Assessing functional aspects of GiE 001: Preliminary data from the finds

The last two days were really nice – hot and sunny. Today, the weather has changed again, a very strong wind made work difficult today and the temperatures are again a bit cooler.

Since work in the field with such a wind was not possible after lunch, I spent this afternoon playing with some statistics for the two test trenches in GiE 001 where we are currently working.

Of course, any interpretation based on two test trenches only must remain very tentative, but I believe there are already some interesting facts and possible glues for understanding the function of the site. The domestic character of GIE 001 was already noted by Vila and we confirmed its dating to the New Kingdom with a strong Kerma presence in 2019. What new data derives now from our test trenches?

Let’s look at the pottery – the surface material was mixed in both trenches, comprising Kerma, Egyptian New Kingdom, Napatan and Christian wares. Many of the sherds are very eroded (wind-worn).

Trench 1 only yielded a total of 328 sherds, of which 13 are diagnostic pieces (4%). 271 pieces from all sherds (83%) can be dated to the Kerma/New Kingdom period.

This pattern is repeated in Trench 2 were a larger quantity of pottery was found. As of today, a total of 3709 sherds were collected, 177 of which are diagnostic pieces (5%). In this trench, 3203 sherds belong to the Kerma/New Kingdom horizon (86% and thus the clear majority).

Especially relevant was today’s muddy layer in a deep level which yielded only 13 small pottery sherds, but of which all are New Kingdom in date, 6 wheel-made of the Egyptian tradition, 7 handmade Nubian wares.

Some stone artefacts from Trench 2 in GiE 001.

The second most frequent category of finds after pottery are stone tools and lithics. These were quite numerous, especially in Trench 2, where for example 102 pieces were collected from the surface layer. The stone artefacts are mostly flakes and here predominately quartz flakes; very frequent are also fragments from sandstone grindstones and handmills. A few chert flakes and some pounders and hammer stones were also noted.

All in all, the stone artefacts seem to attest first of all quartz working and grinding of materials. This fits perfectly to the topographical situation of the site – just south of GiE 001, there is a large quartz vein visible on the surface. And this might very well be connected with ancient gold working like it is well attested in the general region of Upper Nubia and especially around the main centres of the New Kingdom empire like Sai, Sesebi and Amara West.

Overview of quartz vein just south of site GiE 001.

In the 1970s, Vila documented a gold working site at Kosha East (the neighbouring village of Ginis) where New Kingdom and Napatan ceramics on the surface next to a quartz vein resemble the evidence from GiE 001.

Excavation and processing of data at GiE 001 must of course continue, but for now, this New Kingdom ocupation site seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island. Exciting first glimpses into the use of the Bronze and Iron Age landscapes in the MUAFS concession!

A day-off at Ginis

Today is Friday and after some crazy first weeks because of our initial problems, we’re finally in an ordinary working schedule, making a day-off to relax and to study finds. And there was also some unusual excitement: We had a very nice surprise visit by a group of tourists travelling through Sudan with Lendi Travels, the company of my dear friend Waleed in Khartoum. I gave them a short tour at GiE 001, explaining the challenges we are currently encountering, but also the huge potential of the site. For them it was of course a big difference compared to all the nicely preserved New Kingdom sites with stone architecture like Sai and Soleb.

After the nice group left, I took the opportunity for a relaxing walk back from the site to our house. And I am happy to share here some impressions of the stunning beauty of the landscape at Ginis, wishing everybody a relaxed weekend:

The fields along the river bank contrasting with the sandy dunes on the west bank.
View towards the west bank with some rocky outcrops.
The nice local house we rented as a digging house for this season.

Summary of week 3 at Ginis East

Our third week of the 2020 just ended and was very successful. We concentrated during the week on site GiE 001. Recorded by Vila as site 2-T-36B in the 1970s, this domestic site at Ginis East can be assigned to the Egyptian New Kingdom, showing also an intriguing Kerma presence according to the surface finds as well as Napatan ceramics. Magnetometry was conducted by MUAFS in 2019.

In the 2020 season, two trenches were laid out above promising anomalies in the magnetometry in the northeastern part of the site, just south of the modern car track. Trench 1 (6 x 4 m) yielded, apart from surface finds which were mixed and dated from the Kerma Period, the New Kingdom, the Napatan Period and Christian times, some Kerma Classique sherds from lower levels. However, no structures were found and the magnetometry seems to show natural features, especially more sandy areas which contrast to clay layers.

