Access to the internet is I understand somewhat restricted on the edge of the Western Desert, and although I'm taking my netbook, will mostly be using it to keep up with editorial and translating duties from back home. Any time I am not hunched over it in some dark corner of the dig house struggling with the verbal gymnastics of Polish historians, I will no doubt be stomping (hopefully not limping this year) around Western Thebes trying to see what I did not find last time I was there. Its one of the most fascinating places in the world for anyone of an archaeological bent, and I regard it an immense privilege to be involved in this work.
I was amused by an announcement (made rather prematurely) about my absence from an artefact collectors discussion forum. The moderator told collectors that Paul Barford will not be bothering them a while as:
He has gone to Egypt for the summer so he can dig some nice antiquities. He's allowed contact with antiquities, but we're not...Well, "mad dogs and Englishmen" may dig in the summer, but the mission I will be with is (as I told the moderator of that group) a winter one. I am not so sure about "contact with (portable) antiquities", most of the time I will be digging rubble and actually there is a high chance that it will be the infill of old excavations anyway. To judge from the adjacent trench dug two years ago, though there may be shaft tomb here of the Third Intermediate Period, any "antiquities" (i.e., archaeological evidence) will mostly be in the form of smashed-up bits of cartonage and maybe the odd shabti fragment or two. I do not know whether that would really count in collectors' circles as "nice" (more like a cut-price better than nothing gap-filler).
As for the other part of the statement, sadly, I have to note once again another exhibition of the "bogeyman syndrome". I do not think I have ever said that in my opinion nobody should have any contact with antiquities other than me/archaeologists. What should be obvious is that I am concerned that there is "contact with antiquities" which causes ongong and unmitigated destruction of archaeological evidence, and "contact with antiquities" that does not. All I am urging is a better definition of the difference between the two and collectors consciously and actively desisting from the first. Is that so difficult to understand? It seems that for collectors it is.
Are archaeologists digging here to have "contact with antiquities"? Well, Hatshepsut's temple is more or less already dug out starting with the Egypt Exploration Society at the beginning of the century. There are walls and the stuff in archaeological storerooms. What is needed now is primarily conservation and display/interpretation of the monument (and here in this case this includes continuing the anastylosis begun at the beginning of the twentieth century). Part of that process requires determining whether the foundations of the terraced walls under earlier reconstructions do not need strengthening. If there were no need to examine the stability of these foundations, then there would be no digging here. When we dig here, what we would are hoping to find is not so much "antiquities", but (lack of) evidence of cracking, shifting of the foundations, and what was done to them in the Third Intermediate Period (when burials were inserted below the building's floor). The "collectable thingies" in the rubble below the floor are only a small part of the information contents of those layers. There will be other evidence there which can provide archaeological information (stone chips from shaping the architecture, fragments of earlier stone paving with wear patterns, wood offcuts from erecting various phases of scaffolding etc) which would never grace the cabinets of a collector of antiquities in the US or anywhere else, but are valuable archaeological information - evidence that would be lost the moment a looter digs his way down to find something more saleable to "Internet antiquitists".
Anyway - the long and the short of it is that I will not be following the portable antiquity antics of the dealers and collectors, the apologists and the rogues and moaning about them. It will be a welcome break for us all I am sure. Neither will I be using my current email address, so I will be unaware of any comments sent to this blog . So none will appear until about the middle of February.