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Mixed Messages Volume 56 Number 3, May/June 2003
by W. B. Hafford

A tomb on the Giza Plateau yields chewing-gum wrappers, Cairo tram tickets, a 1944 newspaper, and a 4,500-year-old burial.

As I chipped away the final seal on the entrance to the burial chamber, I was gripped by both anticipation of what might lie inside and a sense of mystery. The other chambers of this tomb, lying in the shadow of Khufu's monumental pyramid at Giza, had been opened in the 1930s by George Reisner, Harvard's highly respected archaeologist, but for some unknown reason this one had escaped his notice.

Standing in a shaft only twenty inches wide, I rocked the long limestone slab covering the chamber's entryway back on its base. It took a good deal of effort, but finally the stone slid back, kicking up fine sand. As the dust settled I peered into the darkness, only to find myself face to face with...modern garbage. Shredded newspaper and bits of plastic and foil. Anticlimactic perhaps, but archaeology can be just that at times.

Over the next few days, I returned again and again to my cramped position, carefully excavating the sand pile, documenting its contents despite the fact that much of it was modern debris. I found many things of chronological interest in that pile, including a 1940s or 1950s chewing-gum wrapper and Cairo tram tickets of the same period. Finally the definitive time frame for the "invasion" of the chamber appeared. Nestled in the sand was a torn piece of the Egyptian Mail, an English-language newspaper, dated April 28, 1944. Its partially preserved headline read "...Hit Germans By Night," and on the reverse were pictures of SS head Heinrich Himmler and Luftwaffe chief Hermann Goering. I hadn't expected to come up against the Nazis at this dig, but now perhaps I could claim a kinship with the action-adventure archaeologists of motion-picture fame.

W. B. Hafford is the Robert H. Dyson, Jr., Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Museum and assistant director of the Howard University Giza Cemetery Project. The project acknowledges the generous support of the National Endowment for the Humanities and supervision of Zahi Hawass, General Secretary of the Supreme Council of Antiquities

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America