The American Research Center in Eygpt

Salvage Archaeology Field School, Luxor

Salvage Archaeology Field School, Luxor

Salvage Archaeology Field School, Luxor
Director: Mark Lehner, Ancient Egypt Research Associates
2009, 2010, 2011

Egypt's expanding population, ongoing modernization, and tourism-focused economy place increasing demands upon the country’s antiquities and monuments and in many cases necessitate quick intervention and rescue tactics before valuable cultural heritage is lost. The field of Egyptology is continually challenged by the need to research, document, and preserve as many ancient sites as possible before they face modern development.

In response, ARCE sponsored Egypt's first-ever field school in salvage archaeology for Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) inspectors. The field school, directed by Dr. Mark Lehner and his team, was conducted in Luxor in the winter of 2008. With significant urban development going on in the area, inspectors were trained in the specific techniques needed to record significant historical architectural monuments in Luxor before they are demolished. Mark Lehner, Mohsen Kamel and Ana Tavares successfully conducted the training on the site of the now demolished Khaled Ibn al-Walid Gardens, about 500 meters north of the Luxor Temple.

Thirty SCA trainees were supervised by 16 foreign and 16 Egyptian site supervisors and specialists covering all aspects of modern techniques of archaeological excavation and recording, including surveying, epigraphy, osteoarchaeology, archaeobotany, zooarchaeology, ceramics, illustration and report writing.

Subsequent AERA-ARCE Salvage Archaeology Field Schools were held in 2010 and 2011. The 2010 season's objective was to systematically excavate the last remnant of the old Luxor Town Mound. This isolated chunk of Luxor history, spanning 2,000 years, was left standing behind two late 19th century palaces after the area in front of Luxor Temple had been cleared. Now it had to come down as part of the redevelopment of the archaeological preserve for tourism. The team of instructors, students, and workmen had a mandate to investigate the mound down to ground level in seven weeks, excavating stratigraphically.

Starting on January 11, the team began working their way down through the 7-meter-high mound, clearing, recording, and documenting stratified buildings and living floors. At one end of the summit, they uncovered the ruins of the small back quarters of one of the palaces, strewn with early 20th century detritus left by the servants: old letters, bottles, clay pigeon houses, and even magical spells. Some of the walls incorporated recycled sandstone and alabaster blocks inscribed with hieroglyphic fragments taken from pharaonic monuments.

Farther down in the mound the team uncovered a medieval Islamic complex, consisting of at least 11 rooms that included grain silos and storage bins, around a central courtyard with a red brick floor. Below the complex, the team came upon Roman remains. In one of the structures they uncovered over 500 coins, scattered across the floor. One of the coins dated to Roman emperor Hadrian. A jar on the floor held over 120 coins, some of which showed the face and name of the Roman emperor Nero.

A second Roman structure included a beautifully plastered, painted room, complete with decorative apsidal niche. In the third Roman building, the team found bins, benches, and bakeries, with round ovens and hearths in small niches.

The most enigmatic structure showed evidence of a pyrotechnic industry that generated heat so intense that the face of the mudbrick walls literally melted. The entire mound produced an extremely large, diverse collection of ceramics— including many whole pots— that will allow us to develop a sorely needed local ceramic sequence for Roman through modern times.

In 2011, the material retrieved during the 2010 season was studied and analyzed in the ARCE Laboratory at Karnak. Over 20 students performed the nine week study with remarkable results that will soon be published. The data can be used for determining a timeline for objects found elsewhere in Luxor, and throughout Egypt.

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