According to the cold and rainy weather here in Munich, summer has long past – fittingly, our short summer break of the DiverseNile Seminar is now officially over. It is my pleasure to announce the upcoming lecture on Tuesday, August 31: Michele Buzon will be talking about „Intersectional Identities and Bodies: Exploring Biological, Geographic, and Mortuary Diversity in the Ancient Nile Valley“.
Michele is bioarchaeologist and Professor of Anthropology at Purdue University in Indiana, USA. I have the pleasure knowing her since many years, having met her both in Sudan and at conferences. She is the codirector of the important excavations at Tombos and we were therefore always in close contact during my AcrossBorders project. Our assessment of the strontium isotope analysis from Sai could nicely built on data published by her and co-authors. As I outlined in an earlier post, only common efforts will allow us to establish a strontium isoscape for New Kingdom Nubia and much work is still waiting for all of us.
Michele is one of the key figures in modern Nubian bioarchaeology conducting contextualized interpretations that combine skeletal evidence with settlement, environmental, and mortuary data. This approach allows to create a more nuanced picture of life and death in ancient Nubia (see also her recent summary of Bioarchaeology of Nubia in the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia, Buzon 2021).
I am very much looking forward to her presentation and hope that many of you will be joining us – without doubts, Michele is going to show exciting material, fresh data and will offer much food for thought! As usual, late registration for our DiverseNile seminar is still possible via email.
Buzon, Michele R. 2021. Bioarchaeology of Nubia, in: The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia, edited by Geoff Emberling and Bruce Beyer Williams, Oxford, DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190496272.013.55
I recently came across an academic article with the prominent use of the word “shit” in its title (Amicone et al. 2020) – the idea for a new blog post was born!
But why is poop of interest for us archaeologists? Well, I will try to outline some of the most important aspects associated with excrements of human and non-human origin in archaeology (without aiming for a concise or complete overview). To start with, let us remember that within the DiverseNile project we follow the concept of ‘Biography of the Landscape’ which I introduced for our case study of the MUAFS concession in the Middle Nile. This approach considers the individual life cycles of all cohabiting actors, in particular humans, fauna and flora, as well as human-made technologies – it goes without saying, that for understanding life cycles, also excrements need to be considered. And so here we are: let’s focus on shit.
Today, ancient human faeces (palaeofaeces) and coprolites (animal droppings, mostly fossilized) are recognised in archaeology as important evidence containing rich information about the diet and health of ancient people and animals. Chemical analysis, especially lipid analysis and ancient DNA, are conducted and the value for parasitological analyses is well understood. Fragile things like human faeces survive best in protected areas like caves and mines.
One of the most prominent archaeological sites which yielded a large number of excrements is the salt mine of Hallstatt in Austria. The well-preserved excrements in Hallstatt were already recognised as early as 1868. However, the early researchers obviously had problems to imagine that they were handling human faeces and attributed these excrements to ‘a large domestic animal’ of unclear species. It took decades until the correct human origin was identified and more time until detailed analyses are conducted and the human poop from Hallstatt was recognised as what it is: a real treasure in the mine, an incredible useful deposit full of information for us as archaeologists! Just like the poop found at other sites like Çatalhöyük in Turkey.
In ancient Egypt and Sudan, studies like this are still in its infancy. Human excrements rarely survive and until recently, dung in Egyptology was mostly associated with the dung beetle, the scarab and thus with symbolic and religious meanings. However, recent excavations both in Egypt and Sudan now focus on the multiple use of animal dung in antiquity. Goat droppings are common finds in settlement contexts indicating the stabling of animals (see, e.g., Sigl 2020) and they are also attested as fuel in households (e.g. Malleson 2020). The AcrossBorders project has contributed to the question of fuel as well. Considering that wood was, in general, rare along the Nile valley and therefore an expensive raw material, animal dung was tested in 2018 by means of a series of experiments for its suitability as a fuel for cooking in ancient Sudan (Budka et al. 2019).
