Digging Diaries 2022 – Third week
Currently, I am a PhD student at the Department of Architecture, Built Environment and Construction Engineering (ABC) of the Politecnico di Milano and I deal with archaeometry, more precisely non-destructive testing. In particular, I study computed tomography – an imaging technique that uses penetrating electromagnetic waves to “look” inside objects – and its applications in the field of Egyptology. In this adventure I am supported by my colleague (and, let me say, my mentor) Alessandro Mandelli, a specialized technician from the ABC Department, in his third season here in Saqqara.
Alessandro and I represent, in this context, “the operational arm” of the EIDOLON Experimental Unit belonging to the ABCLab Laboratory System. The scientific coordination of the EIDOLON Unit is entrusted to Dr Corinna Rossi, associate professor of Egyptology at Politecnico di Milano. The aim of the Unit's research is to identify the most efficient and effective criteria and processes to document and investigate archaeological finds and to communicate the results.
We provide the archaeological team with constant metric information during the progress of the excavation. This information is obtained by both topographic and photogrammetric means. The latter technique allows for the rapid acquisition of photographic data that are subsequently processed to produce high-precision three-dimensional models.
Caption: 3D model of the area currently excavated.
This allows us to investigate over time what no longer exists, since archaeological excavation is by its very nature destructive.
Every morning, the mission members head to the site at 6:30 a.m.; some by car, some by foot. I prefer to walk because this way I can admire very closely the impressive Step Pyramid of Djoser.
In the morning, my first activity is setting up the coordinate system for the correct positioning of archaeological finds. This first operation is carried out by means of a surveying instrument called Total Station.
We spent the first week of work to double check the excavation’s grid system. All excavation activities take place in a very organised manner within a point grid with a 5-meter interval. This makes it easier to precisely locate the position of the finds.
During my second week, after the arrival of other team members, we moved on to the three-dimensional documentation of the finds and the site. Some of this work is quite predictable, like surveying the surroundings, but other aspects are dictated by the finds of the moment, like the discovery of structures.
Every Monday and Thursday, at 1 p.m., that is, at the end of the working day at the site, we document the progress of the entire excavation area. We photograph the entire excavation site and process it, using specific software, to create both a three-dimensional model and orthophotos. Because this is done throughout the excavation, it will allow the archaeologists to “go back in time” if needed and view the site at earlier points in the excavation.
Caption: Survey of the excavation area.
Photo: Nicola Dell'Aquila.
Caption: Topographic measurements using the total station.
Photo: Nicola Dell'Aquila.
I end the week with the sad awareness that this is my second and last week. As you are reading this, I am on my way to Milan and my colleague Andrea Pasqui is going to take my place. He is a Ph.D. student at the ABC Department of Politecnico di Milano like me and is studying the dissemination of archaeological sites through photographic imaging techniques. Together with Alessandro, he will continue the measurement activities to support the excavation for the rest of the season.
We look forward to seeing you next Friday for a new digging diary!
The Digging Diaries tell the joint mission of Museo Egizio and Rijksmuseum of Leiden to Saqqara.
The excavation project in Saqqara began in 1975. Until 1998 the Leiden Museum cooperated with the Egypt Exploration Society in London. Leiden University (since 1999) and the Bologna Archaeological Museum (since 2011) were also involved in the project.
In 2015, the Museo Egizio joined the project as a third partner.
The current mission directors are Lara Weiss, curator of the Egyptian collection at the Leiden Museum, and Christian Greco, director of the Museo Egizio.