Friday, February 26, 2010
Two days ago we decided that one more area we wanted to explore this season, in order to get a better feel for the extent of the village, was a short row of bricks visible west of the “Lower Village.” The Lower Village is what I call a group of what are probably houses at the base of the desert terrace, the area we first began to excavate three weeks ago. As soon as we started to clear the brick (a good thing we did because there is only a partial course of foundation bricks left), we found several pits. We cleaned out the smaller one, away from the wall, to see what kind of material was being dumped there.
The pit contained sandy fill with some small pebbles (most layers here have some pebbles from the desert) and lots of sherds and animal bone. The sherds themselves are very interesting as is the animal bone, but that is another blog entry. The most amazing thing we found was four pieces of leather!
When we find an undisturbed and un-weathered layer here the preservation of material is often spectacular. Such is the case with the contents of this pit. Two pieces of leather are small and curved, but plain. If they were once dyed, which was common, no color survives. The other two, however, demonstrate a decorative technique.
The leather has been systematically slit vertically a number of times. Then a strip of rawhide has been slid under and over the slits to producing a woven pattern. Both pieces, although the surfaces were hard, were so brittle I was very worried as I had to handle them during photography.
The ancient Egyptians used leather as early as the Predynastic Period (ca. 3800 B.C.), generally for covers, bags, and aprons. The methods for tanning hides, which came from sheep, goat, cattle, and gazelles, apparently were fairly uncomplicated and did not change much over time. By Dynasty 18 (ca. 1550-1295 B.C.), leather was also used for seats of chair, parts of chariots, furnishings or covers, some military equipment (for example, shields, quivers, wrist guards), membranes for drums, belts, and sandals. I have included a piece from a quiver at the Metropolitan Museum that shows the same kind of decoration that we have from Malqata.
Finding leather at Malqata should not be surprising (except that it survived at all) because Ludwig Borchardt, a German Egyptologist, found substantial evidence for leatherwork while excavating at Amarna between 1907 and 1914. Amarna, of course, is the city that Amenhotep III’s successor Akhenaten built, not long after our site was in use.
– Diana Craig Patch