Posted by: imalqata | February 26, 2014

A Bowl of Plaster

Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Archaeologists love a good garbage pit and I am no exception. Last week we found a small one, by garbage pit standards. It was about the size of a container we would use in a kitchen today. However, it was packed with pottery sherds, animal bone, and a few other bits and pieces. Our chief excavator, Azib, also works for the Museum’s excavation at Dahshur, just south of Cairo. For years he has helped that expedition’s ceramic specialist, Susan Allen, with reconstructing pottery vessels from broken fragments. So, I set him to work on the impressive pile of sherds he had just

Azib reconstruction pottery

Azib reconstruction pottery

excavated. He has done an amazing job and, finally, after seasons of drawing only small pieces of rims and the occasional base, I now have some largely complete jars and bowls with which to work. To be honest, only one bowl is actually complete, but the rest are close enough that you can easily understand what the original jar or bowl looked like.
There are many interesting clues developing from this find, but one particular bowl unequivocally tells you its purpose, or at least its last use. The shape, a deep, sharp

The "carinated" bowl from the pit

The “carinated” bowl from the pit

shouldered (carinated) bowl, is a well-known type among our sherds, although it’s not the most common type of bowl in the village repertoire. That award goes to shallow bowls with everted rims.
The carinated bowls are most often made from Nile silt that generally produces a red, red-brown, or brown vessel as is the case here. This example is one of the largest we have recorded, with a thick wall that makes it a very sturdy example. Initially, when I was looking at the first sherds of this bowl when they came out of the pit, I thought it had a white “slip” – a liquid-like clay that is applied after a vessel is finished. A slip can be of the same color clay or it can be a completely different color. We do get some white slipped Nile silts. However, a closer examination showed that the bowl had a

Interior of "carinated" bowl with remains of plaster

Interior of “carinated” bowl with remains of plaster

lightly burnished red slip and the white was had an entirely different cause. After Azib skillfully reconstructed the bowl, it was clear that it had been used to mix a batch of gypsum plaster.

Detail of plaster in the bowl

Detail of plaster in the bowl

We have found a few places in the village where a scrap of remaining mud brick wall in

Plaster on a mud brick wall

Gypsum plaster on a mud brick wall

a room still had the remnants of gypsum plaster white wash. I also mentioned in yesterday’s blog that gypsum plaster had been used in creating a sloping surface to the mouth of a buried jar. Today I found the interior walls of a room that had been white washed. All that remains are a few inches of wall above the floor. This is enough, however, to make it clear that the room probably was once entirely white.

Remains of white washed walls in the corner of a room

Remains of white gypsum plaster in the corner of a room

Diana Craig Patch

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