Summary of the 2023 season in Attab and Ginis

The excavation season of the fourth MUAFS campaign lasted from January 23 to March 18 2023, and focused on aims of the ERC Project DiverseNile, investigating Bronze Age sites (Kerma and New Kingdom) and cultural diversity in the region. The team was supported by Huda Magzoub Elbashir as Antiquities Inspector from NCAM. Our major activities in the 2023 season are summarised in the following.


We focused on Bronze Age sites in the area of Ginis and Attab. Our selection included two settlement sites, AtW 001 and site 2-S-54, and one cemetery, GiE 003. Work was carried out with the support of a team of 12 local workmen from Ernietta, Ginis and Attab.

AtW 001

In 2023, the complete mound of this site in Attab West was excavated (Trench 2). Substantial layers of mud brick collapse were found as well as several phases of poorly preserved mud brick structures.

Location of Trench 2, situation before the excavation in 2023.

The domestic character of the site is also obvious from many ashy spots, rubbish deposits including much animal bones and charcoal as well as loads of broken pottery and a surprisingly large number of intact and almost intact vessels. In addition, several round and oval-shaped storage pits were documented, some of them with traces of firing/ash and possibly also connected with heating/cooking.

Most importantly, the same ashy layer on the alluvial surface like in 2022 was reached in the northern part of Trench 2. It is now clear that apart from a slight natural slope, most of the mound-like appearance of site AtW 001 was composed of settlement debris and especially mud brick debris in several layers, all dating to the 18th Dynasty.

Vila site 2-S-54

Structure 1 at site 2-S-54 is a domestic building measuring 6.5 x 3.5m on the interior and preserved to more than 80cm in height, datable to the 18th Dynasty. We cleaned it from windblown sand and exposed a substantial layer of mud brick debris as well as internal mud brick structures. The feature seems to have been divided in at least three parts, presumably with an open courtyard in the centre. It is still unclear where the main entrance of the structure was originally located (one side entrance seems to have been on the east side in the centre, leading into the open courtyard). Ceramics and collapsed mud bricks were also found on the slope towards the south and this area still needs to be fully cleaned and documented.

Structure 1 at 2-S-54 shows an intriguing mix of stone and mud bricks as building material.

GiE 003

We excavated three new trenches (Trenches 3, 4 and 5) to check the extension of this Kerma cemetery, the distribution of burial types and chronological aspects.

Location of the trenches excavated in GiE 003 in 2023 (including the 2022 trenches in blue).

The oldest material was exposed in Trench 5, just north of the Middle Kerma burials in Trench 2. One Middle Kerma circular pit (Feature 53) and a total of four pits associated with Pan-grave style material were discovered.

The largest pit, Feature 50, contained the remains of a wooden bed frame, the remains of a human contracted burial, several goat offerings and a considerable number of intact pottery vessels, comprising Black-topped fine wares as well as incised and impressed decorated vessels.

Feature 50, the Pan-Grave burial pit (second situation with goat offerings and complete pots).

Trench 3 yielded a total of 14, Trench 4 ten new Classic Kerma burial pits, closely resembling our results from 2022 in Trench 1. These burials are rectangular east-west oriented burial pits with rounded corners, vertical walls, and two depressions in the east and west for the funerary bed of which wooden remains were found in some of the features. Two niche burials in Trench 4 also seem to date to the Classic Kerma time.

Drone Aerial Photography

Kate Rose was busy conducting Drone aerial photography (DAP) at the excavated sites and on a larger scale at Attab West, Attab East, Ginis East and Ferka East. Many precise measurements were taken with our new Trimble Catalyst GNSS Antenna and extensive mapping of drystone walls in Attab and Ginis West was carried out as well.

Kate documenting the final state of AtW 001 with our drone.

Find documentation

We used a total of 566 find bag numbers in the 2023 spring season. 229 finds were registered, photographed and recorded in detail in the Filemaker Database.

One of the highlights of the ceramic processing 2023: a complete cooking pot from AtW 001 reconstructed from many fragments.

Simultaneously to the excavations, I carried out the recording of the pottery. The numerous settlement material from AtW 001, accounting to more than 10.000 sherds, was very time consuming to process, especially since a large number of pottery vessels could be reconstructed from fragments to complete vessels like an amazing hybrid cooking pot. A total of 43 vessels was documented by drawing in 2023.

The 2023 season survey

Two Vila sites in Attab West and one in Kosha East were newly identified and documented as well as seven new MUAFS site in Attab East, Attab West and Kosha East. A number of these sites is difficult to date and might be sub-recent.

In sum, our 2023 season was very successful, achieving all planned work tasks despite of the looting events and the destruction of site 2-S-54. Especially cemetery GiE 003 with its mixed material culture of Middle Kerma, Pan-Grave and Classic Kerma illustrates cultural encounters between various Nubian groups in the region. The living aspect of these cultural encounters seems to be traceable at sites like 2-S-54 where both Egyptian and Nubian ceramics were found, rectangular and circular buildings appear side by side and mud bricks were used jointly with dry-stone architecture.

Plenty of post-excavation work is now waiting for us and updates will follow soon.

The last days in the field – towards closing the 2023 season

Time flies by, especially when you are enjoying and/or are very busy! This clearly holds true for our last days here – they were extremely demanding but also very pleasant and full of important results and discoveries.

We managed to close the excavation in Kerma cemetery GiE 003. The original aims for the 2023 season there, building on our work from 2022, were to clarify its dating, the distribution of certain burial pit types and to check for aspects of cultural diversity. All of this worked out perfectly and more details will follow soon. For now, the most important result is the discovery of a Pan-Grave style burial in Trench 5, located just north of Trench 2 from 2022 (with Kerma Moyen burials). Since some of our pottery from 2022 was already indicating that we might have the presence of what is normally called Pan-Grave horizon, this did not come as a big surprise, but simply as what I was really wishing for.

