Back to practical work: Experimental archaeology in Asparn

It’s hard to believe – after more than one year with cancelled fieldwork in Egypt and Sudan, with online teaching including a digital format for our block seminar „Introduction to field archaeology“, it is now finally happening again: we are getting ready to go „to the field“ – respectively to practical work in Asparn/Zaya in Austria.

As a follow-up to our activities within the AcrossBorders project and built on the then established cooperation with the University of Vienna, we will conduct experimental archaeology related to Egyptian fire dogs and Nubian cooking pots at the MAMUZ Museum. Three days full of experiments are ahead of us – they take place within the framework of a MA course on field archaeology and will combine teaching with pressing research questions like the specific use of fire dogs.

Modern replicas of so-called fire dogs supporting copies of cooking pots (photo: J. Budka). Since 2013, we have been testing various positions and arrangments – is this one the best solution?

Among others, we will produce a new set of replicas of fire dogs and will then test them with modern copies of Nubian cooking pots. Back in 2019, we were very successful in using one fire dog with a dung fire to heat dishes like bulgur. Temperatures of 450-580° were enough, the cooking time was c. 20 min and the addition of fuel was easy. This year we will make some new tests with barely.

Patrizia and me back in 2019 with the successful preparation of bulgur in a cookingpot held by one fire dog in the newly proposed position (photo: J. Distefano).

As fuel for our experiments we will use various animal dung – we verified already in 2018 that dung as fuel works very fine and is indeed a possible alternative to wood which was scarce and precious in both ancient Egypt and Sudan.

The three main types of animal dung we will use this year at Asparn. Note the considerable difference in size and composition of the droppings! (photo: J. Budka).

This year, thanks to a kind colleague and friend here in Munich, we will also be able to test camel dung along with horse and cattle. Of course the domestication of camels in Egypt and Sudan happened much later than our period in question, the Late Bronze Age (camels were getting important in Ptolemaic times only), but burning ‘exotic’ animal dung in Austria is just very tempting and hopefully it will give a sense of being in the field in northeast Africa as well.

Looking much forward to this excursion starting the day after tomorrow and many thanks to all the colleagues in Vienna and here in Munich who made it possible. Of course, we will keep you posted about our results which will also be of relevance for the ongoing DivereNile project and our understanding of food production and cooking in Bronze Age Nubia.

Facing colonisation together? The collective use of tombs in New Kingdom colonial Nubia

I studied various cemeteries throughout Nubia for my PhD on the role of foreign objects in local contexts in New Kingdom colonial Nubia. The most important of these cemeteries are Aniba, Sai and Soleb. Other important cemeteries are either gradually coming to light (e.g., Amara West) or remain totally unpublished (e.g., Sesebi). I was interested mostly in variation across sites, which I explored through an analysis of distributions of types of objects at each of them. However, the sites that I just mentioned also have a lot in common.

One of the aspects that instantly caught my attention was the collective use of tombs, both synchronically and diachronically. It is interesting how Egyptologists usually interpret New Kingdom Nubia through the lens of Egyptianisation, but at the same fail to recognise one structural difference between the organisation of elite cemeteries in Egypt and Nubia in the New Kingdom. While elite tombs in Egypt, in places such as Thebes, bear an essential connection with one’s individuality, tombs at elite cemeteries in Nubia are essentially collective. One well-documented example is tomb 26 on Sai island, which will be published very soon (Budka 2021).

These tombs are usually interpreted as family tombs, which remains a plausible hypothesis. Elite tombs in New Kingdom Nubia usually consist of a vertical shaft leading to a main chamber connected with various smaller burial chambers. Inside these smaller chambers, there are the burials of more or less contemporary individuals. Individual chambers are usually occupied by “couples”; e.g. Khnummose and his alleged wife at Sai tomb 26 (figure 1) and Wsir and Taneferet at Aniba tomb S91. Later burials are usually placed in the larger main chamber, where archaeologists usually find scattered bones, and disarticulated skeletons alongside New Kingdom Egyptian-style objects and later pottery styles in upper layers. In extreme cases of tomb reuse, vertical shafts could be completely filled with burials, one on top of the other, as evidence from Soleb demonstrates.

Figure 1: burial chamber of Master of Goldsmiths Khnummose and his “wife”. Courtesy of the AcrossBorders project.

