An update: Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region

The last weeks were busy, among other tasks with completing data for our GIS project in order to create new maps based on our survey results. As I have shown in my OREA e-lecture, Cajetan has created site distribution maps according to periods – simply fantastic to work with!

Since the ERC project DiverseNile will focus on Bronze Age remains, the sites currently labelled as ‘Kerma’ are of much interest. The present map also includes some unclear sites where a proper dating and/or association with the Kerma culture remains to be checked.

Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region identifed by the MUAFS project (status: 2020)

Brigitte Gratien, one of the leading experts on the Kerma culture, recently pointed out the general problems related to Kerma remains outside of the heartland of the Kerma kingdom at the Third Cataract:

As everybody knows, writing about Kerma north of the Third Cataract is not so easy. Most of the excavations were done a long time ago and the results come mostly from the Nile valley. Where are the borders of the Kerma state or kingdom? What are the stages in the expansion of Kerma to the north, and what was the nature of the links and relationship with the other Nubian cultures and with Egypt?’(Gratien 2014, 95)

The Attab to Ferka region and renewed excavations at Kerma sites in the area have much potential to address these questions and problems which will be of first priority for the DiverseNile project. In general, very little rural settlements have been investigated up to now in northern Sudan, creating a lack of means to contextualise the central sites like Kerma or Sai Island. Sai is regarded, due to the strong Kerma presence on the island prior to the New Kingdom and especially the very large cemetery with huge tumuli, as northern stronghold of the Kerma kingdom. But how does this presumed function of the island relate to the periphery of Sai? What do we know about Kerma dwellings in the area?

This brings us back to the MUAFS concession and to our newly established distribution of ‘Kerma’ sites. Camps, settlements and cemeteries of the Kerma culture were recorded at both riverbanks. Except for two large Kerma tumulus cemeteries associated with the Kerma classique period in Ferka East, 3-G-16 and 3-G-19, all of the sites are clustered in the southern districts of Attab, Ginis and Kosha, thus quite close to Sai Island.

Dry-stone architecture datable to the Brone Age at Attab West.

Of particular interest are 1) stone structures in the Attab West district associated with 18th Dynasty pottery but of unclear cultural attribution since also Nubian material culture was present (Budka 2019, 24‒25) and 2) various settlement sites in the district of Ginis East. The latter were partly investigated by our text excavations earlier this year.

It is still too early, but sites like GiE 001 and the ‘watchtowers’ in Attab West will hopefully allow a comparison of ‘provincial’ Kerma remains like Gism el-Arba (Gratien et al. 2003; 2008) and H25 near Kawa (Ross 2014) with the capital of the Kushite kingdom, Kerma itself (Bonnet 2014). At least some of the questions regarding Kerma north of the Third Cataract are likely to be answered in the next years.

References

Bonnet 2014 = Bonnet, C. 2014. La ville de Kerma: une capitale nubienne au sud de lʼEgypte. Paris.

Budka 2019 = Budka, J. 2019. ‘Towards Middle Nile Biographies: The Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019’, Sudan & Nubia 23, 13‒26.

Gratien 2014 = Gratien, B. 2014. ‘Kerma north of the Third Cataract’, in J. Anderson and D. Welsby (eds), The Fourth Cataract and Beyond. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 1. Leuven, 95‒101.

Gratien et al. 2003 = Gratien, B., Marchi, S., Thuriot, O. and J.-M. Willot 2003. ‘Gism el-Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil’, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29-43.

Gratien et al. 2008 = Gratien, B., Marchi, S., Sys, D. and R.-P. Dissaux 2008. ‘Gism el-Arba – Habitat 2, Campagne 2005–2006’, Kush 19 (2003-2008), 21-35.

Ross 2014 = Ross, T.I. 2014. ‘El-Eided Mohamadein (H25): A Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan settlement on the Alfreda Nile’, Sudan & Nubia 18, 58‒68.

Presenting the MUAFS project by means of an e-lecture

Today was originally planned to be quite busy – after faculty meetings and teaching, I was supposed to be off to London to join the annual one-day international colloquium on recent archaeological fieldwork in Sudan organised by the Sudan Archaeological Research Society in the British Museum. Due to the current situation regarding COVID-19 in the UK, the event scheduled for tomorrow was of course cancelled. All fingers crossed that the situation will soon improve, and all of our colleagues stay safe and healthy!

Given the corona crisis, it is therefore perfect timing that instead of presenting our new finds in the Attab to Ferka region live in the British Museum, I will give one of the OREA e-lectures this Wednesday.

