In the course of excavations at site GiE003—a Kerma Moyen–Kerma Classique cemetery at Ginis East—we found a small intriguing object in a large, roughly rectangular Kerma Classique tomb containing nice pottery and the remains of a large funerary bed (sadly, extremely fragile and badly preserved).
At first, it was difficult to determine the nature of the object, made of ivory and measuring c. 2.3 x 2.2 cm (figure 1). However, after looking at Reisner’s report on the excavations at the cemeteries of Kerma I could determine that the object was actually the upper part—the body—of a fly pendant!
Based on my extensive research on New Kingdom cemeteries in Nubia, I was expecting that Bronze Age cemeteries in the region of Ginis in general would comprise mostly non-elite contexts, as is the case with New Kingdom burial contexts in the Batn el-Hajar (Edwards 2020) or rural, small-scale communities in the Kerma hinterland at Abu Fatima (Akmenkalns 2018).
The overall wealth of the community buried at Ginis—at least in the Kerma Classique Period—surprised me a bit. The closest parallel to the tombs we excavated at Ginis would probably be the Kerma cemetery at Ukma West, both in terms of tomb architecture and grave goods (Vila 1987). At GiE003, wealthy archaeological contexts were detected, including animal offerings, funerary beds and especially grave goods, including a glazed steatite Second Intermediate Period scarab—which works as evidence for long distance trade—and our interesting fly pendant.
Fly pendants were found at Kerma (Reisner 1923). Those were made of gilded ivory or bronze. Fly pendants were also found at Semna (ivory; Dunham and Janssen 1960) and Buhen (electrum body and ivory wings; Randall-McIver and Wooley 1911; figure 2). At Kerma, fly pendants were usually associated with bodies wearing swords/daggers, which led Egyptologists to transfer the Egyptian military symbolism attributed to flies in the New Kingdom to Kerma contexts (Binder 2008). However, as these objects became more common in the Kerma Classique Period, one could hypothetically establish a connection between flies and the Kerma expansion (Manzo 2016).
Despite not being made of gold or electrum, the fragmentary fly pendant from Ginis works as evidence for the relative wealth of the community buried at the cemetery, which raises questions about the source of such wealth in the context of Bronze Age geographical “peripheries” in Nubia. The object also allows us to discuss other topics, such as identities and social hierarchies, but I need more research time before I’m able to do discuss these any further. Nonetheless, the fly pendant from Ginis allows us to catch glimpses of the potential of material culture to reveal unknown aspects about Kerma communities living outside of Kerma and therefore to understand cultural diversity in Bronze Age Nubia.
Akmenkalns, J. 2018. Cultural Continuity and Change in the Wake of Ancient Nubian-Egyptian Interactions. PhD thesis, UCSB.
Binder, S. 2008. The Gold of Honor in New Kingdom Egypt. Oxford: Aris and Phillips.
Dunham, D. and J. Janssen. 1960. Second Cataract Forts. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.
Edwards, D. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Manzo, A. 2016. Weapons, Ideology and Identity at Kerma (Upper Nubia, 2500-1500 BC). Annali, Sezione Orientale 76: 3-29.
Randall-McIver, D. and L. Wooley. 1911. Buhen. Philadelpha: University Museum.
Reisner, G. 1923. Excavations at Kerma. Cambridge, Mass: Peabody Museum.
Vila, A. 1987. Le cimetière kermaïque d’Ukma Ouest. Paris: CNRS.
This MUAFS/DiverseNile season is divided in two fronts: there will be simultaneous work on site and in Khartoum. I’m working in the storeroom at the Sudan National Museum together with Shadia Abdu and the assistance of various colleagues from NCAM with the aim to document objects previously excavated by Vila in the region from Attab to Ferka. This is a crucial step for us to better understand the sites located in the project’s concession area and to design future excavation and research strategies, especially concerning the cemeteries I’m investigating for DiverseNile’s work package 2.
