Ancient Egyptian Pottery from the Subsurface Floodplain of the Saqqara–Memphis Area: Its Mineralogical and Geochemical Implications*

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Abstract

Potsherds recovered from the Saqqara–Memphis floodplain in Egypt, dated according to their typology and radiocarbon dating of the included sediments, are analysed geochemically and mineralogically to identify source materials and fabrication characteristics. Pottery layers were identified and potsherds were recovered from several settlement levels. Sherd typology was used to identify sherds from four periods (the Old and New Kingdoms, and from the Late Period to the Ptolemaic). The Pharaonic pieces were found at depths of between 8 and 12 m and the later material was between 6 and 3 m. Chemical analyses of the potsherds revealed three main source materials: local Nile silt, marl clay and mixed Nile silt–marl. Two marl clay types were recognized: marl clay from Upper Cretaceous marine sediment and another one from Late Pliocene deltaic sediments. The mineralogical composition of the pottery samples shows that the estimated firing temperature was about 850–900°C. No consistent differences in sherd mineralogy and geochemistry were found according to pottery types, so that the ancient Egyptian potters used essentially the same materials throughout the Pharaonic period. However, this initial study has revealed the existence of extensive pottery-rich occupation sites buried within the Nile floodplain deposits between Memphis and Saqqara.

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