Attending the Living in the House conference in Cairo – first thoughts after a great conference

Julia and I have just returned to (a very cold!) Germany, after a fantastic time in Cairo for the Living in the House: Researching the Domestic Life in Ancient Egypt and Sudan conference. The conference, organised by Fatma Keshk, was fascinating and stimulating, and it was also a great opportunity to catch up with many colleagues and friends.

The conference organised by the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (IFAO) and the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology in Cairo (PCMA), was held over four days between the two institutes and included a wide range of papers and international scholars. Despite, the significant amount of work and research that tackles settlement and domestic archaeology in Egypt and Sudan, it is rare to have an entire conference dedicated to the topic, and it was fantastic to have this conference held in Cairo. The papers covered a broad range of themes, topics, periods, and interdisciplinary approaches and has given us a lot to think about, particularly for Work Package 1 of the DiverseNile project.

The papers were very well organised into different themes, which allowed for discussion of particular topics and ideas in the time after each session. They included domestic material culture, settlement space and accessibility, the use of domestic spaces, cooking spaces and material culture, recent research on settlement excavations, architecture and building techniques, ethnoarchaeology, religion, and house property. Papers also drew on sensorial experiences and phenomenology to consider what it would have been like to actually live in these houses and settlements, focusing on the lived experience.

Therefore, papers ranged from considering broad concepts such as what makes a home and sensorial experiences of domestic architecture, to more specific practices such as cooking or particular rooms and their identification. Such as Delphine Driaux’s discussion of the bathroom in ancient Egypt, which drew on both historical and archaeological evidence. The use of different methods, sources, and interdisciplinary approaches was something which came up in all of the papers. This included Julia’s paper, which drew on examples from both the AcrossBorders and DiverseNile project to consider cooking practices in New Kingdom Egypt and Nubia, using a range of methods from ceramic analysis, organic residue analysis, to experimental archaeology. You can read more about this in some of the previous blog posts (,

All of the papers have given us a lot to think about and consider in our own project, particularly in terms of the separation of domestic and work spaces which was brought up in a number of talks. Including in Mark Lehner’s excellent keynote on the second day, which raised an interesting discussion on the separation, or lack thereof, of public and private life. This drew on interdisciplinary approaches to the study of space and the layout of buildings from architectural and social studies.

The use or influence of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of domestic archaeology was a major theme throughout the conference, which is always fantastic to see in archaeological research. And again, gives us a lot to consider and think about! Such as the numerous ethnographic examples raised, both to provide comparisons and parallels to archaeological evidence, as well as to help us challenge assumptions and think about archaeological remains in different ways. This included Fatma Keshk’s paper on Egyptian houses, drawing on ethnography and ethnoarchaeology to give a better understanding of a number of aspects, including design, categories of houses, factors effecting use (both practical and social), as well as privacy patterns in domestic settings. Also drawing on contemporary examples, was Mennat-Allah El Dorry’s talk, which focused specifically on the kitchen and how it is identified in the archaeological record, based in many cases on modern western concepts of what constitutes a kitchen, rather than the more ephemeral and mobile nature of food preparation.

Challenges to existing assumptions about domestic archaeological interpretation were also raised in a number of other papers. Specifically, for Nubia and Sudan, this included Aaron de Souza’s paper which raised the difficulty of defining ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ sites based on architectural and material culture remains. As well, as the long-standing historical biases of Egyptology’s colonial legacies. All of which are of course highly relevant for the DiverseNile project. It was also fantastic to have Ulrike Nowotnick give a talk on the Meroitic town of Hamadab in Sudan, to consider what life would have been like in a densely occupied Meroitic town in the Middle Nile, as well as the spatial organisation of the houses and the walled town. Archaeology in Sudan has, like in Egypt, often focused on mortuary, religious, or monumental archaeological sites.

The question of the spatial organisation of settlements and domestic spaces was another recurring theme over the four days, often in terms of state or centrally organised spaces versus individual agency and choices. Particularly, in the case of remote sites with limited access to natural resources. This is again, something which we need to think about carefully in the DiverseNile project, with the temporary nature or seasonal use of many of the sites likely linked to industrial activities, such as gold processing.

It is of course impossible to talk here about all of the discussions, topics, and papers which took place during the conference, but all the talks were recorded and are available online through the IFAO’s YouTube page. We are both very grateful to the IFAO, the PCMA, and in particular to Fatma Keshk, for an excellent and very inspiring conference.

