2012 Site Diary

April 12th 2012: Liz Jones

“Small beer – a very little diary account, full of odd doings and happenings”.

Archaeological surveyors are, by their very nature, the watchers within any expedition. A surveyor with ethnographic interests and access to a camera is a troublesome sort indeed. Snatches of time between recording the location of small finds, providing heights for the excavation trenches and mapping the distribution of tombs in the southern part of the site, afforded moments to observe the GHPP team at work; long, lonely walks to the peripheries of the site, scouting out possible locations for new control points, the perfect space in which to consider the quirks of our little GHPP sub-culture.

The 1st of April was notable not only for being Ole’s birthday and the day on which the site was accosted by the sandstorm, but also for the unofficial arrival of unofficial visitors - people we had not encountered on the site before. Strangers! Before lunch, when the weather was vexing us with sporadic sandstormlings, I spotted at the western edge of our site a pristine white 4 x 4, the condition of which immediately alerted me that these were not archaeologists. A few seconds later figures emerged from the vehicle; my spidey surveying senses tingled. At a good distance away my eyes could make out two GPS antennae: one mounted on a handheld antenna, the other on the roof of the car. There is nothing quite like spotting other surveyors in the field to make one excitable – particularly ones working in Egypt, with super-awesome geomatic kit. I grabbed my camera and ran up to meet them with the inspector and Kamal. They were a team of Egyptian geologists working in the Faiyum, and I had a few moments with their GPSmobile before they continued on their way.


Now for a little quiz – just what is Ivor doing in the picture attached? On first sight I, as many who know and love the Picton-Pridden partnership might also conclude, assumed that Ivor had been sent outside for tently wrongdoings (leaving cheese uncovered perhaps, or movement of the sacred purple biro of small find recording). With each step closer to the tent, I became increasingly convinced that this was the case – why else would a man stand motionless on a stool, peering through a tent window.


It may come as surprise to many some of you to learn that the GHPP team, whilst experts in all things Egyptological, are also adept in more pragmatic pursuits. Jan and Ivor had in fact formed a sewtastic team, working together to repair rips and holes in the tent! [Although Jan would later form a breakaway sewing contingent to repair Velcro fastenings on awning fabric].
The team’s practical competencies were also evinced by the construction of a kettle guard (a photo of which will appear on the team blog). We have evolved from a team that has had to forego hot drinks at lunch because windy conditions prevent the gas stove from adequately heating the pot, to consumers of temperature-perfect beverages, by way of trials with Baraka box windbreakers and even a brief spell of keeping the stove within the tent.


Also worthy of note are the gaffirs and their ‘scare’ counterparts, who work to guard the site from unsavoury sorts. We arrived on site this year to find the latter’s numbers had tripled since September, an indicator perhaps of stability in the region. In addition to the original scare-gaffir (see second photograph) attached two others were erected. I have been caught out on more than one occasion by mistaking them for my fellow team members – out of the corner of my eye of course. One possesses a flash of turquoise fabric not dissimilar to one of Anna’s dig tops! There are certain (real) gaffirs who venture beyond their tea-sodden hut to sit with those of us sent out into the desert wilds to cement in new control points and map the features at the extremities of the site. It is these chaps that I would like to celebrate here. Not only do they make you feel safe but a well-timed Arabic rap song, played through a mobile phone, can really brighten up your day when it has been just you and the dunes for hours on end; the walkie-talkie messages coming through crackled and distorted because you are out of range from the main site. Gaffirs are also brilliant for locating control points hidden on sand ridges. With my usual trick of tracking my earlier footprints failing me (if you work in the desert, wear shoes with an interesting impression), Hannah and I spent 40 minutes looking for a new control point in the north only for the gaffir to find it in 3 minutes! Forget Global Positioning Systems, here at Gurob we have Gaffir Positioning ones.

Scare Gaffirs

To draw this diary entry to a close on a macabre note, we have also been considering mortality amongst Egyptologists. Those of you who have read ‘Who’s Who in Egyptology’ will no doubt recall that many of our sort are finished off by car accidents or varying cancers. At Gurob, we have identified the following, definite life-shorteners:

Thankfully we all consume enough gin to ward off trouble of the gastric variety, and the lasers emitted from the total stations are only strong enough to blind you.