A Middle Kerma Period burial in Ginis East

While our PostDoc Hassan Aglan is busy with finalising the documentation from our excavation in 2023 in Kerma cemetery GiE 003, I went back to some tombs we excavated there already in 2022. Today, I would like to present a very interesting burial which is characteristic for the Middle Kerma Period (see Budka 2022).

Feature 26 during excavation in 2022 (photo: M. Bergner, © DiverseNile)

Feature 26 in Trench 2 is a representative circular pit of the Middle Kerma period with typical dimensions (2.4m in diameter). Like the other structures in GiE 003, this grave was also looted. Nevertheless, some interesting finds were found: human and animal bones; pottery; a wooden fragment; a snail which is pierced and functioned as a pendant; a pebble pendant; 86 small sandstone disc beads; 10 small faience disc beads (blue); 1 large flat disc bead made of shell/bone; 1 small green faience disc bead and one copper dagger.

The charming pendant made from a pierced snail (photo: R. Lemos, © DiverseNile)

Feature 26 is the only burial in Trench 2 which yielded some personal adornments (a beautiful snail pendant and a pebble pendant, both of Nubian tradition) as well as grave goods like a dagger and two animal offerings in situ. That various materials were used for beads in diverse sizes in this tomb is also remarkable.

Various beads from Feature 26 in different materials (photo: R. Lemos, © DiverseNile)

The dagger is especially significant – unfortunately, MUAFS 027 is a broken piece (12.2 cm in lenght), decorated with four lines stemming from the tip until the bottom, forming a triangular pattern.

Broken dagger from Feature 26 (photo: R. Lemos, © DiverseNile)

Copper daggers are well attested from funerary contexts in Kerma city and are probably associated with ceremonial use. Following Andrea Manzo (2016), this dagger can be interpreted as an indicator of elite status and Kerma identity (see also Walsh 2022).

However, one of the ceramic vessels from Feature 26, 363-3/2022, a small black topped bowl with irregular incised decoration is slightly unusual but has parallels in both the Kerma tradition and the Pan-Grave horizon (de Souza 2019, 214, fig. 19a).

While most of the ceramics found in Feature 26 are typical for Middle Kerma burials, this vessel maybe also links to the Pan-Grave horizon and illustrates the cultural diversity attested in GiE 003.

This might illustrate cultural encounters between various Nubian groups in the region. Considering the discovery of Feature 50 in Trench 5 in 2023, this is now especially likely.

Similar to Feature 50, two almost complete animal skeletons were found in Feature 26. They were carefully excavated by our inspector Huda Magzoub and appear to be goat/sheep, but this needs to be confirmed by zooarchaeological analysis. At the Kerma cemeteries of Ukma and Akasha, also gazelle offerings were frequently found in Middle Kerma circular pit types (see Vila 1987, 32-33 and e.g. Tomb 2, 39, fig. 41; Maystre 1980, 190).

Overall, Feature 26 offers a wealth of stimulating questions and shows how much potential there is in the cemetery GiE 003 and that our work is far from finished.


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.

Manzo 2016 = A. Manzo, “Weapons, ideology and identity at Kerma (Upper Nubia, 2500-1500 BC)”, Annali Sezione Orientale 76 (1-2) (2016), 3-29.

Maystre 1980 = C. Maystre, Akasha I, Genève 1980.

de Souza 2019 = A. de Souza, New horizons: the Pan-Grave ceramic tradition in context, Middle Kingdom Studies 9, London 2019.

Vila 1987 = A. Vila, Le cimetière Kermaique d’Ukma Ouest, Paris 1987.

Walsh 2022 = C. Walsh, “Marginal Communities and Cooperative Strategies in the Kerma Pastoral State”, JNEH 10, https://doi.org./10.1515/janeh-2021-0014

Reconstructing the burial of Feature 50 in cemetery GiE 003

I’m thrilled and privileged to have become part of the DiverseNile team in November 2023. My primary role entails consolidating and organizing the data on the variability of funerary monuments excavated in the Attab to Ferka region of Northern Sudan during the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Our PI Julia Budka has given me the specific task of preparing the documentation of Feature 50 from Trench 5 in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 (see Budka 2022). Interestingly, this burial shows many features associated with the Pan-Grave culture.

Different models of Feature 50.

The filling of Feature 50 comprised a diverse array of artifacts (see Budka, Rose, Ward 2023, 34), including pottery sherds, bones of at least one individual and three goats, beads, remnants of a wooden bed, alongside a mix of dense clay or mud fragments. The latter might have constituted a section of the superstructure wall surrounding the burial (cf. Irish 2007, 59, Figs. 2-3). Due to their dispersed nature within the tomb, not all of these finds were unearthed together or found within a single layer, necessitating their documentation either partially or separately. 

