…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! https://www.sudansurvey.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/index.php/2022/12/06/diverseniles-explorations-in-3d-printing-ancient-nubian-objects/

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: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/545166).
Fig. 6: Heart scarab of Maruta (photo: https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/548642).

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 https://www.sidestone.com/books/tomb-26-on-sai-island).

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.

References

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!

Reference:

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; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fC9O_Wc50wo).

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: www.osirisnet.net).
Fig. 5: Sennefer „Mayor of the Souther city“ with gold penannular earring and jewellery, TT 96 (photo: www.osirisnet.net ).

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!

References

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. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774322000178

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.

Presenting the DiverseNile Project at an international conference in Cairo

After a very successful Ankh-Hor Project season in Luxor as well as a wonderful participation in the South Asasif Conservation Project, I arrived in Cairo yesterday. I have the pleasure to spend four more days here in this splendid city before heading back to Germany. This is not just some leisure time after the intense excavations, but today is the opening of the international conference „Gateway to Africa: Cultural Exchanges across the Cataracts (from Prehistory to the Mameluk era)“.

The event is hosted at the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire and was organised by Valentina Gasperini, Gihane Zaki and Giuseppe Cecere. I am very thankful to the organisers for giving me the opportunity to present the DiverseNile project in this context. I will be talking about “Cross-cultural dynamics in the Attab to Ferka region: reconstructing Middle Nile contact space biographies in the Late Bronze Age.”

I will present the material evidence for complex encounters of various Egyptian and Nubian groups in the region of Attab to Ferka in the hinterland of the New Kingdom urban sites of Sai Island and Amara West. The rich archaeological record of this part of the Middle Nile reveals new insights into the ancient dynamics of social spaces. I will give some case studies from both settlements and cemeteries and will focus on the intriguing domestic site AtW 001 and the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.

I will discuss our recent idea that the material culture and evidence for past activities at such sites suggest complex intersecting and overlapping networks of skilled practices, for example for pottery production – see here also the latest blog post by Giulia D’Ercole.

I will also argue that the evidence from cemetery GiE 003 supports the general picture emerging regarding cultural exchanges in the Kerma empire. There was no single Kerman cultural input to interactions with the Hyksos, Egyptians and nomadic people but we must consider various hierarchical local responses determined by different communities’ ability to consume, shaping what can be called marginal communities in the Kerma state (cf. Lemos & Budka 2021 and most recently Walsh 2022). We are making very good progress in understanding the communities in the Attab to Ferka region and I am much looking forward to the next days and the possibility to discuss cultural exchanges throughout the centuries in the Nile Valley (and beyond) with all the participants of this exciting IFAO conference.

References

Lemos and Budka 2021 = Lemos, R. and Budka, J., Alternatives to colonization and marginal identities in New Kingdom colonial Nubia (1550-1070 BCE), World Archaeology 53/3 (2021), 401-418, https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2021.1999853

Walsh 2022 = Walsh, C., Marginal communities and cooperative strategies in the Kerma pastoral state, JNEH 10 (2022), https://doi.org./10.1515/janeh-2021-0014

Reflections on “Material meanings, technology and cultural choices: Pottery production in Bronze Age Nubia”

Time passes quickly, we know, especially when good things happen. Only last January with a 9-months pregnant belly – and an inspired although easily forgetful pregnancy brain – I wrote the blog post “Some thoughts around the concepts of materiality, identity and style”. By that time, I already had some ideas jumbling around in my mind, I was reading quite some articles about materiality, entanglement, and style, taking notes, and in a way I wanted to back them up somewhere, in a safe place, before starting my parental leave. Meanwhile, my second baby, Filippo, was born and he is now an eight months healthy and curious boy who crawls everywhere and chews anything (with a preference for books!) all around the apartment. Meanwhile, I have also ended my maternity leave and I am officially back in the office! And there could not be a more excited and effective return than being able to draw on those preliminary thoughts and notes and make them flow into my lecture on “Material meanings, technology and cultural choices. Pottery production in Bronze Age Nubia”, the penultimate within our 2022 DiverseNile Seminar Series of lectures on Landscape and Resource Management in Bronze Age Nubia.

Once again, I wish to express my gratitude to both Julia Budka and Rennan Lemos for having invited me to give this talk. Also, I take the chance to thank the colleagues who were present in the audience and took part in the discussion. For those who have not had the opportunity to attend the lecture, you can find it recorded on our website at the following link: DiverseNile Seminar Series 2022 (uni-muenchen.de). Eventually, I am going to summarize below some of the main topics I covered. In principle, there was the idea of taking stock of the state of the art of my results and current research aims within the Work Package 3 of the project. Also, I meant to compare the large-scope technological and compositional study conducted within the frame of the ERC AcrossBorders project on the ceramic assemblage from the New Kingdom colonial town of Sai Island with the results available from the analysis of the ceramic material from the Kerma/New Kingdom site of Dukki Gel. The latter have been actually already included in our DiverseNile database and together with the Sai Island corpus constitute a pretty massive reference collection of over 300 samples.