Final surface cleaning in Trench 5; Feature 50 is the large circular pit, here fully excavated.

Feature 50, the Pan-Grave burial pit, yielded not only the remains of a funerary bed, of goat offerings as well as jewelry and ivory objects but also several intact pots. This complete beaker with some repair holes is a typical Black Topped ware associated with the Pan-Grave horizon.

Pan-Grave style beaker from Feature 50 with multiple repair holes.

In Trench 4, there were two important niche tombs cutting Classic Kerma burial pits. At least Feature 66 (which was discovered just before closing for the weekend last week) is clearly associated with Classic Kerma material culture as well – thus providing much food for thought about who decided when (and why) to be buried in a niche tomb rather than in the more common rectangular burial pits? The burial of Individual 18 found in Feature 66 was unfortunately looted, but it can be reconstructed as a contracted burial which was placed in the oval niche without a funerary bed with the head in the West and the feet in the East.

Remains of the contracted burial inside Feature 66, cutting an earlier Classic Kerma pit.

Furthermore, we finished sampling of pottery from AtW 001, GiE 003 and the Vila site 2-S-54. Giulia did prepare more than 100 samples which we will hopefully analyze together with Johannes Sterba of the Atominstitut Wien by iNAA, just like the samples we took already in 2022. Our focus was on a range of Nubian wares and Egyptian-style Nile clay wares.

Thanks to the support of NCAM and our colleague Sami, Kate managed to conduct at least three days of Drone Aerial Photography after the crash of our own Phantom 4 Pro. I also managed to squeeze in some surveying on the west bank – with the discovery of some amazing new 18th Dynasty sites – very promising for the next season!

Beautiful landscape and rich archaeology – Attab West is just breathtaking!

By now, most of our team members have already left – many thanks to all of them! It was a particular pleasure to welcome Mohamed and Tasabeh from Al-Neelain University – hope to see you again next year!

Group picture 2 of the 2023 season, without Chloe but with Giulia, Tasabeh and Mohamed.

The remaining small team of Jose, Sofia, Huda and I will be busy finalizing everything here in Ginis before our own departure early next week. More updates about our results of the 2023 season will follow soon insha’allah.

Excavation in Attab and Ginis, week 5 of the 2023 season

Week 5 of our 2023 field season just flew by, especially because of several very disturbing incidents.

On the positive side, we managed to close excavations at site AtW 001, postponed further exploration of Vila site 2-S-54 to next year and made good progress in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.

AtW 001 will require much post-excavation work – we documented several still standing mud brick walls, there were clearly several phases of building and use. Chloe Ward who did an excellent job this season has already arrived back in Munich and is busy finalizing the stratigraphy and feature description as well as other details from her desk back home.

A small glimpse of the final state of site ATW 001 with various remains of mud brick walls.

Most importantly, we managed to reach the same ashy layer on the alluvial surface like in 2022. It is now also clear that apart from a slight natural slope, most of the mound-like appearance of site AtW 001 is actually composed of settlement debris and especially mud brick debris in several layers.

Excavations at Vila site 2-S-54 came to an unexpected stop – the material culture of the mud brick and stone building is really intriguing and currently being studied by Giulia D’Ercole and myself. Giulia arrived this week and already prepared all the samples from site 2-S-54 we will export for iNAA analysis in order to investigate the provenience of Nile clay wares (see earlier posts by Giulia on this subject, e.g. Of course, a substantial part of our 2023 samples will come from site AtW 001, but here I am still busy reconstructing the large number of complete vessels. More than 10.000 sherds need to be checked for matching pieces and this clearly takes a while.

One of the most remarkable vessels I am currently reconstructing – an „in-between“ cooking pot, combining Egyptian and Nubian pottery traditions.

Finally, much progress was made in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, where work in Trench 3 was concluded (and yielded a total of 14 new Classic Kerma burial pits, closely resembling our results from 2022) and excavation in Trench 4 is still ongoing. All tombs have been looted in antiquity, most probably in Medieval times, but there are still substantial remains of material culture, especially pottery, beads and remains of wooden funerary beds.

Work in Trench 4 is still ongoing.

One of the most remarkable finds of this season is a small ivory bracelet from Tomb 33 in Trench 3. It was clearly used for a long time, was broken at a certain point, and then repaired by means of repairing holes – this is how we found it deposited in the burial pit. An intriguing object in many respects!

The broken but repaired and thus complete ivory bangle from Tomb 33.

Jose M.A. Gomez, Huda Magzoub, Sofia Patrevita and our team of local workmen got new reinforcement this week: two students from Al-Neelain University in Khartoum have joint us. Tasabeh Obaid Hassan and Mohamed Abdeldaim Khairi Ibrahim have been already extremely helpful at the excavation in the Kerma cemetery and for example very quickly learned to measure targets and outlines of stratigraphic units with the totalstation.

I am very grateful to all team members and looking much forward to the results of week 6!

Exploring settlement patterns and funerary practices in Attab and Ginis

Week 4 of our 2023 field season has just ended – time passes very quickly and there are three more weeks to go!

Much progress was made this week – especially because we are currently working both on the west bank in Attab, at site AtW 001, and in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 on the east bank.

Chloe Ward, Mohamed Soubho and I managed to come close to an end at the intriguing settlement site AtW 001. We cleaned further substantial mud brick debris and revealed faint traces of mud brick walls – clearly datable to the 18th Dynasty.

