Coring In the Eastern Delta

Dr. Maury Morgenstein spoke to the Northern California Chapter in October, 1997 regarding the coring project which took place at Tell el-Muqdam over two excavation seasons in the Nile delta. Dr. Morgenstein opened his lecture by providing the audience with some basic geological information about river deltas, their formation and the deposits that are normally found in such an environment.

He advised the audience that rivers, such as the Nile, which are moving across relatively flat terrain with little or no grade, meander. The history of the Nile's meanders is very important in studying the development of habitation in the delta.

Tell el-Muqdam, the site of the ancient city of Leontopolis, located in the central delta. It has no present day river connection, though it clearly did in ancient times. Today the Tell is comparatively level, with a stagnant lake - the result or excavations in the 1820s - and a small island in the lake which contains remains not disturbed by those earlier excavations.

Dr. Morgenstein conducted coring operations for two seasons at the site, taking 37 cores within an area of approximately 1.5 square kilometers. The team used an auger for coring, with a head that measured approximately 10 inches deep by 8 inches in diameter, and allowed for bringing up pottery sherds and other items which might indicate the presence of a cultural area and help date it. The team cored to approximately 6 meters below surface in most locations.

He noted that the surface soil at Tell el-Muqdam is generally light brown in color, resulting from iron oxidation, but substrata are rich and black as a result of a lack of oxidation. As each auger core is raised to the surface the sediments and artifacts - predominantly pottery sherds - are carefully analyzed. On one occasion, Dr. Morgenstein revealed that a "dry" core resulted in the discovery of a Roman pot burial.

Dr. Morgenstein displayed a series of graphs in which the sediment layers in each core sample were first presented, then translated into cross-section graphs which provided a good picture of the site from the Third Intermediate Period, when it was founded, to the present. He explained to the audience the changes which had occurred in the location of the river, as revealed by the core samples, and also described the changes which had occurred at the tell. The river's changes affected the development of the tell, and at the same time, the development of the tell influenced changes in the river.

Dr. Morgenstein concluded his remarks by noting that a coring project provides information regarding the age and environmental deposition at a site, but gives no information regarding the presence of absence of cultures which occupied the site. Only excavation can provide that information.

  • Nancy Corbin
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