If we move to non-elite contexts we’ll find a different situation. In a context of overall material limitations, cemeteries are characterised by a vast majority of single burials possessing no burial goods or a few pots. The best example of non-elite cemetery in New Kingdom Nubia is Fadrus, which bears similarities with various non-elite cemeteries in New Kingdom Egypt in terms of scarcity. However, at Fadrus, a few larger tombs contained a considerably higher quantity of burial goods. These tombs are characterised by their collective use, both contemporaneously and by later generations.

I have suggested in a paper that will be published in the next Sudan & Nubia that the larger, collective tombs of Fadrus should not be interpreted as evidence for inter-site hierarchies, as has been done in the past. Instead, in my forthcoming paper, I suggested that these tombs should be interpreted through the lens of collective engagement theory (DeMarrais and Earle 2017; Lemos forthcoming). In a context of scarcity within a colonised Nubia, people seem to have gathered together to achieve more, namely access to Egyptian-style objects, including more restricted items within the New Kingdom Nubian mortuary landscape. On the contrary, those who remained by themselves ended up buried with no accompanying goods. It is possible that a similar collective logic was behind the organisation of cemeteries associated with Egyptian temple-towns such as Aniba, Sai and Soleb. However, it remains a difficult task to distinguish phases and individual burials sharing restricted Egyptian-style objects due to the high degree of plundering and the quality of most of the published evidence (see Näser 2017).

With DiverseNile, my focus turns to a different social space: geographical peripheries of temple-towns. Elite cemeteries associated with colonial centres seem to have been organized by extended families buried in collective tombs which were later reused. Non-elite cemeteries consisted of mostly poor individual graves with a few larger collective tombs housing the bodies of individuals potentially sharing objects that remained out of the reach of most their peers. In a different way, the burial evidence from the peripheries usually consist of graves scattered through the landscape with and a few ‘formal’ cemeteries. Scarcity also seems to be the rule here. However, there are also collective exceptions.

Chamber tomb 5-T-32 was among the sites excavated by the West Bank Survey from Faras to Gemai in Lower Nubia (figure 2). It consisted of a shallow mudbrick tomb divided into an entrance area leading via an unblocked arched doorway to an outer chamber or chapel, and a sealed arched doorway leading to the burial chamber. The tomb was located in the periphery of Mirgissa, one of the earlier fortresses reoccupied in the New Kingdom, and was plundered in ancient times. The excavators dated the tomb to the mid-18th Dynasty. The fact that no burials were placed in the outer chamber distinguishes tomb 5-T-32 from tombs at elite cemeteries associated with centres of colonial administration, such as nearby Aniba. The remains of 38 individuals were recovered from the burial chamber, eleven of which in situ. The bodies were deposited in an extended position, and remains of wood and rope suggest the existence of simpler mat coffins tied with ropes, which also appear in non-elite contexts in Egypt. Finds include steatite scarabs with parallels found at various Nubian cemeteries, New Kingdom pottery including a pilgrim flask, and a bronze finger ring and wooden headrest, which were more restricted objects in the Nubian mortuary objectscape of the New Kingdom.

Figure 2: tomb 5-T-32 in Abu Sir, periphery of Mirgissa (Nordström 2014: 135–137; plates 32–33).

In a previous post, I discussed tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West containing some nice restricted Egyptian-style objects, despite its tumulus superstructure. Although the tomb was plundered, with only scattered bones being recovered, it was most likely used collectively. After looking at the evidence from tombs such as 5-T-32 and 3-P-50, located in the periphery of Mirgissa and Amara West, respectively, I started feeling like there’s something happening here. At this stage, I’m still scratching the surface, but I think it’s probably a good idea to keep pursuing the communal engagement path to see what we can potentially learn from the peripheries of colonised Nubia. Therefore, I was especially happy to hear Andrea Manzo talk about heterarchy and communal engagement in Eastern Sudan in our last DiverseNile seminar (see also Manzo 2017). Degrees of variations can be detected amid elite sites, while evidence from non-elite sites provides us grounds from which to discuss alternative social realities taking place in colonised Nubia. I don’t really know what to expect from the colonial peripheries, but I’m optimistic evidence from these areas will allows to expand the discussion on alternative social realities, especially in the light of fresh excavations planned for the near future.

Further reading

Budka, J. 2021. Tomb 26 on Sai island: A New Kingdom elite tomb and its relevance for Sai and beyond (with contributions by J. Auenmüller, C. Geiger, R. Lemos, A. Stadlmayr and M. Wohlschlager). Leiden: Sidestone Press [in press].

DeMarrais, E. and T. Earle. 2017. Collective Action Theory and the Dynamics of Complex Societies. Annual Review of Anthropology 46: 183–201.