Chloe at work in AtW 001.
There was still much mud brick collapse to excavate this week.
Site AtW 001 in its present state – much has changed since we started!

Unfortunately, we also had an incident of looting at the site this week – one complete pottery dish was pulled out from its location and an intact zir vessel was partly ripped apart. We reported this event to the tourism police and hope it will not happen again! Thankfully the vessels were left on site, obviously the looters were looking for gold or hidden treasures and did not like the ceramics which hold such great significance for us archaeologists.

The intact zir vessel was partly smashed by the looters at the site earlier this week.

The zir vessel still poses several questions – it seems to have been still in situ in a kind of silo or room, but this needs to be checked early next week. The same holds true for confirming the stratigraphic connection of our lowest ashy layer exposed in 2023 with the one excavated in 2022 in Trench 1.

All in all, AtW 001 yielded a large number of mud bricks, mostly as mud brick collapse but fortunately also as some in situ walls as well as considerable amounts of stone tools, ceramics, clay weights and various animal bones. Sheep/goat and donkey seem to be the dominant species, but some fish bones already attest to more complexity of the animal remains.

Contemporaneously to our work in AtW 001, Kate Rose, assisted by Samer Ali, was busy in taking drone aerial photos (a big challenge in this windy weather) and especially measurements with the Trimble Catalyst antenna. She focused on dry-stone walls in Attab and Ginis – some of which are clearly Kerma in date, others presumably of New Kingdom origin and some probably as late as Napatan.

Nail and his gang of workmen did an excellent job cleaning burial pits at GiE 003 this week.

At the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, three new trenches were set up and the work supervised by Jose M.A. Gomez and Huda Magzoub  focused on Trench 3 were a number of rectangular Classic Kerma burial pits with trenches for funerary beds were exposed. Our gang of local workmen is well familiar with this type of tombs from last season. There were already some interesting finds like one steatite scarab and one ivory bracelet, and more are to come! Especially intriguing is the abundant evidence for looting – maybe it will be possible to confirm my hypothesis from 2022 that most of the plundering happened in Medieval times.

Much progress was made for all work packages of the ERC DiverseNile project this week – the diversity of settlements (WP 1), cemeteries (WP 2), the material culture (WP 3) and the landscape of the Attab to Ferka region (WP 4). We have already plenty of data for post-excavation processing back home in Munich and thankfully we still have three more weeks here in the beautiful landscape of Attab and Ginis!

Week 3 – much progress on the West bank, start of work on the East bank

Our week 3 of the 2023 season was dominated by another drop in temperatures and very windy weather – there were only three days when we could work all day, on the other days too much sand in the air forced us to stop work early and continue with documentation and processing in the digging house.

Most importantly, our totalstation was fixed and is back to its normal daily routine. The wind prevented Kate to do much drone aerial photography, but thanks to the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna she was very busy documenting the landscape and many dry-stone walls in the area of Attab West and Ginis West.

While we were waiting for our totalstation, Chloe, Jose and I continued at the intriguing site 2-S-54, the 18th Dynasty building made of mud bricks and stones located on a steep slope of a rocky outcrop within the district of Foshu. A stunning view to work!

Chloe working at site 2-S-54.
Photographing the dense mud brick collapse in the northern part of the structure. We also took 3D models of all surfaces exposed so far.

We exposed more of the surface around the structure and worked on the dense mud brick debris on its interior – more early 18th Dynasty ceramics, including Nubian style pots and also one hybrid cooking pot were unearthed – extremely exciting! A good number of large fragments of sandstone grindstones came to light and these were already documented by Sofia. This could already be a small hint that also this site is associated with goldmining. Modern gold working is carried out in large scale just next to us – in general a nice continuation illustrating the long-lasting impact of the natural resources for this part of the Middle Nile. However, since some of these modern pits and diggings also threaten the archaeological sites, I am rather concerned about this new development at Attab West.

Much progress was made exposing the 18th Dynasty structure at site 2-S-54.

Work at 2-S-54 will continue in week 4, since we moved back to the domestic site AtW 001 with our gang of local workmen during week 3. Here, the dense mud brick debris revealed further complete pottery vessels as well as a very well preserved animal skull, most probably of a donkey.

Well-preserved animal skull in the mud brick debris layer at AtW 001. It was found at the bottom of a slight slope, sourrounded by brick debris and pottery fragments.

There are plenty of other animal jaws and bones in the collapse and it really seems as if most of this debris is partly rubbish. In addition, we have exposed more circular pits, presumably fire pits or storage structures.

More complete pottery vessels were found in week 3 at ATW 001. Especially exciting is the complete zir in the pit on the right of the picture.

Since we have reached a level where the contexts are now quite delicate and also space for work is limited, we moved our team of local workmen to the East bank (this is the “better” bank regarding wind and was thus received with much enthusiasm by the workmen). Jose and Huda started yesterday at the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 with two new trenches, aiming for a better understanding of the distribution patterns of burials at the site. Chloe and Sofia were busy setting up the new fix points and conducting measurements with the totalstation. The first burial pits are already visible in the new Trench 3 and I am sure I will be able to report interesting finds on the next update coming Friday.

Much progress despite of external challenges – week 2 of the 2023 season

Our week 2 of the 2023 season has just ended – having been an intense week with several challenges. First, our totalstation suddenly did not work like it should and we needed to send it to Khartoum – it will be fixed, but of course this meant a stop for excavations at AtW 001. On the positive side, two of our DiverseNile team members joined us this week – Jose and Kate have arrived and are now supporting us in multiple ways. Kate had to fix technical issues with our drone and the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna, but is now all set and started her work focusing on documenting the landscape.