Fig. 1: One example for our new samples from the MUAFS concession – here a collection of Nubian-style sherds from the domestic site AtW 001 (photo: J. Budka).

Eventually, I was keen to introduce our new set of samples – 108 beautiful and highly promising ceramic sherds, among which diverse examples of Nubian-style and Egyptian-style wares in Nile clay, selected during our last field season from the region between Attab and Ferka, namely from the sites of Attab West 001, Ginis East 001, and Ginis East 003, two settlement sites and a Kerma cemetery (Figures 1 and 2).

Fig. 2: A summary of the number and provenience of our new set of samples from the MUAFS concession.

For presenting these data, I built up a consistent theoretical frame that provided for the concepts of materiality, style, and “chaîne opératoire”. I started by talking about the meaning that we attribute to objects, not only those with high symbolic value like luxury goods or amulets, but also and above all those objects of domestic use, which we all have in our kitchens and which intersect daily with our traditions, culinary practices, gestures, and phares so that every family, and in a broad sense every culture, has not only its own family lexicon (sensu Ginzburg 1963) but also a familiar lexicon of the material culture that has belonged to it. I have therefore examined the etymology of the word object, from the Medieval Latin obiectum „thing put before“ (the mind or sight), from which comes the idea of the object as everything that the subject (human/culture) perceives as different from himself. Hence the reference to a long tradition of philosophical and linguistic studies in which the objects, and material culture in the extended sense, has been interpreted according to an anthropocentric one-way perspective mainly as static representation of the (human) subject (for further details see Fahalander 2008). The discussion continued by examining the concept of material culture in archaeology and anthropology with reference to the academic movement of ‘Processual archaeology’ and then in accordance to the ‘post-Processualism’. Eventually, I have talked upon the recently increasing interest on ‘things and materiality’, the so-called New Materialism (see e.g., Olsen et al. 2012) and with it a new way of perceiving the material reality as centred on itself, if not freed by the human subject (it can never be completely so), at least less depended on the human apparatus of symbolic representation and functional meanings. Not by chance in the last decades, we have also witnessed a progressive change of terminology with the use of the words things and materiality gradually replaced that of material culture.

I therefore examined the concepts of materiality and style in reference to the manufacturing sequence linked to the production of Egyptian-style and Nubian-style vessels in Nile clay, with case studies from both Sai Island and Dukki Gel, and thus observed in which stages of the chaîne opératoire were the identity aspects of the aforementioned cultures and ceramic traditions more (or less) emphasized.

Looking at the ceramic manufacture not just as a finished product resulted from the human action and intended for functional, social, and representative needs, but as the outcome of a series of gestures and corporeal actions that take shape in the first place in direct contact with the environment, by means the choice and manipulation of the raw materials, implies putting ourselves in a new multi-scale perspective, so that we can move forward from the anthropocentric dimension and add to the dialectical relation objects vs. humans a third party, namely the environment with its vegetation, animals, bodies, and various materials such as clay, water and sand.

Secondly, can we ask ourselves with greater knowledge and detail “Who produced the vessels?” That is, who, among the Nubian and / or Egyptian potters having their workshops settled in Upper Nubia – most of the analysed Egyptian style and Nubian style Nile wares in Nile clay from Sai Island have showed indeed the same chemical fingerprint (D’Ercole and Sterba forthcoming) – selected the raw material for making their vessels, kneaded the pastes, and then went to shape the pots, to treat the surfaces, to apply the decorations and finally to make the fire? It is plausible to think that if not all, at least some of the gestures and stages of the manufacturing sequences took place simultaneously in the same workshop without a too rigid separation between Egyptian and Nubian production. That is, that the same potter/s possibly prepared and fired together Nubian and Egyptian style vessels and that only the stages related to the production and finishing (those where we have observed the greater diversity of style!) took place separately on the basis of specific technological skills and regional traditions.

It is still plausible to think that in such promiscuous contexts some of the so-called hybrid vessels, showing a mixture of Egyptian and Nubian stylistic aspects and technologies, have taken shape, perhaps initially accidentally, to then become objects possibly intentionally sought and widespread as the expression of a shared use of the same territory and mostly of the progressive entanglement between the Egyptian and Nubian cultures. To what extent were these isolated cases or is it realistic (and ethically correct) to speak about “Creolization” or “Koinezation” of ceramic styles? (for the term koiné and “International artistic koiné” cf., Feldman 2006).