Group photo of Living in the House speakers outside the IFAO (Fatma Keshk, copyright: Doaa Adel)

Reflections on the International Conference for Nubian Studies 2022

First day back in the office after a wonderful week in Warsaw for the 15th International Conference for Nubian Studies. It is particularly lovely to be back in Munich knowing that the next conference will be held here in 4 years, and we look forward to this exciting if daunting challenge!

It was a fantastic conference and a great opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends from around the world, as well as with ongoing work and research in Nubia and Sudan. It was especially nice to be in Warsaw for the 50th anniversary of the conference with the first conference also taking place in Warsaw in 1972.

It was a busy week with a huge range of papers and no less than six keynote lectures, each fascinating in their own right and providing much needed reflections on ongoing work in the region as well as the state of the discipline as a whole. The conference was wonderfully organised by the committee (Heads of the Organising Committee: Adam Łajtar and Artur Obłuski) from the University of Warsaw and it was great to hear about so many fantastic projects. These ranged from discussions of ongoing excavations, scientific research — such as bioarchaeological studies, to ongoing community archaeology and heritage management, as well as Christian and Prehistoric Nubia. Given the aims of the DiverseNile project it was wonderful to have so many papers on the ‘Borderspaces of the Nubian World’ which were especially relevant to our work. A very useful round table on ‘Different Complexities: Empires, States, and Nomads in Nubia and the Middle Nile’ organised by Julien Cooper and Andrea Manzo, also provided much food for thought.

It was also a great opportunity to share some updates from the DiverseNile project with PI Julia Budka and Rennan Lemos (who is sadly leaving the project for a teaching position in Cambridge) both presenting on some of the results from the project, as well as future directions and research questions.

Julia Budka presenting updates from the DiverseNile Project.

The week also provided a great opportunity to visit the beautiful city of Warsaw and its Museums. This included the wonderful Faras Gallery in the National Museum of Warsaw, where 67 wall paintings from the Faras Cathedral are beautifully displayed in a space reminiscent of the original layout of the cathedral. The paintings were removed as part of the Nubian Campaign with the Faras excavations directed by Professor Kazimierz Michałowski, after whom the gallery is named and who organised the first International Nubian Conference in Warsaw. As such it was particularly fitting that the Welcome Ceremony for the 15th conference took place in the Museum with an opportunity to visit the galleries. The legacy of the Nubian Campaign of course continues to be the subject of controversy, particularly in relation to displacement of Nubian communities during the flooding of the region, and this was raised in several papers, including the keynote by Vincent W. J. van Gerven Oei.

The conference ended with a gala dinner in the lovely garden of the Warsaw University Library, a beautiful setting to end the conference.

A beautiful location for the Gala Dinner in the University of Warsaw Library Garden

Although, not the trip to Warsaw! The weekend provided a great opportunity to explore the city with its especially lovely Stare Miasto (Old Town) and Wisła.

Views of the Stare Miasto (Old Town), largely rebuilt after the Second World War

Beautiful but of course with a dark past, still memorialised in the city and in the informative displays provided by museums such as the Warsaw Rising Museum and the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. The latter in particular providing a stark contrast of the different periods of the 1000 year history of the Jewish community in Poland from an early ‘Paradisus Iudaeorum’ (Jewish Paradise) to the horrors of the Holocaust. A dark ending to the trip but nevertheless a necessary one.

Remnant of the Warsaw ghetto wall still visible today
Warsaw Uprising Monument

Overall, the trip to Warsaw was a great success for the DiverseNile team given us the opportunity to discuss ongoing research as well as learn much about the city itself. Many thanks to all of the participants and especially the organising committee and volunteers who made it all possible! We all very much look forward to the next opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues.

Not all archaeology takes place in the field!

Since joining the project in June, I have been busy catching up on the research that has been conducted to date. A considerable amount of this goes back much further than the start of the DiverseNile project to an archaeological survey which took place between 1969 and 1973 directed by André Vila (Budka 2020). As much as we archaeologists enjoy excavation, we also spend a huge amount of time using and building on the work of our predecessors (see also the earlier blog posts by Rennan Lemos and Veronica Hinterhuber). This is particularly important when considering large concession areas such as the one held by the DiverseNile project and the questions the project poses.