Using Metashape and Adobe Photoshop to rectify photos.

Because different parts of the same level were documented separately, I endeavored to amalgamate all these disparate 3D models into one comprehensive representation using Adobe Illustrator. This involved consolidating all the finds in a unified layout. Additionally, I utilized site photos, rectified them through programs like Metashape or Photoshop, and incorporated them into the combined models.

Using close-up photos for the finer details

I also leveraged daily site information, occasionally using the models as close-ups for finer details. Furthermore, throughout this process, I engaged in numerous discussions with Julia to ensure accuracy and completeness. 
In the end, through our collaborative efforts, we successfully integrated all elements into a single cohesive representation, meticulously illustrated using Adobe Illustrator.

I and Julia Budka discussing the different details of Feature 50.

The clarity of having everything consolidated sparked the idea of creating a reconstruction view using Adobe Illustrator. Inspired by this, I began exploring parallel cemeteries associated with the Pan-Grave horizon, including C-group burials (which are a bit earlier but nevertheless useful parallels). To enhance the visualization, I utilized Photoshop to craft different positions for the goat skeletons. However, despite these efforts, the original view remained somewhat unclear. This led me to consider creating a 3D model reconstruction using Google Sketch-Up, providing a clearer representation of all the features and finds.

Finally, I managed to develop a preliminary 3D reconstruction, but further investigation is needed. Interestingly, Pan-Grave burials, contrasting to Kerma burials, normally do not have wooden funerary beds.

My preliminary 3D reconstruction of Feature 50.

One last aspect: It’s incredible how something as simple as a color choice can drastically alter the way we perceive a scene. Chloe’s observation about the light blue floor of my reconstruction resembling a swimming pool was certainly amusing, but it prompted a smart adjustment to a grayish color to avoid any unintended connotations. These lighthearted moments amidst the serious work of archaeological reconstruction bring a sense of fun and camaraderie to the team.


Budka 2022 = Budka, J., Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: new evidence from a Kerma cemetery at Ginis, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 45 (2022), 37‒62.

Budka, Rose & Ward 2023 = Budka, J., Rose, K. & C. Ward, Cultural diversity in the Bronze Age in the Attab to Ferka region: new results based on excavations in 2023, MittSAG – Der Antike Sudan 34 (2023), 19−35.

Irish 2007 = Irish, J.D., Overview of the Hierakonpolis C-Group dental remains, Sudan & Nubia 11 (2007), 57-72.

The ancient city of Kedurma and its hinterland: DiverseNile Seminar by Mohamed Bashir

The start of this year’s DiverseNile Seminar on May 7th is approaching! I am very much looking forward to the lecture by Mohamed Bashir (currently Visiting Research Scholar, Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU) with the title “Lost landscapes, hidden histories: Palaeoecological reconstructions and archaeological investigations of the ancient city of Kedurma and its hinterland, Northern Sudan”.

Mohamed kindly provided us with an abstract for his talk:

„This study addresses the complicated/unexplored relationship between the ancient city of Kedurma in the Third Cataract region of northern Sudan and the surrounding hinterland. It focuses on the reconstruction of the palaeoecological conditions and the exploration of the archaeological remains, looking for the dynamic process that shaped the landscape over time in interaction with environmental factors and human activities. By integrating palaeoecological data and archaeological finds, this study seeks to uncover the historical development of the city and its hinterland.

Through interdisciplinary approaches, including survey, excavation, and analysis of archaeological artefacts, we can identify patterns of land use, settlement dynamics and cultural interactions. Through analysis, we seek to reconstruct past environments and human interventions in this urban periphery. This research contributes to a deeper understanding of the surrounding landscapes of the Third Cataract region and their impact on the development of Kedurma, as well as their significance in a broader historical narrative.

Ultimately, this study sheds light on the interconnectedness of human societies, urbanization and environmental change and offers valuable perspectives for urban planning, heritage conservation and sustainable development.“

This presentation ties in perfectly with the goals of the DiverseNile project and our investigations of the hinterland of the ancient cities of Amara West and Sai Island applying the landscape biography approach. This case study will also showcase the importance to investigate urbanization processes in the Middle Nile – also in respect to sustainable development goals as Mohamed pointed out. All in all, there are plenty of reasons why you should attend this upcoming seminar!