Lemos, R. 2020. Material Culture and Colonization in Ancient Nubia: Evidence from the New Kingdom Cemeteries. Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, ed. C. Smith.

Lemos, R. forthcoming. Heart Scarabs and Other Heart-Related Objects in New Kingdom Nubia. Sudan & Nubia 25.

Manzo, A. 2017. Architecture, Power, and Communication: Case Studies from Ancient Nubia. African Archaeological Review 34: 121–143.

Näser, C. 2017. Structures and Realities of the Egyptian Presence in Lower Nubia from the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom. In Nubia in the New Kingdom: Lived Experience, Pharaonic Control and Indigenous Traditions, ed. N. Spencer, A. Stevens and M. Binder, 557– 574. Leuven: Peeters.

Nördström, H.-Å. 2014. The West Bank Survey from Faras to Gemai. Oxford: Archaeopress.

New reinforcement for our DiverseNile team

One of the most pleasant tasks as a PI of research projects is to introduce and welcome new team members. It is especially nice when this concerns junior staff – and it is great joy if the next generation of students replaces persons who have just completed their studies and are no longer working as student employees. This is exactly what I can proudly announce today: our former student assistant Jessica has graduated with great success and will soon join us as new PhD candidate with her own individual tasks in the framework of DiverseNile. Her place as student assistant is now taken by Sawyer Neumann, a very promising student of archaeology who is particularly interested in archaeological design and 3D applications.

Our new team member Sawyer

To some of you who follow our blog on a regular basis this name may sound already familiar – Sawyer is one of the students who wrote guest blog posts about our block seminar “Introduction to field archaeology” back in March. It was on this occasion of the online seminar that we first met Sawyer and some weeks later we were really impressed by his application.

I am very happy that he is now joining us and looking much forward to a fruitful collaboration both here in Munich and hopefully also soon in the field in Sudan.

Anything than marginal: A View from Eastern Sudan and Mersa/Wadi Gawasis by Andrea Manzo

Our DiverseNile Online Seminar Series under the general topic of “Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa” has a wide chronological and regional scope. Tomorrow, we will expand this scope and include Eastern Sudan and the Red Sea. We will continue with an exciting presentation by Andrea Manzo (Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”) who will speak about “Complexity and Connectivity Between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea in the 3rd and 2nd Mill. BC. A View from Eastern Sudan and Mersa/Wadi Gawasis”.

Our speaker is Professor of the Archaeology of the Nile Valley and Ethiopian Archaeology at the University of Naples „L’Orientale“ and has a rich record in fieldwork in Sudan and Ethiopia. He is one of the key figures who started to explore Eastern Sudan with state-of-the-art methods and theories in the last decades. Previously considered as “margial” area, simply reflecting our previous focus on the Nile Valley rather than desert areas, we now have a basic understanding of the complex history of this region over the millennia. His excellent book on Easter Sudan is available in Open Access and highly recommended (Manzo 2017; see also Manzo 2019). Most importantly, Andrea Manzo and his team were able to illustrate the high level of connectivity of Eastern Sudan with the Nile Valley and also the Red Sea, in particular Mersa/Wadi Gawasis. His work allows to contextualise several findings which go far beyond the reconstruction of trade but show the importance of areas outside the Nile Valley.

In Eastern Sudan, there are in particular the so-called Gash Group and the Jebel Mokram Group which are highly relevant to our understanding of cultural diversity in Bronze Age Sudan. Especially the Gash group is intriguing, with several sites where locally made and also imported ceramics were found, including „exotic ceramics showing similarities with Kerma, C-Group, Pan-Grave“ (Manzo 2017, 33).

Thanks to Andrea Manzo, we now understand Eastern Sudan as a crossroad between the Nile basin, the Eastern Desert, the Ethio-Eritrean highlands and the Red Sea. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s presentation within the DiverseNile Seminar Series on previously neglected regions far away from the Nile Valley!

Participation is free and registration via email is still possible. See you all tomorrow!


Manzo, Andrea 2017. Eastern Sudan in its setting: the archaeology of a region far from the Nile Valley. Access Archaeology; Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology 94. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Manzo, Andrea 2019. Eastern Sudan in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. In Raue, Dietrich (ed.), Handbook of ancient Nubia 1, 335-365. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter.

