The final days.

Hannan and Nourhan cleaning the capital.

Hannan and Nourhan cleaning the capital.

We are nearing the end of this short, but fruitful, excavation campaign.  Tomorrow is Friday, which for the workers means a day of rest and no excavation.  But for the rest of us it is work as usual, or even more than usual:  we are hustling to finish not only the excavation, but to reach a stopping point both with processing currently excavated material and with various other projects in progress. In many ways when an object comes out of the ground in an excavation, the work is just beginning.  For example at this moment textile conservation, restoration and study of plaster mummy masks, and pottery drawing are being conducted by expedition team members.  They are working on material that we excavated a few years ago in the North Roman Necropolis. (Click ‘Newsletters’ in the top bar on the website and review ‘Oracle’s 2, 3 and 4 for more information.)  There are also reports to write to file with the Antiquities Ministry and closing, cleaning and packing to do.  The opening and closing days of an archaeological mission are always a busy time.

But for a few days more we are still excavating as well, and new information is continually turning up.  On Sunday in the line of the eastern baulk of the old 1990’s excavation edge, we uncovered an additional column capital which was mentioned in the last blog post on Monday.  When completely uncovered, it turned out not only to match the others, but to be beautifully preserved with plaster on it that is, of course, missing from the ones that have been exposed in the old excavation for more than 20 years.  Then Tuesday, when we reached the level of the Roman pavement, the TOP of yet another capital appeared.  It is the same size as the rest, but though similar to the others, its design is more complicated.  It was also strange that its top was at the Roman pavement level, but two more days of excavation (through fill) revealed that it had fallen into a larger feature represented by the curving stone wall visible in the photo above.  Though it was standing upright, once the capital had been freed from the surrounding matrix, we tipped it on its side so that it could be measured, drawn and photographed properly.

Using bamboo skewers and brushes to clean the capital and look for paint traces.

Using bamboo skewers and brushes to clean the capital and look for paint traces.

We also have some inspectors from the antiquities service with us who have had some training in cleaning artifacts.  In the photos you can see Hannan and Nourhan cleaning mud and debris carefully from the plastered surface of this new capital while looking for paint traces.  It was reported to me by a witness to the excavation in 1991 that a capital recovered that year had traces of red paint.  And indeed today we found traces of red paint (but no other colors) on the plaster surface of this new capital.

Our excavation will continue on Saturday and Sunday, but then we will close down the operation until January-February of 2016.  But you can check this blog for updates periodically during that time.

Correction (4 November):  In the photo caption above "Hannan" was misspelled.