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March 24, 1997:
Field Season Coming to a Close

Six weeks after beginning excavation, the 1997 field season of the Koch Ludwig Giza Plateau Mapping Project is closing operations in three of the seven open squares. The supervisors for these squares—Jason Ur, Carl Andrews, and Justine Way—have left Cairo and much still remains to be done before their excavation areas can be backfilled.

Often, it is difficult to know when to stop digging. Depending on the square, most of the season is spent removing collapsed architecture and defining later pits. Then, just when you have finally gotten through to the first layer of occupation, it is time to close down. This gives a sense of urgency to the end of any season: the answers to questions you have been asking for weeks seem to lie just below the surface.

After digging has stopped, the square has to be prepared for photography and, afterwards, for drawing. Not only does the final "top map" (the view from above the square looking down) have to be drawn, but so do each of the four "sections" (the sides of the square). While the top map can be drawn at a scale of 1:20 (where one centimeter in the drawing equals 20 centimeters in the square), the sections have to be drawn at a scale of 1:10. This is because the layers we see in the section can be very thin and complicated, but correctly defining their relationships to one another is often critical in interpreting the square later.

The first step in drawing a section is to extend perfectly level string, tied to a nail on each end, across the full five meters of the square. To make this easier, the square supervisor has tried to keep these sections as flat and straight up-and-down as possible all season long. If the section is flat, the line we stretch to draw the section won't be distorted, or bowed. Next, a measuring tape is stretched along the level line, and, by using a plumb-bob and a folding rule, all the details on the section are plotted.

After the squares have been recorded, they are then prepared for "back filling." By "back-filling" we mean covering our squares with modern sand and debris, in order to preserve our site for future seasons. Leaving the deep holes exposed would not only be dangerous, but sun, wind and weather would quickly erode and destroy the standing architecture. In order to make uncovering the site next season easier, each of the squares is covered by empty sandbags and about 20 centimeters of sand. Cushioned and protected, the squares are quickly filled with surrounding debris up to the current ground level.

As important as recording and backfilling the site is, it is only part of closing down the project. For the entire season, all the finds and samples from the site, as well as all the bags of material sorted out of the wet sieve and the heavy fraction, have been sent up to our storeroom. Now, pressed for time, we have to organize all this material and pack it (and the backlog from previous seasons) into our small storage area. In addition, we have to inventory and pack all of our equipment at both the site and at the house, not to mention packing our own bags.

So, faced with all this work, with half the people to do it, the last few days of any field season tend to be a blur of activity. Yet, with your imagination fired by the possibilities of what may be just below the surface, this is also the time when some of the most important discoveries seem to be made.

Over the next few weeks the excavators will be developing a clearer picture of the lives of the pyramid builders and possibly even that of their rulers. If you would like to be notified via e-mail when this report is posted online, please subscribe here.

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