I am excited to announce the next DiverseNile Seminar for Tuesday, 5 December. Amanda Ford Spora will talk about her research with replicas of Napatan shabti figurines.
Amanda is currently a PhD candidate at the University College London. She is a community archaeologist with fieldwork experience in Sudan, especially at Mograt Island.
Her exciting research is “about co-creative meaning making using digitally produced replicas, and the process that non-professionals and professionals engage with together, to manifest authentic narratives of the ancient past.” The shabti figurines she is using for this include Napatan shabtis, of which the originals are currently in the UK. Amanda has undertaken research with teenagers in Sudan, Australia and United Kingdom, last but not least also to raise more awareness of the rich and endangered Sudanese heritage.
Her research fits perfectly into the agenda of the ERC DiverseNile project – as Kate Rose outlined in a previous blog post, we are also using the rich potential of 3D printing ancient artifacts. We are in particular interested in the implications these replicas hold for education and outreach, the accessibility of archaeological heritage, and explorations in experimental archaeology.
However, we must not forget the current challenges of school education in Sudan after more than 7 months of war. With an estimated 19 million children out of school, the country is facing a major education crisis. In a recent blog post, solutions to revive the education sector were proposed – I heartfully wish that the wonderful and amazingly resilient people of Sudan will achieve the revival of their educational sector by means of collaborative efforts. For this, they should receive as much international support as possible – and maybe also archaeology in Sudan and especially community archaeology can help a little bit to overcome this crisis.
I am delighted that our next DiverseNile Seminar is approaching. Frederik Rademakers will be speaking about brand-new research on copper production in the New Kingdom.
Frederik is currently employed at the British Museum, Department of Scientific Research as a metals specialist. His core research focus lies on ancient copper metallurgy in the Nile Valley and central Africa. Frederik’s approach is a combination of analytical studies of archaeological remains (from museum collections as well as ongoing excavations, e.g. Kerma and Amara West in Sudan) and experimental archaeology. Through the latter, we have been frequently in contact in the last years, and I can very highly recommend his seminal publications, e.g. Rademakers et al. 2022.
I am especially happy that the upcoming presentation by Frederik on November 21, 2023 will nicely connect to our previous DiverseNile Seminar 2022, focusing on landscape and resource management. In general, the procurement of materials and management of resources are topics which have gained popularity in archaeology in recent years, also in Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology. Modern multidisciplinary approaches enable us to investigate objects’ complete chaîne opératoire. An excellent example for these new advances is the study of copper in Egypt and Nubia (see Odler 2023) and in particular copper production at Kerma, a topic Frederic is an expert in (Rademakers et al. 2022). From the New Kingdom town of Amara West, a recent study in which Frederik was one of the main persons involved has provided important insights into the complexity of production chains, the question of material availability and supply in colonial Nubia and the direct comparison with Egypt (Rademakers et al. 2023).
In the upcoming DiverseNile Seminar, Fredrik will discuss unpublished material and data for the New Kingdom – nothing you want to miss if you are interested in archaeometry, copper production and interdisciplinary approaches to the topic.
Older, M. 2023. Copper in ancient Egypt: before, during and after the pyramid age (c. 4000-1600 BC), Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 132, Leiden; Boston.
Rademakers, F. W., Verly, G., Degryse, P., Vanhaecke, F., Marchi, S. and C. Bonnet. 2022. Copper at ancient Kerma: a diachronic investigation of alloys and raw materials, Advances in Archaeomaterials 3 (1), 1−18.
Rademakers, F., Auenmüller, J., Spencer, N., Fulcher, K., Lehmann, M., Vanhaecke, F. and Degryse, P. 2023. Metals and pigments at Amara West: Cross-craft perspectives on practices and provisioning in New Kingdom Nubia, Journal of Archaeological Science 153, 105766. 10.1016/j.jas.2023.105766.
Today, winter term has started in Munich and another DiverseNile Seminar is approaching.
Although we are still very concerned about the current situation in Sudan, with the terrible conflict ongoing since more than 6 months, threatening and endangering civilians and also cultural heritage, we are delighted to host our next event dedicated to Sudanese archaeology.
Tomorrow’s speaker will be Geoff Emberling, Associate Research Scientist of the Kelsey Museum at the University of Michigan.
Geoff is well known for his comparative perspectives on ancient cities, states, empires, and ethnicity. Originally a Near Eastern Archaeologist by training, he has conducted fieldwork in Sudan since 2007 and has become an internationally renowned expert on the Kerma period and the Naptan empire.
