According to the cold and rainy weather here in Munich, summer has long past – fittingly, our short summer break of the DiverseNile Seminar is now officially over. It is my pleasure to announce the upcoming lecture on Tuesday, August 31: Michele Buzon will be talking about „Intersectional Identities and Bodies: Exploring Biological, Geographic, and Mortuary Diversity in the Ancient Nile Valley“.
Michele is bioarchaeologist and Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University in Indiana, USA. I have the pleasure knowing her since many years, having met her both in Sudan and at conferences. She is the codirector of the important excavations at Tombos and we were therefore always in close contact during my AcrossBorders project. Our assessment of the strontium isotope analysis from Sai could nicely built on data published by her and co-authors. As I outlined in an earlier post, only common efforts will allow us to establish a strontium isoscape for New Kingdom Nubia and much work is still waiting for all of us.
Michele is one of the key figures in modern Nubian bioarchaeology conducting contextualized interpretations that combine skeletal evidence with settlement, environmental, and mortuary data. This approach allows to create a more nuanced picture of life and death in ancient Nubia (see also her recent summary of Bioarchaeology of Nubia in the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia, Buzon 2021).
I am very much looking forward to her presentation and hope that many of you will be joining us – without doubts, Michele is going to show exciting material, fresh data and will offer much food for thought! As usual, late registration for our DiverseNile seminar is still possible via email.
Buzon, Michele R. 2021. Bioarchaeology of Nubia, in: The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia, edited by Geoff Emberling and Bruce Beyer Williams, Oxford, DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190496272.013.55
I recently came across an academic article with the prominent use of the word “shit” in its title (Amicone et al. 2020) – the idea for a new blog post was born!
But why is poop of interest for us archaeologists? Well, I will try to outline some of the most important aspects associated with excrements of human and non-human origin in archaeology (without aiming for a concise or complete overview). To start with, let us remember that within the DiverseNile project we follow the concept of ‘Biography of the Landscape’ which I introduced for our case study of the MUAFS concession in the Middle Nile. This approach considers the individual life cycles of all cohabiting actors, in particular humans, fauna and flora, as well as human-made technologies – it goes without saying, that for understanding life cycles, also excrements need to be considered. And so here we are: let’s focus on shit.
Today, ancient human faeces (palaeofaeces) and coprolites (animal droppings, mostly fossilized) are recognised in archaeology as important evidence containing rich information about the diet and health of ancient people and animals. Chemical analysis, especially lipid analysis and ancient DNA, are conducted and the value for parasitological analyses is well understood. Fragile things like human faeces survive best in protected areas like caves and mines.
One of the most prominent archaeological sites which yielded a large number of excrements is the salt mine of Hallstatt in Austria. The well-preserved excrements in Hallstatt were already recognised as early as 1868. However, the early researchers obviously had problems to imagine that they were handling human faeces and attributed these excrements to ‘a large domestic animal’ of unclear species. It took decades until the correct human origin was identified and more time until detailed analyses are conducted and the human poop from Hallstatt was recognised as what it is: a real treasure in the mine, an incredible useful deposit full of information for us as archaeologists! Just like the poop found at other sites like Çatalhöyük in Turkey.
In ancient Egypt and Sudan, studies like this are still in its infancy. Human excrements rarely survive and until recently, dung in Egyptology was mostly associated with the dung beetle, the scarab and thus with symbolic and religious meanings. However, recent excavations both in Egypt and Sudan now focus on the multiple use of animal dung in antiquity. Goat droppings are common finds in settlement contexts indicating the stabling of animals (see, e.g., Sigl 2020) and they are also attested as fuel in households (e.g. Malleson 2020). The AcrossBorders project has contributed to the question of fuel as well. Considering that wood was, in general, rare along the Nile valley and therefore an expensive raw material, animal dung was tested in 2018 by means of a series of experiments for its suitability as a fuel for cooking in ancient Sudan (Budka et al. 2019).
Different types of herbivore dung were tried using replicas of Egyptian and Nubian cooking pots from the Second Millennium BCE; we conducted our experiments again at Asparn/Zaya (see the recent blog post by Sawyer on this year’s results). The results suggest that especially donkey, sheep, goat and cattle dung provide beneficial conditions for keeping good and durable cooking temperatures while preventing fast cooling on small scale fireplaces. This seems to be especially beneficial for dishes containing legumes and cereals, which require long cooking times.
