Preparing the 2020 field season

Time flies by, the winter term at LMU is in its final stage with exams approaching – and thus the next field season in the Attab to Ferka region in northern Sudan is getting closer.

We will work 4 weeks in February/March with new headquarters in Ginis East, where there are multiple Bronze Age sites and a stunning landscape.

Landscape at Ginis East, looking northwest.

Today, we had a team meeting in the office, discussing the main aims and logistics for this season. As kind of prelude for the new ERC project DiverseNile, we will test a very promising Kerma site at Ginis East.

The principal goal of our first season is a test excavation at the site GiE 004. This site was documented by Andrè Vila in the 1970s (as site NF-36-M/2-T-5) and his work included some test trenches. We made a successful magneometry survey of this very intriguing Kerma village in 2019 and would now like to check the validity of our own results (created by Marion Scheiblecker). This Kerma settlement system comprises rounded huts and additional walls or fences; the southern part of the site, consisting of Kerma graves, is very recently destroyed. Rectangular as well as circular features are visible in the northern part of the investigated area showing negative magnetic anomalies. They could be caused by mudbrick with less magnetisable content than in the southern part, where the magnetic anomalies show high positive values indicating different building materials and/or sources. The borders of the wadi systems are clearly visible in the magnetogram of GiE 004; an excavation could proof if there was a kind of fortification along the wadi. This is the main aim for the 2020 excavation season.

Looking much forward to our first season of excavation in the MUAFS concession – and of course we will keep you posted!

ERC Consolidator Grant for Julia Budka: DiverseNile at LMU

I am both very thankful and extremely proud to be one of the four LMU scientists being awarded with an ERC Consolidator Grant 2019, thus with the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research for 5 years with a budget of 2 million EUR. My second ERC grant after a Starting Grant in 2012!

My project is entitled “Cultural diversity in the Middle Nile Valley. Reconstructing biographies in the periphery of urban centres in northern Sudan during the Bronze Age” and has the acronym DiverseNile. Within the MUAFS concession, we will be investigating the cultural contact between the various groups inhabiting this part of the Nile valley and their relations with the intriguing landscape of this region.

My goal is to refine the cultural entanglement concept in New Kingdom Nubia with its current elite and religious bias in favour of addressing actual cultural diversity in peripheral zones. In order to test my main hypothesis, I will develop a new concept, re-designing the concept of contact spaces (Stockhammer/Athanassov 2018) in combination with the landscape biography approach (Kolen/Renes 2015). This new concept of ‘contact space biography’ aims to investigate whether degrees of cultural diversity and entanglement relate to the peripheral location of the sites, which may also be influenced by the general landscape.

With our new archaeological and scientific evidence we will move the current understanding of Bronze Age Middle Nile groups to a new level, first of all because of the combined assessment of villages and cemeteries. The novel concept will also allow highlighting fluid perceptions of what was considered as centre and as periphery.

The major goal of DiverseNile is to evaluate the specific living conditions in the region between Attab to Ferka in direct comparison with the urban centres of Amara West and Sai (see my ERC Starting Grant project AcrossBorders ), and to reconstruct biographies based on material and textual evidence. My new cohesive approach considering humans, non-humans, technologies and environmental properties in a peripheral frontier region in northern Sudan has four main objectives and corresponding work packages.

We hope that our present comprehension of categorisations of ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ sites will be significantly revised by this new method capitalising on the concept of the dynamics of cultural encounters and add most important new insights to the growing debate of how to understand ‘Nubian’ and ‘Egyptian’.The field-related outcome will thus be a fresh understanding of processes currently labelled either as ‘Egyptianisation’ (with a one-dimensional perception of culture) or ‘cultural entanglement’ (with an elite bias). Our bottom-up research will illustrate the connectivity, complexity and social diversity within life worlds along the Nile in the presently unidentified periphery of urban centres. Can’t wait to start this exciting project!

Last but definitely not least, I must thank all of those who supported my application in various respects, from colleagues to friends, family and my partner. Foremost is, however, the wonderful MUAFS team – such a huge project is only possible as team work and I am very proud of my excellent team of researchers and graduate students who contributed a lot to our joint success!