Before we stopped at AtW 001, the results were really impressive. We found several circular or oval-shaped fire pits and excavated more of the mud brick debris on top of the mound in Trench 2. More animal bones and complete vessels showed up. One particularly nice context was an area adjacent to the solid mud brick debris, where one deep bowl, one beer jar, one small pot stand and a lower part of the beer jar were found smashed below mud bricks (Fig. 1). Interestingly, the mud brick debris comprised both red bricks and ordinary mud bricks. The current hypothesis is that the red bricks are simply burnt from a use close to a fire place or possibly kiln.

Fig. 1: Deposit of early 18th Dynasty smashed pottery vessels at AtW 001.

The stop of fieldwork had the advantage that I could invest much needed time for the pottery processing – we have not only large amounts of sherds, but especially a considerable number of complete or almost complete vessels. These all need to be first washed and then reconstructed. Jose kindly helps with the task of reconstruction (Fig. 2) and he also started drawing the first pieces from the uppermost layers.

Fig. 2: Jose doing a great job reconstructing pottery vessels from AtW 001.

Apart from pottery, we mostly have stone tools and re-used sherds and clay weights (including net weights) among the finds. Sofia is updating our find list and also describing the stone tools in our Filemaker database.

Until our totalstation is back from Khartoum, we will focus both on find processing and on drone aerial photography as well as taking measurements with the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna. In order to combine the latter also with some surface cleaning of Bronze Age structures, I chose an area in the district of Attab West in Foshu – this is a densely used area during Kerma times adjacent to the major paleochannel.

While Kate is taking drone photos, Chloe, Jose and I were cleaning the intriguing site 2-S-54, described by Vila as a New Kingdom house with mud bricks supported by schist stones, from wind blown sand (Fig. 3). This building, measuring 6.5 x 3.5m, is located on the south side of a rocky outcrop within the paleochannel on a quite steep slope.

Fig. 3: Much windblown sand covered the structure at 2-S-54.

The task of removing 80cm of windblown sand was extremely rewarding – we revealed in the interior of the building a dense mud brick debris layer as well as occupation deposits and several internal mud brick walls. We documented everything in 3D using photogrammetry (Fig. 4) and will continue excavating this domestic structure. The pottery found so far associates the use of this site with the early 18th Dynasty.

Fig. 4: 3D documentation of cleaned structure at 2-S-54 (photo: JMA Gomez).

Thus, despite of all the technical challenges and modified working plans, we managed to get much work done in week 2. Hoping we will soon return to site AtW 001 with our workmen (and the totalstation), I am for now very much looking forward to investigating 2-S-54 in more detail.

Bones, pots and mud bricks – preliminary results from AtW 001

Our first week with workmen excavating at Attab West in site AtW 001 was very productive, despite of some windy days when we had to stop early.

Fig. 1: Work in progress earlier this week.

The mound of AtW 001 which was covered by schist stones and pottery sherds on the surface yielded substantial mud brick debris layers. These layers contained much pottery – a total of more than 6300 sherds was processed already – including many complete vessels. The most common shapes are Egyptian-style zir vessels, bowls and dishes, beer jars and Nubian-style cooking pots with basketry impressions. One almost complete Nubian cooking pot was still found in place, partly below a very large mud brick.

Fig. 2: Large fragment of Nubian cooking pot in its finding place.

A large Nile clay bowl was found in a sandy filling south of the mound with mud bricks (Fig. 3). All in all, the pottery corpus very closely resembles the ceramics from the New Kingdom town of Sai Island, especially of the Levels 4 and 3 in SAV1 North, suggesting a date from the early 18th Dynasty to the mid-18th Dynasty. Interestingly, some of the vessels seems to belong to the Second Intermediate Period tradition – whether these are old pieces or imply a use of AtW 001 already during Classic Kerma times needs to be checked.

Fig. 3: Vessels like this Egyptian-style bowl illustrate the splendid state of preservation of ceramics at our site.

Similar to our findings from last year, we had plenty of charcoal, ashy spots and some burnt doum nuts as well as date seeds. Doubtlessly, people were eating and cooking here during the 18th Dynasty. This is further supported by many animal bones – seemingly mostly cattle but also some caprids. The details remain to be checked by our zooarchaeologist.

Fig. 4: Overview of some of the deposits of animal bones.

Finally, there is much evidence for quartz working at the site and many stone tools (especially pounders, whetstones, grindstones, and hand mills) – Sofia is documenting these and we will double-check if my previous interpretation of the site as being connected to gold working can be supported (or modified) by our new findings.

All in all, I am very happy with both the progress of work in week 1 and the great team of this season – together with our wonderful local workmen, Huda, Chloe, Matei, Sofia and I will continue on Saturday and an update will follow shortly.

…on the traces of Nubian goldsmithing: Gold bezels and goldsmiths

Still on the traces of Nubian goldsmiths, I would like to share some thoughts about a fascinating type and a goldsmith technique common in modern jewellery but already used and widespread in Kerma time: the gold bezel.

Fig. 1: String of carnelian and amethyst beads with a blue-glazed steatite scarab pendant set in gold bezel (K1053) (photo: Markowitz, Doxey, 2014).