Animal dung was for sure used for multiple purposes. Recently, a group of researchers could show that the combined use of green wood (fresh acacia) and donkey dung as fuel for the Middle Kingdom smelting furnaces at Ayn Soukhna is likely (Verly et al. 2021). In similar lines, we successfully used goat and cow dung as fuel to fire ceramic vessels. In our experiments in Asparn 2021, we also used some fresh wood and straw to start the fire in the beginning. Thus, a dual use of some wood and animal dung seems very likely also for pottery kilns. Furthermore, with the cow dung we achieved temperatures of 1250°! Thus, we could have easily used our fire for smelting metal.
That the dung of the most common domestic animals in ancient Egypt and Sudan – donkey, goat and sheep as well as cattle – was used for several purposes comes as no surprise. We know that herbivore dung was also used since earliest times for tempering clay to produce ceramic vessels. Here, Giulia is currently investigating possible differences between hand-made Nubian wares and wheel-made Egyptian-style products. The petrography of some samples from Dukki Gel already revealed interesting details (for dung tempering of ceramics in general see also Amicone et al. 2020).
But what about other animals and their droppings? We tested horse dung several times in Asparn – it burns well, but very fast, produces high temperatures but makes a stable fire with a constant temperature almost impossible. Given the fact that horses were restricted to elite and military contexts in the New Kingdom, it is rather unlikely that horse dung was used a lot for domestic purposes and production processes in ancient Egypt and Sudan.
Pork was the most common source for meat in Egyptian settlements during the New Kingdom and we could trace a high number of pigs also in the New Kingdom town of Sai. Therefore, we tested pig dung as fuel in 2019 and the results were rather unsatisfying: the dung was not only much harder to inflame, but also much smellier. The low flammability of these excrements clearly reflects the diet of the animals which is markedly different to that of herbivores.
Finally, although the camel (camelus dromedarius) was only introduced as domestic animal in the Nile Valley during Ptolemaic times, we also examined the firing qualities of camel dung. The dung was kindly provided by a friend and colleague at LMU who knows the owner of camels in close vicinity to Munich.
Equipped with this exotic dung directly imported to Austria from Bavaria, we started our experiments in Asparn. The small and dense camel droppings did not yield convincing results (although they smoked a lot) and were less suited as fuel than cattle, donkey and goat dung.
With this short account on some of the multiple kinds of usage of various animal dung in ancient Egypt and Sudan, I hope to have illustrated that considering excrements as integral part of material culture has much potential for an improved understanding of certain tasks and activities and primarily for questions of raw materials and resources which are still sometimes neglected in favour of the finished products.
Amicone, Silvia, Morandi, Lionello and Shira Gur-Arieh. 2020. ‘Seeing shit’: assessing the visibility of dung tempering in ancient pottery using an experimental approach, Environmental Archaeology, 1–16.
Budka, Julia, Geiger, Cajetan, Heindl, Patrizia, Hinterhuber, Veronica and Hans Reschreiter. 2019. The question of fuel for cooking in ancient Egypt and Sudan. EXARC Journal 2019.
Malleson, Claire. 2020. Chaff, dung, and wood: fuel use at Tell el-Retaba. Archaeobotanical investigations in the Third Intermediate Period settlement, Area 9 excavations 2015-2019, Ägypten und Levante 30, 179–202.
Verly, Georges, Frederik W. Rademakers, Claire Somaglino, Pierre Tallet, Luc Delvaux, and Patrick Degryse. 2021. The chaîne opératoire of Middle Kingdom smelting batteries and the problem of fuel: excavation, experimental and analytical studies on ancient Egyptian metallurgy, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 37 (article no. 102708) DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102708
In the framework of the DiverseNile project, I have introduced the application of ‘contact space biographies’ as a new concept in the study of intercultural encounters in the Middle Nile. We will specify the question of cultural encounters through the distribution of the sites and their duration, settlement infrastructures, building techniques, production activities and technologies, trade, diet, material culture, burial customs, religious practices and social structures. The importance of peripheral areas, like the Attab to Ferka region, for our understanding of cultural formations will be stressed. In line with this, the DiverseNile Seminar Series 2021 focuses on cultural diversity in Northeast Africa, giving several case studies from various perspectives.
Our next presentation, to be held tomorrow by Loretta Kilroe, will introduce an exciting example of so-called ‘provincial’ Kerma remains in the Northern Dongola Reach.
Site H25 was partly excavated in the last years and yielded settlement remains and evidence from the Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan eras (Ross 2014; Porter 2019; Kilroe 2019). The site is, among others, shedding new light onto trade networks in New Kingdom Nubia. Because Loretta is an expert on ancient Egyptian and Sudanese pottery, she will focus tomorrow on ceramics and what they can tell us about frontier economics.