A solid theoretical background combined with a broad-spectrum analytical approach based on the combined macroscopic and microscopic analysis of several ceramic collections from several bordering regions environmentally and culturally highly similar but also extremity distinctive (e.g., Sai Island, Kerma/Dukki Gel, and the Attab to Ferka region) is already allowing us to answer some of these questions and to formulate many others more and more punctual on the way of expanding our knowledge on the complex system of socio-cultural, economical, and ecological dynamics that took place during the Bronze Age period in the various regions of Nubia.

References

D’Ercole, G. and Sterba, J. H. Forthcoming. Chemical analyses of the pottery corpus from the New Kingdom town of Sai. In: J. Budka (with contributions by G. D’Ercole, J.H. Sterba and P. Ruffieux). AcrossBorders 3: Vessels for the home away from Egypt. The pottery corpus from the New Kingdom town of Sai Island. Archaeology of Egypt, Sudan and the Levant, Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.

Fahlander, F. 2008. Differences that matter. Materialities, material culture and social practice (127-154). In: Glørstad, H., & Hedeager, L. eds. Six essays on the materiality of society and culture. Bricoleur Press.

Feldman, M. H. 2006. Diplomacy by Design: Luxury Arts and an ‘International Style’ in the Ancient Near East, 1400–1200BCE. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ginzburg, N. 1963. Family Lexicon. Daunt Books.

Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmoor, T., Witmore, C. 2012. Archaeology: The Discipline of Things. University of California Press.

Upcoming DiverseNile Seminar: new thoughts on pottery production in Bronze Age Nubia

The so-called „vorlesungsfreie“ (lecture-free) summer time is now over – the winter term at LMU will start on Monday. Next week is also the next DiverseNile Seminar – this time it will be given by our own Giulia D’Ercole, who has just returned from her maternity leave.

Giulia will speak about some core tasks of our work package 3, material culture and cultural diversity in the Attab to Ferka region. Under the title „Material meanings, technology and cultural choices: Pottery production in Bronze Age Nubia“ she will outline a number of theoretical and methodological aspects of her study of ceramics produced in the Middle Nile, including Nubian-style, Egyptian-style and also so-called hybrid vessels. Case studies from Sai Island but also from the new MUAFS concession will be presented.

I am very happy that Giulia is back in office and very much looking foward to her lecture on Oct. 18 – anyone interested in Bronze Age technology and/or pottery shouldn’t miss it!

Pastoralism in the Kingdom of Kerma: upcoming lecture

I am delighted to announce that the DiverseNile Seminar Series 2022 continues after our short summer break. Next Tuesday, Sept 27, Jérôme Dubosson, Université de Neuchâtel, will talk about “Living and dying with livestock: Some thoughts on pastoralism in the Kingdom of Kerma during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE.”

Trained in archaeology and anthropology, Jérôme wrote his doctoral thesis on the cultural and social role of cattle among pastoralists in North East Africa. His interdisciplinary research aims to better understand the development of African pastoralism in time and space. Since 2007, Jérôme has been working with the Swiss Archaeological Mission in Kerma. He recently wrote the article “Cattle Cultures in Ancient Nubia” for the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia (2021).

In this article, he gives a very useful overview of the ritual and cultural role of cattle in Nubian pre- and protohistoric societies according to archaeological findings like bucrania and engraved figures of cattle in rock art.

The question of the use of bucrania is also a very interesting one for our DiverseNile project. As Jérôme remarks, such deposits are mostly attested in the rich tombs in the main centres of the Kerma empire, at Kerma and Sai Island (Dubosson 2021). In marginal cemeteries of the Kerma kingdom, bucrania are rare and animal deposits are mainly found as meat offerings inside the grave. This also holds true for two of the Kerma cemeteries in our MUAFS concession, at Ferka (3-G-19) and Ginis (GiE 003) as well as for their closest parallels, the cemeteries of Ukma and Akasha in the Batn el-Haggar. Since all these marginal sites, especially GiE 003, find otherwise close parallels in the cemeteries at Sai, this really seems to relate to varying funerary customs in the hinterland of the northern Kerma stronghold.

There is much potential in further research on provincial Kerma cemeteries – as Carl Walsh recently pointed out in an inspiring article with an exciting fresh approach, social and funerary practices in the Kerma kingdom seem to reflect complex interactions between regions and communities in what can be called a “pastoral state” (Walsh 2022). We still know little about the internal structure of this state, but we should probably consider various hierarchical local responses determined by different communities’ ability to consume (cf. Lemos and Budka 2021). In this respect, the different roles of livestock within such marginal communities and regions – despite of a central value given to cattle – are of key interest.

For now, I am very much looking forwards to Jérôme’s upcoming lecture!

