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!

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!

One small click, one huge jump for MUAFS

Probably everybody has already experienced something similar: working very hard on something, finishing just in time and then getting slightly lost in a sudden emptiness!

Well – I personally enjoyed such emptiness tremendously yesterday at 5pm… The call for the ERC Consolidator grants 2019 just ended, the online participant portal just closed, my proposal being submitted in time! Of course this proposal concerns an archaeological project in Sudan – all the data we collected in our first season in the Attab to Ferka region were reviewed and included in the new idea. Although it was much work and all of us involved had to go to the limit, it was also much fun and exciting to write for the following reasons:

  • Fresh appreciation of my new research concession: the MUAFS concession is such a rich area in northern Sudan, so full of possibilities and potential – the perfect area to answer some of the pressing questions I currently have, especially about Bronze Age Nubia… Very very grateful to NCAM for giving me this possibility – I will make the most out of this!
  • Gratitude for all my team members and supporters – ERC proposals are only possible to write (and to sell…) if you can build on the perfect team as I am fortunate to have! Many thanks go especially to Veronica, Cajetan, Marion and Giulia – their input and feedback was crucial and is much appreciated!
  • Thankfulness to all my friends, colleagues and family – for reading parts of the proposal as “outsiders”, and especially for much patience, support, small things and nice words to push my motivation and also the right amount of diversion with real life matters over the last weeks…
  • Last but definitely not least, I am also very grateful to the LMU – for the financial and administrative support enabling us to prepare a competitive proposal, especially the very useful advice by the team of Division VIII.3 of Research Services.
Munich, Feb 7, 5.05 pm

We celebrated a bit yesterday – to fill the emptiness, but especially to realise that we’ve made important progress and to let all the things described above settle a little bit.

After a short break (because of upcoming fieldwork in Egypt), we will be busy working on the MUAFS data again – keeping all fingers and toes crossed during the long reviewing process, but with the certainty that our research in Sudan is going to have a bright future and will continue.

Drone photography and more during the MUAFS 2019 season

We are currently processing the data from our first season – while I am busy with assessing the potential of the individual sites for research questions, Marion works on the interpretation of the results from the geophysical survey and Cajetan composes new maps illustrating our findings. Additionally, the processing of the drone photographs that Cajetan took, assisted by Franziska and Valentina, is still ongoing.

A large part of the concession on the East Bank was completely covered with the drone of type Phantom 4Pro, kindly lent to the project from the Department of Archaeology and Cultural Studies of the LMU. Compared to the AcrossBorders project, for which we were using a kite for aerial photography, this was really a great advancement, especially in terms of the extensive reach the drone can cover!

The aerial photographs allow not only georeferenced orthophotos of selected sites, but especially to establish a digital landscape model of parts of the MUAFS concession. In combination with the results from magnetometry, these surface models, especially from Ginis East, offer plenty of possibilities for interpreting our multi-period sites within their environmental surroundings. Great advances thanks to this first very successful season!

Summary of the first MUAFS field season

From the Nile back to the Isar, from sun and sand back to clouds and snow, from desert walking back to desk work, emails, meetings and teaching – although our travel back from Attab via Khartoum via Istanbul to Munich took more than 30 hours, it feels like a very sudden transposition.

Landscape view of our concession area in northern Sudan.

Our first season of the MUAFS project was successfully closed and all of the principle goals were achieved thanks to the great support of NCAM and our inspector Huda Magzoub.

The principal goal of the first season was a new survey of the concession area, which was already recorded by Andrè Vila in the 1970s and published in his volumes 3-6. Altogether, 119 sites by Vila were re-identified and documented in the area between Attab East and Ferka East and Attab West and Mograkka West. For some of these sites, the dating can now be corrected, especially for Khartoum Variant and Abkan sites, Pre-Kerma sites, Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan sites. Diagnostic stone tools and pottery fragments were collected from relevant sites. Other findspots of pottery and lithics that were previously not recorded by Vila, were documented as GPS waypoints and will be integrated in the new map of the area to be composed based on the results of our first season.

One particular focus was on the state of preservation of the sites nowadays – unfortunately, at almost all sites, we observed modern destruction and/or plundering. Especially drastic were destructions because of road building, the electricity posts and modern gold working areas (in particular at Mograkka West).

Major changes were observed compared to the state of preservation in times of Vila – one particularly illustrative example is Vila’s Kerma Period site 2-T-36B, partly overbuilt by modern houses and reduced because of the new electricity posts. Another example from the well-attested Christian period in our concession area is the church of Mograkka (2-L-2). While Vila documented it as single monument on a small hilltop, it is now embedded in newly built modern houses of the expanding village. The church new next-door neighbor is a modern mosque erected in the last years. Unfortunately, most of the Christian rock art, located by Vila in the immediate surroundings, are presently covered by modern debris from recent chanel works.

Detail of the well-preserved Church at Mograkka East with its new neighbour.

At other places, especially between Mograkka and Kosha, Neolithic and Post-Meroitic as well as Christian rock art was relocated by us. The most frequent motifs are cattle pictures and other animals like gazelles, hippos, ostriches and elephants.

Rock art site at Mograkka West.

The focus of our work in the first season was the east bank and here in particular the district of Ginis. We conducted aerial photography of large parts of the east bank, covering the area between Attab and Ginis by the drone kindly lent to us from the Department of Cultural and Ancient Studies of LMU Munich. These data will enable a digital elevation model and detailed orthophotos. A survey system with measuring points using the GPS Antenna was set up in this area as well, securing future work according to this coordination.

A geophysical survey of four sites from the Kerma period and the New Kingdom was realized by Marion Scheiblecker in Ginis East, using the Magnetometer of the type Ferex Foerster. New site labels were created for these find spots (GiE 001 for Vila 2-T-36B: Kerma and New Kingdom settlement, GiE 002 for Vila 2-T-13: New Kingdom cemetery, GiE 003 for Vila 2-T-39: Kerma cemetery and GiE 004 for Vila 2-T-5: Kerma settlement). The respective results are very promising and can serve as firm basis for a focused excavation of these important sites in the upcoming seasons.

In sum, the first season of the MUAFS project was very successful, providing new and partly unexpected results (like the strong presence of Napatan sites in the region), highlightening the rich potential of the concession area for detailed work from the Mesolithic period up to Christian times and allowing us to plan the next working steps. For now, we consider the Kerma and New Kingdom sites already investigated by magnetometry as of prime priority for further fieldwork.

We will be busy in the next week working on the collected data from our field season and setting up a strategy for the next years of work between Attab and Ferka. Of course we will keep you updated!

Closing the first MUAFS season

Wow – it has been an amazing first season in my new concession up north between Attab and Ferka! Today, we left our house at Attab East and arrived safely in Khartoum – in just a few hours, we will board the plane back to Munich via Istanbul.

A proper summary of our results will follow as soon as I got some sleep. But for now, my amazing team deserved loads of thanks – for making a great season full of important new data possible and for all the individual commitment in many respects!

Many thanks goes as always to our dear friend and NCAM inspector Huda who was a great support, helping with surveying in the desert and on the east bank, with ceramics and with the geophysical survey. Our two Mohammeds – the cook and the driver – enabled us to focus on our scientific work, taking care of all logistics in challenging times and providing us with plenty of delicious food.

Looking already now very much forward to the second season of the MUAFS project and coming back to the beautiful landscape full of archaeology covering several millennia of history just downstream of the Dal cataract.