I am personally very much looking forward to this exciting presentation about an as yet little known but very important site! As usual, last minute registrations are still possible and highly welcome!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Tomorrow, the second lecture of our DiverseNile Seminar will take place. This time, it will be me presenting and I will talk about “Cultural Diversity in Urban ‚Contact Spaces‘ in New Kingdom Nubia: A View from Sai Island”.
Sai Island is one of the prime case studies to investigate settlement patterns in New Kingdom Nubia. In tomorrow’s presentation, I will focus on state-built foundations like Sai as colonial urban sites and their hinterland. I will explain why I introduced the concept of ‘contact space biography’ for the DiverseNile project and outline this approach.
The starting point for my new research in the Attab to Ferka region were several open questions deriving from my work on Sai between 2011-2018 – tomorrow, I will address some of them, stressing why a view from a colonial temple town is crucial to understand cultural dynamics in rural and peripheral regions of the Middle Nile.
Since time is limited, I will select some examples to address cultural diversity in New Kingdom Nubia: the use of the so-called fire dogs and the question of cooking pots as well as foodways in general. For the latter, I would like to introduce the ‘food system’ concept as presented by Kelly Reed in a brand-new article which provides much food for thought. Reed argues that with such an approach, archaeologists are required to consider „all the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population“ (Reed 2021, 57). This does seem particularly fitting for the DiverseNile project and our aims. I also very much like her attempt to apply system theory and social-network analyses to highlight the multiple links between society, environment and food. Within our contact space of the Attab to Ferka region, we also want to identify the specific stakeholders (actors such as families, individuals and official institutions as well as the ‚goverment‘, thus the Egyptian state) of this ancient Bronze Age ‘food system’ and thus presumably showing complex connections between the urban sites of Sai and Amara West and their hinterland with rural sites like villages at Ginis and Kosha. New information on food supply and distribution systems will be highly relevant to reconstruct contact space biographies in our project. Last, but definitly not least, the peripheral settlements in our research concession were always an integral part of the ‘food system’ of Sai and contributed to the dynamics we can trace in this state-built foundation (cf. Sulas and Pikirayi 2020, 80).
For more, please zoom in tomorrow at 1pm, late registrations are of course still welcome!
Reed, K. 2021. Food systems in archaeology. Examining production and consumption in the past. Archaeological Dialogues, 28(1), 51-75. doi:10.1017/S1380203821000088
The Seminar Series under the general topic of “Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa” has a wide chronological and regional scope and we will start with a view from Prehistoric Sudan. I am more than happy that we have one of the renown experts in this field as our first speaker: my dear friend and colleague Elena Garcea from the Università degli studi di Cassino e del Lazio Meridionale.
I first met Elena 10 years ago while we were both working on Sai Island – ever since, she has become a close friend and collaborator to which I owe fruitful comments, advices and plenty of discussion on various occasions. Elena collaborated already with the AcrossBorders project and one of the outcomes is a joint article which appeared in Antiquity in 2017, with Giulia D’Ercole (one of Elena’s former students) as the corresponding author (D’Ercole et al. 2017).
Here, it became very obvious that a shared view from Prehistoric and Bronze Age Sudan can result in interesting insights and pose a number of relevant questions. The long settlement sequence on Sai over millennia provided an excellent opportunity to study continuity and discontinuity in long-term pottery traditions. Thanks to Elena, we presented a preliminary version of this research at the 14th Congress of the Pan African Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, hosted from July 14-18 2014 by the University of the Witwatersrand at Johannesburg, South Africa. This trip to South Africa was in many respects rewarding and one of my personal highlights of congress experiences.
Elena’s research is mostly focusing on the last hunter-fishers-gatherers and early food producers and users of domestic plants and animals in Sudan. All of her interpretations are always reflecting recent theoretical perspectives, in particular technical knowledge accumulation, storage strategies and optimal foraging theory. She has undertaken fieldwork not only in Sudan but also in Libya and Niger. In Sudan, she has worked in different parts of the country: Khartoum province and Jebel Sabaloka (central Sudan), Karima and Multaga-Abu Dom areas, Sai Island and Amara West district (northern Sudan).
Elena recently published a book on the Prehistory of Sudan (Garcea 2020). In my view this is an excellent piece of work, not only for students but for anyone who wants to understand the early history of Sudan within a wide framework. The book profits from more than thirty years of field experience and brings together this expertise with analyses in laboratories, conference presentations and numerous publications to develop a differentiated picture of Prehistoric Sudan.