Regionality of stone quarrying in Nubia: the case study of a granite quarry at Ferka West

The most recent publication of the ERC DiverseNile Project focuses on landscape and resource management in Bronze Age Nubia. Here, I would like to present some thoughts on the regionality of stone quarrying in Nubia with a case study from the MUAFS concession.

Stone is a natural resource which has typically been associated with Egypt, being regarded as a raw material of little importance for Nubian cultures. However, the quarrying of stone played a role in the complex framework of cultural exchange of Middle Nile communities with Egypt (see Budka 2024). Whereas Nubian sandstone (quartz sandstone) only started to be used as building material in the Middle Nile during the Middle Kingdom, mostly for Egyptian fortresses, there is evidence for a much earlier use of natural- and dry-stone architecture, in both settlement architecture and funerary buildings (cf. Liszka 2017). Sandstone architectural pieces were also well integrated within Nubian monumental architecture (e.g., the columns and stelae at the eastern Deffufa in Kerma, see Budka 2024 with references). Some of the most important sandstone quarries during the New Kingdom can be found at Sai Island – we have studies these quarries already during the ERC AcrossBorders Project and will come back to the topic within the framework of our present project in the near future thanks to the expertise of our PostDoc Fabian Dellefant.

Granite is another important stone quarried in Nubia. While the most renowned granite quarry used for building projects and objects in ancient Egypt over millennia is located in Aswan, there are also a number of granite quarry sites in the Middle Nile. They are less well known and seem to have been used for a considerably shorter amount of time.

The quarry site of Tombos with an unfinished royal statue.

One quite famous example is the site of Tombos close to the Third Nile Cataract. The site includes a large quarry of magmatic rocks, principally granite and granitic gneisses, with known activity from the 18th Dynasty until Napatan and Meroitic times, particularly for statues and stelae. One particularly striking left-over in the quarry is the beautiful, although unfinished royal statue of presumably Napatan date.

There is no clear evidence that the quarry site of Tombos was used prior to the New Kingdom (Klemm, Klemm and Murr 2019, 28).

Another type of granite, pink granite, is available just south of the Dal Cataract in the MUAFS concession. This brings me to my case study: site 3-L-6 is a large red granite quarry at the foot of Jebel Kitfoggo in Ferka West – well noted by Vila and others during the 1970s survey (Vila 1976, 72−73). We visited the site during our 2022 survey of the MUAFS project – the landscape is fantastic and the pink granite very picturesque.

The site 3-L-6 at Jebel Kitfoggo is one of the highlights in the MUAFS concession area.
A large number of stone working traces can be observed at the pink granite quarry 3-L-6.

Fragments of unfinished columns in the southern part of the site testify to an intensive use in Medieval times for architectural pieces (Welsby 2002, 173).

The quarry was clearly used for architectural pieces like columns.

This is supported by evidence from settlement site 3-G-30, just to the north of 3-L-6, where Medieval ceramics were found on the surface. The building technique and general layout of these stone-built huts are also typical of the Medieval era.

Part of site 3-G-30 in close vicinity of the granite quarry.

Although several Kerma sites are also identifiable in the surroundings of 3-L-6, there is no evidence for Bronze Age or Iron Age use of the granite quarry at Jebel Kitfoggo.

It is interesting to stress that both Tombos and Jebel Kitfoggo were used for a relatively limited time span compared to other quarry sites. These examples illustrate regional patterns in quarrying in the Middle Nile, but they also show the need to consider political and historical circumstances when investigating the management of raw material and resources (Budka 2024).


Budka 2024 = J. Budka, Introduction. Regionality of resource management in Bronze Age Sudan: an overview and case studies, in: J. Budka and R. Lemos (eds), Landscape and resource management in Bronze Age Nubia: Archaeological perspectives on the exploitation of natural resources and the circulation of commodities in the Middle Nile, Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant 17, Wiesbaden 2024, 19−33.

Klemm, Klemm and Murr 2019 = Klemm, D., Klemm, R. and Murr, A., Geologically induced raw materials stimulating the development of Nubian culture, in: D. Raue (ed.), Handbook of Ancient Nubia, Vol. 1, Berlin; Boston 2019, 15−38.

Liszka 2017 = Liszka, K., Egyptian or Nubian? Dry-stone architecture at Wadi el-Hudi, Wadi es-Sebua, and the Eastern Desert, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 103 (1) (2017), 35−51.

Vila 1976 = Vila, A., La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 3: District de Ferka (Est et Ouest),Paris 1976.

Welsby 2002 = Welsby, D.A., The Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia: Pagans, Christians and Muslims Along the Middle Nile, London 2002.