The storeroom of the Sudan National Museum is an endless source of invaluable information about all things Sudan and Nubia. It’s a great privilege and amazing experience to be able to go through drawers and shelves containing not only all sorts of objects, but also glimpses of the history of archaeology in Sudan, including the drawer cabinets themselves, which were designed by Arkell to contain ancient objects (fig. 1). Arkell later brought the same design to the Petrie Museum in London.
The objects kept at the SNM hold an enormous research potential not only for us to re-contextualise archaeological sites, but also to carry out new analyses and answer questions that archaeology back then didn’t really think about asking. For example, reassessing the pottery from various tombs is important for us to understand the (re)use history of archaeological contexts inside and around cemeteries (fig. 2).
It’s a great opportunity to be able to work in the Sudan National Museum storeroom. As a material culture person, I feel privileged and humbled to be able to handle with my own hands the results of years and years of archaeology in Sudan, carefully kept by our wonderful colleagues at NCAM. Working inside the SNM is certainly a great way of closing this dreadful year. May the next year be better for all of us! Cheers from Khartoum!
The paper is now online but will appear in a special issue edited by Alfredo Gonzalez-Ruibal on ‘The Archaeology of Marginal Spaces’. Our contribution focuses not only on the alternative roles performed by material culture (the focus of my PhD), but mostly on how these alternative roles helped shaping marginal realities that contextually challenged mainstream social norms (i.e. the Egyptian colonization of Nubia in the New Kingdom). It was a great opportunity to combine evidence that I explored in my thesis with evidence that I’m now looking at for DiverseNile. I believe this combination can still produce more interesting results and I hope you will also find these discussions interesting. As always, I’m always up for exchanging and discussing ideas!
Sudan’s revolution is well underway. Millions of Sudanese took off to the streets of Khartoum and other locations across the country to demand freedom of choice. This is most inspiring for us as human beings living in the present, but also as scholars writing about the Nubian past.
I have so far directed my attention to understanding the general logics of what was happening in contexts outside mainstream colonial sites to try to identify how colonial peripheries in New Kingdom Nubia became centres of human experience that produced alternatives to colonial social relations.
In the New Kingdom colonial period, a wave of Egyptian-style objects flooded Nubia and determined on which grounds various social negotiations would take place—i.e. based on people’s adoption and use of foreign objects in local contexts. On the one hand, this means that if you managed to consume Egyptian-style shabtis or jewellery, you’d probably have a good chance of negotiating an ambivalent sense of identity in-between ‚Egypt‘ and ‚Nubia‘. However, if you didn’t manage to possess such objects, your previous life would probably have changed little anyway, at least from an archaeological point of view—after all, we need the stuff to be able to reconstruct human experience anyway…
So, I have been interested in the experiences of those who could not really negotiate in colonized Nubia; those who couldn’t really find effective ways of making inputs to culture, despite their immense inputs to society: though we don’t know who were those people living and dying outside of mainstream colonial sites, there’s a huge chance we’re actually talking about farmers and other labourers who were the ‚hidden hand‘ that supported colonial economy. (Julien Cooper’s recent suggestion that desert dwellers were the ‚hidden hand‘ of the Egyptian gold enterprise in the Nubian deserts, Cooper 2021, is so interesting that it deserves to be expanded to seek other ‚hidden hands‘ that remained invisible in our narratives so far.)
I’m currently teaching a course on postcolonial and decolonial approaches to the archaeology of the Nile valley. This also greatly inspires my research and the way I look for interesting things in the archaeological record to „hear“ the voices of those who remained silenced by major constraints to action in antiquity. So far, what I find most interesting is people’s sense of collectivism. In social and geographical peripheries—here I’m referring to non-elites working for colonial elites at temple-towns and farmers and other workers living/dying in the outskirts of these major sites—individual inputs to culture are rare as consumption was limited and scarcity was rampant. However, when there’s scarcity, there’s also wisdom—Brazilian geographer Milton Santos would agree (Santos 2001).
