Digging Diary Week 2 (9-14 January)

Surveying was the emphasis of our first week of work on site. Our survey team consisted of Ana, Annelies, Nicky, and (when his duties permitted) our inspector Wael Fathi Morsy, an 'honor student' of the Giza Field School and a PhD candidate at Cairo University. 

inspector Wael Fathi Morsy and field director Harold Hays

The team had two major tasks: to transfer an existing Cairo University survey point and to establish a site grid. The survey point had been set up about 20 years ago on the hill immediately to the south of Ptahemwia. Since one of our season's objectives is to clear this hill, it was necessary to replace the point. We triangulated on known survey points elsewhere in Saqqara (our favorite was one on top of the pyramid of Unas, which gave spectacular views), and we established two new points in our area. Their data will be published in our preliminary report so that other surveyors can make use of them.

The second task was to establish a site grid. This is the first time the Leiden Expedition has prepared one, and its establishment marks a milestone in our documentation practices. The steel rods now covering the hill south of Ptahemwia facilitate the localization of finds with precision, and the use of a spirit level helps us control the height of each clearance sweep. Our site grid is locked in with the international UTM grid, and thus we can now easily share our survey data with others and even given exact latitudes and longitudes for our monuments.

Ana and Annelies taking measurementsWhile the site grid was being set up, our workforce of 40 men busied themselves with several tasks. First, we cleaned the apertures of shafts at and around the tomb of Pabes. After Dr. Zahi Hawass has given us instructions, we will enter and clear these shafts and seek out the bones of Queen Mutnodjmet for his project. We also cleaned the area around the chapel of Tatia, a structure we discovered last season. We had hoped to build a protective enclosure around it this season, but the cleaning revealed ancient limestone pavement just where we had thought to build the enclosure's foundations. Since it is not permitted to build on top of ancient monuments, the enclosure will have to be re-designed and delayed until next year. But we did make a start on clearing the shaft in front of Tatia.

grid with daily levelsOn Tuesday, 12 January, the site grid was in place, and we were ready to begin clearing the hill south of Ptahemwia. It rises nearly 6 meters above the court of that tomb, and so we have an enormous task ahead of us. Still, we proceeded in deliberate fashion. This season we are implementing a more methodical approach to clearance. From now on we excavate 5 x 5 meter squares of the grid rather than oblong shapes. And instead of making a sketch plan in a notebook, our field assistants now complete a standardized Clearance Record for each sweep of a square, indicating characteristics of the sediment, details about finds, and levels for a minimum of five points on a 1:50 plan. The surveyor plots major finds with the total station and gives the levels at the end of each sweep. This method takes full account of the challenges of the desert and the disturbed character of the site's context and yet still manages to collect a tremendous amount of information that would otherwise be lost forever. After also making a subtle modification to how the men work, I was surprised to find that we were able to clear about 3 times as much material on our first day as we did on our first day 2 seasons ago.

Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday amounted to training our field assistants in the new clearance system. This Saturday we will demolish the guardhouse resting on the crown of the hill, double our workforce, and begin removing the hill at top speed.


clearing a sandy hill