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February 18, 1997:
Excavators Unearth Animal Bones

By Dr. Richard Redding, Faunal Analyst

Sorting and classifying bones Our excavations at Giza are in an area where people lived, unlike the pyramids, which is where the pharaohs were buried. As a result, we find the garbage associated with everyday life, which may not sound romantic, but allows us to build up a picture of the daily routines of the workers who built the pyramids. The most common remains are pieces of broken pottery (pot sherds) but a close second are animals bones. The study of the animal bones from Giza will provide us with a glimpse of the diet of the people who lived around the pyramids as well as insight into the economy that was the base for pyramid construction.

The most common animals in the site will be the domestic cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. By identifying the animal bones we will be able to determine in what proportions the animals where eaten. How many cattle were eaten for each sheep, or for each pig? Many of the bones will provide us with information on the age of the animal when it was killed. Using this information we will construct "survivorship curves" for each species (cattle, sheep, goats and pigs) that describe the pattern of animal slaughter. Were most of the cattle killed young or old? Some bones can be sexed. This information will be used to estimate a sex ratio for each species. Were most of the cattle killed males or females? All of this information allows us to reconstruct how the ancient Egyptians made decisions about herding their animals and how they controlled each species.

Sorting and classifying bones Another source of information on domestic animals is the relative proportion of the different body parts. Are we finding the body parts in the same proportion as they are found in a complete skeleton or are certain parts missing? This type of information helps understand how domestic animals may have been distributed. Did everyone get their own animals and butcher them or were there separate butchering areas?

We will find the bones of fish and bird in the excavations. The species and body part distributions will be studied. Were the fish caught and eaten locally or were dried fish available to the inhabitants? How important were fish and birds in the diet?

Our goal in studying the animal bones from Giza is to learn how food resources were obtained and organized at the pyramids. The information from Giza will be compared with the information on animals from an Old Kingdom village site in the Nile Delta, Kom el-Hisn. Together these two sites should provide us with an understanding of a critical aspect of the Old Kingdom economy - how food production was structured and controlled. Without structure and control, the pyramids could not have been built.

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Photos: Carl Andrews

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