This sums up my research in this first year as a DiverseNile postdoc. I have been focusing on finding interesting features in the archaeological record of excavated/surveyed sites in the peripheries of colonized Nubia while waiting to be back in Sudan to celebrate the achievements of local people past and present. I have discussed these topics in more detail in three forthcoming publications, which should be available very soon:
Lemos, R. (forthcoming). Heart scarabs and other heart-related objects in New Kingdom Nubia. Sudan & Nubia 25.
Lemos, R. (forthcoming). Can we decolonise the ancient past? Bridging postcolonial and decolonial theory in Sudanese and Nubian archaeology. Cambridge Archaeological Journal.
Lemos, R. and J. Budka. (forthcoming). Alternatives to colonization and marginal identities in New Kingdom colonial Nubia (1550–1070 BCE). World Archaeology (themed issue on ‚The archaeology of marginal places and identities‘).
Cooper, J. (2021). Between the Nile and the Red Sea: Medjay Desert Polities in the Third to First Millennium BCE. Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 1 (1): 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1163/26670755-01010001
Santos, M. 2001. Por uma outra globalização: do pensamento único à consciência universal. 6th ed. Rio de Janeiro: Record.
Before we’re able to go to the field, a lot of work on the cemeteries in our concession area is currently underway from Munich. Marion’s recent blog posts already discussed the potential of magnetometry for us to better understand what we are dealing with, and this is especially true in connection with Cajetan’s remote sensing work. Cajetan’s work has been revealing some interesting aspects of our sites and hopefully you’ll be able to catch glimpses of his work soon in here.
This work provides important background regarding the specificities of our sites. Alongside an assessment of the cemeteries and comparison with other sites across Nubia, this allows us to put together an ‚ideal type‘ (sensu Max Weber) that can guide us through future survey and excavation. The data sets produced by Vila, as well as previous MUAFS seasons, are also crucial for us to establish this ideal type, which works as a methodological tool to confirm our hypotheses (or not).
In my previous posts, I’ve already shared details about the assessment of sites I’ve been carrying out over the past months. Base on Vila’s data, we can know what to expect from the cemeteries in terms of preservation, types of structures etc. For example, the Late New Kingdom „tomb of Isis“ works an example of „elite“ or „sub-elite“ burial ground in the periphery of temple towns, where Egyptian and Nubian features mixed, probably to a greater extent than at temple towns—an example of hypothesis that we can create departing from an ideal type. This mixture occurred, for instance, in the combination of Egyptian substructures and a tumuli superstructure, remains of which were located in previous MUAFS seasons (see my previous posts). Departing from an ideal type such as the „tomb of Isis“ we can approach how the ideal varies across geographical and social spaces within our concession area.
For example, Marion and Cajetan’s work are shedding light on the extension of cemeteries where we can easily see from above those tumuli, some of which already explored by Vila, but also other features. It is difficult to determine from a distance what is the nature of this evidence. Comparative research then comes in handy. I’ve already proposed a discussion on the whereabouts of the majority of the Nubian population during the New Kingdom (a discussion that also applies to the Kerma period).
Other Nubian cemeteries such as Fadrus in Lower Nubia add information about non-elite groups to our ideal type (figure 1). If larger tumuli such as the „tomb of Isis“ are easily located based on drone and satellite imagery, simple non-elite pit graves originally with no extensive superstructures pose more challenges. Though, comparisons allow us to open up to possibilities that include, in our research framework, social groups not clearly represented by evidence accumulated from large temple-town cemeteries. These groups—which comprised the bulk of Nubian populations working in the fields, mines, and probably carrying out other work in the service of larger centres—are yet to be fully understood (and here work at the cemeteries of Amarna provide us interesting comparison points, see Stevens 2018).
Several are the challenges of doing research from the office, as we cannot yet go to the field. But work conducted so far, from various fronts, help us establish a pretty solid starting point from which to explore our sites knowing more or less what to expect. This takes into account old and new evidence, extensive comparisons with other sites and a clear theoretical framework, which is essential to formulate research questions and carry out large scale projects such as DiverseNile.
Säve-Söderbergh and Troy 1991. New Kingdom pharaonic sites: the finds and the sites.
Spence 2019. New Kingdom burials in Lower and Upper Nubia. In Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. D. Raue.