Different types of herbivore dung were tried using replicas of Egyptian and Nubian cooking pots from the Second Millennium BCE; we conducted our experiments again at Asparn/Zaya (see the recent blog post by Sawyer on this year’s results). The results suggest that especially donkey, sheep, goat and cattle dung provide beneficial conditions for keeping good and durable cooking temperatures while preventing fast cooling on small scale fireplaces. This seems to be especially beneficial for dishes containing legumes and cereals, which require long cooking times.
Animal dung was for sure used for multiple purposes. Recently, a group of researchers could show that the combined use of green wood (fresh acacia) and donkey dung as fuel for the Middle Kingdom smelting furnaces at Ayn Soukhna is likely (Verly et al. 2021). In similar lines, we successfully used goat and cow dung as fuel to fire ceramic vessels. In our experiments in Asparn 2021, we also used some fresh wood and straw to start the fire in the beginning. Thus, a dual use of some wood and animal dung seems very likely also for pottery kilns. Furthermore, with the cow dung we achieved temperatures of 1250°! Thus, we could have easily used our fire for smelting metal.
That the dung of the most common domestic animals in ancient Egypt and Sudan – donkey, goat and sheep as well as cattle – was used for several purposes comes as no surprise. We know that herbivore dung was also used since earliest times for tempering clay to produce ceramic vessels. Here, Giulia is currently investigating possible differences between hand-made Nubian wares and wheel-made Egyptian-style products. The petrography of some samples from Dukki Gel already revealed interesting details (for dung tempering of ceramics in general see also Amicone et al. 2020).
But what about other animals and their droppings? We tested horse dung several times in Asparn – it burns well, but very fast, produces high temperatures but makes a stable fire with a constant temperature almost impossible. Given the fact that horses were restricted to elite and military contexts in the New Kingdom, it is rather unlikely that horse dung was used a lot for domestic purposes and production processes in ancient Egypt and Sudan.
Pork was the most common source for meat in Egyptian settlements during the New Kingdom and we could trace a high number of pigs also in the New Kingdom town of Sai. Therefore, we tested pig dung as fuel in 2019 and the results were rather unsatisfying: the dung was not only much harder to inflame, but also much smellier. The low flammability of these excrements clearly reflects the diet of the animals which is markedly different to that of herbivores.
Finally, although the camel (camelus dromedarius) was only introduced as domestic animal in the Nile Valley during Ptolemaic times, we also examined the firing qualities of camel dung. The dung was kindly provided by a friend and colleague at LMU who knows the owner of camels in close vicinity to Munich.
Equipped with this exotic dung directly imported to Austria from Bavaria, we started our experiments in Asparn. The small and dense camel droppings did not yield convincing results (although they smoked a lot) and were less suited as fuel than cattle, donkey and goat dung.
With this short account on some of the multiple kinds of usage of various animal dung in ancient Egypt and Sudan, I hope to have illustrated that considering excrements as integral part of material culture has much potential for an improved understanding of certain tasks and activities and primarily for questions of raw materials and resources which are still sometimes neglected in favour of the finished products.
Amicone, Silvia, Morandi, Lionello and Shira Gur-Arieh. 2020. ‘Seeing shit’: assessing the visibility of dung tempering in ancient pottery using an experimental approach, Environmental Archaeology, 1–16.
Budka, Julia, Geiger, Cajetan, Heindl, Patrizia, Hinterhuber, Veronica and Hans Reschreiter. 2019. The question of fuel for cooking in ancient Egypt and Sudan. EXARC Journal 2019.
Malleson, Claire. 2020. Chaff, dung, and wood: fuel use at Tell el-Retaba. Archaeobotanical investigations in the Third Intermediate Period settlement, Area 9 excavations 2015-2019, Ägypten und Levante 30, 179–202.
Verly, Georges, Frederik W. Rademakers, Claire Somaglino, Pierre Tallet, Luc Delvaux, and Patrick Degryse. 2021. The chaîne opératoire of Middle Kingdom smelting batteries and the problem of fuel: excavation, experimental and analytical studies on ancient Egyptian metallurgy, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 37 (article no. 102708) DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102708
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
In my latest blog post, I discussed how to read magnetograms and what we have to keep in mind regarding the Earth’s Magnetic Field and the location of the concerning site. Another important factor to approach the comprehensive interpretation of our data is the environment, esp. the geology, geomorphology and formation processes of the region. For magnetometry, it is especially the knowledge about magnetic properties (ferromagnetism) of rocks, minerals and soils.