The 17min-presentation will introduce the project and present its main aims as well as our achievements in the first two field seasons! I will show brand-new maps composed by Cajetan – stressing very intriguing distribution patterns of sites in our concession area according to periods. Of course the new ERC project DiverseNile will also be mentioned, especially as our main focus in the next five years!

See also https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLmRZN1FA-ksbkpfgUXsaaRgyG7rxtLOTY

Premiere of my e-lecture is May 27 at 5.30pm – everybody is free to join via youtube, and I hope our efforts to make results from archaeological fieldwork in Sudan available to all in these difficult times will be appreciated. Many thanks to OREA for this great opportunity – due to COVID-19 I still cannot go to my hometown Vienna, but this e-lecture feels a little bit like homecoming.

Research & teaching: introducing the MUAFS project via zoom

The summer term at LMU is well underway – although things are getting a bit easier here in Germany, teaching is still restricted to distance learning and digital forms like zoom lectures. I am personally very happy with how this worked out so far – and really hope also my students think so, at least they seem quite happy in my classes.

I am currently preparing a lecture within the class “Introduction to Egyptology II” – tomorrow, I will be speaking on this occasion about the general archaeological sources for Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology. Since it is a class aimed not only for students of Egyptology but also for students of other fields, I will start with very basic information about the archaeological record. Stressing of course, how rich the evidence along the Nile and also in the desert areas of Egypt and Sudan is!

At the end of the lecture, I take the great opportunity and give some case studies, introducing my own research in Sudan, especially at Sai Island and in the Attab to Ferka region. The MUAFS project is, I believe, a great example for still neglected regions along the Nile, for new research questions and modern methods and interdisciplinary approaches.

I will finish off tomorrow’s lecture via zoom with one of my favorite quotes: „The only truly bad archaeologist is one who does not publish the results of his or her field investigations. All else is opinion”. (Peter Drewett, Field Archaeology, 1999, 6)

Towards a better understanding of the New Kingdom isoscape in Upper Nubia

A paper by the AcrossBorders project on the application of strontium isotopes to investigate cultural entanglement in Sai and its surroundings was just published (Retzmann et al. 2019)! In this study, strontium isotopes were applied to identify possible ‘colonialists’ coming from Egypt within the skeletal remains retrieved from Tomb 26 of the pharaonic cemetery SAC5 on Sai Island.

The local strontium signal on Sai Island during the New Kingdom was derived from archaeological animal samples (rodent, sheep/goat, dog and local mollusc shells, all dating from the New Kingdom) in agreement with local environmental samples (paleo sediments and literature Sr isotope value of Nile River water during the New Kingdom era).

As outlined in the article, the strontium values suggest that all people buried in Tomb 26 are members of the local population. A striking outcome, since the tomb, the tomb equipment, the personal names and titles are all clearly ‘Egyptian’.

These fresh results tie in nicely with research at other main Upper Nubian centres like Tombos (Smith and Buzon 2017) and Amara West (Buzon and Simonetti 2013) – and will be of great importance also for DiverseNile. More information on the complex coexistence and biological and cultural entanglement of Egyptians and Nubians during the New Kingdom are urgently needed.

We need to reconstruct the isoscape of the Attab-Ferka region in the next years.

In this respect, we will continue to investigate the isoscape of Upper Nubia further, enlarging our scope with my new concession – I am very happy that the successful team around Anika who did this for Sai will be again involved! The MUAFS area will provide new data from soil, water, molluscs and of course animal bones and human teeth which will allow us to place the data from Sai in a broader context. The periphery of Sai and Amara West, our Attab to Ferka region, has rich potential to check the validity of our present strontium analysis.

References

Buzon and Simonetti 2013 = Buzon, M. R. and Simonetti, A., Strontium isotope (87Sr/86Sr) variability in the Nile Valley: identifying residential mobility during ancient Egyptian and Nubian sociopolitical changes in the New Kingdom and Napatan periods, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 151, 2013, 1-9.

Retzmann et al. 2019 = A. Retzmann, J. Budka, H. Sattmann, J. Irrgeher, T. Prohaska, The New Kingdom population on Sai Island: Application of Sr isotopes to investigate cultural entanglement in ancient Nubia, Ägypten und Levante 29, 2019, 355–380

Smith and Buzon 2017 = Smith, S. T., and Buzon, M. R., Colonial encounters at New Kingdom Tombos: Cultural entanglements and hybrid identity, 615–630, in: N. SPENCER, A. STEVENS and M. BINDER (eds.), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived experience, pharaonic control and indigenous traditions, British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3, Leuven 2017.

