Conference Paper "The Archaeology and Re-Use of Combed Jars from Old Kingdom Giza"

  • Sowada, K. (Invited speaker)
  • Wilma Wetterstrom (Invited speaker)

Activity: Talk or presentationPresentation


Many imported Combed jars were found by George Reisner in and around tombs of the Egyptian elite during the 1907–42 Harvard University-Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition on the Giza plateau. The Museum of Fine Arts (Boston) holds the largest number of such jars outside Egypt, which have been the subject of intensive study for the last three years as part of a wider project examining trade and foreign relations during the Old Kingdom.

Over the decades, many assumptions have been made in the literature about the contents of the jars, with wine, olive oil and cedar or coniferous resins proposed. Very limited scientific analysis has been conducted. Yet to date, these questions are not resolved, owing to the ephemeral nature of what remains inside the vessels. Many jars retain no signs of contents visible to the naked eye, while others contain only a small amount of loose material.

This paper discusses the archaeology of the jars and their contents, arguing that although they were status markers for elite burials, jars were used more than once prior to deposition. Moreover, the quality of the data inside the vessels has been affected by multiple post-excavation interventions. A case study of the contents of one jar, MFA 47.1662, is presented to highlight the problematic nature of the archaeological data. As a result, techniques of micro-analysis using GC-MS and examination of phytolith and pollen samples offer the most promising opportunities for unravelling this complex story.
Period20 May 2021
Event titleEgypt and the Mediterranean World in the Late Fourth through the Third Millennium BCE Conference
Event typeConference
Degree of RecognitionInternational