Posted by: iMalqata Blog | February 19, 2017

Someone’s Trash is another’s Treasure

Diana Craig Patch

My goal this season at the Industrial Site is the identification of an area at Malqata where glass and faience were manufactured. As you may remember from previous blogs, I started working in 2015 in an area west of the Audience Pavilion because I noted that many sizable pieces of slag were scattered on the surface of old spoil heaps from The Met’s earlier excavations. This waste is associated with furnaces, but none of the earlier excavators noted that they had found either slag or kilns in this area.


The spoil heaps west of the Audience Pavilion at the start of the excavations of the Industrial Site


Slag from the Industrial Site. Similar pieces suggested that this was the place to look for kilns or furnaces.

I was not disappointed when, during the 2015 season, the first square I worked in produced not only slag but sherds from crucibles used to melt the glass ingots, tiny fragments of which were scattered among the modern radim (spoil heap). Last year I continued to clear this radim bit by bit in arbitrary levels; there is no observable stratigraphy in these heaps. At the base of last year’s square, I found some intriguing architectural remains, parts of which ran under its north baulk. Having finished the square begun in 2015 and put on hiatus after I broke my arm that season, I excavated to the desert or gebel surface with no clear indications of any burning or kiln structure. So, now I am tackling another portion of the large spoil heap started last season on my hunt for the manufacturing site.

Although excavating spoil heaps may sound a bit unconventional, I find it a challenge. For the early excavators of Malqata, everything at the site was an unknown. As a result, they focused their attention on exploring and recording the large architectural structures: the King’s Palace, the Audience Pavilion, and the Amun Temple. In excavating these large structures, they did not always collect the little broken bits, although it appears they did more of that in the King’s Palace than elsewhere at Malqata.

Our daily work is not without interest because we are finding many little but captivating objects that were overlooked a hundred years ago. These may assist us in developing a clearer picture of what was made at the Industrial Site and how it was done. Many finds are objects broken during manufacture or tools that had worn out, but occasionally the workmen find an interesting bit of raw material.

Two days ago I found a small chunk of obsidian. Its concoidal fracturing –the circular way in which this natural silica glass created during volcanic activity breaks−is quite distinctive and cannot be mistaken for another material. This find is exciting because obsidian does not occur naturally in Egypt. Most people who have studied the sources believe that the Red Sea coast is the most likely source for obsidian used in Egypt.


Chunk of obsidian from the Industrial Site

We know that obsidian was a desirable, although rare, stone in ancient Egypt, because almost all the pieces are small. An example is obsidian’s use for the pupils in pairs of inlaid eyes of elite coffins, for example the inner coffin of Tutankhamun. However, rarely do we have any examples of larger objects in obsidian. The face from a small statue of Amenhotep III in the Egyptian Museum Cairo (CG42101) recovered from the courtyard where the Karnak Cachette was found is impressive in its use of obsidian. An ear (Museum of Fine Arts, Boston 04.1941) and fist in two other collections probably belong to the same statue according to Peter. Robert F. Tylecote, then at University College, London, analyzed the ear’s obsidian and found that it was from an Ethiopian source.


A face of Amenhotep III made from obsidian

This last point brings me back to my little chunk of obsidian. This” exotic” material is only one of a variety of stones, including red and yellow quartzite, granodiorite, and Egyptian alabaster, that I find in the spoil heaps. All the pieces are quite small but none is locally sourced. In addition, some pieces have worked edges indicating that they once were part of a larger object. It appears that these chips, flakes and small chunks were discarded from the manufacture of larger pieces elsewhere. The glass and faience manufacture at the Industrial Site indicates the production of only small vessels, beads, and other decorative objects. Thus these scraps of “exotic” stone were probably delivered to this workshop to be reused in creating small decorative elements. Therefore the Industrial Site, like other manufacturing sites in ancient Egypt, was producing objects made from a variety of materials, not all of which required a kiln or furnace.


Two small pieces of stone — yellow quartzite and red granite — that are not sourced locally so were brought to the Industrial Site. All the non-local stones are very small pieces.

Postscript: Yesterday I found a large ball bead, which may have split when the craftsman drilled a stringing hole. The bead’s shiny black color and fine texture immediately identified its material as obsidian. The bead had been roughly shaped and manufacturing scars are still visible as faint facets; polishing would have come after a successful hole was drilled. Discarded, the preform was rediscovered by the workmen, explaining one way in which the ancient Egyptians intended to use the chunk of obsidian we found earlier.


A broken bead made of obsidian


  1. Excellent work. Obsidian is a favorite find is indeed rare in Egypt. I discovered an obsidian biface site in the US & would love to investigate this further.

  2. Reblogged this on An Archaeologist's Diary and commented:
    Archaeologists are not just looking for temples and tombs… we also like to understand materials, technologies and industries. A good example is this post from the iMalqata blog.

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