Trench 2 (10 x 4 m) is the area where we found plenty of evidence for marog digging. The pottery was abundant and is again a mix of predominantly New Kingdom material with Kerma, Napatan and Christian wares. Work in Trench 2 is not yet finished and will continue in the upcoming week.

All in all, remains in GiE 001 are clearly not as we were hoping according to the magnetometry, but it is still a very interesting site to study, especially within the context of the question of Egyptian presence during the New Kingdom in the area of Attab/Ginis/Kosha, thus in the periphery of Amara West and Sai Island.

Documenting marog digging pits at Ginis East

This week passed by very fast, the weekend is already approaching. Since half of the team left by now, we are working in a very small group these days. Huda, Jessica and me were busy at Ginis East, site GiE 001, where the surface is covered with primarily New Kingdom material.

Today, we made much progress in Trench 2 – first of all, we are currently excavating marog pits. Marog corresponds to sebbakh digging in Egypt and refers to recent pits excavated in the soil/mud bricks to use the clay as fertilizer in the fields.

The largest of these pits in Trench 2 is 2.40 m in diameter and 75 cm deep. It was filled with fine sand and the traces of the tools the marog diggers used are clearly visible on the sloping edges. We documented everything in 3D according to our standard procedure.

We have already much experience with these pits from Sai Island where they are also common in the New Kingdom town area. The material within the pits is usually very mixed – and this also holds true for GIE 001. Five baskets of pottery were collected from Trench 2 so far and although the majority is clearly New Kindom, including Ramesside material, there are also Napatan pottery and Christian ceramics. And of course some recent material like date seeds were also found in the filling of the pit.

Work will continue tomorrow, and since we have finished all the sandy fillings of the marog pits, we will now carry on with the muddy remains.

Kerma sites at Ginis East and the church of Mograkka

Since today is a study day in the digging house to work on the finds from week 1 and 2, especially pottery and lithics, I also have some time to give an update on our activities.

We concentrated on 3 sites in the area of Ginis East – all of them date back to the Kerma period, but especially at GiE 004 and GiE 005 there was also later activity based on surface finds and Christian ceramics.

We only laid out test trenches this season since we wanted to check the common status of sedimentation and stratigraphy. And this turned out as quite disappointing – no stratigraphy was preserved in most cases, although two trenches yielded a few pottery sherds from a quite deep level. For all trenches, we used the same imaged based documentation system that we developed over the last years at Sai Island and it was very valuable to practice it in these new surroundings.

In addition, we got some very nice kite aerial photos from the sites.

Well, we will collect and analyse all these data further and despite of all, these are of course useful information for the general understanding of our concession area and the individual sites.

Another task this week was the small mud brick church at Mograkka (Vila site 3-L-22). Cajetan, Jessica and Huda spent an intense day there and re-mapped it. Our documentation includes a 3D structure from motion digital photographic documentation in combination with survey points from a total station. This is the first working step within a planned excavation and site management plan for this monument in the near future.

In the coming days, we will continue with test trenches at sites in Ginis East. This time with a very promising site where the surface is covered with loads of pottery from the Kerma period, the Egyptian New Kingdom and Napatan times. Keep your fingers crossed that there is some stratigraphy preserved!

Lessons learned in the 2020 season: Part 1

Time flies by, we have been very busy at several sites in Ginis East. Our technical problems continued and the only solution was to cope with these and to learn something for the future.

What follows here could be classified under “fucked-up science” – things that go wrong in science and are communicated and not covered up. I am a big fan of this approach, especially on blogs and social media. However, I know that critics always question this now quite fancy way of science communication as being too simplistic, too self-focused and that it just serves for self-representation. Well – granted that there are always two sides of a coin… But why I personally think it is useful to incorporated “fucked up science” is first of all one aspect: communicating failures and problems also tells people who are no insiders and experts of the field, how many things must actually go right that we come up with results and a nice documentation of archaeological sites. And how much can go wrong… There are of course many errors, mistakes and new trials behind most of scientific research – and in fields like archaeology, where we depend on a large set of technical equipment, chances are very high to waste time and money before all works out as planned… And thus, words like “waste of” and “failure” do not always really fit, it is simply life with all its ups and downs and daily challenges…

So let’s start with an example from the current MUAFS season which is still full of daily issues.