I am personally very much looking forward to this kick-off of the DiverseNile Seminar Series! For those of you who I could convince that it will be clearly worth to attend Elena’s lecture: participation is free but registration via email is mandatory. See you all tomorrow!
D’Ercole, G., Budka, J., Sterba, J., Garcea, E., & Mader, D. 2017. The successful ‘recipe’ for a long-lasting tradition: Nubian ceramic assemblages from Sai Island (northern Sudan) from prehistory to the New Kingdom. Antiquity,91(355), 24-42. doi:10.15184/aqy.2016.262
Since almost two decades, my research and teaching complement one another. Probably influenced by my own education in Vienna – at a department with traditional connections to a museum collection and a strong record in the archaeological fieldwork in Egypt, thus resulting in a very practically oriented academic curriculum – I believe that subjects like Archaeology and Egyptology need a practical approach as well as a good basic understanding of its methodologies and theories. There are things students will never learn from textbooks but can only experience on site and face-to-face with the object. Furthermore, for me the general goal is not only to submit the tools, methods and knowledge but also to pass on our own enthusiasm for the subject to the future generation. The latter makes the hard work, all the accuracy and patience needed to become an academic scholar endurable – and magnificent.
It goes without saying that in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are many challenges for academic teaching (and learning), in particular for practical classes. The block seminar “Introduction to field archaeology” I was offering this winter term together with DiverseNile team members had to be completely revised as an online format because of the lockdown in Munich.
This online seminar run via zoom, we used several breakout rooms and offered plenty of material to the participants via a moodle class, in particular short videos on subjects like photogrammetry and drawing and photographing objects/pottery sherds.
Although this was a kind of ‘test’ and we were a bit unsure about the success the seminar will have, the results were amazing. The participants, arranged in three teams, submitted very strong results on the task “remote sensing” (for which we used satellite/drone pictures of the MUAFS concession) and were all really active in the individual sessions of the seminar.
In order to emphasise the strong links between teaching and research and to highlight the importance of outreach, one of the tasks for the participants was to write a short blog post about their experiences in the seminar. Therefore, I am more than happy that I can introduce three guest blogs by our teams of students – they are written in German but they offer an insight and personal view of experiences of LMU students in challenging times. All of the students of our seminar showed an impressive motivation for archaeology – this is all a teacher can ask for and thus many thanks again from my side and on behalf of my team! Enjoy these guest blog posts and any feedback is of course very much appreciated.
A year ago today, the last official steps of our 2020 season of the MUAFS project were carried out, I submitted all paperwork to the Sudanese authorities and we were getting ready to leave Khartoum – of course not knowing that a) a sandstorm will delay our flight out, b) because of the extra night in Khartoum we will just catch the last flight to Munich from Istanbul before flights were closed in Turkey because of the pandemic and c) it will take us more than a year to return to Sudan.
One of my personal rituals I have developed in the last 10 years is that on the occasion of my last day in Khartoum, I always try to visit the Sudan National Museum, at least the garden with its wonderful monuments, but preferably the galleries with its treasures as well.
My first visit to the museum was exactly 20 years ago – but the building and its treasures impress and inspire me deeply every time anew. The Sudan National Museum in Khartoum clearly belongs to my favourite museums, together with the splendid Aswan Nubian Museum and the Luxor Museum in Egypt.
It is always a great pleasure to give newcomers of the team a special tour though the museum – last year this was Jessica and we had the luck that our dear friend and colleague Huda Magzoub joined us. This photo shows us in the entrance alley to the museum together with one of the marvelous Meroitic lion sandstone statues of Basa, representations of the lion-god Apedemak.
I can just recommend to everyone: do not miss this marvelous museum and please calculate several hours for your visit – the ground floor gallery is full of important objects from all areas of Sudan, from Palaeolithic to Post-Meroitic times. And the upper floor gallery focusing on the Christian Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia is equally a must, featuring the world-famous wall paintings from the cathedral in Faras (a very useful guide through the collection is available online for free).
Like at Aswan, I think the most charming aspect of the museum is its garden. Here, one can visit complete temples (the splendid New Kingdom temples of Buhen, Semna-West and Kumma) and one rock-cut tomb (of Djehuti-Hotep) but also a large number of statues, including monumental royal statues, reliefs and rock art respectively rock inscriptions are exhibited.
I very much hope that my yearly ritual of a stroll through this wonderful collection and enjoying the view of the monuments in the garden will be possible again soon, hopefully somewhen later this year.