The magnetogram shows the total magnetization, which is composed by the induced and the remanent magnetization (Fig. 1). The relation of induced and remanent magnetization is described by the Koenigsberger ratio (Q-ratio). It informs us not only about the quality of the rock sample for paleomagnetism, but also if we are dealing with archaeological objects.
The induced magnetization exists with an applied external field only, e.g. the Earth’s Magnetic Field, and mostly goes along with the direction of the Earth’s Magnetic Field. For interpreting our magnetograms, it is helpful to conduct additional magnetic susceptibility measurements in the field, which tells us more about the induced magnetization. The magnetic susceptibility describes how magnetizable a sample/material is in an applied field. It is affected by the type of contained minerals as well as their grain size. The resulting values are unit less and can be negative (diamagnetic) or positive (ferromagnetic, ferrimagnetic, paramagnetic). Susceptibility can be measured in the field as well as in the laboratory, where more precise measurements are possible and additional parameter can be investigated.
The remanent magnetization is a permanent magnetization, independent of an external field, and important in paleomagnetism and archaeomagnetism. The natural remanent magnetization is the sum of the remanent magnetization and can be composed by several elements. For archaeological prospection, one of the most important remanent magnetizations is the thermoremanent magnetization (TRM). It is formed through heating of material over Curie temperature and cooling in an applied magnetic field, whose direction (Declination) is saved. Kilns, ovens and burnt objects like pottery or bricks etc. are the best examples for TRM. Chemical remanent magnetization (CRM) can be found in sedimentary or metamorphic rocks, whereas detrital remanent magnetization (DRM) develops during sedimentation of small magnetic particles in smooth water. Isothermal remanence (IRM) is the reason why we can detect also lightning strikes (LIRM) in our magnetograms. Although remanent magnetization is usually permanent, several factors could alter it, such as weathering.
But why are some materials/rocks more magnetic or magnetizable than others? It depends on iron oxides. Iron oxides are not only responsible for magnetization but also playing a role which colour a material has. The most important iron oxides regarding archaeological purposes are magnetite, maghemite, greigite, hematite, goethite as well as titanomagnetites, occurring in soils. While magnetite and maghemite are showing up to 1000 times higher susceptibilities than hematite, the latter is responsible for the typical red colour. Pedogenic, anthropogenic, lithogenic, and bacterial processes are responsible for the enhancement of soils, esp. top soils. Additionally, originally nonmagnetic materials can show enhanced magnetization: magnetotactic bacteria in organic materials are generating magnetite so that already gone posts, palisades etc. can be detected by magnetometry.
Magnetic susceptibility measurements in the field can be carried out selective e.g. for scattered objects and rocks on the surface or areal (separate geophysical prospection method). They can be used to define the extension of archaeological sites, activity zones or features in human made environments. Furthermore, they help understanding the morphology, formation processes, erosion and sedimentation as well as stratigraphic sequences for climate research and soil formation processes. Usually, top soils as well as archaeological soils are showing higher magnetic susceptibility values caused by enhancement of magnetic minerals due to the use of fire and fermentation. That is the reason why we can detect areas of human activity, e.g. settlements, and determine their extension.
How can we transfer this knowledge to the MUAFS concession area? The geological map of the Nile valley shows mostly sandstones, siltstones and mudstones accompanied by metavolcanic rocks as well as colluvium, sand sheets and dunes. For the volcanic rocks, we can assume high magnetic susceptibilities, whereas for the sandstones, siltstones and mudstones weak magnetic susceptibility is rather likely, depending on the contained minerals.
