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Using Business Intelligence to Uncover the Past in Ancient Egypt

I have always been a huge fan of Ancient Egypt and the inside of my house has been likened to the Cairo Museum.

I had been thinking for a while if there was a way to marry my passion for Ancient Egypt with my passion for Business Intelligence and about two years ago, an opportunity presented itself. I was introduced to Dr. Leslie Warden, an Egyptologist and professor at Roanoke College who specialized in the Old Kingdom and ceramics.

Now Dr. Warden knew nothing about Business Intelligence, and I knew nothing about excavating and analyzing ceramics, but it did not take long for both of us to realize that there was a potential fit.

Dr. Warden was just starting a new excavation in the Delta region of Egypt of an Old Kingdom provincial village named Kom El-Hisn. The purpose of the excavation was to learn more about how ordinary people lived and went about their daily lives some 4,500 years ago. So, when I was invited to participate, I did not hesitate.

Now I had this romantic vision in my head that it would be like Howard Carter discovering the tomb of Tutankhamun in the middle of the Egyptian desert, but it was not quite like that.

Kom El- Hisn is located in the hot and humid delta region full of small agricultural villages and farms. It was situated in the middle of 3 small villages that for the last 50 years had used the site of the ancient village we were about to excavate as their garbage dump! Not only did they dump all their garbage there, but they also buried their dead farm animals there too. It also happened to be July when it was about 105F and very humid and we stayed in one of the villager’s houses with no air conditioning, no hot water and no sewer.

It took extra time and manpower to clean up the area we planned to excavate but we did it. I learned a lot during the week I was there and once the actual digging started, it did not take long to uncover literally thousands of shards and fragments of pots and objects dating back to both the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom. The sorting and classification of this material was a huge manual task leaving very little time to do detailed analysis especially since the material was not allowed to leave the site.

After returning from Egypt and that first exposure to a real excavation, my mind did not stop spinning about how to best use Technology and BI to help out the archeologists.  We started working on a Business Intelligence application that we called InfoArch for both the classification process and the analysis. We created the application so it could run on an iPad and allow the material to be entered into the application offline (since there is no internet at the site) and then synchronized to a central database in the cloud later. Previously all this information was being entered on paper forms. The new application not only quickened the process but also helped it to be more accurate by using pre-selected values and performing validation checks.

Last year we went back to Kom El-Hisn and tried it out and saw, firsthand, how easily people were able to use it. We then started to work on the Business Intelligence analysis piece.

By using interactive visualizations, Dr. Warden was able to see trends, patterns, outliers and lots of information in a whole new way. She also discovered the importance of data quality for good BI.

At IBIS last June, Dr. Warden showed an early version of the dashboard as part of her keynote presentation. Last week at the ARCE (American Research Center in Egypt) annual conference (delivered virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic), she presented a session entitled “Analyzing Archeological Ceramics Using Business Intelligence” and showed an impressive demonstration of InfoArch. It was really well received.

I would be amiss if I did not mention the amazing work in creating this custom dashboard solution by InfoSol’s Eliseo (“JR”) Camilon. He will be presenting a session at IBIS2020 entitled “Building Custom BI Dashboards for the Web” – not to be missed.

There is a lot more to do but InfoArch is off to a great start and I hope to be going back to Kom El-Hisn with Dr. Warden and her team next year to really put it to maximum use.

More importantly, I have found a way to combine two of my greatest passions – Egyptology and BI – which is just the best.

About pgrill

Paul Grill started his career in Information Technology in the U.K. in 1978, as an Executive Data Processing Trainee for Honeywell. More than thirty years later, he still has a voracious appetite for learning as Information Technology continues to advance at an ever accelerating pace. He was first introduced to the world of Business Intelligence in 1991, in France, when he saw a demonstration of an early version of BusinessObjects on Windows 2.1. He returned to the U.S. to rave about this phenomenal product, but it was many years before BusinessObjects made it into the mainstream. Paul founded InfoSol in 1997, and made Business Intelligence one of the key solutions offered by the company. Today, InfoSol is a leading SAP BusinessObjects solutions partner, known for its expert consulting, education and innovative add-on solutions. Paul is well known within the SAP BusinessObjects community for his extensive knowledge of Business Intelligence, and he has lectured and written many articles on the subject. Paul enjoys writing, running and coaching kids soccer, and is passionate about Ancient Egyptology.

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