Significant for the study of local gold working in Nubia is a scarab necklace with gold bezel from tomb K1053 at Kerma (Fig. 1), dating to the Classic Kerma Period (c. 1700-1550 BCE). This string is composed of carnelian and amethyst beads of different shapes and typologies and a beautiful blue-glazed steatite scarab pendant set in an accurate gold bezel. According to Markowitz, the gold bezel was added and created by Nubian goldsmiths to emphasize the high rank and role of its owner (Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). The elite individual (Body D) of the Classic Kerman subsidiary grave K1053 was a Kerman woman buried with typical personal adornments, such as a silver headdress, a leather skirt with silver beaded drawstring, a necklace of blue-glazed crystal ball beads, a double set of gold armlets and bracelets on her upper and lower arms and this fascinating gold bezel scarab necklace held in her hand (Minor, 2018) (Fig. 2).

Fig. 2: Line drawing of placement of K1053 body D, associated burial goods and the gold bezel scarab string (Su. 1094) (photo: Minor, 2018).

Other interesting gold bezel scarabs are attested from Kerma: a blue-glazed steatite scarab back covered with gold plate (K X B, western part, Body XK); a scarab with gold back-cover and two carnelian sphinxes amulets (K 439, Body B); an uninscribed amethyst scarab uninscribed with a gold mounting (K IV B, Body J) (Reisner, 1923, pp. 198-228-305).

Really fascinating traces of a specific typology of gold bezel come from the heart scarab (SAC5 349) of the goldsmith Khnummose, found with his body in the Tomb 26 (Chamber 6) at Sai Island (New Kingdom, mid-18th Dynasty) (Budka, 2021). This inscribed serpentinite heart scarab, discovered by our PI Julia Budka and her AcrossBorders’ Team (read here more on this extraordinary discovery!), was found in situ with gold foil remains. During the process of cleaning, fragile strips of gold were found close to the head of the scarab and only one piece was clearly attached around the base, suggesting the presence of a bezel, most likely made with a very fine gold leaf. Indeed, the largest gold fragment has a large hole pierced through it, probably connected to the holes of the scarab (Budka, 2021) (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3: Heart Scarab of Khnummose (SAC5 349) in situ with gold foil remains (photo: courtesy J. Budka).

…and if you missed Kate’s post on the 3D reproduction of this heart scarab, hurry up and read it!

The heart scarabs were occasionally enclosed in gold mountings in Egyptian jewellery during the New Kingdom, manufactured through the use of two main techniques: the lost wax or the welding of two separate pieces of a gold sheet (Andrews, 1994; Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910). Both are still used in modern jewellery; the second technique allows the creation of a particular type of bezel exclusively used for heart scarabs. It’s a gold bezel that not only holds the base of the scarab but is characterized by a T-cage that supports the funerary amulet along the part of the scarab body called elytra (the closed wings), following their shape (Fig. 4). These gold bezel heart scarabs were hung from a gold chain or tourques through a suspension loop welded on the upper part of the bezel or the perforated scarab and bezel. Excellent examples are dated to the 18th Dynasty: the serpentinite and gold heart scarab of Neferkhawet (MMA 729), early 18th Dynasty, Thebes, Asasif (Fig. 5); the green schist and gold heart scarab of Maruta (Tomb of the Three Foreign Wives of Thutmose III), 18th Dynasty, Thebes, Wadi Gabbanat el-Qurud (Fig. 6); the green jasper and gold heart scarab of Djehuty, 18th Dynasty, Saqqara (Andrews, 1994; Budka, 2021).

Fig. 4: Scarab drawing (photo: Andrews, 1994).
Fig. 5: Heart scarab of Neferkhawet (photo:
Fig. 6: Heart scarab of Maruta (photo:

Coming back to Tomb 26, the family tomb of goldsmith Khnummose, there was also an exceptional steatite scarab ring in gold and silver (SAC5 388) of the 18th Dynasty (Budka, 2021) (Fig. 7). It was discovered with the female Individual 324. Among her bodily adornment, there was also an interesting necklace with carnelian and bone crocodile pendants and beads in different materials, such as gold (exactly 180 beads!). The finger ring has a heavy gold setting, most likely made by wax carving and lost wax techniques. The shank of the ring is in silver, while its small domed caps are gilded. The thin gold wire threads through the scarab, the gold bezel and the gilded caps twisting on both sides of the ring and finally fixed in small holes drilled in the silver shank (for an accurate description of these and other beautiful finds from the Tomb 26 do not forget you can find the complete book here

Fig. 7: Gold and silver scarab ring (SAC5 388), Tomb 26, Sai Island (photo: Budka, 2021).

The gold bezel seems to be a distinctive feature of the Nubian jewellery, but additionally, these bezels from Sai come from the tomb of a local goldsmith and his family. Khnummose held two titles: “goldworker/goldsmith” and “overseer of goldworkers” (Auenmüller, 2020; Budka, 2021).

Even if with a less sophisticated mounting than the typology of the gold and silver ring from the Tomb 26, another intriguing comparison comes from Aniba and two scarab rings (n.34, n.36; see Budka, 2021, 212). The moving bezel is fixed to the ring by a thin metal wire that passes through the scarab, twisting on both sides of the ring. The ring n.34 is in silver, while the n.36 is in bronze (Steindorff, 1937, 111, pl. 57, nos. 34 and 36).

During the New Kingdom, the scarab mounted in gold remained the most common design for finger rings (Wilkinson, 1971). This technique, the mounting of the gold bezel, characterized by different methods (Maryon, 1971), appears already among the “innovations” of the Middle Kingdom goldsmithing. The first scarab rings were made from a single wire. From the 13th Dynasty the ends of the ring were equipped with grommets through which passed the wire that held the perforated stone. However, friction between the stone and the metal frequently led to shredding, therefore goldsmiths started to create “a metal protection” for the stone: the bezel (Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910).