During the first geophysical campaign, we conducted spotty magnetic susceptibility measurements on our sites as well as the environment. Therefore, we used the handheld Kappameter SM-30 (Zh-instruments, Fig. 2). While magnetometry is a passive method, magnetic susceptibility meter are active instruments with a small coil included. Sampling the scattered rocks and archaeological objects like mudbricks gives an idea what we can expect in the magnetogram. Furthermore, the method can be applied in excavation trenches e.g. to distinguish stratigraphic layers or walls/floors and susceptibility maps can be produced. Due to magnetic susceptibility it is feasible to differentiate sources of raw material e.g. for mudbricks.
For the settlement site GiE 001 at Ginis East, the scattered rock material shows mostly susceptibility values in a range of 0,302 to 0,826 [10-3 SI], esp. quartz, schist, and sedimentary rocks, while rocks of volcanic origin result in values around 7,5 [10-3 SI]. The surface values are ranging between 4,35 to 5,6 [10-3 SI] and mudbrick from a partly upright standing hut shows values of around 4 [10-3 SI]. For this site, we could expect therefore the following: walls made of sedimentary rocks would cause negative anomalies in the magnetogram, while the use of volcanic rock would result in positive anomalies. Mudbrick or galus walls (of stamped mud) are more difficult to predict; depending on their mineral composition, they are revealing positive or negative anomalies. Fire installations or the use of fired bricks would be easily recognizable because of their high values.
A profile along a street close to the Nile River shows the different sedimentation layers very nicely: different colours as well as susceptibility values can be seen in Figure 3.
This example shows the complexity of magnetic susceptibility in combination with colours; darker and brighter layers show similar values, whereas the surface reaches the highest value. The layer with pebbles reveals the lowest value due to the included pebbles of probably sedimentary origin. For understanding the environment of archaeological sites and their formation processes, it is important to consider not only the survey, excavation and magnetometry results itself. Furthermore, knowledge in geology, geomorphology as well as the investigation of their parameters add details for a comprehensive picture of an archaeological landscape.
At the end, if you are asking yourself how magnetizable you are: without any ferromagnetic items from your clothes or e.g. glasses, the magnetic susceptibility would be almost zero or even negative, as the human body consists mostly of water.
Aspinall, A.; Gaffney, C.F.; Schmidt, A. (2008): Magnetometry for Archaeologists. Geophysical methods for archaeology 2. Lanham: AltaMira Press.
Butler, R.F. (1998): Paleomagnetism: Magnetic Domains to Geologic Terranes: Electronic Edition. Boston: Blackwell.
Dalan, R. (2017): Susceptiblity. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 939–944.
Fassbinder, J.W.E.; Stanjek, H.; Vali, H. (1990): Occurrence of Magnetic Bacteria in Soil. Nature 343 (6254), 161–163.
Fassbinder, Jörg W. E. (2017): Magnetometry for Archaeology. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 499–514.
Lowrie, W. (2007): Fundamentals of Geophysics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
The magnetic data collected at our first campaign in the Attab to Ferka region in 2018/2019 was first processed and interpreted directly after the field season. After the first excavation campaign in 2020, focusing on two of the four geophysically investigated sites, a reconsideration of the data took place. It is based on the excavation results, the photogrammetric data and new kite images.
But before looking at the data, you have to know where exactly on earth the data was generated! The Earth’s magnetic field is a complex system, which is protecting us against ultraviolet radiation, as it is deflecting most of the solar wind, which is stripping away the ozone layer. The earth’s magnetic field can be visualized as a three-dimensional vector: Declination (angle in ° to geographic north, X), Inclination (horizontal angle in ° or magnetic dip, Y) and Intensity (measured in T “Tesla” resp. nT “Nanotesla”, Z). In archaeomagnetism, all components are measured to be compared to the single curves of the region. For magnetometry and interpreting these data, the Inclination is the most important value besides the Declination, which helps for example to detect in situ burnt features. The Inclination describes the angle in which the Earth’s Magnetic Field meets the surface of the Earth itself. Therefore, the angle is changing depending on your position e. g. if you are closer to the magnetic poles or to the magnetic equator.
The geomagnetic field changes all the time, every second, every day, and every year! For Munich resp. Fürstenfeldbruck you can follow the alterations simultaneously here. The geomagnetic observatory there is part of the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität and the Department of Earth and Environmental Studies. As you may know, the magnetic poles are wandering as well. The magnetic north pole did it that fast in the last years that the navigation map had to be changed before the standard interval of five years in 2019. This world magnetic model (WMM) is available online.