Fire dogs and Scaniverse

Work on the fire dogs continues and remains mysterious. We recently carried out a „dry test series“ on the potential placement of the fire dogs, in which we considered different scenarios based on different amounts of fire dogs and different cooking pots. This allowed us to complete our experimental archaeology tests.

So far, no in situ finds of fire dogs are published from the New Kingdom, so all ideas about the use of fire dogs and their placement remain hypothetical. The best overview of the various hypotheses on the placement of the fire dogs can still be found in the 1989 article by David Aston (Aston 1989). His suggestion for the layout of fire dogs is still the most widespread today: three fire dogs with the „ears“ pointing downwards and the „noses“ pointing inward supporting a relatively large cooking pot placed on top of them (see the drawings, Aston 1989, 32 and plate 1). But were these exciting objects really used as he suggested?

So far, none of the known placement possibilities has really convinced us. As plausible as Aston’s model seems at first glance, it does not seem to make much sense on closer consideration. This is mainly due to the size ratio between the fire dogs and the cooking pots, which Aston himself has already acknowledged (Aston 1989, 32). In the 18th Dynasty in particular, the relative proportions between fire dogs and cooking pots are more extreme than Aston suggests. The pots are smaller than the pot used by Aston and the fire dogs are shorter. With such a size ratio, there is little room for a fire under or near the fire dogs and three fire dogs under one pot seem to be disproportional. In this case, it would make more sense to place the pot and fire dogs directly on the embers. However, there are no traces of smoke that would prove such a use. This problem can also be seen in Aston’s drawing, as the fire shown in the sketch appears far too small in relation to the fire dogs. The fire shown here is at most 5 cm high — a small ember for such a large pot.

The height of the fire would have varied based on the type of fuel used, for example wood fires require more space than fires with, for example, sheep or goat dung. The mixture of straw and animal dung documented in archaeological contexts may well represent a potential use as fuel (archaeological evidence e.g. from Amarna, Peet & Wooley 1923, 64, Moens and Weatherstrom 1988, 166-167). Experimental archaeological tests using animal dung showed that it could certainly be used for cooking. There are also parallels for this from ethnographic research (https://exarc.net/issue-2019-1/ea/question-fuel-cooking-ancient-egypt-and-sudan). However, the fires produced using dung are very difficult to maintain on such a small scale. It is therefore unlikely that the set-up suggested by Aston was used, especially in 18th Dynasty Sai, our main interest.

In order to try out different combinations of pots and fire dogs in a targeted manner and to make the experiments three-dimensionally comprehensible, we scanned the experiments as 3D models with the Scaniverse App (see https://scaniverse.com/).

With the help of Francesca Sperti, we have already been able to test several scenarios. We used our full-size replicas of the fire dogs produced in Asparn and tested three different pot variations:

  • a replica of a typical pot from the New Kingdom
  • a replica of a Nubian pot
  • a carinated bowl, although it should be noted that this is not a proper replica
Francesca scanning the set-up with a Nubian-style cooking pot.

The Egyptian cooking pots are similar to the types known from Sai, Type A, and for the carination/pronounced shoulder see Type D, after Budka 2016, https://archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/propylaeumdok/3868/1/Budka_Egyptian_cooking_pots_2016.pdf). Experiments with a full-size replica of a carinated bowl are still in progress.

Two fire-dogs holding a small pot with a distinctive carination (which is not a proper replica).

Starting with Aston’s suggestion, we tried setting up 1, 2 or 3 fire dogs in different positions and directions with all pot shapes. It quickly became apparent that some of the fire dog placements we tried made it impossible to use certain cooking pots or made cooking and handling absolutely impossible. Other variations, on the other hand, are perfectly feasible. A clear favourite has also emerged for us, but this is still being tested with a better pot replica. So it remains exciting…!

We will continue to investigate the fire dogs and their possible functions (photo: F. Sperti).


Aston 1989= Aston, D., Ancient Egyptian „fire dogs“: a new interpretation. MDAIK 45 (1989), 27-32.

Budka 2016 = Budka, J., Egyptian Cooking Pots from the Pharaonic Town of Sai Island, Nubia, Bulletin de liaison de la céramique égyptienne 26, 2016, 285-295.

Moens and Wetterstrom 1988 = Moens, M.F. and Wetterstrom, W. The Agricultural Economy of an Old Kingdom Town in Egypt’s West Delta: Insights from the Plant Remains. Journal of Near Eastern Studies 47(3) (1988.), pp.159-173.

