Sunday, January 25, 2009

More sad news from the Faiyum

Geoffrey Tassie has highlighted the challenge the archaeology of the Faiyum on a number of occasions, but the news never seems to get any better, as the demands of tourism and agriculture see the ongoing destruction of archaeological sites.

Rinus Ormeling has just returned from the Faiyum where he was working on a fieldschool with Willeke Wendrich, the director of the Fayum Project. He was doing botanical research in the Greco-Roman town Karanis, but at the same time others were working on the prehistoric sites Kom K, Kom W and E29H1. These and other Faiyum sites of the same period are of enormous importance to an understanding of the development of ancient Egyptian food production as, together with the site of Merimde Beni Salama, they represent both the very earliest mixed farming in Egypt and the economies that came before.

The earliest part of E29H1 dates to the Epipalaeolithic period and consists of “a vast scatter of artefacts on the gently sloping expanse of lacustrine sediments” (Wendorf and Schild 1976, p.182) in an oval area measuring around 300x100m that overlook a basin. Because the Epipalaeolithic site is situated within a larger Neolithic concentration of artifacts, it was divided into different areas. The Epipalaeolithic areas are named A, B and C. Areas A and C were partially excavated and collections were carried out in a small part of Area B. The fauna from E29H1 suggests that it was a fishing economy using hunting and plant gathering as a back-up. These sites appear to be contemporary with Wenke’s FS-2. Artefacts include lithics and bone tools. During the Neolithic there is a large surface scatter of artefacts surrounding the earlier Epipalaeolithic concentration including “grinding stones and a very few potsherds, all heavily wind polished” (Wendorf and Schild 1976 p.182).

Rinus says that it turned out that farmers were starting to irrigate at the site of E29H1 and that they were on the point of turning over the ground in order to plant crops. So a rescue survey was launched. The survey director was Willeke Wendrich, but the survey was carried out by Simon Holdaway from University of Auckland (NZ).

Rinus says that he left a week before the survey ended, but that now there are some olive trees growing at that site.

Very, very dissapointing.

If you speak any Dutch there are some nice accounts of some of the things Rinus was working on in in Egypt recently at the website. And no, I'm not about to start doing Dutch translations - the last time I actually used to speak the language properly was 30 years ago!

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