Charming and brilliant, renowned archaeologist Mark Lehner gave a fascinating lecture entitled “Finding the People of the Pyramids” on Wednesday, August 18, 2019 at the Virginia Robinson Gardens. Board member Janice Jerde, a close personal and professional friend of Mark for 30 years, introduced him, saying, “Mark’s work in Egypt spans 40 years, and he has sustained his passion, excitement, and enthusiasm from the very beginning.” Mark is the Director and President of Ancient Egypt Research Associates, (AERA), an American nonprofit organization.
In 1984, Mark began the Giza plateau mapping project to understand how the pyramid builders organized and changed this landscape. He completed a PhD from Yale University and started to teach at the University of Chicago. However, he left this tenure-track position to save “the Lost City of the Pyramid Builders,” when he realized it was under direct threat of urban expansion. Janice brought two of the books that Mark has authored — Giza and the Pyramids: the Definitive History and The Complete Pyramids: Solving the Ancient Mysteries.
Born in North Dakota and the son of a minister, Mark said he always had a “longing for something more, something more meaningful and exotic.” In 1973, Mark went to Egypt full-time and majored in anthropology at the American University in Cairo; he worked on archaeological sites with French, British, German, Egyptian and American missions. Mark continued, “I had the opportunity to do this kind of archaeology and to start doing primary research at Giza, researching and finding things that nobody had done before, thanks to my association with Zahi Hawass. He is very famous and was the Minister of Antiquities for many years and has become one of my best friends. He was very influential in my career and still is.”
Mark mapped the Great Sphinx, a very satisfying project that had never been done before. These drawings have been published and are available to view on an open access website. Furthermore, rather than focusing on finding gold bowls, statuary and excavating tombs, Mark was much more interested in finding the evidence of where and how the pyramid builders lived in the third millennium BC. He was looking for information on “the Lost City of the Pyramids.”
Between 1999 and today, AERA archaeologists have salvaged 10 acres of this lost city. The teams excavated workers’ barracks, storehouses for grain, bakeries, offices for scribes, cattle corrals, and even a harbor. They found evidence of bread, fish, and meat consumption for thousands of people. Furthermore, what was quite exciting was that there was evidence of international connections and imports from the Levant (what is now Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon), Aswan and other places. Mark said “Not only did we find a lost city of the pyramids, but we found out it was the lost port city of the pyramids, and we reconstructed its port!”
Another accomplishment that USAID (U.S. Agency of International Development) and the Ministry of Antiquities are very happy about is that AERA started field schools to train young Egyptian archaeologists all over Egypt from Alexandria in the north to Aswan in the south. “Their motto is: We are not looking for things; we are looking for information,” explained Mark. AERA has trained more than 350 young Egyptian archaeologists working for Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities at the world heritage sites of Giza, Luxor and Memphis.
A very intriguing project on Mark’s list is to explore what lies under a soccer field on the Giza Plateau. He is negotiating with the Ministry to remove the soccer fields. Mark believes that under this field is a mammoth royal palace belonging to Khufu.
Next year, less than half a mile from the AERA research center, GEM or the Grand Egyptian Museum will open, housing some of the most sensational pieces of Egyptian art from the treasures of Tutankhamen to the famous statue of Ramses. GEM is the size of four football fields, and Mark noted, “The museum will be truly iconic for the Near East, and maybe worldwide.”
After this exciting lecture, the guests sat on tables artfully decorated by co-chair Patty Elias Rosenfeld and resident design assistant Andrey Yun. Shimmering sculptures of Egyptian gods, goddesses, and obelisks rose from floral centerpieces of white roses surrounded by delicate accents of green foliage. The guests were regaled by the Middle Eastern and tantalizing feast catered by Joe Monteferante. Rice-stuffed baby vegetables, chicken with carrots and pine nuts, ginger herbed lamb, and a sumptuous apricot and pistachio syrup cake reflected the exotic theme of the lecture.
A big thank you to our very special Janice Jerde and our wonderful Education co-chairs Adrienne Horwitch, Patty Elias Rosenfeld and Cindy Fields who organized such a fabulous event, heralding the first of many more to come, for us all to enjoy!
Post by Linda Meadows
Friends of Robinson Gardens Board Member