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"It is the journey which makes up your life."

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Field Trip #1

Today we headed off on a very special field trip for Theories and Methods of Archaeology. Our destination was the pyramid field at Saqqara, home of the stepped pyramid of Khufu. The pyramids, however, were not our intended focus. We were there to look at a number of tombs that were in fact in the process of being excavated, analyzed, and to some extent reconstructed for possible future tourist access.

Just over the hill from the Khufu's pyramid complex we found the Dutch excavation underway (for some reason the egyptology professors never mention who exactly is excavating anything, they just refer to them by country, like, "The Germans this, the Germans that." I'm not sure if this means that there is only one archaeological team allowed from each country or what--I will have to ask.) the morning we arrived they had uncovered a set of four ushabtis, which they had lined up on a table near the area where the prototypical workmen were scooping up sand in their plastic-bag-patched baskets and lugging it out to a convenient nearby dune, where they unceremoniously dumped it.

There were potsherds literally everywhere, all dynasties mixed together, and even a number of bones sticking out from the various hillocks and depressions in the ever-shifting sand. Dr. Ikram pointed out that they were human in origin. I didn't believe her at first, since all I could see were a few tips of longbones emerging from the sand in a few clusters. We moved on to a different part of the area, however, and came upon the right cheek of a definitely human skull with the bicuspids and a molar or two still attached.

We visited the tombs of a man named Maya and his wife Tiya, as well as a man named Meri-Neith, and that of one other important woman, all of which were locked up behind big metal grates. A lot of Egyptian history was spouted at us rapid-fire, but I don't think most of us absorbed very much due to the howling winds and accompanying pelting of grit that we had to endure. One tidbit I remember was that the egyptologists discovered Meri-Neith lived contemporaneously with Akhenaten's reign, and in fact had outlived him because "Neith" was an old religion goddess, and with the rise of the monotheist king, Meri-Neith had been forced to change his name to Meri-Re, to include the name of the sun god that Akhenaten liked so much. You could see this on the tomb because everywhere that Meri-Neith's name appeared in the tomb, a sun disk had been carved over the glyph for "Neith," and the long, curling ends of the Neith glyph had been filled in with plaster. It was also obvious that Meri-Neith had outlived Akhenaten because the plaster had at some point been removed and the hieroglyph for Neith was reinscribed. Also, all the images of the Pharaoh Akhenaten had been chiseled away, as Egyptians were wont to do when somebody they didn't like died.

Cruelly, my camera decided that its batteries would be dead this day, so I experienced an artistic crisis on the bus on the way to Saqqara because the countryside and bits of the city we passed were exceedingly picturesque, with technicolor murals of sinuous snake-like images and pink camels on all the houses.

I also attended a show at the local opera house with Bob. They played a double feature of Pagliacci and Cavelleria Rusticana, both of which (I don't know why I found this surprising) they had altered somewhat to allow them to be set in Egypt, even though the program still read "a Calabrian town" and "a Sicilian Village". The Egyptians have an interesting sense of stage costume. The chorus women were wearing gingham muu-muus and florescent orange scarves. The chorus men wore street clothes, and in both of the operas the male protagonists and antagonists were both cast with men with similar builds, similar facial structures, and... practically the same clothes. Despite having seen Pagliacci before, I had a hard time telling what the heck was going on, especially since the surtitles were in Arabic only. Still, decent show.


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