It has been suggested that the Egyptians adopted this goldsmithing typology and technique from a foreign people, perhaps from the Mycenaean culture where these rings were used (Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910). However, the gold bezels found at Kerma, used as pendants/amulets rather than rings, but also the later examples from Sai, could attest to a local Nubian typology and manufacturing, the possible influence or technology transfer between Egypt and Nubia and the use of different techniques and specific tools already during Kerma times and through the New Kingdom.


Andrews C., 1994, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London.

Auenmüller J., 2020, Nubisches Gold und ägyptische Präsenz: Pharaonische Goldgewinnung in der Nubischen Wüste, in: M. Kasper, R. Rollinger, A. Rudigier& K. Ruffing (eds.), Wirtschaften in den Bergen. Von Bergleuten, Hirten, Bauern, Künstlern, Händlern und Unternehmern, Montafoner Gipfeltreffen 4, Wien, 37–54.

Budka J., 2021, Tomb 26 on Sai Island. A New Kingdom elite tomb and its relevance for Sai and Beyond, Sidestone Press, Leiden.

Markowitz Y., Doxey D. M., 2014, Jewels of Ancient Nubia, MFA Publications, Boston.

Maryon H., 1971, Metalwork & Enamelling, Dover Publications Inc, New York.

Minor E., 2018, Decolonizing Reisner: a case study of a Classic Kerma female burial for reinterpreting Early Nubian archaeological collections through digital archival resources, Nubian Archaeology in the XXIST century, Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Conferencefor Nubian Studies, Neuchâtel, 1st-6th September 2014, PEETERS, LEUVEN – PARIS – BRISTOL, CT, 251–262.

Reisner G.A., 1923, Excavations at Kerma, Parts I-III,Joint Egyptian Expedition of Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard African Studies 5, Cambridge.

Schäfer H., Möller G., Schubart W., 1910, Äegyptische Goldschmiedearbeiten, Verlag Von Karl Curtius, Berlin.

Steindorff G., 1937, Aniba. Zweiter Band. Service des Antiquites de l’Egypte. Mission archeologique de Nubie 1929-1934. Glückstadt: Augustin.

Wilkinson A., 1971, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery, London.

DiverseNile’s Explorations in 3D Printing Ancient Nubian Objects

Digital technologies continue to inundate archaeology as a means of bridging scientific and humanistic approaches. More than merely an exercise in playing with flashy machines and fancy toys, 3D printing has wide-ranging implications for fostering education and outreach, the accessibility of archaeological heritage, and explorations in experimental archaeology.

In my first month as a postdoc with the DiverseNile project, I began looking into different strategies and methodologies for making 3D models and prints of small objects. First up, we looked into printing a seal impression from the AcrossBorders project’s excavations at Sai Island. This mid-18th dynasty mud seal impression bears the name of Nehi and the title “Overseer of the Gateway” and is intact apart from a finger smudge in the lower left corner.

We also decided to experiment with printing an inscribed stone heart scarab also from the AcrossBorders project at Sai Island (figure 1). This object was excavated from the 18th dynasty burial of Khnum-mes and is inscribed on the bottom with Chapter 30 from the Book of the Dead (Budka 2021). Check out a blog post from 2017 about this find here.

Figure 1: The large stone heart scarab from the burial of Khnum-mes

To create models, we use photogrammetric methods to align photos of the object in Agisoft’s Metashape to create a textured mesh (figure 2). The photos of this object were taken during a study season in Khartoum in 2017 by Cajetan Geiger.

Figure 2: The 3D model of the seal impression in the Metashape interface

For this project, we needed a printed object quickly for a television appearance (keep reading to find out more!) so I looked into commercial printing options. I came across Xometry, a Germany-based company offering on-demand manufacturing of industrial parts. I like to think that they were both confused and delighted when they saw the small, inscribed objects on their platform!

Pros of this service: Xometry has a well-designed, functional, and easy to use website. With their instant quoting engine, you can upload 3D models (.stl, .obj, and many other formats) and immediately receive a cost and shopping estimate. Also, if there are issues with your model the engine will detect them. You can also choose the specific color, material, weight, and finish of your print.

Cons: While the website has extensive options for types of printing materials, most of the options are obviously very light-weight industrial plastics, polycarbonates, silica glasses, and nylons. If you are aiming for realism in your 3D print, you will not come across colors or materials on this site that can replicate those of many archaeological objects. Also, it should be noted that for this company, the minimum order is €50. If you just want one or two prototypes of small objects, you will have to order A LOT of copies just to come close to this high of a minimum!

Given the drawbacks of working with large 3D printing companies like Xometry, I began to look into the possibility of collaborating with institutes on campus that may offer printers. After a bit of digging, I contacted the Medieninformatik Lab at LMU. Luckily, they have, not one, not two, but three (!) high quality, professional 3D printers; a Prusa Mini+ (PLA-3D printer), a Prusa i3 MK3S+ (PLA-3D printer), and the pièce de resistance, a Formlabs Form 3 (SLA-3D printer). The Prusa Mini+ and Prusa i3 models are some of the most ubiquitous printers (figure 3). They are extrusion-based printers which operate by heating a plastic material through a tube (filament) and distributing the heated material on a platform layer by layer, until it takes the full form of the object. The material is Polylactic acid (PLA) and can be heated at a low temperature. It is a robust, low-cost, and biodegradable material. Xometry prints using this method.

Figure 3: The Prusa Mini+ in action printing the heart scarab.

The Formlabs 3 printer operates with an entirely different method (figure 4). It uses stereolithography (SLA), which is a type of additive manufactory technology employing resin 3D printing. A light source like a laser or projector heats and cures liquid resin at a high temperature into hardened plastic in the shape of a 3D model. SLA printers have the ability to capture the highest resolution and most accurate details of objects, along with smoother surfaces and more complex geometries (size and shape of the print).