Peet and Wooley 1923 = Peet, T.E. and Woolley, C.L. 1923. The City of Akhenaten, Volume 1. Egypt Exploration Society, Excavation Memoir 38. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Landscape and resource management in Bronze Age Sudan

I am very proud to announce the publication of a new volume of the ERC-funded DiverseNile Project: the copies of Landscape and resource management in Bronze Age Nubia: Archaeological perspectives on the exploitation of natural resources and the circulation of commodities in the Middle Nile, Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant 17, Harrassowitz Verlag, 2024, edited by Rennan Lemos and me have just arrived and simply look great!

This volume is a direct result of many discussions held in the first DiverseNile seminar series organised by Rennan Lemos in 2021 as well as the second one in 2022, partly co-organised by Chloë Ward. The input of various colleagues working on several aspects of research extraction and management in ancient Nubia provided an opportunity to further develop an idea originally focused on gold into a collective effort to understand Nubian resource management in the Bronze Age. We are deeply grateful to all contributors to this volume, whose work illustrates the rich potential for a better understanding of how resources were extracted, managed, and utilised in complex ways in Nubia by various groups, including both Egyptians and indigenous communities, but also desert nomads. The table of content of the volume can be found here.

We are especially grateful to Manfred Bietak and the CAENL editorial board for accepting this volume for publication in their series and for organising the peer review. The publication was finalised in a difficult time for Sudan as a result of the conflict between the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces. As much as we are delighted to offer a further contribution to the investigation of ancient Sudan, we are also deeply concerned about the risks the people and the cultural heritage of Sudan are facing.

We fully support all our friends and colleagues in Sudan and would like to express our appreciation for their commitment to the preservation of the Sudanese cultural heritage in these extremely challending times. With the first anniversary of this terrible conflict and humanitarian tragedy approaching, it is timely to renew our concerns about and thoughts with the Sudanese people. Peace for Sudan!

The question of markets and meeting points in New Kingdom Nubia

I just came back from a very inspiring and extremely enjoyable workshop on Cyprus within the framework of the ERC ComPAS Project. Under the title “Marks, Marketing, and Markets: Investigating the intersection of marking practices and commercial strategies in the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age eastern Mediterranean”, leading scholars discussed the relevance of pot marks, seals, marks on ingots and much more, focusing on the Late Bronze Age. Many thanks go to the organisers Cassandra M. Donnelly and Artemis Georgiou and their wonderful team!

In my own presentation, „The International Age in pharaonic Egypt: aspects of trade, exchange and marking systems“, I focused on the distribution of marked Oases amphorae as well as on the question of pot mark traditions in Nubia.

For me, it is striking that there are no pre-firing marking practices on Nubian ceramics – but a new trend for post-fired marks attested in the Middle Bronze Age on Egyptian imported Marl clay vessels (in C-Group and Kerma contexts). This is for example well illustrated by the upper part of a storage vessel we found last year in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 at Ginis East: a large post-fired mark was scratched into the Marl clay surface – presumably in Nubia and for sure intended to transmit a code (as well as decorative aspects?).

Upper part of an Egyptian Marl clay vessel from GiE 003 with a post-fired pot mark.

There is still much research to be conducted on these post-firing pot marks on Egyptian jars found in Nubian contexts – aspects of agency (by whom, where and how was the scratching done) as well as sensory facets (the Egyptian jars have a totally different hardness, colour, and texture than Nubian Nile clay vessels) need to be considered.

Another important aspect of my presentation was the comparison between the pot mark tradition on New Kingdom Sai, Elephantine and in the rural hinterland of Sai, in the MUAFS concession. Here, I got much inspiration from a splendid chapter in an edited volume by Juan Carlos Moreno García with the title “Markets, transactions, and ancient Egypt: new venues for research in a comparative perspective” (Moreno García 2021).

I completely agree with Moreno García (2021) that New Kingdom temple towns in Nubia like Sai were “multifunction centres used, among other purposes, to facilitate contacts between different peoples arrived there to trade, and that some kind of divine sanction at a sacred environment was considered indispensable to formalize the transactions that occurred there.” The last aspect is especially interesting, placing the temples within the towns into a new context – the conversion of the religious landscape of New Kingdom Nubia has already received much attention, but not yet within the framework of trade and transactions. The general role of the temple towns as multifunctional and as trade hubs is well established and was already discussed by several scholars (see Budka 2020, 401, 407 with references as well as passim).