The MUAFS logo explained

The ERC DiverseNile project is embedded in the MUAFS project. In a recent post I explained the meaning of the new DiverseNile logo. The MUAFS logo was already created in 2018, but what exactly does it show?

We tried to illustrate the main aims of the project in the logo which is based on a rock art drawing in our concession (see Vila 1976, fig. 22).

Rock art motif at 3-L-24 after Vila 1976, fig. 22.

Within the MUAFS project, the area between Attab and Ferka will be investigated with a biography of a landscape approach and a long durée approach, considering all attested periods; the area is a natural and cultural border zone and therefore relevant for border studies.

We are very much interested in humans and cultural groups inhabiting and shaping the area. Objects and the material culture throughout the time is another of our research aims. Animals and other non-humans like plants will also be considered with priority. And finally, bringing these aspects together, we also focus on general activities and production within this area.

Although I was not aware of it when I chose the specific piece of rock art as the future MUAFS logo, the logo is also graphic evidence for the emergency affecting the project: Modern gold mining, construction works and building activities are endangering the cultural heritage of the area.

The rock art site 3-L-24 in Mograkka East comprising the picture of a herdsman we used for the MUAFS logo is presently buried below sand and debris from recent channel construction.

Present situation of the site 3-L-24: rock art including the MUAFS logo is buried below the debris of modern construction work and no longer accessible.

The area between Attab and Ferka has changed tremendously since the time of Vila – and this will also be illustrated and studied by both the MUAFS and the DiverseNile project in the next years.

Reference

Vila 1976 = Vila, A. 1976. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Vol. 4. Paris.

Introducing the new DiverseNile logo

Research projects are of course not comparable with companies selling products and thus the relevance and importance of a proper logo is for sure much lower.

Nevertheless, especially for dissemination purposes, the online presence and to reach our target groups, logos are also essential for us scientists.

A logo graphically represents the corporate identity of a project and is therefore part of its visual appearance. Just as one example, I was extremely proud of the logo for my previous ERC project AcrossBorders which is easy to recognize (I believe).

A logo should hold ideally a signal effect and provide information about the project at one glance – thus, it is not an easy task to design such a logo which also meets aesthetic values underlining the independence of the specific project.

Today, I am very proud to introduce the new DiverseNile logo – as with the MUAFS logo, the original ideas came from my side, but the realisation, complex design and final version are indebted to the creativity of hertha produziert, the Viennese graphic specialists who also produced already the great AcrossBorders image video.

The new logo of my ERC project DiverseNile

So let’s see together what the new logo wants to sell:

The outline of the logo is the exact outline of our concession area. The DiverseNile project will investigate this specific region of the Middle Nile in Sudan as a case study.

The two outstretched arms represent both the very specific course of the Nile in our concession as well as the cultural contacts between Egyptians (coming from the north) and Nubians (coming from the south). We are by now much aware that this cultural contact during the Bronze Age in Nubia did not happen in a one direction only, with the Egyptians as the prominent actors but that technological transfer, exchange and contact occurred in both directions and was very dynamic, including diverse groups of people. To reconstruct the actual cultural diversity in our research concession is one of the prime goals, highlighted by the colourful letters of “Diverse” in the logo. The arms almost touching each other in the logo also illustrate our understanding of contact spaces. Within the DiverseNile project, we comprehend contact spaces as “social spaces where human actors meet, perceive and constitute otherness, clash, and grapple with each other” (Stockhammer and Athanassov 2018: 106).

The slightly different colour shades of the DiverseNile logo symbolise the landscape approach of the project – the Nile as a changing environment and the concession area as a geological border zone are important factors. The colour shades also illustrate the major differences between the East and West banks of the Nile in our concession – with desert environment and open hinterland towards oases and transport routes on the West bank and rocky hills and mountains on the East bank with ancient mining and quarrying activities.

I really hope our efforts in pointing out the most relevant aspects of DiverseNile in this graphic design were successful and will help introducing the new project to our target groups. Feedback is of course much appreciated!

Reference

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

Official start of ERC project DiverseNile

Today is the day – after months of preparation, my new ERC project DiverseNile is now officially running under the grant agreement No. 865463! Many thanks go here first to all the officers in Brussels and the persons here at LMU who made this possible, even in challenging times like we are all experiencing in the last weeks. And of course I am very grateful to my core team who supported the application and without whom this project would not take place!