Figure 4: The Formlabs 3 printer preparing to cure resin for the print in the large orange vat.

Preliminary Results Printing with Xometry and the Medieninformatik Lab:

As apparent in figure 5, three different printing methods yielded three vastly different results. On the far left of the image is a print of the seal impression using a Prusa Mini+. As is evident, the fine details of the inscription of Nehi were too high resolution for the printer to capture with accuracy. The inscription is not legible and overall, the surface and geometry of the object are not clean. The middle print is of the seal impression from Xometry. Even though Xometry used a PLA printer (like the Prusa) the print is of a higher resolution, and the geometry of the object is more accurate. The surface is smoother and the inscription, while not perfect, is legible. Lastly, the far-right print is from the Formlabs 3 printer. This by far, is the highest quality and highest resolution print! The inscription is very legible, and the geometry of the object is extremely accurate. The surface is also smooth, extremely detailed, and shows no signs of lumps or imperfections in the raw material. While the Formlabs 3 printer is a more time-intensive and expensive process, the cured resin clearly is the superior material to capture intricate and complex details of smaller objects (figure 6).

Figure 5: Three prints of the seal impression from left to right: Prusa Mini+, Xometry print, and the Formlabs 3 print.
Figure 6: Detail of the Formlabs 3 print

In terms of the heart scarab, the differences between prints are less stark but still significant. As evident in figure 7, the Xometry print (on the left) and the Prusa Mini+ print (on the right) are similar in shape and detail. The Prusa print has a smoother and cleaner surface, and slightly more legible details near the top of the scarab.

Figure 7: The Xometry print of the heart scarab (top) on the left and the Prusa Mini+ print on the right.
Figure 8: The Xometry print of the heart scarab (bottom) on the left and the Prusa Mini+ print on the right.

The bottom of the scarab demonstrates the biggest difference between the two prints (figure 8). The inscription was not captured at all on the Xometry print (left), due to the direction in which the print was oriented. If the print is rendered layer by layer with the bottom of the object flat on the printing platform, then any detail on the bottom of the object will not be captured. However, with the Prusa Mini+ print (right) the object was printed at an angle, and the result is a legible inscription (figure 9).

Figure 9: A detailed image of the inscription on the heart scarab in natural light

From these preliminary printing exercises, it was fascinating to see just how different prints of the same object can turn out given the variety of available printers, raw materials, and approaches. Clearly the various methods explored here have their pros and cons. 3D printing methods must be tailored to the specific goals of the project and qualities of the object/3D model. Trial and error, if you have the available resources and time, is a terrific way to start!

The Significance and Broader Impact of 3D Modeling and Printing

As an archaeologist who is interested in digital technologies, I am asked all the time (by fellow archaeologists and non-specialists alike), what is the purpose of making 3D models of artifacts that already exist? What keeps us from creating glorified toys that just sit and gather dust on shelves?

The truth is….3D modeling applications in archaeology is a means of addressing several unique problems of studying the ancient past. Firstly, 3D prints of archaeological objects that can be handled and shared without any risk of damage to the original artifact is invaluable. For objects that are restricted to museum collections or excavation archives, 3D models increase the accessibility of the archaeological record, not only to scholars in different regions, but also to members of the public. High quality 3D models that capture valuable information such as inscriptions and technological means of production can be used as tools in public outreach and education. In fact, our PI Julia Budka just demonstrated this during her recent appearance on the wildly popular children’s show, “1, 2, oder 3?” On a show dedicated to ancient Egypt, she brought our Xometry print of the seal impression to teach children that even objects made of seemingly quotidian materials like mud can be extremely important to archaeologists. 3D models expand and diversify the types of environments in which objects can be used in teaching.

Here is a link to the full episode if you would like to check it out!

Lastly, 3D printing can be used alongside other experimental archaeological approaches. For example, our graduate student Sofia Patrevita is studying goldsmithing techniques in Nubian jewelry making, including the lost wax technique. See her recent blog post here. The 3D printing lab at LMU has the ability to print objects in wax (among other materials), which could allow us to experiment with recreating jewelry in various stages of production, giving us insight into the chaîne opératoire of Nubian goldsmithing. Sofia and I are looking forward to exploring this possibility in future collaborations!

A huge thanks to the Medieninformatik Lab at LMU for access to their printers and resources, and especially to Boris Kegels for providing the access and printer training. Thanks also too Christine Mayer and Prof. Dr. Nicola Lercari of the Institute for Digital Cultural Heritage Studies at LMU for helping facilitate this collaboration!

Stay tuned for an update on our most ambitious 3D printing project yet, a to-scale reproduction of Khnum-mes’s shabti from Sai Island!


Budka, Julia. 2021. Tomb 26 on Sai Island: a New Kingdom Elite Tomb and Its Relevance for Sai and Beyond. Leiden: Sidestone Press.

on the traces of Nubian goldsmithing

One of my PhD research aims, as well as a crucial aspect of the study of Nubian goldsmithing, is to outline the possible goldsmith techniques involved in Nubian jewellery making, especially during the Kerma times.