Stevens 2018. Death and the city: The cemeteries of Amarna in their urban context. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 28 (1): 103–126. doi:10.1017/S0959774317000592
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
David Edwards‘ recent publication of ‚Pharaonic‘ remains in the Batn el-Hajar provides an important comparison point for us to understand the evidence from DiverseNile’s concession area from Attab to Ferka. From a mortuary landscape perspective, Edwards criticises archaeology’s traditional focus on elite tombs in the Middle Nile saying that we „should not narrow our perspectives, to the exclusion from our narratives of the vast majority of the population who were buried otherwise“ in areas other than the centres of foreign colonial power in Nubia (Edwards 2020: 396).
Until recently, a similar picture could be drawn for Egypt. Despite large non-elite cemeteries being known since the early 20th century (e.g., Matmar or Gurob), a monumental/elite bias characterised historical narratives about New Kingdom Egypt (see Richards 2005). Only recently, with the identification and excavation of large non-elite cemeteries at Amarna (Kemp et al. 2013), more scholars are paying attention to other social realities beyond the imposition of elite social spaces.
The long history of archaeology in the Middle Nile has been strongly marked by colonisation, ancient and modern. Nubia’s history, especially in the New Kingdom, has remained, for a long time, in the shadow of Egypt’s history. This manifested as the discipline’s Egyptocentric focus on sites of colonial administration, its textual sources and elite cemeteries, which yielded Egyptian-style objects interpreted as essentially ‚Egyptian’—a manifestation of the alleged acculturation of passive local communities placed in lower ranks of ‚civilisation‘. Traditional, Egyptocentric research agendas contributed further to silencing past colonised groups, which only appear in Egyptian textual sources in inferior positions.
As a result, we still know barely anything about the majority of the population of New Kingdom Nubia, which inhabited areas other than the major colonial centres of power, e.g., Aniba, Sai, Soleb. The cemeteries at these sites house a small number of monumental tombs that, although used collectively, still represent a tiny fraction of society across the history of ancient colonial Nubia.
Who were the majority of the population of New Kingdom Nubia? Where did those people live and where were they buried? Where did they come from? Under what conditions did they live (and die)? Although research is moving forward to address new topics (see Spencer et al. 2017), these are questions that haven’t been explored for Nubia yet, mostly due to archaeology’s focus on acculturation/Egyptianisation in the New Kingdom.
Areas such as the Batn el-Hajar and the region south of Dal cataract, including DiverseNile’s concession from Attab to Ferka, are unlikely to yield monumental elite tombs. However, peripheral, today inhospitable desert areas along the Middle Nile hold an enormous potential to impact our narratives about ancient Nubia’s colonial past, shedding light on alternative histories, experiences and forms of being-in-the-world beyond Egyptological/Egyptocentric research interests grounded on sites of Egyptian colonial administration in the New Kingdom. So, where did the majority of the population live and die in New Kingdom Nubia? Likely in the geographical and social gaps along the Nile still to be fully explored.
Even at colonial administrative centres, such as Aniba, Sai and Soleb, social relations were more complex than simply being ‚Egyptian‘. Recent work confirmed, through isotopic analysis, that local individuals lived at those sites and worked in colonial administration; e.g., the master of goldsmiths Khnumose and other individuals close to him (Budka 2021). My previous work on the distribution and use of Egyptian-style objects in local contexts in colonial Nubia, which included subversive transformations of stylistic and use patterns, also show that things weren’t homogenous in colonial Nubia (Lemos 2020).
Currently, we know very few non-elite cemeteries in New Kingdom colonial Nubia. If social relations were far from being uniform at colonial centres of power, at non-elite cemeteries there was even more room for negotiations, which resulted in the shaping of alternative material realities and experiences of colonisation. Examples from non-elite cemetery of Fadrus in Lower Nubia allow us to understand better such negotiations, which could result in alternative social relations other than imposed colonial hierarchies (e.g., collective engagement and collaboration), as I have argued in a forthcoming paper (Lemos forthcoming).
