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Giza Botanical Database

Charred Macrobotanical remains from Ancient Egypt Research Associates (AERA) excavations in Old Kingdom settlements at Giza 1988–2018

Project Abstract

Since 1988 Ancient Egypt Research Associates has systematically collected sediment samples for flotation in order to recover macrobotanical remains from project excavations in Old Kingdom settlements on the low desert to the southeast of the Giza Plateau, Egypt. The goal has been to contribute information on ancient plant use to the project research. This dataset contains all samples studied between 1988–2018. Site conditions at Heit el-Ghurab fluctuate between wet and dry (and have done so for millennia), and therefore only charred plant remains are preserved. Despite the drier conditions of the Khentkawes Town, only charred remains are preserved there as well.

The remains come primarily from two different settlement sites—the Khentkawes Town and Heit el-Ghurab. Within the Heit el-Ghurab settlement there are three distinctly different neighborhoods—the Western Town (large dwellings), the Eastern Town (small village-like dwellings), and the Galleries (a walled area possibly designated for communal accommodation for work and expedition crews). The Khentkawes Town was initially constructed to house priests attached to the funerary cult, but later was probably re-purposed. Information about archaeological features varies for different areas of excavation due to evolving standards of site recording over 30 years.

Dr. Wilma Wetterstrom initiated botanical work at the site. In 1995 the project expanded and Dr. Mary Anne Murray took over. In 2007 Claire Malleson joined as assistant, and in 2012 took over as lead botanist. Trainees have included Mennat-Allah El Dorry, Rebab el-Gendy and Essam Ahmed Soliman.

The Giza Botanical Database project was designed to make this data publicly available for the first time. The work conducted between July 2017–June 2018 focused on data “cleaning.” It included the following:

  • Human errors in the database were corrected via a cross-check with the AERA site database (for example, obvious misread/miswritten and mistyped feature or bag numbers, such as "0" instead of "6," "1" instead of "7").
  • Area codes that had been updated in post-excavation work were corrected based on cross-checks with AERA site database and AERA GIS. This document provides a summary description of areas as well bibliographic references.
  • Feature information was updated using the AERA database and the AERA GIS.
  • The format of the unique ID for samples (the Master_Sample_Number) was made consistent throughout.
  • All botanical identifications were corrected based on updated information. For example, where we had grouped similar unknown items (for example “Trifolieae type A/B/C or D”) when we first encountered them, we later successfully identified these items, but had not necessarily updated the database. In these instances the database was corrected to show the correct identification).
  • Botanical terms were updated to reflect accepted international changes in nomenclature/taxonomy (for example, Graminae became Poaceae, Leguminoseae became Fabaceae). It was decided to retain the older names in the records due to the fact that not all student / trainee archaeobotanists are aware of, or familiar with these changes. Some archaeobotanists prefer to retain the older terminologies.
  • Field notebooks were cross-checked with the database; corrections were made, and any missing samples were added.
  • In addition, the archive (all field notes of flotation and identifications) was updated and stored as hard copies in Boston and Giza, and as digital copies on the AERA server and a dedicated external hard drive.

Download: Giza Botany Feature Summaries Excel File

This Excel workbook file summarizes counts of specimens by plant taxa for features in different areas of excavation in a paleobotanist friendly layout.

Methodological Notes

In all investigations AERA employs single context excavation and recording methods. All feature/context plans are digitized in ESRI ArcView GIS. The relative phasing between different areas in HeG is not yet possible due to a lack of direct stratigraphic links, but in 2012-13 we were able to build a fully connected sequence of phasing for the Khentkawes Town excavations. Work is ongoing to make the Khentkawes data available online. Both sites were occupied for short time-spans within the mid-late part of the Egyptian Old Kingdom.

During the earlier years of the project, samples were taken for flotation from selected archaeological features, but since around 2005 a more extensive policy of taking samples from all sealed deposits. The result of this comprehensive sampling strategy is that there are an exceptionally large number of samples. This provides a detailed overview of archaeobotany at the site, but also means that it has not been possible to study all samples.

Soil samples are processed via machine flotation on the site using a 0.25 mm mesh for the light fraction (flot) and a 0.5mm mesh for the heavy fraction. Dr. Mary Anne Murray initially carried out the flotation, and subsequently it has been done by Abdel Latif (AERA flotation expert). Soil sample volume is measured and recorded for all samples. Occasional instances of incomplete or illegible field notes means that this information is missing in a small number of cases.

All botanical remains are identified in the AERA/Ministry of Antiquities workroom on the Giza plateau, using a Nikon zoomstereo Binocular Microscope with 6-30X magnification, and reference collections, illustrations, and descriptions in numerous publications. The botanical nomenclature is based on Loufty Boulos's Flora of Egypt (four volumes, 2002–2005), with some adjustments to reflect updated terminology. For all samples (flots) wood charcoal volume is measured. Heavy fraction is sorted by eye in the workroom but has never yielded any plant remains other than wood charcoal – it seems that flotation catches all seeds and grains present. For every specimen identified we record the condition of the item noting if it is a partial or complete seed / grain. This detail is shown in the detailed botany specimens records, the excel tables show just the total number of items of each species / plant elements identified in the samples from each feature. For certain taxa, specifically Vicieae and Trifolieae tribe specimens, in some instances we make a record of the approximate size of the item. This method was begun in 2013 during an intense period of study of the KKT samples, which were exceptional in many ways. It was an attempt to represent the fact that although it was usually impossible to determine a genus for the seeds, there were clear differences noted.

Over 30 years despite a very consistent methodology and approach to the work, there are natural variations in the identifications. The botanist responsible is indicated in the database— this information was added during the database project (ex post facto) and so may not be 100% accurate.

  • MAM = Mary Anne Murray
  • CJM = Claire Malleson
  • RG = Rebab el-Gendy
  • EAS = Essam Ahmed Soliman

Potential Applications of Data

This dataset will be of value to any archaeobotanist investigating plant use (economy, trade, exchange, diet) in North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean during the Early Bronze Age/Old Kingdom.


This database project was supported by an American Research Center in Egypt, Archaeological Endowment Fund Grant made to Dr. Claire Malleson/AERA in 2017.

Related Publications


Descriptive Attribute Value(s)
Has note

Editorial Note

Many of the plant specimen documented in this project came from contexts in the Khentkawes Town site at Giza. Detailed descriptions of the areas and features in Khentkawes Town will be available in the future as part of the forthcoming Open Context data publication, Giza AERA Project.

Heit el-Ghurab Site, Giza Egypt
Plan Menkaure Valley Temple East
Suggested Citation

Claire Malleson, Rebekah Miracle. (2018) "Giza Botanical Database". Released: 2018-10-22. Open Context. <> DOI:

Editorial Status
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