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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

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 publically 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).
  • 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 specimen by plant taxa for features in different areas of excavation in a paleobotanist friendly layout.

Methodological Notes

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.

Samples are processed via machine flotation on the site using a 0.25 mm mesh. Dr. Mary Anne Murray initially carried out the flotation, and subsequently it has been done by Abdel Latif (AERA flotation expert). 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. Identifications in this database were made by Mary Anne Murray (1998–2011), Claire Malleson (2007–present), Rebab el-Gendy (trainee, 2010) and Essam Ahmed Soliman (Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities trainee, 2017–2018). Each year the goal has been either to analyze as many of the incoming samples as possible or to analyze as close to 100% of the samples from a specific excavation area as possible. For example, in 2009 all samples from Area BB were studied and in 2010 all samples from Area AA were studied.

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 Variable Value(s)

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.

Property or Relation Value(s)
[Standard: Dublin Core Terms]
[Standard: Dublin Core Terms]
Is Referenced By
[Standard: Dublin Core Terms]
Giza Botany Feature Summaries
[Standard: Open Context]
Temporal Coverage
[Standard: Dublin Core Terms]
Old Kingdom
[Standard: UCLA Encyclopedia of Egyptology]
Editorial Note

Open Context editors work with data contributors to annotate datasets to shared vocabularies, ontologies, and other standards using 'Linked Open Data' (LOD) methods.

The annotations presented above approximate some of the meaning in this contributed data record to concepts defined in shared standards. These annotations are provided to help make datasets easier to understand and use with other datasets.

Suggested Citation

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

Editorial Status

Managing editor reviewed

Mapping Data

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