His talk for the DiverseNile Seminar will give insights into his current project at one of the most impressive landmarks of Sudan: Jebel Barkal. This holy mountain has an amazing history throughout the ages and the site incorporates temples, pyramids and palaces. The Jebel Barkal Archaeological Project (JBAP), co-directed by Geoff and El-Hassan Ahmed Mohamed, started its work in 2016. This new project aims to unearth Jebel Barkal as an ancient city—the “lost city” of Napata, the urban backbone of all the known palaces and temples.
I am very much looking forward to hear more about the latest research at a fascinating site in Sudan. Although Jebel Barkal and questions about Kushite capital cities are beyond our DiverseNile Bronze Age perspectives, this case study has much potential to address crucial questions about urban sites, their infrastructure, organization and hinterland.
It comprises, in open access format, 15 articles around the general topic of African Archaeology in Support of School Learning, including our piece on A Day Along the Nile. Once again, I am very grateful to Ann for inviting us to be part of this project with is fabulous accomplishment! I am thankful to my co-authors Chloe and Carl. We all hope this special issue of AAR will be much appreciated by a large and diverse community of both scholars and educators.
Although the current temperatures both in Germany and Egypt would suggest it is still summer, our short summer break comes to an end. I am delighted to announce the next DiverseNile Seminar by Egyptologist Fatma Keshk next week.
Fatma is an old friend I have meet many years ago during the German excavations in Elephantine; she then also joined me once for our AcrossBorders project on Sai Island in Sudan, a truly enjoyable experience. It was actually 10 years ago – amazing how time flies by (there are photos as evidence that we were both younger back then 😉).
Through our personal encounters, I have been able to follow Fatma’s career over the last years. And it’s just amazing how successful it is!
After obtaining her PhD in 2021 at the Free University of Berlin with a dissertation entitled: “An Ethno-archaeological Study of Streets and Open Courtyards from Modern Nubia and Ancient Egyptian Settlements from the Predynastic Period to the end of the Middle Kingdom”, she was successful in securing two postdoctoral fellowships in Cairo in the past years. She is currently affiliated with the IFAO. Last year, she was the organizer of the fantastic conference “Living in the House”, which Chloë and I had the pleasure to attend (see also Chloë’s report on this event).
Fatma has a strong interest in settlement archaeology and here especially in understanding the use of space – this makes her an ideal person to exchange ideas for our own DiverseNile project. She applies inter-disciplinary methodologies in her research, notably ethno-archaeological approaches. Fatma has also engaged in heritage outreach activities with different local Egyptian communities over the past years. In her upcoming DiverseNile Seminar on Tuesday, September 19, she will focus on her observations for the site of Saqqara – stressing that there are peculiarities for every site in Egypt, not least because of diverse participants, audience, and overall goals.
I am very much looking forward to this presentation and grateful to Fatma for sharing her experience in an important and growing field of studies.
I am very pleased that an article I prepared together with Chloe Ward and Carl Elkins as part of a forthcoming special volume of the journal African Archaeological Review dedicated to “African Archaeology in Support of School Learning” (see Stahl et al. 2023) is now published. This manuscript was shaped over more than one year and was extreme fun to write.
Back in 2022, Ann Stahl asked me whether I would be willing to join this project preparing an unusual publication as a tool for schoolteachers and students rather than a scientific article. I was immediately excited, especially since I had already some experience teaching at schools in Austria and Germany. But this was different – more hands-on, more research-related and a very collaborative process with wonderful colleagues and a fully motivated working group. It was also a real challenge and new experience.
Since some years, I already had the idea to write a children’s book from the perspective of a dog experiencing life in an Egyptian town in Nubia in the Second Millennium BCE. Within the AcrossBorders project, we found in 2015 this cute dog figurine in the New Kingdom town of Sai Island.
Well – this was the starting point and inspired me to propose the blending of a fictional narrative with factual archaeological evidence for our contribution to Ann’s volume. Together, we developed and offered an interpretation of what a typical day may have been like living at Sai. We created a small girl letting us have a look into her life and daily routine. Of course, this girl is a proud dog owner – but check out our story for more!
In our contribution, we also offer explanations for how archaeologists work and interpret some of the evidence we discuss, focusing on a range of methods. These include recent advances in virtual 3D reconstruction which offer a unique perspective on our interpretation of the past. Carl created magical photorealistic and interactive 3D models – these are not only a great outcome themselves, but also allowed us to come up with new interpretations and asking new and different questions. The corresponding figures we included in the article were taken directly from within the interactive virtual reconstruction created in real time.
