In the Field

Tell Timai  Sarah Chapman

Hello. My name is Sarah Chapman.  I’m a PhD student in Egyptology at University of Birmingham and also hold a staff position on the Expedition to Tell Timai, Egypt, which is sponsored by the University of Hawaii. Tell Timai is located in the Egyptian eastern delta region (Governorate of Daqahliya) and is just 0.5 km south of ancient Mendes. Tell Timai was occupied throughout the Greco-Roman and Christian periods.

Although the team generally excavates during the summer months, this past year the 2012 excavation season was held in December. This allowed me two new experiences: excavating in cool weather … and Christmas in Egypt! In the past 5 years I have excavated in Egypt I had not yet spent the winter months there. All in all, it was a great time.

This past December the team excavated on the high part of the Tell, near the ancient city’s center. This area is believed to have been a residential district, with the exposed surface dating to the Roman Period. As a unit supervisor, my team for the season consisted of Lori Lawson (who is also Timai’s Lab Manager and House Manager) and Reis Mohamed. We were excited to begin the excavation and see what we would uncover and how much we would learn about the site from the season’s work.

Here’s Lori with her new trowel, ready to start digging!


As the season progressed, our unit began to look more and more like a Roman building and less like a heap of dirt and stray bricks. It’s interesting how the discovery of certain features can excite the imagination and allow you to really visualize the past. I experienced such an occasion when we uncovered what appeared to be the piping for a small cook stove, complete with a stain of soot on the adjacent wall. For the first time I really started to see an ancient house. Each new discovery seemed to give another tantalizing glimpse of life in Roman Egypt. I particularly enjoyed finding the bases of ceramics that still had organic remains encrusted.  Was it wine? Or perhaps oil? We couldn’t be certain without testing the residue but the chance to see these types of remains, which were so unlikely to survive all these centuries, certainly was exciting.


Timai was one of the first sites I worked on in Egypt and my inspiration to continue on in the field. My first experience working at Timai was on the 2007 preliminary season, before the excavation had begun. Those few weeks were life-changing. Everywhere I looked I saw new and interesting things that motivated me to investigate further. I was so curious about this incredible place! Never before had I experienced walking down ancient streets with the remains of the ancient mud brick buildings on either side of me. Each find was exciting from sherds of pottery to jewellery  I was just amazed. Working at a site like this and experiencing the discoveries made each season really makes the past something that seems more tangible and in ways, more relatable as well.


Now five years later and working in the field is still just as exciting as when I had first started out. The December season ended on a high note and provided plenty of data to keep the team busy with research for the spring. It will not be long now before it will be time to travel back to Egypt for the first summer season of excavation in June. I am eager to begin this next adventure!


To learn more about Tell Timai and how you can participate in future field seasons visit:


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