Fadrus alone doesn’t fill the gap in our knowledge about the vast majority of the population of New Kingdom colonial Nubia, neither does the collective use of elite tombs at the centres of colonial administration. In both elite, administrative sites and non-elite sites, Egyptian-style material culture opens windows to complexity and diversity beyond previous homogenising interpretations of New Kingdom colonial Nubia that reflect disciplinary colonial traditions and interests. Therefore, turning our attention to ‚peripheral‘ regions previously neglected holds an immense potential for us not only to detect this vast mass of population left out of historical narratives, but also to uncover alternatives to colonial homogenisation (ancient and modern) through people’s diverse experiences of landscape, society and culture.
Vila’s survey identified several burial sites, which are comparable to non-elite cemeteries, although most of the Vila sites don’t seem to be large „formal“ cemeteries like Fadrus (figure 1). DiverseNile’s focus on the regions where the majority of the population of the New Kingdom colonial Nubia lived and died is an important step towards understanding diversity and complexity in heterogeneous New Kingdom Nubia. Exploring such sites in comparison with other sites in Nubia holds a huge potential for us to rewrite Nubia’s diverse history in the New Kingdom, which was characterised by various, sometimes competing material experiences of colonisation, especially considering the creative potential of people living and dying at the fringes of society.
Budka, J. forthcoming 2021. Tomb 26 on Sai island: A New Kingdom elite tomb and its relevance for Sai and beyond. Leiden: Sidestone Press.
Edwards, D. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Kemp, B. J. et al. 2013. Life, Death and Beyond in Akhenaten’s Egypt: Excavating the South Tombs Cemetery at Amarna. Antiquity 87: 64–78.
Lemos, R. forthcoming 2022. Heart Scarabs and other heart-related objects in New Kingdom Nubia. Sudan & Nubia 25.
Richards, R. 2005. Society and death in ancient Egypt. Cambridge: CUP.
Spencer, N. et al. 2017. Introduction: History and historiography of a colonial entanglement, and the shaping of new archaeologies for Nubia in the New Kingdom. In Nubia in the New Kingdom: Lived experience, pharaonic control and indigenous traditions, ed. N. Spencer, A. Stevens and M. Binder, 1–61. Leuven: Peeters.
Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archeologique de la valee du Nil au sud de la cataracte de Dal 5. Paris: CNRS.
I’ve been really busy with several commitments besides my research project, but I’d like to give you a quick update about what I’ve been up to lately. As you know, my WP2 research focuses specifically on the data collected by Vila within the region from Attab to Ferka. However, in order to have a more comprehensive idea of the significance of this data, comparison with other regions is a key aspect of my methodology. If sites such as tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West allow us to start challenging ingrained conceptions about society and culture in New Kingdom Nubia, e.g., colonial ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’, putting sites like this into a broader context is a really important step.
In previous posts, I stressed the importance of data sets like those produced by the ASSN or the Finish Expedition in the Batn el-Hajar area, as well as sites in the 4th cataract. But comparative research shouldn’t be limited to feeding information from different sites into a database, although it remains an important aspect of my research. A descriptive approach to data would allow us to identify previously ignored data, especially for regions that are not usually part of major narratives about Nubia, e.g., the Attab-Ferka area. However, a clear theoretical approach allows us to abstract descriptions into understandings of broader social phenomena.
Postcolonial theory has had a huge impact in archaeology, although its role in the Nile valley has not always been that explicit. Postcolonial theory provides us with a framework from which we’re able to criticise colonial narratives and practices, but also to unveil hidden, silenced logics that have remained outside mainstream historical narratives. This is highly important for the DiverseNile theoretical and methodological framework.