Within New Kingdom Nubia, it is especially relevant to look beyond the colonial towns with their temples, harbours and large-scale storage facilities. This is where the DiverseNile Project steps in and adds much food for thought based on the evidence in the MUAFS concession which is the hinterland of Sai in the 18th Dynasty and of Amara West in the Ramesside era.

Inspired by reading Moreno García’s 2021 chapter, I think it is possible to view the intriguing site AtW 001 from a new perspective. Since 2022, I was convinced that this rural site has something to do with the exchange of goods, especially the distribution of ceramics in 18th Dynasty Nubia (see Budka 2022, as “control posts for trade, gold transport and possibly the communication between hinterland communities and the newly established Egyptian centre on Sai Island”).

Drone photograph of Trench 2 at AtW 001 at the end of the season. Note the various storage pits at the site and lack of standing architecture. Photo: K. Rose, © DiverseNile Project.

Based on the results from the 2023, we could go a bit further and suggest that the “site might well have been linked to seasonal traffic/routes into the desert, possibly in connection with the provision of transport animals and livestock for gold working expeditions” (Budka et al. 2023, 29). In this context, we observed that “The lack of significant architectural remains suggests that AtW 001 was linked to a nearby settlement or temporary, possibly seasonal structures” (Budka et al. 2023, 30). Following ideas by Moreno García, I would now like to add that the lack of substantial architectural remains at AtW 001 could also be explained in a way that the open spaces of the sites were intended to serve travellers and to supervise trade. This would also allow to justify the large number of simple storage pits on the site. With its mix of material culture, including large amounts of Nubian ceramics as well as in-between vessels (see https://www.sudansurvey.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/IMG_9979-2048×1536.jpg), the site at Attab West could indeed have functioned as a seasonal market and a meeting place for various groups, including mobile communities.

All in all, New Kingdom Nubia seems to be an excellent case study for state-built meeting points and trade centres like Sai and other temple towns, but also for seasonal and occasional markets as illustrated by AtW 001 – the latter stressing the importance of semi-nomadic and nomadic groups when we talk about the exchange of commodities. These various types of markets and most importantly the diverse communities being involved are likely to be the keys for understanding the multiple use of marking systems we find in New Kingdom Egypt and Nubia.

Budka 2020 = J. Budka, AcrossBorders 2. Living in New Kingdom Sai. Archaeology of Egypt, Sudan and the Levant 1. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2020.

Budka 2022 = J. Budka, Early New Kingdom settlement activities in the periphery of Sai Island: towards a contextualisation of fresh evidence from Attab West, MittSAG – Der Antike Sudan 33, 2022, 45‒61.

Budka et al. 2023 = J. Budka, K. Rose & C. Ward, Cultural diversity in the Bronze Age in the Attab to Ferka region: new results based on excavations in 2023, MittSAG – Der Antike Sudan 34, 2023, 19−35.

Moreno García 2021 = J.C. Moreno García, Markets, transactions, and ancient Egypt: new venues for research in a comparative perspective. In Moreno García, Juan Carlos (ed.), Markets and exchanges in pre-modern and traditional societies, 189−229. Oxford; Philadelphia: Oxbow Books, 2021.

Performing XRD analysis on Nile clay Nubian- and Egyptian-style samples from Attab and Ginis

Exams never end, not just for humans but even for archaeological artifacts.

Already before the Christmas break, I had happily returned to the lab, this time to prepare a new bunch of ceramic samples to undergo X-ray powder diffraction (XRPD) analysis. Thanks to a new cooperation with the TU München, and especially with Prof. H. A. Gilg (Chair of Engineering Geology) we decided in fact to complement our iNAA and OM analyses with this new laboratory methodology, with the aim of expanding our knowledge on the composition, provenance and technology of production of our Nile clay samples. All in all, we preliminary selected 30 ceramic specimens, among Nubian- and Egyptian-style sherds from the 2022 and 2023 excavated sites at Attab West and Ginis East. To this sample, we added a replica in modern Nubian (from Abri) Nile clay manufactured by us during our last workshop in Asparn.

Generally speaking, X-ray powder diffraction analysis is a well consolidated analytical technique used in the field of archaeometry and ceramic technology to determine the mineral phases present in the pastes, including those clay phases which are typically not visible under the microscope. This technique also provides information on the firing process the pottery went through. Certain minerals (e.g., calcite as one of the most known) can in fact degrade, disappear or be altered at given temperatures because the crystalline structure collapses through the process of dehydroxylation (Magetti 1982; Rice 1987). The analysis itself based on the phenomenon of diffraction of electromagnetic radiation, by exploiting the fact that X-rays falling on crystalline planes in minerals are reflected at varying angles (Velde and Druc 1999; Quin 2013). Hence, each mineral type will produce a characteristic X-ray diffraction spectrum with diagnostic peaks placed at given angular distances (expressed in degrees 2θ), allowing the qualitative identification of the minerals present within the ceramic sample. The heigh of those picks permits otherwise a semi-quantitative estimation of the ratios in which minerals are more or less represented.