Although we focus on the past, many of the aspects we discuss in the article are highly relevant today and can be linked to several of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (in particular 9, 11, and 12). We encourage readers to think about some of the things we discuss in relation to their own lives and experiences and have provided a number of call-out questions in speech bubbles throughout the article to get some of these discussions started.
As soon as the complete special issue of AAR 40, 3 will be published, there will be the link to some supplementary material which will allow to explore the reconstruction of Sai city in an interactive mode. We are very much looking forward to any responses – from our fellow academics as well as of course schoolteachers, students and other people interested in archaeology and the relevance of the field for us nowadays (and in the future). In the meantime, we will be busy exploring more scientific questions that arose from the photorealistic virtual reconstructions – and there is quite a number of exciting ones.
It’s been a few weeks since our fantastic weekend full of experimental archaeology at Asparn (Austria), at the MAMUZ museum. I have tried to summarise the first part of our experiments, producing Nile clay vessels including the firing process with animal dung, in a previous blog post.
Once again, loads of thanks go to all our dear friends and colleagues who supported us – Vera Albustin, Ludwig Albustin, Michaela Zavadil and Su Gütter – as well as to the Viennese hosts of the event, especially to Mathias Mehofer.
This year, we tested a new arrangement – placing two fire dogs in our pit to hold a Nubian-style cooking pot. Other than normally reconstructed (following a seminal paper by D.A. Aston), we placed the fire dogs upside down – with the “ears” to the top, using these as support for the pot.
Well – the preparation of red lentils was absolutely problem-free – we used some wood as fuel as well as cattle dung. The fire dogs held the pot next to the fire, allowing us to reduce or increase the temperatures upon need.
Our replicas of fire dogs include examples with “snouts” as well as with “handles”, just like the Sai originals. For our cooking experiment this year, we used two examples with handles and placed the handle away from the fireplace. And: at the end of the cooking process, we could use the handles to take the fire dogs straight out of the fireplace and use them as a support for the pot while we were eating. Could this maybe be the explanation for these parts of our curious fire dogs?
We will continue to experiment with our fire dog replicas – not least because one of our new settlement sites in the MUAFS concession in Sudan, AtW 001, yielded several fire dogs from 18th Dynasty contexts, providing an excellent fresh parallel for the situation at Sai Island.
Together with a fantastic team of LMU students, including our student assistant Caroline and supported by our PostDoc Giulia D’Ercole and Hans Stadlmann, I spent the last weekend at Asparn (Austria), at the MAMUZ museum and had the pleasure to participate once again in the experimental archaeology class hosted by the University of Vienna (many thanks here to all of the colleagues, especially to Mathias Mehofer).
Our team from LMU was enforced by our dear friends and colleagues Vera Albustin, Ludwig Albustin, Michaela Zavadil and Su Gütter – loads of thanks to all of them! It was not just a very productive weekend but also highly enjoyable.
Following up on our results from the last year, especially on firing pottery with animal dung, we started with producing some replicas of Egyptian and Nubian vessels on Day 1. Most importantly, we could, for the first time, work with real Nile clay. Earlier this year, Giulia had revisited the local potters at Abri (for her last visit in 2014 see the AcrossBorders blog) and they kindly gave us some clay, tempered with sheep/goat dung and ready for use. We exported this Nile clay and brought it to Asparn. This new material was strikingly different to the modern clay we normally use for our replicas! Vera struggled with the very instable paste, making the forming process a real challenge (and a mould necessary at the end). She produced a very nice open bowl and a small beaker which was later red burnished. Giulia also made a small test cup, intended to study the fracture of the vessel after firing.
On Day 2, we made a test firing of the small vessels produced on Day 1 – we used a circular pit as open fire and sheep and cattle dung as fuel. The results were quite impressive – just after one hour, the main firing process was done and when we opened the “kiln” after 1.5hours, there were only little damages to some clay figurines, the vessels had stay intact. Most of them were nicely fired black, indicating that this way of packing vessels into dung and leaving the kiln unopened allows a firing process in reduced atmosphere – mirroring the appearance of most Nubian style vessels from Sudan!
On Day 3, the Nile clay vessels (and our new replicas of fire dogs) were fired. We used the same pit, but made a much larger “kiln” out of sheep and cattle dung, including some straw and some bushes on the top (the latter are of course not really comparable to what would have been used in Egypt/Sudan, where also nowadays palm leaves are used).
We started the firing of this kiln from the top, and it took almost 2h until we opened it. Towards the end of the process, we created some air holes since we were aiming for a firing process in oxidised atmosphere.