Egyptian-style material culture has been understood, as whole, through a generalising lens that emphasised the Egyptian presence and transposition of knowledges and practices to an acculturated Nubia. My research in the last few years allowed to unveil, from a postcolonial perspective, alternative realities created by transformed foreign objects in local contexts in New Kingdom Nubia (I explore this further in a forthcoming paper on heart scarabs, which will be published in the next issue of Sudan & Nubia). So, developing and applying a postcolonial approach to our data from the region from Attab to Ferka, combined with information from the very centres of colonial power in New Kingdom Nubia, will certainly shed more light on the substance of diversity, allowing us to include regions traditionally excluded from historical narratives into histories of alternative experiences created and sustained by alternatives roles performed by spreading material culture. That’s a bit of what I’ve been reading, thinking and writing lately. I’d be happy to think about these issues together with anyone interested!
Sudan & Nubia 24 is now out and it includes a paper by PI Julia Budka on the Kerma presence at Ginis East (Budka 2020). The paper also presents an updated overview of MUAFS fieldwork, which relates to my work in the DiverseNile Project focusing on Kerma, New Kingdom and early Napatan cemeteries in the region. In the past three seasons, the MUAFS team reidentified hundreds of sites firstly described by Vila, but also identified 40 additional sites so far, including tombs which are of interest to my subproject. In my previous posts, I have focused mainly on the New Kingdom. Here I will present a brief overview of the Kerma presence, as attested by cemetery sites and isolated tombs, in Attab-Ferka (figure 1).
I have previously mentioned that, for the New Kingdom, our knowledge is mainly based on evidence from major colonial settlements and cemeteries. There are clear geographical gaps in what we know about the Egyptian colonisation of Nubia in areas such as the Batn el-Hajjar (Edwards 2020) or the MUAFS concession area. A similar situation occurs during the Kerma Period. As Julia Budka pointed out in her recent S&N paper, evidence from Attab-Ferka is extremely relevant “to address the issue of the borders of the Kerma kingdom as well as cultural manifestations of what has been labelled as ‘rural Kerma’” (Budka 2020: 63).
Veronica Hinterhuber’s last post provided an overview of her general database of sites based on information published by Vila. Her work is invaluable for my preliminary assessment of mortuary sites in our concession area. Based on her database, 10 mortuary sites first identified by Vila as dating to the Kerma Period can help us to preliminarily understand the Kerma spread in the region. Recent fieldwork has identified a large degree of destruction and plundering at those sites, which makes it important to revisit previously published and archival data with a fresh mindset to extract valuable information. Comparison with other sites, especially those at the Kerma hinterland and other ‘peripheral’ zones across Nubia, also help us shed light onto blurred spots in our datasets from Attab-Ferka.
Besides the overall plundering, Kerma tombs in the region were tumuli with granite superstructures (usually not preserved) and oval or large rectangular pits containing bone fragments, sherds and very rarely burial goods (e.g., faience beads). Kerma tombs were either larger, aprioristically isolated tombs or part of cemeteries grouping a higher number of burials; e.g., at Ferka East and Kosha East. A few skeletons were found in situ, although plundered. They were all deposited in a flexed position, sometimes on a bed; e.g. at Ferka East. Kerma tombs were reused in the Christian Period. For instance, one wrapped body dating to this period was found inside a Kerma tomb at Kitfogga, Ferka East. Sherds usually include Kerma beakers and goblets. Due to plundering, it is difficult to determine, based on the amount of information currently available, whether these burials were characterised by a simple approach to graves goods or not. Comparison with sites such as Abu Fatima, where Stuart Tyson Smith and Sarah Schrader are currently working, should allow us to gain a better picture of continuity and variation in Kerma contact spaces between, for instance, elites and non-elites or urban and rural communities.
The region from Attab to Ferka was not only a contact space within the Kerma state. It was also an area where the Kerma ‘culture’ interacted with Egyptian patterns. For example, one very interesting burial was excavated by Vila at Shagun Dukki, Ginis East, where c. 10 other tombs were detected (figure 2). It consisted of a shallow, oval pit inside of which a flexed skeleton was found (disturbed). Together with the skeleton, a bone scarab was found in the right hand, a common pattern at Classic Kerma burials at Kerma city (Minor 2012: 144). Most scarabs found at Kerma city bear similarities with scarabs from Second Intermediate Period Egypt and Syria-Palestine and would have been acquired either via trade or reuse of graves in Lower Nubia (Minor 2012: 138-140). It is difficult to read the signs on the base of the scarab from Shagun Dukki. Moreover, bone was a material used to manufacture various items in the Kerma Period, as well as among other Nubian communities, and worked as a Nubian identity marker in the New Kingdom. Were bone scarabs the result of local copying practices? Looking at the evidence from Attab-Ferka holds the potential to shed light on internal contact and variability within the Kerma realm, as well as the local roles of foreign objects in local contexts in this period.
