Minya 2015: Wadi el-Sheikh Rocks!

Holy Moly I’m going to Egypt tomorrow. I am even all packed. Unfortunately I have yet to master the skill of packing light:

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This season I am going to Minya, which is about halfway between Cairo and Luxor, to work with a University of Vienna Project at Wadi el-Sheikh. (The same one I visited briefly last November.)

There we will be studying and documenting a massive complex of chert quarries. Chert was the material from which Ancient Egyptians made their stone tools: Knives, sickles, axes, arrowheads, drills, and many more. To get the chert they had to dig for it, from shallow pits that barely scratched the surface, to deep shafts better thought of a quarries or mines.

The whole landscape of the wadi is speckled with quarry pits for miles and miles. So basically we will be looking at rocks and holes in the ground– thousands and thousands of them.

We want to know a lot of things about this place:

How long was this site used as a chert quarry? It is possible that some quarries date as far back as the middle Paleolithic (say about 100,000 years ago) and continue up through the New Kingdom, (only a mere 3,000 years ago).

How many people worked at the quarry in its prime? How long did they stay? Where did they stay?

What tools did they make in different time periods?

How far did those tools get exchanged?

The last question is particularly important, because it will help us understand the workings of the Ancient Egyptian economy. How much did the government really control and organize? Did the goods from their desert expeditions reach all kinds of people, or only the privileged few? Were there middle men involved? Did it change over time?

Since our current world is faced with debates over the best ways to organize our own economic systems, why not learn what one of the earliest and longest-lasting state societies did? What problems and ‘pitfalls’ did they face?

This season’s work should set u on the road to answering these questions. But for now, I’ll leave you with an image of one of my favorite Predynastic stone knives:

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