But why do we have to know especially the Inclination of the area we are working in and doing magnetometry? The shape and intensity of every single anomaly is depending especially on the Inclination! The shallower the Inclination the wider the anomaly is visible in the magnetogram. Additionally, the dipole (positive/black – negative/white) components are changing. The closer we are measuring to the geomagnetic equator (not the geographic equator), the larger gets the negative part of the anomaly and the lower are the amplitudes of the magnetic signal. Figure 1 illustrates the differences in Inclination for a single anomaly.
While the Inclination in Munich is around 64°, the Inclination in the MUAFS concession area is 27-28° and shallower. The components of the Earth’s Magnetic Field at the MUAFS concession area are illustrated in Figure 2, showing a Declination of almost 4° and a total field intensity of around 39.000 nT (Munich: 48.585 nT). The measured archaeological and geological features, visible in the magnetogram, are showing contrasts of sometimes less than 1 nT. Due to different Inclinations, the same archaeological feature would result in a different anomaly in Sudan compared to Munich. While the anomaly in Sudan would be wider (see the red curve, Fig. 1) than in Munich (ca. the blue curve, Fig. 1), it would cause lower intensities as well as showing more negative parts than the Munich one. This means while in Bavaria the negative part of an anomaly is regarded more as a small “white shadow”, in Sudan it would be almost equal to the positive part of the anomaly. Furthermore, depending on the depth of the buried feature, the shift in locating the feature could be larger with shallower inclination.
Regarding the used magnetometer – a gradiometer, the intensities are additionally lower than for example with a total field magnetometer, which makes it more difficult to interpret the data and why sometimes low value-features like pisé walls are not detectable with gradiometers. Furthermore, with wider anomalies closer to the geomagnetic equator like in Sudan, it is more possible that anomalies are overlapping so that it is not easy to distinguish features lying next to each other or from different periods.
Usually, magnetograms are shown in greyscale to avoid confusion and “pseudo-limitations” of different values and colors. For interpreting the data, one can play around with the minimum and maximum values as well as inverting of the greyscale version. On magnetograms of measurements with the total field magnetometer usually a high-pass filter is applied, which can be overlayed with the total field data as well.
In rare cases it is helpful to use color scales for the magnetograms additionally to show special features better or to highlight some very high or low values. If the magnetogram is disturbed by high magnetic anomalies like metal fences, iron rubbish on the site etc., color scales are not useful anymore, because they are showing especially the disturbances due to their high amplitudes and less of the archaeological features itself. Nevertheless, it is possible to adjust the color scale as needed for every site separately.
Illustrating the mentioned methods, I would like to show the magnetogram of GiE 002, where a cemetery is located.
The usual greyscale (Fig. 3) shows clearly the traces of the recent and former wadi/khor, tumuli-like features in the very south as well as lots of features of different shape in the northern part of the magnetogram, interpreted as graves. They are resulting in positive anomalies, accompanied by negative anomalies of different amplitudes.
To understand more of the single burials it is helpful to change to a blue-red color scale (Fig. 4). In this way, it is easier to differentiate the single anomalies consisting of the positive (red) and negative (blue) part.
Highlighting the minimum and maximum values – in yellow resp. red – helps e. g. focusing on the probably best-preserved archaeological features located in the center of the measured area, visible in Figure 5.
The magnetograms of GiE 002 show clearly that it is worth playing around with different color scales and that there is more than one magnetogram important for interpreting the data for archaeological and geological purposes.
Fassbinder, J. W. E. (2017): Magnetometry for Archaeology. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 499-514.
Livermore, P.W.; Finlay, C.C.; Bayliff, M. (2020): Recent north magnetic pole acceleration towards Siberia caused by flux lobe elongation. Nature Geoscience 13, 387–391.