Figure 1 – Lab kit for the preparation of samples for XRD analysis. Photo by G. D’Ercole.

Sample preparation is pretty much straightforward although partially destructive. The procedure requires that a tiny portion of the sherd be ground up (about 1g of powder) by hands with an agate mortar and a pestle, alike those used for iNAA, pressed in the mounting smear slide, and then put into the instrument. Proper pulverization and homogenization are crucial to achieve highly quality XRD data.

Figure 2 – Pulverization of the sample by hands in the agate mortar. Photo by G. D’Ercole.

The sample needs to be as representative of the ceramic sherd as possible – for this reason, it is sometimes advisable to grind a larger quantity of powder and above all finely ground so as to prevent larger crystals (e.g., coarse quartz grains) from interfering with the measurement. This latter can be carried out with different timing and levels of accuracy depending on whether one wants only a rough semi-quantitative estimate of the mineral phases in the sample or more accurate information.

Figure 3 – First set of potsherds ground up and ready to be analysed by XRD analysis. Note the diverse powder colours from black (reduced fired Nubian samples) to reddish-brown (oxidized fired Egyptian sherds). Photo by G. D’Ercole.
Figure 4 – Samples ready in the mounting smear slides. Photo by G. D’Ercole.

In performing XRD analysis, our main archaeological questions were the following:

  • Can we recognize the use of different clay raw materials for the different sites/locations (e.g., Attab, Ginis…);
  • Can we differentiate between Nubian- (also Pan-Grave) vs. Egyptian-style samples;
  • Can we differentiate between the different ceramic types and wares;
  • Can we demonstrate the intentional addition of tempers (calcite and/or quartz and/or feldspar and/or mica) in particular samples?
  • Can we know more about the firing process (i.e., firing temperatures) the ceramics went through?

Currently, together with Prof. Gilg, we just started to interpret the results of the first diffractograms. The data are not always straightforward to read and the differences between the various samples look sometimes very subtle – on the other hand our Nile clay samples have used us to significant challenges for many years already!

Preliminary, we can say that, based on the diagnostic mineral phases in the various spectra, it was possible to recognise four distinct groups or types of samples. These groups do not depend on the main phases (quartz or feldspar) as these are present in nearly homogenous amounts in all samples. Rather, some differences can be spotted in the clay minerals. Whether these latter can be ascribed to different clay sources, preparation recipes, or eventually the pot production (i.e., firing) has yet to be fully assessed.


Maggetti, M. 1982. Phase Analysis and its Significance for Technology and Origin. In J. S. Olin and A. D. Franklin (eds.), Archaeological Ceramics: 121−133. Washington, Smithsonian Institution Press.

Quinn, P. S. 2013. Ceramic Petrography: The Interpretation of Archaeological Pottery & Related Artefacts in Thin Section. Oxford, Archaeopress.

Rice, P. M. 1987. Pottery analysis. A sourcebook. Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Velde, B. and Druc, I. C. 1999. Archaeological Ceramic Material. Origin and Utilization. Berlin Heidelberg, Springer-Verlag.

Having fun with Virtual Reality

This week we had a special teaching lesson – archaeological sites in VR – almost a real field trip to Egypt!

With the help of various digital models and 360-degree videos, the students were able to get a realistic picture of a huge variety of Egyptian sites and antiquities. Studying can be so much fun!

Thanks to recent digital developments, it is finally possible to get a good impression of temples and tombs, even outside of Egypt. In addition to the commitment of many colleagues and various large-scale projects (like the project of the factum foundation in cooperation with Basel University and the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities), this development is a very positive outcome of the digitalization associated with the pandemic. Many 3D models are accessible free online and can be accessed using your own mobile phone, laptop or high-quality VR glasses (via YouTube, Matterport or Sketchfab, etc.).

In our class, we dared to experiment and integrate virtual reality into teaching Egyptology. And the happy faces show that it worked.

Digital models are particularly helpful for introductory courses to Egyptian archaeology. The impressive monuments can be seen in almost their full size, colour and shape. It is also possible to consider specific aspects in more detail based on the student questions. There are no longer any restrictions on the presentation of images.