Our drone (property of my department at LMU) was stuck in customs since we arrived in Khartoum. Although our dear friend George from the Acropole Hotel did his best, gave almost daily updates, nothing changed and no clearance was issued. We finally decided to skip the procedure, abandon the efforts and to accept that we will not be able to conduct drone aerial photography like last year – after all, the only person with a proper license to use the drone is Cajetan. And Cajetan is already leaving Sudan in the next days. The drone now stays at the airport and will depart with me to Munich in March…

Here comes the lesson we learned: as fantastic, as it is to use a drone for aerial photography, in countries like Sudan their use comes with a number of complications and also of costs. We believe it is crucial to have an unsophisticated subsidiary at hand – like in our case the kite we already used for Sai Island in the framework of the ERC AcrossBorfders project. This kite I bought back in 2015 “lives” since than in Sudan, always stays here and last year I stored it in Ginis. Thus, it is always available, without electricity, without fancy equipment.

Of course, we did not cover the area we originally wanted to, as the kite has its limits compared to the drone – but it was a great joy to see that it works, that the surface models and photos themselves are really useful and of high quality. In Sai, we have experienced also days when kite aerial photography fails because of too strong wind, because there is not enough wind or due to the simple fact that the features we want to document are too close to the Nile (as Sai is an island) and would be too risky for the person holding the kite (and there are plenty of crocodiles around in the Nile…). So – there are of course situations when a kite in Sudan is not the best solution, we had been lucky in this respect this season.

To conclude, lesson 1 is: always have a Plan B for site documentation/aerial photography and keep this as much independent from external factors as possible. There were more lessons learned in this challenging season at Ginis, but these will follow in another post.

P.S.: network is really low these days, internet connection very slow so this blog must work for now without pics… But feel free to check my twitter account for some photos from the field!

Ups and downs of archaeological fieldwork

Our second MUAFS season started very promising and successful – we arrived as planned last Wednesday in Ginis East and moved into a beautiful house we have rented for this season.

On Thursday, we set out our test trenches at the site of Ginis East 004, a Kerma camp which was already recorded by Vila in the 1970s and where we made a magnetometer survey last year.

The aim for this season is to check the stratigraphy of the site and especially to test whether the results of the magnetometry correspond to the actual archaeology.

The general site of GiE 004, a Kerma village.

Three test trenches were laid out on Thursday and I started already surface cleaning in Trench 1 while the rest of the team was busy mapping and taking survey points. And here some of our problems started – our total station sent error messages and a big drawback was when we discovered on Friday that some of our benchmarks we set last year have been destroyed and are no longer usable… And our printer did not work anymore… To make things worse, I caught a food poisoning and had to go to the clinic in Abri for treatment. Thus, fieldwork at GiE 004 was stopped for the last 2 days. We hope to continue this afternoon since after hours and hours Cajetan seems to have solved the problem with the total station and I am more or less recovered.

Well – sometimes life as an archaeologist is really like a box of chocolate, full of surprises and not always of the sweet kind. As difficult as it is, we will try to stick with our schedule – hoping that we are now done with all the major problems of this season!

News about proper fieldwork will therefore hopefully follow shortly…

2020 season all set to begin

We safely arrived in Khartoum Sunday night and we were really lucky this time, as we just left Munich before storm “Sabine” caused big problems for flights and other transportation. In the last two days here in Sudan, we were busy preparing everything for the second MUAFS seasons.

Quite a number of things have changed with the new government, with new regulations – there are still some pending Tasks for tonight but all in all, everything went well and we can stick to our time schedule and leave Khartoum tomorrow morning as planned.

Many thanks go already to the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) in Sudan for all their support. Our NCAM inspector will be again our dear old friend and colleague, Huda Magzoub, who worked with us already in the first MUAFS season.

Looking very much forward to our travel to the beautiful area of northern Sudan and starting fieldwork in Ginis at a Kerma settlement site on Thursday! Given that our mobile connection allows it, we will of course keep you updated about our progress.