Well – what worked perfectly was the creation of the small, burnished beaker in Nile clay as a Black topped vessel. The surface of the larger bowl was very irregularly fired and shows many black spots, presumably because it was quite densely packed in the dung fuel. All the fire dogs came out with a very black surface, considerably different to our previous experiments firing them with wood as the only fuel.
All in all, we again learned a lot during these three days in Asparn – not only about the challenges and details of some working steps when using Nile clay to produce ceramic vessels, but also about the qualities of dung as fuel in open fires. There are several things we would like to repeat and modify next year!
The second part of our experiments was dedicated to cooking with fire dogs – part 2 of Asparn 2023 will follow shortly.
The next lecture in our DiverseNile Seminar Series 2023 is coming up: on Tuesday, July 4, Kate Spence (University of Cambridge) will be talking about her research in the temple town of Sesebi – “Living at Sesebi: investigating the houses of the New Kingdom town”.
Kate is an internationally well-recognised expert on New Kingdom urban sites and especially house architecture in Amarna and Sesebi. She has published seminal works on the topic and, in my opinion, one of her publications on the 3D form of Amarna houses (Spence 2004) is especially remarkable and extremely useful to be discussed with students in classes on Egyptian domestic architecture.
I am especially delighted that Kate will be giving this talk about lived experiences in New Kingdom houses at Sesebi for several reasons. First, because the site of Sesebi is a fantastic parallel for Sai Island and second, it has always struck me as an especially intriguing site with huge potential (especially for understanding settlement patterns in New Kingdom Nubia). Thus, thirdly, it is not only a great topic for the DiverseNile Seminar Series, but also of much relevance for domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region and our own research.
Kate’s recent fieldwork project at Sesebi (co-directed with Pamela Rose) reflects the new boom in urban archaeology in Upper Nubia since the 2000s, with an increase in archaeological fieldwork at sites like Amara West,Tombos, Sai, Dukki Gel and of course Sesebi.
The new work at Sesebi started in 2008 and concentrates on a re-assessment of the work by the Egypt Exploration Society in the 1930s. The most important result of this new mission is that structures and material remains, especially pottery, have been found which pre-date the reign of Akhenaten – the king who is normally associated with the site. It is very likely that Sesebi was already founded at the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty (Spence and Rose 2009, 39, 42; Rose 2017; Spence 2017) – maybe as early as Sai Island.
Join us next Tuesday at the DiverseNile Seminar and learn more about living at New Kingdom Sesebi through Kate Spence’s promising lecture!
Rose 2017 = Rose, P., Sesebi: Ceramics, chronology and society, in: Neal Spencer, Anna Stevens and Michaela Binder (eds.), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived experience, pharaonic control and indigenous traditions, British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3, Leuven 2017, 465–473.
Spence 2004 = Spence K., The three-dimensional form of the Amarna house, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 90, 2004, 123-152.
Spence 2017 = Spence, K., Sesebi before Akhenaten, in: Neal Spencer, Anna Stevens and Michaela Binder (eds.), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived experience, pharaonic control and indigenous traditions, British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3, Leuven 2017, 449–463.
Spence and Rose 2009 = Spence, K. and Rose, P., New fieldwork at Sesebi, Egyptian Archaeology 35, 2009, 21–24.
As announced last week, the first preliminary report about Kerma cemetery GiE 003 in Attab/Ginis East has just been published (Budka 2022).
Today, I would like to discuss one of the highlights from this cemetery which was published in the EVO paper: a glazed steatite royal scarab with the name of a Hyksos king.
Found in Feature 4, the name of Pharaoh Y’amu is given on the bottom of this piece, MUAFS 005. Already on the day of its discovery, Manfred Bietak kindly helped remotely with the initial reading of the royal name of this scarab – many thanks for this! I am also particularly grateful to Karin Kopetzky, who provided detailed information about the dating criteria of this piece. The design of its back, head, legs, and sides all directly correspond to other known attestations of Y’amu (Tufnell 1984, 32, 35, 37, pl. 61: 3416, 3417, 3418, 3419; Ward 1984, 164) whose exact position within the sequence of 15th Dynasty rulers is unfortunately not clear (see Ben-Tor 2007, 107-108).
Scarabs are in general rare in cemetery GiE 003 and only two pieces have been found in our excavations. The context of scarab MUAFS 005, Feature 4, appears to belong to the later part of the Classic Kerma period, possibly contemporaneous with the Theban 17th Dynasty. As is known from other marginal regions of the Kerma empire like the Fourth Cataract area, our Hyksos scarab might have been circulating in Nubia for some time before ending up in GiE 003’s Feature 4.
