Item Details

In Search of Sibākh: Digging Up Egypt from Antiquity to the Present Day

Issue: Vol 3 No. 1 (2016)

Journal: Journal of Islamic Archaeology

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/jia.v3i1.31874


Excavation and survey reports from Egypt make regular reference to sabakhīn digging and its disruption of the archaeological site’s stratigraphy. This search for agricultural fertilizer, and the resulting destruction of stratified contexts, was commonplace throughout Egypt in the 19th and 20th centuries. The appreciation, however, of the value of salt- and nitrogen-rich sediments often found in ancient ruins is specifically attested in medieval manuals that address issues of agricultural soil quality in Egypt. The exploitation of ruins has likely been a long, ongoing process in Egypt’s history, much to the detriment of studying the medieval period from an archaeological perspective. Particularly disturbed, in many cases, are the most readily available layers at or near the surface, which contain evidence of Egypt’s more recent past. In light of this history of disruption and the interpretation of sibākh in archaeological contexts, our view of late antique and medieval occupation in Egypt should be reconsidered, or perhaps, reimagined.

Author: Anthony T Quickel, Gregory Williams

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