Friday, June 01, 2007

A search for the lost city
Mark Lehner, director of the Giza Plateau Mapping Project (GPMP), realised that the excavation of the vast ancient settlement site at Giza offered him "an opportunity to give back to Egypt something in return for all the years I have enjoyed excavating here." He envisioned running a rigorous training programme for Egyptian inspectors to guide them in the basics of standard archaeological practice around the world, and today, all over the country, selected SCA inspectors are being trained in the standard practices that are now used for stratigraphic excavation and recording in Britain, France, other European countries, and the United States.

Read the entire article. Lehner isn't actually starting this field school, it's been going on for some time, and yours truly was an instructor on it in 1996 and co-director in 2003 (both at Mit Rahina). It's really a great program.

Background: An Egyptian inspector from the SCA is required to be on-site with any foreign project. Generally, these inspectors have the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in archaeology or Egyptology (actually, maybe only the latter). In the past, they were largely enablers, or in some cases, disenablers. I don't mean that as a rip on them generally, or even specifically, since many times the foreigners could create friction which could be returned in kind. Suffice it to say that many times the relationship between foreigner and inspector was far more adversarial than cooperative. Part of this had to do with the training and professional expertise of the inspectors (who in the past were often bureaucrats interested more in protecting their own resources than in helping foreigners), and part had to do with the way archaeology in Egypt had been run: get in, dig up lots of good artifacts, and get it (and the artifacts) out.

Credit Hawass with changing both of these.

Back to point: Actual training in archaeological excavation has generally been lacking locally, either because of lack of resources or because the discipline there concentrates more on philology than hard-core archaeology. Hence, a need for inspectors to learn field techniques. There are a lot of reasons for this. First, since they'll have a far better understanding of what the foreigners are doing, they'll be less suspicious (and they do have need to be on occasion). Second, they will simply have to carry on their own excavations eventually in some capacity. They need to be able to assess existing remains when they are threatened, they will need to conduct mitigation excavations when they can't be saved, and they'll eventually want to do their own research. So you really can't get around excavating. Last, it breeds a LOT of good will among the foreigners and the locals, and personal relationships are extremely important there.