Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: 1,000, 2,000, 3,000 … sherds

Mini-henge: stones marking each 100-count of sherdsAlice Springuel, Egyptologist

“Alice, we have 10 bags of pottery” This is the signal for Loretta Kilroe, a postgraduate student at the University of Oxford, and I to leave the dig house behind, and join the archaeologists on the boat to site.

Alice counting pottery sherds on site yesterday, with head-net to keep nimiti-flies at bay

Alice counting pottery sherds on site yesterday,
with head-net to keep nimiti-flies at bay

Generally this happens once or twice a week, but with the greater depth of excavation in most areas, there is less windblown sand, and more pottery… a lot more.

Our mission is to count potsherds to gain an idea of the quantity, size and preservation of ceramics, while bearing in mind the archaeological context in which they are found: rubble, the fill of a pit, or lying on an ancient floor in a particular room.

Based on the system instigated at Amara West by Marie Millet, we separate diagnostic sherds (rim, base, shoulder, decorated fragments) and also count examples of marl (desert) clay fabrics or local Nubian vessel sherds – and even luxury imports from as far away as mainland Greece.

This is just the start of work which will help answer many questions.

What types of pots were used? What was their purpose? Which kind of techniques did the potters use? What date are the archaeological contexts? Can the pottery tell us what individual rooms were used for?

Something not in one of the sherd sacks: a complete vessel found in the town in 2011

Something not in one of the sherd sacks: a complete
vessel found in the town in 2011

Back at the site, we lay out sacks – sold in the market for transporting sugar or rice – to keep from losing sherds in the soft yellow sand. Most sacks contain between 700 and 2,000 sherds.

We use stones to help us mark off each 100 sherds, creating our own mini-Stonehenges as we progress. Inevitably, we find objects missed by the excavators but caught in the sieving of the archaeological deposits: counters, sherds with incised pot marks and a nice hieratic ostracon.

And then we continue counting…..

 

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Find out more about the Amara West research project
Read posts from previous excavation seasons at Amara West

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