Today’s lecture in addition to our text go over a valuable point, what happens to archaeological sites when modern constructions threaten them. The building of the Aswan High Dam stirred a flurry of activity from archaeologists across the globe that converged onto the banks of the Nile to excavate sites before they would be covered by Lake Nasser. These scholars who would generally take many field seasons to properly excavate sites now had a definite deadline. In addition to a strict deadline, there were further issues with the Nubian Campaign’s political aspect (i.e. What archaeologist can excavate and where?, Who should serve on committees to determine territories for different teams?, etc.). Wilson writes in 1967 that these archaeologists serving Egypt and Nubia were, “united by a common goal: the rescue of a maximum of evidence within a very short space of years (p. 270).”
In this article, Wilson (1967) continues to describe the intensity of the work and the collaborations between international teams of archaeologists. It is incredible to think about the impact of this Nubian Campaign saving Abu Simbel as well as so many other lesser known sites. The sheer volume of work done in such a short timeframe is astounding and the consideration of the language and cultural barriers crossed really makes the project exemplary.
However, some individuals may argue that salvage operations like this are not good science that hurried excavations lack the proper documentation and contextual evidence warranted by the site. Although the mantra of context has been seared into my brain, I whole-heartedly disagree with this view point. While it may be true that salvage operations are not the best science, but sometimes it is the best science that can occur. In cases like the Aswan High Dam as well as highway expansion in our own backyard, it does not make sense to throw your hands in the air and proclaim that if an excavation isn’t afforded ample time it should not be completed at all. So many times, archaeologists are called upon to do salvage operations to glean as much information from a site in a short amount of time. Archaeologists and bioarchaeologists can still provide some light into the past through these salvage operations, even though much information may be lost.
Wilson, John (1967). The Nubian Campaign: An Exercise in International Archaeology. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 111, 268-271. Available at : http://www.jstor.org/stable/986044?seq=2