More information about the main hypothesis and the objectives of the project are now available here. We are still in the process of recruitment and due to the corona crisis this process will take longer than we thought. Nevertheless, for now we can start working at home collecting and processing data which will enable us to challenge the present categories of “New Kingdom”, “Egyptian”, “Nubian” and “Kerma”. Five exciting years have just started!

Report on the 2020 test excavations: Kerma sites at Ginis East

As already reported, the 2020 test excavations of the MUAFS project focused on Bronze Age sites at Ginis East, including Gie 001, where much Egyptian New Kingdom material was found. The following is a very short summary of our work at the Kerma sites GiE 004, 005 and 006.

GiE 004

In 2019, we assumed that the site GiE 004 was documented by Andrè Vila in the 1970s as site 2-T-5. However, new georeferenced data and fresh GPS waypoints made it clear that this needs to be corrected and that GiE 004 was not documented by Vila, being located further to the south than 2-T-5.

The magnetometry survey of the site by MUAFS in 2019 yielded promising results which, according to the finds and the structures visible on the magnetogram, were interpreted as remains of a Kerma village. Rounded huts, fences and walls seemed to be visible. The borders of the wadi systems were also clearly visible in the magnetogram. Our 2020 test trenches were chosen to proof if there was a kind of fortification along the wadi and whether the interpretation of the anomalies were correct.

Three trenches were laid out (Trench 1: 18 x 3 m, at the edge of a wadi; Trench 2: 14 x 4 m, at the top of the plateau of the site; Trench 3: 2 x 3.5 m, within a circular depression around the central part of the site). After a shallow, sandy surface layer with many finds, no sedimentation and no structures were found in all three trenches. All features documented and which were alternating areas of sand and clay are clearly natural. Thus, the clear result of the 2020 text excavation at GiE 004 was that the anomalies of the magnetometry were over interpreted as structures and are actually natural features.

GiE 005 (Vila 2-T-5)

The Kerma site documented by Vila as 2-T-5 was labelled by MUAFS as GIE 005. The site is situated on the alluvial plain, and extends east west on the remains of a shallow, barely visible terrace (25-40 cm high). The site covered in the 1970s an area of c. 500 EW x 35 m NS – part of this is now below modern houses or destroyed because of car tracks. Two test trenches were laid out in 2020 in the eastern part of GIE 005.

Trench 1 (8 x 2 m) yielded some small depressions and pits below a shallow sandy surface. Very few Kerma sherds were discovered in a lower muddy level, without evidence of structures or stratigraphy.

Work in progress at Trench 1.

Trench 2 (6 x 3 m) comprised a small sandy hill with many schist stones scattered around. Here again, no structures and no sedimentation or stratigraphy were observed. The sandy hill seems to be a sub-recent assemblage of wind-blown sand. Interestingly, the same muddy layer like in Trench 1 below the sand yielded one single artefact, a Kerma sherd laying on a solid clay surface.

Overall, the camp site 2-T-5 is badly preserved, and no stratification is present, as already observed by Vila. One important result of our work in 2020, however, is a tentative dating to the Kerma Classique period and the presence of 18th Dynasty Egyptian material which has not been noted before. There were some Egyptian wheel-made pottery sherds between the ceramics – nicely datable to the early New Kingdom!

GiE 006 (south of Vila 2-T-5)

Surface finds suggest that the camp site 2-T-5 might also extend further to the south, south of the barely visible terrace of GiE 005. In order to test this, a trench was opened at a site now labelled as GIE 006. Trench 1 (3 x 5 m) only yielded surface finds and showed an irregular muddy, natural surface below the sandy surface layer. As in GiE 005, no stratification is preserved.

Cleaning the surface at GiE 006.

Although the finds are mixed and can also be explained with a multi-period use of the site, most of the material belongs to the Kerma horizon. Thus, this is probably an extension of a Kerma camp identical or similar to GiE 005.

Summary

In sum, the test excavations at Ginis East – including the results from GIE 001, provided important new data on 1) the character of the sites, 2) the dating of the sites and 3) the clarification that the interpretation of the magnetometry survey from 2019 turned out to show no actual structures, but different natural layers at GiE 001 and GiE 004.

As it was already observed by Vila, at many sites on the east bank in the MUAFS concession there is little or no sedimentation preserved. This is an important aspect to consider in our next field seasons – the situation is markedly different on the west bank where we also documented some intriguing Bronze Age sites with mud brick remains. There is still much work ahead of us!