Published plan of the area surveyed between 1969 and 1973 (Vila 1979)

Past work such as Vila’s survey can help inform current (and future!) projects in myriad ways. At the most basic level, we can use the results to help locate potential sites of interest for the project and then identify and re-explore them in the field in Sudan. This can also be significant in noting changes in archaeological sites since Vila’s survey, which is crucial for their preservation (Budka 2019; 2020). We can also integrate past data into our current research, increasing the data we have available at our disposal to answer our present research questions. Finally, we can use this survey data to explore research and archaeological practices both today and in the past. Understanding these practices is crucial as they directly influence the way that archaeological knowledge is constructed (Ward 2022). Therefore, a key consideration when using Vila’s data is to understand how it was collected and presented at the time, this means we can make use of it much more effectively. To this end, considering Vila’s results as ‘legacy data’ is a useful way of integrating this past research into our current project.

Normally, the term legacy data in archaeology is used to define ‘obsolete’ archaeological data but, given the vast importance of digital data for any kind of analysis, manipulation, or mapping, this can broadly be applied to any data which is not digital (Allison 2008). As such, any work involving the re-contextualisation, application of modern techniques, or modelling of past data can be considered working with legacy data (Wylie 2016). Thinking of this evidence as legacy data rather than simply data is crucial when using it in any new or future research as it demands a more complex engagement with the material then simply extracting quantitative data. It would be redundant to simply apply new methods to old data, without engaging with more fundamental questions which consider how the data was originally collected and how it fits into the broader historical and methodological contexts of previous studies.

Fortunately for us, Vila’s survey is comprehensively published across 11 volumes, all of which are available on the website of the SFDAS (Section française de la direction des antiquités du Soudan). The volumes are nicely bookended by an introductory volume — which provides crucial information on how the survey and recording was conducted by the team, as well as the classification system used — and a concluding volume — which provides some quantitative analyses of the results of the survey.

Classification of sites used by Vila during the survey (after Vila 1975)

This is a fantastic resource for the project to draw upon as a key consideration when making effective use of legacy data is not only to understand the methodological processes used, but also to ensure the replication of past results (Corti and Thompson 2004; Corti 2007; Corti 2011). As in any science, the reproducibility of results is fundamental in ensuring the accuracy — and therefore usability — of past research, which is crucial when incorporating it into contemporary research. Furthermore, advances in the archaeology of Sudan means that some of Vila’s results — for example, in terms of phasing — may well need to be re-examined and ‘updated’ to take into account the half-century of subsequent research.

Of course, all of this leads to additional questions on the future of the research and data created by the DiverseNile project. This includes thinking about the best ways to collect, store, and share our data and ‘futureproof’ our work.  

Keep reading the blog for future updates on Vila’s work and its integration into the DiverseNile project!


Allison, P. 2008. Dealing with Legacy Data ‒ an introduction. Internet Archaeology 24. DOI:10.11141/ia.24.8

Budka, J. 2019 (with contributions by Giulia D’Ercole, Cajetan Geiger, Veronica Hinterhuber & Marion Scheiblecker). Towards Middle Nile Biographies: The Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019, Sudan & Nubia 23:13‒26

Budka, J. 2020. Kerma presence at Ginis East: the 2020 season of the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project, Sudan & Nubia 24: 57‒71

Corti, L. 2007. Re-using archived qualitative data ‒ where, how, why? Archival Science: 37‒54

Corti, L. 2011. The European Landscape of Qualitative Social Research Archives: Methodological and Practical Issues. Forum: Qualitative Soical Research 12(3)

Corti, L. and Thompson, P. 2004. Secondary Analysis of Archive Data. In: Seale, Gobo, Gubrium, et al. (eds) Qualitative Research Practice. London: Sage: 327‒343

Vila, A. 1975. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 1: General introduction. Paris: CNRS

Vila, A. 1979. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 11: Récapitulations et conclusions. Paris: CNRS

Ward, C. 2022. Excavating the Archive/Archiving the Excavation: Archival Processes and Contexts in Archaeology. Advances in Archaeological Practice 10(2). DOI:10.1017/aap.2022.1

Wylie, A. 2016. How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back: Strategies for Putting Old Data to Work in New Ways. Science, Technology, & Human Values 42(2): 203‒225