Ostner, S.; Fassbinder, J. W. E.; Parsi, M.; Gerlach, I.; Japp, S. (2019): Magnetic prospection close to the magnetic equator: Case studies in the Tigray plateau of Aksum and Yeha, Ethiopia. In: James Bonsall (ed.): New Global Perspectives on Archaeological Prospection. 13th International Conference on Archaeological Prospection. 28 August – 1 September 2019. Sligo – Ireland. Oxford: Archaeopress, 180-183.
In the framework of the DiverseNile project, I have introduced the application of ‘contact space biographies’ as a new concept in the study of intercultural encounters in the Middle Nile. We will specify the question of cultural encounters through the distribution of the sites and their duration, settlement infrastructures, building techniques, production activities and technologies, trade, diet, material culture, burial customs, religious practices and social structures. The importance of peripheral areas, like the Attab to Ferka region, for our understanding of cultural formations will be stressed. In line with this, the DiverseNile Seminar Series 2021 focuses on cultural diversity in Northeast Africa, giving several case studies from various perspectives.
Our next presentation, to be held tomorrow by Loretta Kilroe, will introduce an exciting example of so-called ‘provincial’ Kerma remains in the Northern Dongola Reach.
Site H25 was partly excavated in the last years and yielded settlement remains and evidence from the Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan eras (Ross 2014; Porter 2019; Kilroe 2019). The site is, among others, shedding new light onto trade networks in New Kingdom Nubia. Because Loretta is an expert on ancient Egyptian and Sudanese pottery, she will focus tomorrow on ceramics and what they can tell us about frontier economics.
I am personally very much looking forward to this exciting presentation about an as yet little known but very important site! As usual, last minute registrations are still possible and highly welcome!
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.
Our DiverseNile Online Seminar Series under the general topic of “Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa” has a wide chronological and regional scope. Tomorrow, we will expand this scope and include Eastern Sudan and the Red Sea. We will continue with an exciting presentation by Andrea Manzo (Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”) who will speak about “Complexity and Connectivity Between the Nile Valley and the Red Sea in the 3rd and 2nd Mill. BC. A View from Eastern Sudan and Mersa/Wadi Gawasis”.
Our speaker is Professor of the Archaeology of the Nile Valley and Ethiopian Archaeology at the University of Naples „L’Orientale“ and has a rich record in fieldwork in Sudan and Ethiopia. He is one of the key figures who started to explore Eastern Sudan with state-of-the-art methods and theories in the last decades. Previously considered as “margial” area, simply reflecting our previous focus on the Nile Valley rather than desert areas, we now have a basic understanding of the complex history of this region over the millennia. His excellent book on Easter Sudan is available in Open Access and highly recommended (Manzo 2017; see also Manzo 2019). Most importantly, Andrea Manzo and his team were able to illustrate the high level of connectivity of Eastern Sudan with the Nile Valley and also the Red Sea, in particular Mersa/Wadi Gawasis. His work allows to contextualise several findings which go far beyond the reconstruction of trade but show the importance of areas outside the Nile Valley.
In Eastern Sudan, there are in particular the so-called Gash Group and the Jebel Mokram Group which are highly relevant to our understanding of cultural diversity in Bronze Age Sudan. Especially the Gash group is intriguing, with several sites where locally made and also imported ceramics were found, including „exotic ceramics showing similarities with Kerma, C-Group, Pan-Grave“ (Manzo 2017, 33).
Thanks to Andrea Manzo, we now understand Eastern Sudan as a crossroad between the Nile basin, the Eastern Desert, the Ethio-Eritrean highlands and the Red Sea. I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s presentation within the DiverseNile Seminar Series on previously neglected regions far away from the Nile Valley!
Participation is free and registration via email is still possible. See you all tomorrow!
Manzo, Andrea 2017. Eastern Sudan in its setting: the archaeology of a region far from the Nile Valley. Access Archaeology; Cambridge Monographs in African Archaeology 94. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Manzo, Andrea 2019. Eastern Sudan in the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC. In Raue, Dietrich (ed.), Handbook of ancient Nubia 1, 335-365. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter.
