Planning field work in Egypt

So-called "barrow" on Hampstad Heath
Boadicea’s Grave‘ on Hampstead Heath

The chapter writing  is coming along but after driving my desk for a few hours, I needed a break and went for a run. I often go up to Hampstead Heath, and even there archaeology is never far off. Somewhere on the Heath is a Saxon ditch and earth bank, which formed early ownership and administrative boundaries (since at least AD986), though as far as I am aware I’ve not come across it yet. And of course, there is the so-called ‘Boadicea’s Grave‘ which may be nothing more than a foundations of an old windmill or a folly (right).

My desk

My desk

So back here at my desk for more writing, I am excited to find an email regarding some paid field work in Egypt. I may have the opportunity to undertake reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) this Autumn at South Abydos in Upper Egypt. Prof. Joe Wegner (who taught me during my BA at the University of Pennylvania) has been directing excavations there for years and is keen to document the sealings from the Middle Kingdom town. The sealings are quite small, only a few centimeters across, and there are a lot of them, so this will be an ideal job for the RTI mini-dome (see Figure 5).

We’ll see what happens though. As many Egyptians continue to seek a better future and more economic equality, the current political situation in Egypt means that the cultural heritage sector is undergoing many changes. It’s an issue that weighs on my mind quite a bit as I job hunt and look for opportunites to collaborate. As an archaeologist I’ve developed various skills and experience relating to Egypt’s ancient past. Now the question for me is, how can I both obtain employment in my field, and do so in a way that supports a better Egyptian present?


Shedding new light on the past

I’m finally getting down to writing my first post of the day! I am occupied with several tasks today which capture the essence of my past few weeks, basically doing museum and desk-based archaeology:

  1. Finishing up various loose ends for a 1-year research project at the University of Oxford I was working on until recently: “Reflectance Transformation Imaging (RTI) System for Ancient Documentary Artefacts” (RTISAD);
  2. Submitting job applications (and trying not to get too depressed about the lack of jobs in my field of Egyptian Archaeology!);
  3. Taking advantage of the time I now have to address my publication backlog (important for the success of no. 2).

I’ll write a bit about about no. 1 now, and then must get back to drafting a chapter for a publication on the development of early Egyptian writing/art. RTISAD involves some super exciting developments in the digital imaging of cultural heritage. The RTISAD project is a collaborative endeavour funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council in 2010 via the Digital Equipment and Database Enhancement for Impact (DEDEFI) scheme. A press release about our project results can be found here and a more detailed explanation of RTI is found on our project partner’s (Cultural Heritage Imaging) website.  My task at Oxford was to test the RTI lighting dome on various inscribed material types. I had the fantastic opportunity of working with Ashmolean collections, imaging cuneiform inscribed clay tablets, early Egyptian and other objects (for a pic of the RTI dome and some results click here).

PTM of the Battlefield Palette

PTM detail of the Battlefield Palette, perhaps from Abydos, EgyptLate Predynastic period, c.3150 BCE, EA 20791, © The Trustees of the British Museum

I also spent a week at the British Museum where I imaged the so-called Battlefield Palette (or Lion Palette) and Hunters Palette, 1st Dynasty inscribed labels and more.

RTI has been brilliant for my research on early Egyptian graphical culture as technology process and material practice. For the chapter I now need to go work on I have been analysing surface marks on the palettes to understand how the production process such as evidence for tool types and the techniques the artisen(s) used to produce these incredible scenes. For now I will leave you with a close up of the Battlefield Palette (right) on wich I have found evidence for recarving.