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Square D19 and the Older Phase

Backhoe trench in older excavation site, Square D-19 Since I also hate to give up excavation for pure administration, I took on the task of trimming back a second, smaller, modern back hoe trench in square D19. I enjoyed the assistance of Ramsi Lehner, who supervised work here during my administrative absences. Since the back hoe had already bitten deeply through the site, by trimming back the edges of the trench, we could get a section view of the major mudbrick wall to which the bakeries are attached, without having to do much excavation. Such "vertical exposures" are important to archaeologists for understanding the history of the site, the different layers, floors, and the periods during which walls were built, abandoned, and destroyed.

Square D-19: the bakery wall This exercise confirmed what we had already suspected from the first, larger back hoe trench that we trimmed in 1991; there is an entire older phase of the site below the general level of the bakeries, "fish processing" troughs and benches, and the large mudbrick walls that I have so far described. In the southeast corner of the D19 trench, the back hoe teeth had just missed the three complete vats in bakery A7d (see bakery map on this Web site). From this corner, a strip of floor of the older phase, about 1 meter wide, escaped the modern steel teeth. Here we found a nearly complete hearth installation, with two large and round flat trays separated by compact ash—the ancient equivalent of a grill. Farther on into the southeast corner of the back hoe trench—just below the spot where we removed the corner vat from bakery A7d—we found another hearth, this one defined by low mudbrick walls. Two large jars, nearly complete except that the back hoe had sheared off their tops, were embedded in the floor in front of this "fireplace." Among the many pottery sherds in the nearby layers, were several large pieces of large vats, like those from the younger overlying bakeries. However, all this was buried by the time the bakeries, and the large mudbrick wall to which they attach, were built. From the younger phase, we also found a cache of gigantic bread pots that had been stacked upside down in a compartment built into the main enclosure wall that we were tracing.

Bread pots found in Square D-19 The lesson of D19 is that a substantial older phase exits below everything we are trying to excavate "in phase"—the bakeries, the so-called fish processing area, and the large mudbrick enclosure wall. We will not be certain of the relationship in time between these phases and the architecture in farther squares, D14, D8-9, M-N20, and I17, until we link them up by excavating more squares. But it is my feeling that this is all the last, or next to last phase of the site, perhaps from the reign of Menkaure.

It is daunting to think that the ruins of another whole complex lie below the one we have been clearing so far. Certain evidence—like the vats and lower lying fragments of vats in square D19 and Bakery A7d—suggests that food and craft production carried out in the older periods were similar, in the same places, as in the higher, younger phases, when they may have been more formally organized. The lower phase is perhaps only a generation older. We have a few seal impressions of Khafre from the underlying layers. However, since we did not reach sterile sand in the deep back hoe trench of D19, there could be even deeper and older layers. This is another high priority target for our next excavation season.


Our excavation squares this season have indicated that the complex to which the bakeries are attached extends farther than 50 meters to the north and west of the bakery area, and probably to the south as well. It probably extends at least 200 meters to the west-southwest of the bakeries to link up with the structures we excavated in area AA in 1988-89, and 1991, where we found seal impressions of Menkaure's Mortuary Workshop. We know for certain that a very large building complex lies below Area A, laid out on a rectilinear pattern, and oriented to the cardinal directions. It can hardly be doubted that it is royal, and it is certain that it dates to the late Fourth Dynasty. The sealings with a royal name that we have retrieved from the most complete, penultimate phase of the site are almost exclusively Menkaure's. Preliminary findings from the analysis of the ancient plant and bone material shows evidence of an elite or privileged class of consumers, perhaps the economics of the royal house.

The palace hypothesis is still very much alive. But one of our first targets in our next excavation season will be the area around I17 to investigate the possibility that this is a workers house, perhaps one of a series. To answer the question of whether, in fact, the facilities that we have found for preparing bread, fish, copper and craft items, are attached to an actual royal residence requires more excavation to the north, toward the gigantic stone Wall of the Crow, with its great gateway.


At the conclusion of our excavation season we covered the archaeological remains with fabric and clean sand, as we do each season. Then we filled in all the trenches and excavation squares. We are grateful to the Giza Inspectorate for the loan of front loader, and to Mohammed Musilhi for helping us to protect the site until our next excavation season.

Work is administered by AERA Inc.

Photos: Carl Andrews and Mark Lehner

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