Diana Craig Patch
Spoil heaps, archaeological dumps, and back-dirt piles are all terms used to identify the mounds of debris that result from excavation. No one really wants to work in someone else’s debris because it means you are not looking at archaeological material in the context in which it was deposited. Early archaeology, that is, work done a century ago, took place when the field was really just beginning to develop the techniques that would become the foundation of the careful way in which we dig today. Excavations a hundred years ago were done on a large scale, focusing on large structures –palaces, temples, tombs—and collecting whole or substantially preserved objects. Smaller pieces were often missed. Although Herbert Winlock and Ambrose Lansing from The Metropolitan Museum of Art were both excellent archaeologists for their time, they still left behind fascinating information in their back dirt piles.
We have opened several squares in the area of spoil heaps from Lansing’s 1917-18 excavations west of the Audience Pavilion (or the Belvedere as it was then called). Although the carnelian is what originally caught our eye, we have been finding some other interesting pieces in these spoil heaps. Among these was a fragment of colored glass that appears to be from the rim of a vessel. Not much survives of the original jar, perhaps just 25% of the rim, but this fragment’s color, decoration, and thin wall suggests it belonged to an elegant vessel.The object’s shape on first impression suggested that the piece came from a bracelet, an identification that would have been significant because glass bracelets are quite rare and one from this site would be an early example. However Peter’s sharp eyes saw the thin broken edge, only 1 mm thick, along the underside, indicating this piece was once part of a vessel’s rim. The color is a dark but muted blue, a hue that occurs among the glass from Amenhotep’s palace. It is the decoration of evenly spaced tiny white glass dots set flush in the blue, however, that sets this vessel apart. So far I have been unable to locate a good parallel. None of the fragments collected and brought back by the MMA are a match. Most rims are the same shade as the overall jar color or they can have canes added in a striped pattern of contrasting colors, as seen in the examples here. Dots apparently are quite unusual.
Postscript: There is only one level of occupation at Malqata, that of Years 30-37 of Amenhotep III when he carried out his three sed-festivals. The spoil heaps have produced no material belonging to any other periods, except the occasional pieces of modern bottle glass and plastic caps, so as unusual as this piece is it must date to the reign of Amenhotep III.