Stockhammer/Athanassov 2018 = Stockhammer, P.W. and Athanassov, B. 2018. Conceptualising Contact Zones and Contact Spaces: An Archaeological Perspective, 93‒112, in: S. Gimatzidis, M. Pieniążek and S. Mangaloğlu-Votruba (eds.), Archaeology across Frontiers and Borderlands. Fragmentation and Connectivity in the North Aegean and the Central Balkans from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. OREA 9. Vienna.

Kolen/Renes 2015 = Kolen, J. and Renes, J. 2015. Landscape Biographies: Key Issues, 21–47, in: J. Kolen, H. Renes and R. Hermans (eds.), Landscape Biographies: Geographical, Historical and Archaeological Perspectives on the Production and Transmission of Landscapes. Amsterdam.

In focus: Kushite Thebes in Munich

The winter term of LMU Munich is already quite advanced and there a number of lectures coming up, introducing special topics to experts, students and also the interested public.

Today, the MUAFS team member Veronica Hinterhuber will present her ongoing research on Kushite festival architecture in Thebes which is the subject of her PhD thesis at Humboldt-University Berlin.

As usual we offer free entry in order to advertise Sudan archaeology here in Munich, the venue is the Egyptian Museum as our cooperation partner in the lecture series „The South Gate to the Ancient World“.

Do not miss this chance to get an introduction into the intriguing building activities by Kushites kings like Taharqa at Karnak and Luxor, the centre of the Egyptian cult of Amun. Veronica will focus in particual on the function of the architecture built by the Twenty-fifth Dynasty in Thebes – important aspects which are both relevant for Egyptian and Kushite temple architecture.

New media coverage for the MUAFS project

Perfect timing – summer term at LMU Munich has just ended, I am currently in Vienna, busy with preparing the next AcrossBorders volume to be published with the Austrian Science press, and a new dissemination article about the MUAFS project just appeared in the latest issue of The Project Repository Journal (July 2019, pp. 50-51) and is now live.

In this short article, freely available for download, I tried to stress that the MUAFS research concession is primary a geological boundary zone being located next to a cataract region – the Second Cataract and especially the Dal Cataract – , and secondly a frontier in terms of cultures. During millennia, the region was on one hand the northernmost area of an archaeological culture, and on the other hand the southernmost area of influence by other cultural groups. The Attab to Ferka region is therefore a perfect case study for a contact space which is shaped by diverse encounters of human actors as a complex social space.

We could confirm this rich potential with the results of our first field season back in December and January. The new approach of the MUAFS project to focus on cultural encounters and peripheral sites in a border region over several millennia will result in important new insights of this region of the Middle Nile Valley. With this new research concession, my team and I have the means to fill the considerable gap of investigations at sites in the periphery of major settlements in the Nile Valley. Within the MUAFS project’s long durée approach, the focus of the next years will be on Bronze Age and Iron Age sites. The distribution of these sites within the concession area already poses several questions which need to be addressed by means of excavations and detailed data analysis.

An update on our plans for the next field season in Sudan will follow shortly.

In focus: Meroitic Sudan in Munich

Within the MUAFS concession, sites datable to the Meroitic Empire are rare and comprise primarily tombs and cemeteries. Settlement sites in the region between Attab and Ferka fall into other periods of Sudan’s history, including the Napatan Empire.

Towns and cities of the Kingdom of Meroe are well known from regions of the country further south – in particular within the island of Meroe, a semi-desert landscape between the Nile and Atbara rivers.

I am delighted that one of the major Meroitic sites, Mouweis, will be the focus of this week’s Sudan archaeology in Munich. Marie Millet from the Louvre Museum will present the recent French excavations at this important city with temples, a palace and production areas. Her research ties in perfectly with the archaeological project of my neighbours here in Munich, the Staatliches Museum für Ägyptische Kunst, and their excavations at the Meroitic site of Naga.

Come and join us on June 27 for Marie Millet’s lecture highlightening recent advances on the archaeology and history of Meroitic Sudan!

Soapbox Science Munich in retrospect

The Soapbox Science event last Saturday in Munich was much fun – and, as far as I can tell, also a great success. Many people were passing by, young and old, Munich citizens as well as tourists, people from very different backgrounds. Amazingly, quite a lot of them stayed for some time – so the concept really worked, people were stopping to hear more about science and in my case about archaeology.