New research goals at the time of Covid-19. Testing Raman Spectroscopy on Nubian and Egyptian-style pots

If there is something that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is resilience, work flexibility and mostly the capacity to design alternative solutions to meet the various physical restrictions and newly shaped work conditions and needs. Further, we learned the importance of networks and acquiring skills even in remote formats, and that online (and/or hybrid) classes and conferences can give virtuous outputs as those in presence.  Within the framework of our project, a successful  example of this is certainly represented by our online Diverse Nile Seminar Series 2021 Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa.

For me operating within the Work package 3 of the project and principally dealing with laboratory analysis on the material data – ceramic samples – collected in the field, the pandemic has inevitably meant that I had to shift my main focus from the study of fresh excavation data to the study of reference collections. Hence, in the last months my work schedule has been mainly centred on documentation, database archive, and comparison among the various ceramic datasets. Also, the obligatory permanence in Germany (missing the field and the warmness of the Sudanese sun) together with the need to work often via remote or, whenever possible from the lab, pushed me to convey my working goals to search for new theoretical approaches and interpretative inputs, eventually enlarging the spectrum of the analytical competencies and methodologies devoted to the study of the ceramic samples.

In these circumstances the idea was born together with our PI and other colleagues from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the LMU to cooperate and expand the networking between our departments hence to test together a new analytical methodology for archaeological ceramic material, namely Raman Spectroscopy.

This technique, which took its unusual name after the Indian physicist C. V. Raman who was the first to observe Raman scattering in 1928 and won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for this discovery, is a molecular spectroscopy procedure which provides information about vibration and rotational states of molecules. It works using the interaction of a source of monochromatic light, normally an intensive monochromatic laser radiation, and the matter of the sample. The largest part (99.99%) of the laser light radiates through the sample, a very small proportion is scattered in all spatial directions (so-called Rayleigh scattering), finally an even smaller part is scattered inelastically (so-called Raman scattering). This latter contains information about the sample, its molecular structure (no the single chemical elements) and specific characteristics of the material (see among others, Spieß et al. 1999; also What is Raman Spectroscopy? | Raman Spectroscopy Principle (; Raman spectroscopy – Wikipedia).

For the study of archaeological samples like ceramics, Raman spectroscopy has the advantage of being a non-destructive (only a minimum portion of the sample as the same slide of the thin section is needed), rapid and relatively low-priced technique. However, the high potential of this methodology may collide with the natural heterogeneity of most of the ancient, especially hand-made, ceramic manufactures (Medeghini et al. 2014; Vandenabeele & Van Pevenage 2017; see also Legodi & de Waal 2007). This is why, at the moment, our goal consists primarily to observe the methodological potentials of Raman and discern its use for our specific research questions.

For our trial study, we selected ten samples (of which six are ceramics from Sai Island and four from the Dukki Gel’s reference collection). All of them are either locally produced cooking pots or other local ware manufactured both according to the so-called Nubian and Egyptian style (Figure 1). In testing this new analytical technique, our main aims are the following: to search for differences in producing technique and firing temperatures/regimes 1) between the Nubian and Egyptian-style samples; 2) between the Nubian samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; 3) between the Egyptian-style samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; 4) among the different Nubian types (cooking pots with basketry impressions, incisions, and others). In addition, we also want to look at the behaviour of the organics and their carbonization and check for a possibility of a better characterisation of some opaque mineral phases.

Figure 1 – Examples of Nubian cooking pots with basketry impressions from Sai Island (left) and Dukki Gel; Kerma (right).

In the last days, together with the colleague Fabian Dellefant, geoscientist and doctoral student at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the LMU, we have realized high resolution scans of the selected ceramic thin sections and photographed them at the petrographic microscope under different light conditions (both transmitted cross polarized and plane polarized light, and also reflected light) in order to describe and document the areas which we are ultimately going to analyse by Raman.

Stay tuned to know more about our ongoing work and first results!

Selected references and links

Legodi, M. A. &, de Waal, D. 2007. Raman spectroscopic study of ancient South African domestic clay pottery, Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, 66, Issue 1, 135-142.

Medeghini et al. 2014. Micro-Raman spectroscopy and ancient ceramics: applications and problems. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 45, Issue 11-12, Special Issue: Raman in Art and Archaeology 2013, 1244-1250.

Spieß, G. et al. 1999. Eine einfache Einführung in die Raman-Spektroskopie. LMU. Die quantitative Analyse (

Vandenabeele, P. & Van Pevenage J. 2017. Raman Spectroscopy and the Study of Ceramic Manufacture: Possibilities, Results, and Challenges. In Hunt, Al (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Archaeological Ceramic Analysis.

What is Raman Spectroscopy? | Raman Spectroscopy Principle (