Gratien has previously pointed out how little we know about the Kerma state outside Kerma city, as well as how the Kerma state related to other ‘Nubian’ communities north and south of the Third Cataract (Gratien 2014: 95; 1978; Bonnet 2014). Evidence from Sai (Gratien 1986) and the Fourth Cataract (Paner 2014; Herbst and Smith 2014; Wlodarska 2014; Emberling et al. 2014) can illuminate further aspects of the spread of Kerma throughout the Middle Nile. The publication of evidence from Lower Nubia is also much expected (see Edwards 2020). Recent scholarship has also been shedding light on alternative, ‘rural’ experiences of the Kerma state outside of Kerma city (Akmenkalns 2018) and comparative, ‘global’ perspectives on specific categories of artefacts across cultural borders provide interesting avenues of inquiry (Walsh 2020). In a few years, the results of the DiverseNile Project will also contribute to our understanding of a more complex and diversified landscape beyond rigid cultural divisions.
Akmenkalns, J. 2018. Cultural continuity and change in the wake of ancient Nubian-Egyptian interactions. PhD thesis, University of California Santa Barbara.
Bonnet, C. 2014. Forty years research on Kerma cultures. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 81-94. Leuven: Peeters.
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.
Edwards, D. ed. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Emberling, G. et al. 2014. Peripheral vision: Identity at the margins of the early Kingdom of Kush. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 329-336. Leuven: Peeters.
Gratien, B 1986. Saï I. La Nécropole Kerma. Paris: CNRS.
Gratien, B. 1978. Les cultures Kerma: essai de classification. Villeneuve-d’Ascq: Publications de l’Université de Lille III.
Gratien, B. 2014. Kerma north of the Third Cataract. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 95-101. Leuven: Peeters.
Herbst, G. and S. T. Smith. 2014. Pre-Kerma transition at the Nile Fourth Cataract: First assessments of a multi-component, stratified prehistoric settlement in the UCSB/ASU Salvage Concession. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 311-320. Leuven: Peeters.
Minor, E. 2012. The Use of Egyptian and Egyptianizing Material Culture in Nubian Burials of the Classic Kerma Period. PhD thesis, University of California Berkeley.
Paner, H. 2014. Kerma Culture in the Fourth Cataract of the Nile. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 53-80. Leuven: Peeters.
Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archeologique de la valee du Nil au sud de la cataracte de Dal 5. Paris: CNRS.
Walsh, C. 2020. Techniques for Egyptian eyes: Diplomacy and the transmission of cosmetic practices between Egypt and Kerma. Journal of Egyptian History 13: 295-332.
Wlodarska, M. 2014. Kerma burials in the Fourth Cataract region – Three seasons of excavations at Shemkhiya. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 321-328. Leuven: Peeters.
Most of the available burial evidence in New Kingdom Nubia come from large cemeteries associated with temple-towns. Evidence from the hinterland of colonial towns or ‘peripheral’ areas such as the Batn al-Hajar are usually discontinuous and pose various challenges to interpretation (figure 1). Edwards recently raised discussion on the role of isolated tombs in such areas. According to him, mortuary evidence from such locations, in contrast with evidence from formal cemeteries, “should not narrow our perspectives, to the exclusion from our narratives of the vast majority of the population who were buried otherwise” (Edwards 2020: 396).