Cultural diversity in the Middle Nile: New media coverage for DiverseNile

Despite of the recent developments because of the crisis due to the COVID-19 virus, my new ERC project, DiverseNile, will start on April 1st 2020 here at LMU Munich. I am very grateful to the wonderful support of the administrative staff both in Brussels and in Munich – it was quite a challenge, but now all is set to go!

More information on the project, my team and our intermediate goals will follow shortly – for now I would like to share a new dissemination article in which I tried to highlight the challenges and aims of DiverseNile (read it open access or download it here as PDF).

DiverseNile will be conducted within the framework of the MUAFS project – the Attab to Ferka region in Sudan is the perfect area for our new study.

Location of the MUAFS concession in relation to the Batn el-Haggar, Amara West and Sai Island.

I believe that in order to address the actual diversity of ancient groups in the Nile Valley a new approach focusing on the periphery and hinterland of the main centres is needed, considering both landscape and people in an integrative method. This is where DiverseNile will step in with our perfect case study between Attab and Ferka. The main objective of DiverseNile is to reconstruct Middle Nile landscape biographies beyond established cultural categories, enabling new insights into ancient dynamics of social spaces. Can’t wait to get started in April!

Report on the test excavations of the 2020 season: GiE 001

The world has changed since last week – COVID-19 has a major influence on archaeological fieldwork, universities and museums. MUAFS was very lucky in this respect – after our odyssey with the extra day in Khartoum and a night in Istanbul, we made it safely to Munich, just in time before borders got closed and flights cancelled. Of course all planned fieldwork in Egypt in April had to be cancelled and I could also not make my home visit to Vienna. But difficult times require flexibility and the most important thing now is of course to flatten the curve and to stay safe (and home)!

Well – research for MUAFS is of course still possible and all of us are using the time in home office for reading things and compiling the data from the 2020 season.

The following is just a short summary of our test excavations of the 2020 season – this season was a preparation season for the next, longer field season which will be the start of my new European Research Council Project DiverseNile. Thus, the focus was on promising sites dating to the Bronze Age/Kerma Period in the Ginis East area where also Egyptian presence of the New Kingdom is attested.

In order to get familiar with the site formation processes and sedimentation in the area, we conducted at four sites in the district of Ginis East small test excavations. A total of 8 trenches were excavated by the team; local workmen will be engaged in the next season.

Location of sites and test trenches at Ginis East 2020.

As you will see in the following – the results from the individual sites were not as we hoped for but are nevertheless very important outcomes of what was designed as a test season.

I will start with site GIE 001 and a separate post will present the results from the other sites at Ginis East.

GiE 001 – a New Kingdom (and Kerma?) settlement site

Recorded by Vila as 2-T-36B, this domestic site at Ginis East can be assigned to the Egyptian New Kingdom, showing also an intriguing Kerma presence according to the surface finds. Magnetometry was conducted by MUAFS in 2019. In the 2020 season, two trenches were laid out above promising anomalies in the magnetometry in the northeastern part of the site.

Trench 1 (6 x 4 m) yielded, apart from surface finds which were mixed and dated from the Kerma Period, the New Kingdom, the Napatan Period and Christian times, some Kerma Classique sherds from lower levels. However, no structures were found and the magnetometry seems to show natural features, especially more sandy areas which contrast to clay layers/alluvial sediments.

Trench 2 (10 x 4 m) generated large quantities of ceramics and stone tools from the surface. The main archaeological features found in this trench were sub-recent pits deriving from marog activities. The largest of these pits in Trench 2, Feature 1, is 2.40 m in diameter and 75 cm deep. It was filled with fine sand and the traces of the tools the marog diggers used are clearly visible on the sloping edges. We documented everything in 3D according to our standard procedure. The find material comprised mostly mixed pottery from the New Kingdom, Napatan and Medieval era as well as some recent date seeds and small pieces of charcoal and bone.

Feature 1, the marog pit, in Trench 2 at GIE 001.

Both trenches in GiE 001 did not yield mud bricks or any structures from the New Kingdom; it is likely that this part with the trenches is already located outside of the former settlement area. That the area was inhabited and used during both the 18th Dynasty and the Ramesside period, becomes nevertheless evident from the find assemblages we collected.

Excavation and processing of data at GIE 001 will continue, but for now the New Kingdom site with later use seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island and Amara West, as I have already proposed in an earlier post based on the finds (ceramics and stone tools).