Identity and technical skills of local craftsmen seem already attested by the Early Kerma jewels (c. 2500-2050 BCE). Among them, interesting cowrie shell reproductions made in precious metals and stone, gold and calcite, were found (Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). Ten base gold cowries were confirmed by Reisner at Kerma (K 5611) among the beads attached to the typical Nubian leather skirts (Reisner, 1923). Cowries are present also in Kerma assemblages recently investigated in the 4th Cataract. Moreover, these shells fixed on leather bands and used as personal body adornments were found in Gash Group tombs (early 2nd millennium BCE) (Manzo, 2012). This practice is still attested in Aksum and Adwa areas, Tigray, Ethiopia, decorating mahasal, gorfa – maternitytools – and necklaces for children and women (Silverman, 1999). European traveller accounts suggest particular customs of Sennar women such as the wearing leather skirt with cowrie belt sewed, to protect fertility and sexuality (Cailliaud, 1826;

Fig. 1: Gold cowrie necklace from Uronarti (photo: Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019).

An exquisite example of cowrie necklace in gold, imported from Egypt or made locally, comes from the grave 3, at Uronarti (Fig. 1). This site is one of the Middle Kingdom Egypt strategic forts, such as Askut, Buhen, Mirgissa, Semna and Kumma, linked to trade and gold mining operations (Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019; Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). In comparison with the Middle Kingdom cowrie jewellery, the gold cowries of the Uronarti necklace seem to be quite different from each other. They have irregular shapes and notches, probably not made through the use of a mould like those Egyptian but worked individually with chisels and burins. The central pendant seems differently manufactured, extremely precise, probably made with the lost wax technique.  Gold cowrie reproductions appear again in Meroitic goldsmithing.  For example, the beautiful cowrie jewels of the Queen Amanishakheto (Fig. 2), display female and warrior symbolism (Aldred, 1978; Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019; Manzo, 2011; Markowitz, Doxey, 2014; Wilkinson, 1971). The technique used in the cowrie reproductions seems to be the same process that was used in Egypt and attested by the cowrie-shell girdles found in the tombs of the 12th Dynasty royal ladies, at Lahun and Dashur: the welding of two halves (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2: Gold shield ring with God Sebiumeker, udjat eye and cowrie pendants, Amanishakheto jewels, SMAEK, Munich (photo: S.Patrevita).
Fig.3: Girdle with gold cowries and lapislazuli, gold, turquoise and carnelian spherical beads, Middle Kingdom, The Egyptian Museum, Cairo (photo: S. Patrevita).

A particular typology of ornaments that could attest to the influence of the Nubian style on Egyptian goldsmithing are the penannular earrings (Fig. 4). Already found among the Early Kerma ornaments, they appear as a typology in Egypt only during the New Kingdom. In the shape of a small ring with an opening in the circumference, the hoop earrings are an interesting Nubian identity marker and at the same time a Nubian ethnic topos, recovered from Kerma burials at Tombos (Smith, 2003). During the New Kingdom traditional Nubian styles and jewellery were introduced to Egypt and adopted by Egyptians (see Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019).

Fig. 4: Tribute scenes with Nubians wearing ivory penannular earrings, Huy tomb (TT 40) (photo:
Fig. 5: Sennefer „Mayor of the Souther city“ with gold penannular earring and jewellery, TT 96 (photo: ).

The penannular earrings appear in Egyptian jewellery made of gold, probably created with the common technique of two halves welding (e.g. Sennefer tomb, TT 96) (Fig. 5). An example comes from the tomb of Horemheb (TT 78) dated to the reign of Thutmose IV (c. 1400-1390 BCE). A dancer is depicted with a haircut typical of those worn in Sudan even today, an ivory bracelet, a necklace with gold beads, armlets with attached beaded streamers and a penannular earring, probably in gold (Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019) (Fig. 6). A late Ramesside example of penannular earrings, in carnelian, jasper and shell/ivory/bone, comes from one of the most remarkable tombs in the MUAFS concession, 3-P-50, at Ginis West (Lemos, 2022) (Fig. 7).

Fig. 6: Nubian dancer with Nubian typical jewels, Horemheb tomb (TT78) (photo: Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019, p. 103, fig. 75).
Fig. 7: Jasper, carnelian and shell/ivory/bone penannular earrings, Tomb 3-P-50, Ginis West (from Lemos, 2022, courtesy DiverseNile Project).

From a technological and typological point of view, these jewels help us to outline a native Nubian style that influenced and built Nile Valley goldsmithing with specific identities. Nubian technology shows a deep knowledge of the goldsmithing process, from the finding of the raw material (mining, wadi-working, panning), its transformation (smelting, casting) and working (hammering, welding, polishing), until the final result: the jewel, a story waiting only to be read and told.

We are only at the beginning of our journey into the ancient Nubian goldworking and goldsmithing, and we eagerly await the opportunity to get back on the field… stay tuned!


Aldred C., 1978, Jewels of the Pharaohs. Egyptian jewellery of the Dynastic Period, London.

Cailliaud F., 1826, Voyage a Mèroè, au Fleuve Blanc, au Dela de Fazoql, Paris.

Lacovara P., Markowitz Y.J., 2019, Nubian Gold. Ancient jewellery from Sudan and Egypt, Cairo, New York.

Lemos, R, 2022, Can We Decolonize the Ancient Past? Bridging Postcolonial and Decolonial Theory in Sudanese and Nubian Archaeology, Cambridge Archaeological Journal: 1-19.

Manzo A., 2011, Punt in Egypt and beyond, Egypt and the Levant 21: 71-85.

Manzo A., 2012, From the sea to the deserts and back: New research in Eastern Sudan, British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 18: 75-106.

Markowitz Y., Doxey D. M., 2014, Jewels of Ancient Nubia, MFA Publications, Boston.

Reisner G. A., 1923, Excavations at Kerma. Parts IV-V, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.

Silverman R., 1999, Ethiopia. Traditions of Creativity, University of Washington.

Smith S. T., 2003, Wretched Kush. Ethic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London.

Wilkinson A., 1971, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery, London.