The Hyksos king Y’amu has not been attested to in Nubia before the discovery of his scarab MUAFS 005 in GiE 003. Interestingly, in Ward’s sequence he would postdate the other Hyksos rulers attested to at Sai and Kerma as well as at the northern sites. Ward (1984, 164) placed Y’amu in the second half of the 15th Dynasty, but this sequence has been discussed and is not archaeologically confirmed (Ben-Tor 2007, 108 with references).
The textual evidence for contact between Kerma rulers and Hyksos kings has already been addressed from a variety of perspectives. In this context, the appearance of Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware in Nubia and of Kerma wares in Egypt, especially at the Hyksos capital Avaris, were also noted as possible indicators of exchange. Alexander Ahrens and Karin Kopetzky recently examined the appearance of Hyksos scarabs in the context of Kerma burials (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021). Royal Hyksos scarabs are known from Ukma, Akasha, Sai, and Kerma, as well as several Lower Nubian sites (Aniba, Dakka, Sayala, Masmas, Faras, Mirgissa, Uronarti and Debeira). All of the kings mentioned on these sealings ruled during the early Hyksos period, and it is logical to assume that this was when the Hyksos engaged in direct trade with the Kerma kingdom (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021, 295 with references and discussion). During the early Second Intermediate Period, the fortresses in Lower Nubia were under Kerma control, and the Hyksos were probably keen to establish trade and direct contact to achieve “continued access to resources and particularly to the Nubian gold essential for trade in the Eastern Mediterranean” (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021, 295). The Lower Nubian fortresses have always been linked to gold mines and access to gold – recent work has stressed also the importance of Kerma gold working sites in Batn el-Haggar (Edwards 2020, 406-407; 415), and the same is likely for the Attab to Ferka region, especially for Ginis and Kosha. Could the Hyksos scarabs found at Ukma, Akasha, and Sai reflect not only international trade but also, indirectly, gold exploitation between the Second and Third Cataracts during Kerman rule? And could the same apply for the newly found scarab in Ginis?
It is tempting to assume that this new Hyksos scarab can be seen in connection to an intense period of Kerman exchange with the Hyksos kingdom, which sought gold from not only former Egyptian fortresses in Lower Nubia but also sites further south under Kerma rule. Sai’s importance during the Kerma Period might be linked to both the island’s strategic position and its location in a gold-rich region, making it ideal for supervising gold exploitation as we know it from the New Kingdom. Maybe the halting of trade with the Hyksos in the second part of the 15th Dynasty was one of the reasons why the character of Sai as a Kerman stronghold changed during Classic Kerma times (for this change see Gratien 2014; Manzo 2016). It remains to establish possible changes towards the end of the Classic Kerma period in marginal regions like Ginis – and cemetery GiE 003 with its use from Middle Kerma to Classic Kerma times and its close proximity to gold exploitation sites (as well as its connection to desert nomads presumably involved in the gold trade) has here lots of potential for future analysis.
Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021 = A. Ahrens, K. Kopetzky, “Difficult times and drastic solutions: the diffusion of looted Middle Kingdom objects found in the northern Levant, Egypt and Nubia”, in M. Bietak, S. Prell (eds), The enigma of the Hyksos, volume IV: Changing clusters and migration in the Near Eastern Bronze Age. Collected papers of a workshop held in Vienna 4th-6th of December 2019, Wiesbaden 2021, 253-313.
Ben-Tor 2007 = D. Ben-Tor, Scarabs, Chronology, and Interconnections: Egypt and Palestine in the Second Intermediate Period, Fribourg, Göttingen 2007.
Budka 2022 = J. Budka, Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: new evidence from a Kerma cemetery at Ginis, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 45, 2022, 37-62.
Edwards 2020 = D.N. Edwards (ed.), The archaeological survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69: the pharaonic sites, Oxford 2020.
Gratien 2014 = B. Gratien, Saï I. La nécropole Kerma, Paris 1986.
Manzo 2016 = A. Manzo, “Weapons, ideology and identity at Kerma (Upper Nubia, 2500-1500 BC)”, Annali Sezione Orientale 76 (1-2) (2016), 3-29.
Tufnell 1984 = O. Tufnell, Scarab Seals and their Contribution to the History in the Early Second Millennium BC, Warminster 1984.
Ward 1984 = W.A. Ward, “Royal-name scarabs”, in O. Tufnell, Scarab Seals and their Contribution to the History in the Early Second Millennium BC, Warminster 1984, 151-192.