a metal chisel and a large sheep/goat skull was also uncovered in a room with three large bread ovens.
The partially excavated gold, carnelian and faience necklace. Courtesy of the British Museum.

Selim with the beautiful stone schist bowl he found on top of the oven in E13.16.2

Within the largest bread oven, deeply embedded into fired clay was a large storage pot, the most exciting find for a ceramicist! It is exceedingly rare to find a complete vessel within an ancient house, whereas they are comparatively common within graves and tombs. It proved tricky to excavate, as it had been completely cemented into the base of the oven, perhaps even heated, and then crushed slightly as sand blew in after the house was abandoned. In the end, I was forced to (carefully!) hack away underneath it with my hand mattock for days before it finally could be released. Before it could be lifted, I had to empty it of windblown sand. Sand can be surprisingly heavy believe me!
Adly, Micki, Camel train, Large Pot and I within the oven where it was excavated from, Amara West

So far, I have been remarkably fortunate in my fieldwork opportunities. I hope you enjoyed this short blog post on some the highlights of my short career in Archaeology and Egyptology. I’ve only recently graduated in my PhD in Archaeology, and have plenty of new opportunities for fieldwork in 2014. Funding and job opportunities allowing, who knows what the future might bring for an Early Career Archaeologist?

Many thanks for reading!


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