If there is something that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is resilience, work flexibility and mostly the capacity to design alternative solutions to meet the various physical restrictions and newly shaped work conditions and needs. Further, we learned the importance of networks and acquiring skills even in remote formats, and that online (and/or hybrid) classes and conferences can give virtuous outputs as those in presence. Within the framework of our project, a successful example of this is certainly represented by our online Diverse Nile Seminar Series 2021 Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa.
For me operating within the Work package 3 of the project and principally dealing with laboratory analysis on the material data – ceramic samples – collected in the field, the pandemic has inevitably meant that I had to shift my main focus from the study of fresh excavation data to the study of reference collections. Hence, in the last months my work schedule has been mainly centred on documentation, database archive, and comparison among the various ceramic datasets. Also, the obligatory permanence in Germany (missing the field and the warmness of the Sudanese sun) together with the need to work often via remote or, whenever possible from the lab, pushed me to convey my working goals to search for new theoretical approaches and interpretative inputs, eventually enlarging the spectrum of the analytical competencies and methodologies devoted to the study of the ceramic samples.
In these circumstances the idea was born together with our PI and other colleagues from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the LMU to cooperate and expand the networking between our departments hence to test together a new analytical methodology for archaeological ceramic material, namely Raman Spectroscopy.
This technique, which took its unusual name after the Indian physicist C. V. Raman who was the first to observe Raman scattering in 1928 and won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for this discovery, is a molecular spectroscopy procedure which provides information about vibration and rotational states of molecules. It works using the interaction of a source of monochromatic light, normally an intensive monochromatic laser radiation, and the matter of the sample. The largest part (99.99%) of the laser light radiates through the sample, a very small proportion is scattered in all spatial directions (so-called Rayleigh scattering), finally an even smaller part is scattered inelastically (so-called Raman scattering). This latter contains information about the sample, its molecular structure (no the single chemical elements) and specific characteristics of the material (see among others, Spieß et al. 1999; also What is Raman Spectroscopy? | Raman Spectroscopy Principle (edinst.com); Raman spectroscopy – Wikipedia).
For the study of archaeological samples like ceramics, Raman spectroscopy has the advantage of being a non-destructive (only a minimum portion of the sample as the same slide of the thin section is needed), rapid and relatively low-priced technique. However, the high potential of this methodology may collide with the natural heterogeneity of most of the ancient, especially hand-made, ceramic manufactures (Medeghini et al. 2014; Vandenabeele & Van Pevenage 2017; see also Legodi & de Waal 2007). This is why, at the moment, our goal consists primarily to observe the methodological potentials of Raman and discern its use for our specific research questions.
For our trial study, we selected ten samples (of which six are ceramics from Sai Island and four from the Dukki Gel’s reference collection). All of them are either locally produced cooking pots or other local ware manufactured both according to the so-called Nubian and Egyptian style (Figure 1). In testing this new analytical technique, our main aims are the following: to search for differences in producing technique and firing temperatures/regimes 1) between the Nubian and Egyptian-style samples; 2) between the Nubian samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; 3) between the Egyptian-style samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; 4) among the different Nubian types (cooking pots with basketry impressions, incisions, and others). In addition, we also want to look at the behaviour of the organics and their carbonization and check for a possibility of a better characterisation of some opaque mineral phases.
In the last days, together with the colleague Fabian Dellefant, geoscientist and doctoral student at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the LMU, we have realized high resolution scans of the selected ceramic thin sections and photographed them at the petrographic microscope under different light conditions (both transmitted cross polarized and plane polarized light, and also reflected light) in order to describe and document the areas which we are ultimately going to analyse by Raman.
Stay tuned to know more about our ongoing work and first results!
Selected references and links
Legodi, M. A. &, de Waal, D. 2007. Raman spectroscopic study of ancient South African domestic clay pottery, Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, 66, Issue 1, 135-142.
Medeghini et al. 2014. Micro-Raman spectroscopy and ancient ceramics: applications and problems. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 45, Issue 11-12, Special Issue: Raman in Art and Archaeology 2013, 1244-1250.
Vandenabeele, P. & Van Pevenage J. 2017. Raman Spectroscopy and the Study of Ceramic Manufacture: Possibilities, Results, and Challenges. In Hunt, Al (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Archaeological Ceramic Analysis.
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.