Ginis West is located north of Amara West, on the way to the Batn al-Hajar. In our concession area, evidence for formal cemeteries associated with established settlements is scarce, although continuing research and excavations will likely shed more light on this topic. In the New Kingdom, the whole area between Amara West and Lower Nubia, comprising the north Abri-Delgo Reach and the Batn el-Hajar represents a gap in our knowledge of New Kingdom Nubia. Revisiting the evidence produced by various surveys in these areas is crucial for us to develop new comparative research, especially evidence produced by the Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia (ASSN, Edwards 2020), the Finnish Expedition to Sudanese Nubia (Donner 1998) and other projects working in the Batn el-Hajar; and, particularly for us working in the Attab-Ferka stretch of the Nile, Vila’s survey south of Dal cataract (Vila 1975-79).
In the Batn el-Hajar, the ASSN uncovered not only simple pit graves, characteristic of non-elite burial grounds, but also a few elaborate tombs. Those can be compared to tombs at main cemeteries throughout the Nile Valley, at least in terms of substructures (Edwards 2020; see Spence 2019). At Ginis West, Vila’s team excavated a remarkable New Kingdom tomb (site 3-P-50). Based on a first look at the material culture retrieved inside, I would say it was used especially in the later part of the New Kingdom. The tomb was cut at the intersection between the alluvial plain and bedrock, and a few supporting slabs were used to reinforce the four subterranean chambers, accessible through a descending passage (figure 2).
The tomb was heavily looted, with scattered bones found in the descending passage and chamber three. The tomb likely housed the burials of various contemporaneous individuals, as well as later burials. No superstructure has been detected, although Binder pointed out to later New Kingdom tombs combining Egyptian-style substructures with tumuli superstructures at Amara West, Ginis and Sesebi (Binder 2014: 45).
The material culture from tomb 3-P-50 suggest cultural affinities with both Egypt and Nubia. On the Egyptian side, there are figurative scarabs, pendants representing deities and animals, including a rare crocodile pendant, an equally rare wooden headrest, and two late 19th Dynasty shabtis of Isis, lady of the house (figure 3). Various types of beads were also excavated, including long beads and spacers, which are characteristic of elite cemeteries and monumental tombs in New Kingdom Nubia (Lemos 2020). However, various earrings made of shell and carnelian were also found (figure 4), which represent affinities with local styles, which were later exported to Egypt (Lemos 2020). The combination of Egyptian-style objects with stone/ivory/shell earrings and bangles is especially strong at Soleb (Schiff Giorgini 1971).
Tomb 3-P-50 did not belong to a formal cemetery as its material culture alone would suggest. Vila only identified two later (likely Christian) tombs in the vicinity of the site. What is a relatively elaborate tomb containing a large quantity of restricted items typical of large New Kingdom colonial cemeteries doing at Ginis West? There is still so much for us to understand about ‘peripheral’ zones in New Kingdom Nubia. Tombs like 3-P-50 at Ginis West and a few examples from the Batn el-Hajar allow us to think that, at least for some people, what we characterise as ‘peripheries’ were actually the centre of life and death experiences of colonisation in New Kingdom Nubia. My research for DiverseNile will hopefully shed light onto shifting conceptions and experiences of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’, which will allow us to rewrite historical narratives of Nubia in the New Kingdom based on local experiences instead of Egyptian ways of classifying history.
Binder, M. 2014. Health and Diet in Upper Nubia through Climate and Political Change. A bioarchaeological investigation of health and living conditions at ancient Amara West between 1300 and 800 BC. Unpublished PhD thesis, Durham University.
Donner, G. 1998. The Finnish Nubia Expedition to Sudanese Nubia, 1964–65. Helsinki: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy.
Edwards, D. ed. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Lemos, R. 2020. Foreign Objects in Local Contexts: Mortuary Objectscapes in Late Colonial Nubia. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.
Schiff Giorgini, M. 1971. Soleb II: Les Nécropoles. Firenze: Sansone.
Spence, K. 2019. New Kingdom Tombs in Lower and Upper Nubia. In Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. D. Raue, 541–566. Berlin: De Gruyter.
Vila. A. 1975-79. La prospection archéologique de la vallée du Nil au sud de la Cataracte de Dal. Vols 1-11. Paris: CNRS.