After initial difficulties getting to grips with the cell phone settings and engaging with the virtual world, it soon became clear how easy it can be. A cardboard box, a mobile phone, an internet link and you’re ready to go. For all those who are unable to enjoy a VR experience due to visual impairment or vertigo, there was the option of viewing the 3D models on a laptop and joining without the 3D simulation in the virtual world. The variety of different models is huge. From the pyramids in Giza – inside or outside, to temples like Karnak or Abu Simbel, the tombs the Valley of the Kings, there is nearly no limit (e.g. Pyramids: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mOuvAJRknXk; https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=o5Ex5Xo7UkE; Karnak: http://www.aktiv-panorama.de/vr-touren/Karnak-Tempel_in_Luxor/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VtI9debZPGU; Abu Simbel: https://matterport.com/discover/space/VxYAEMXh6dW; Tomb Ramses II https://ramsestheexhibition.com/3d-tomb/; Nefertari reconstruction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFAJcMzmMzQ).

By integrating the new technology into the syllabus, we hope to achieve the best teaching and learning results and offer students a fun immersive experience.

We hope to integrate new 3D models of the DiverseNile project in the future to enhance learning, teaching and archaeology.

Now published: our excavation report 2023

Perfect timing – just before the holidays, the new issue of Der antike Sudan – Mitteilungen der Sudanarchäologischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin e.V. arrived in our office, hot off the press. It comprises a broad range of topics, including our 2023 excavation report.

Chloë, Kate and I summarised under the title “Cultural diversity in the Bronze Age in the Attab to Ferka region: new results based on excavations in 2023” the most important working steps and results of our field season in Attab and Ginis earlier this year. This work would not have been possible without our Sudanese workmen and the support of all authorities. We are in particular very grateful to Huda Magzoub Elbashir, our NCAM inspector and long-time collaborator and friend.

An update of our work in Kerma cemetery GiE 003 can be found in the article, highlighting the relevance of the Pan-Grave burials we discovered in Trench 5. The presence of cultural diversity (Pan-Grave Nubians, Kerma Nubians) and evidence for cultural exchange (with the Hyksos – see for example the royal scarab, with the Egyptians – especially through imported ceramics) is of key importance for the ERC DiverseNile Project.

An overview drone image of site AtW 002. Photo: K. Rose, © DiverseNile project.

Furthermore, a short section describes our work at site 2-S-54 which we recorded as AtW 002. The rectangular Structure 1 on this site can be dated through the ceramics to the early 18th Dynasty and I included in the new article the results from the C14 analysis of a charcoal sample from a fireplace in the lower stratum, presumably the primary usage horizon. The sample yielded with the highest probability the period of 1688-1517 BCE, supporting our hypothesis that AtW 002 and neighbouring sites were probably used from Classic Kerma times to the early New Kingdom. The site is located along a paleochannel which was documented in our 2023 season by Kate (who also describes her work in this article). This paleochannel was recently addressed by our colleagues Mat Dalton, Neal Spencer and others (Dalton et al. 2023) under the topic of the intriguing river walls (of which there are plenty in our concession).

The report includes an update on our 2023 excavation at AtW 001 which allows a better understanding of this site, also in terms of dating. The material found in the debris layers we excavated in 2023 is all mid-18th Dynasty in date, therefore an abandonment of the site under the late years of Thutmose III or one of the subsequent Egyptian kings is likely. The latest pottery found at the site seems to date to the reigns of Amenhotep II/Thutmose IV (e.g. imported bichrome decorated ware).

Finally, Kate describes in the article the two primary objectives carried out for the landscape work package during the 2023 field season: 1) the drone survey over the entire district of Attab West and other areas in the concession, including low flights over selected sites for the creation of detailed orthophotos and digital elevation models of the terrain, and 2) ground survey and mapping of dry-stone features in the landscape, using a Trimble Catalyst GPS receiver, and a TDC 6000 data collector. One of Kate’s nice drone photos also made it to the cover of the new issue of MittSAG!

Seeing results of our fieldwork in Sudan published is very ambivalent at the moment – it reminds us all too well of our friends and colleagues on site and the terrible situation in Sudan, which unfortunately continues to escalate. The hope remains that 2024 will bring rapid improvement for the country and its residents. Just as there will hopefully be peace in other parts of the world.


Dalton et al. 2023 = Dalton, M., Spencer, N., Macklin, M. G., Woodward, J. C., & P. Ryan. “Three thousand years of river channel engineering in the Nile Valley.” Geoarchaeology, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1002/gea.21965.