Since so many friends sent me pictures of the event, here are some illustrating my performance. Special thanks go in particular to Veronica Hinterhuber, Sarah Zauner, Maren Goecke-Bauer, Jessica Izak, Jessica Distefano, Elisabeth Gütschow, Mona Dietrich and Tanja Kessler.

Would I recommend the Soapbox Science format in general? The answer is definitely yes – it’s an excellent way to present one’s research to the public and to discuss aspects rarely address in other contexts with such a diverse audience, including gender issues and the role of women in science. And besides it’s something very special to get to talk as a scientist in public places like Odeonsplatz.

Beyond Indiana Jones: Soapbox Science in Munich

You think of archaeology and the picture of Indiana Jones pops up? Well, there is much more to know about people like me digging old things up – just come to the Soapbox Science event in Munich this Saturday and get some first-hand information what real archaeologists do in Egypt and Sudan and why this is fascinating!

The programme of Soapbox Science in Munich at Odeonsplatz

Soapbox Science is a public outreach platform aiming to promote women scientists and the science they do.

The main goal of Soapbox Science – in 2019 very active with 42 events planned across 13 countries! – is to bring cutting edge science conducted by females to the public, in an accessible, fun and non-intimidating way.

The Soapbox Science idea is to inspire all kinds of people, young and old, to recognize the value of science and especially the image that scientist come from every background and gender. Without a commitment to diversity, scientific excellence is not possible, but it is still a long way to go before we reach proper equal treatment of all scientists, independent of age, sex, gender, ethnicity or origin.

Looking much forward to the Munich Soapbox Science event, standing up for archaeology, women in science and diversity in science!

Communicating the huge attractiveness of Egyptian and Nubian archaeology

Two weeks ago, I had the great chance to participate at the Austrian Science Slam in Vienna. This evening was not only fun – I hope that I could also show some of the wonderful sides of my “dream job”, working as an archaeologist in Egypt and Sudan.

For those who are interested: all videos of the evening are now online, check out my performance on youtube.

I tried to explain the huge attractiveness of my field with my good old “friend” Nehi, viceroy of Kush under Thutmose III, and our recent finds related to him from Sai Island and Elephantine. In particular, I stressed why sealings like the one of Nehi we found at Sai are really worth as much as gold for us archaeologists.

My next opportunity to engage with the public – other than this blog! – will be the Munich SoapboxScience event in 2 weeks. This will be quite something different than standing on the stage in a theater like in Vienna and I am much looking forward to this! After all – it’s all about telling people what archaeologist really do, other than romantic phantasies and pictures created by Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. And: feedback from non-scientists is always really interesting and often surprising.

Processing data from MUAFS first field season

The last months were really busy with work in Egypt and administrative tasks in Munich. Although the teaching term is ongoing and preparing classes keeps me occupied, there is also some time to process the data we collected in December and January between Attab and Ferka.

The annual one-day international colloquium on “Recent Archaeological Fieldwork in Sudan” at the British Museum London is approaching – and I am delighted that I will have the chance to talk about the most important results from our first field season.

I will try to summarise the distribution of the Vila sites we re-located and discuss some aspects of their dating and cultural classification.

Within the 119 sites we documented, the majority are Christian sites (28,6%). Kerma sites are with 21% also very numerous. The strong presence of Late Bronze Age/Iron Age (New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan) sites is with 18,5% also noteworthy. Especially in the northern part of our concession, large tumuli cemetery from the Post-Meroitic period were noted and Post-Meroitic sites comprise 11,8% of our total. The early periods, in particular Abkan and Khartoum Variant sites, are also well presented in the MUAFS concession area (Neo- and Mesolithic sites with 9,2%).

Looking much forward to process these data further until next Monday and in particular to meet all the colleagues working in Sudan on this occasion in London – for scientific and social updates!

Sudan lecture in Munich

Having just returned from Egypt, I am delighted to announce a lecture on ancient Sudan here in Munich today – Emanuele Ciampini (Università ca‘ Foscari, Italy) will present latest results about the palace and royal city of king Natakamani at Napata.

This lecture is part of the lecture series dedicated to Ancient Sudan as „The South Gate to the Ancient World“, organised by MUAFS in cooperation with the SMÄK, the Museum of Egyptian Art here in Munich. Entrance is free, everybody welcome!