References

Dubosson 2021 = Dubosson, J., Cattle cultures in Nubia, in: Emberling, G. & Williams, B. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia, Oxford 2021, 908-926, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190496272.013.48

Lemos and Budka 2021 = Lemos, R. and Budka, J., Alternatives to colonization and marginal identities in New Kingdom colonial Nubia (1550-1070 BCE), World Archaeology 53/3 (2021), 401-418, https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2021.1999853

Walsh 2022 = Walsh, C., Marginal communities and cooperative strategies in the Kerma pastoral state, JNEH 10 (2022), https://doi.org./10.1515/janeh-2021-0014

Preparing for the International Conference of Nubian Studies in Warsaw

Four years have passed since the last International Conference of Nubian Studies in Paris and on Sunday, the 2022 edition of the 15th congress will start in Warsaw.

Rennan, Chloë and I will be attending, and I will present the MUAFS project and its main results of the last years. My paper will give an overview of our activities from 2018 until 2022, with a special focus on the ongoing subproject ERC DiverseNile focusing on the Bronze Age remains. I will introduce our landscape biography approach in the Attab to Ferka region as the investigation of encounters of humans and landscapes in a peripheral borderscape with a longue-durée perspective, considering all attested finds from Palaeolithic times until the Islamic age.

For the presentation, I updated our list of sites and processed some of the quantitative data. At present, a total of 266 sites was documented. This comprises 186 of the 219 Vila sites as well as 80 newly identified sites. This number of sites is still preliminary because parts of Kosha, Mograkka and Ferka on the West bank have not yet been surveyed.

Regarding the types of sites, the most common sites are settlements and burial grounds. However, it is also remarkable that the MUAFS concession includes one granite quarry, one gold extraction site and several rock art sites.

Main types of sites in the MUAFS concession (status 2022).

As far as the dating of the sites in concerned, the majority belongs to the Medieval time. However, Bronze Age sites, here labelled as Kerma and New Kingdom sites, which are relevant to the DiverseNile project are also well represented. There are also several multi-period sites and others were re-used in later periods (e.g. Kerma sites in Medieval times).

Dating of the MUAFS sites. Note that the total number of sites for this table is 283 since several sites were used in more than one period. The Kerma and New Kingdom sites are currently being investigated by the DiverseNile project.

I will also present some general patterns of the distribution of sites throughout the ages. This allows to highlight the importance of environmental parameters and changing landscapes in the region.

Although my last visit to Warsaw was just in May this year, I cannot wait to be back in this beautiful town. I am very much looking forward to the Nubian conference and meeting all the international colleagues working in Sudan.

Funj period architecture on Gergetti island

The 15th International Conference for Nubian Studies in Warsaw is approaching at the end of this month, and I am currently busy preparing my paper. I will give a brief overview of the main results of the MUAFS project in the past years – and thus I revisited some of the sites of major interest between Attab and Ferka.

Until now, our work only focused on the left and right banks of the Nile – but my concession also comprises all the islands of the region. While we still have to visit Firkinarti island close to Ferka with its impressive archaeological remains, Huda and I spent one productive day this January on Gergetti island during our survey season.

Location of Gergetti island between Attab East and Attab West.

Gergetti island is a beautiful island dominated by sandy dunes, located between Attab East and Attab West with an East West extension of c. 1.7km and a North South extension of c. 250m. The landscape and the view to the east bank is stunning – and provides a completely different view of Gebel Abri than I was used to when working on Sai island.

View from Gergetti island towards the Southwest, with Gebel Abri in the background.

Vila documented two sites on the island – the better preserved one is 2-S-21, a fortified village of 110 x 70m in size which Vila associated with the Terminal Medieval period (Vila 1977: 32-37) in the southwestern corner of the island. He provided an excellent map of the site, and we could follow in his footsteps and check the present day preservation.

Location of site 2-S-21 on Gergetti island.

The enclosure wall has a hexagon shape and is made of mud brick with blocks and pieces of schist stone. In the southern part, the enclosure has already partly collapsed in the times of Vila, but the buildings in the interior are still very well preserved.

Plan of the fortifed village by Vila (1977).
Overview of the interior of the site in January 2022.

A dozen of preserved mud brick houses are square or rectangular buildings with one very small room in the back and a larger room in the front. Such a layout as well as the general appearance of the settlement 2-S-21 seems typical of the Funj period. Much progress in research on Funj house architecture has just been made in the last years, most prominently by the UMMA project at Old Dongola. In one of their recent publications, Obłuski and Dzierzbicka point out the main characteristics and differences to the medieval Nubian house types. They also mentioned Gergetti island as a close parallel to Old Dongola (Obłuski & Dzierzbicka 2021, 237, 242).

One of the houses along the northern wall (view to west).

Especially since research of Funj period domestic architecture between the Second and Third Cataracts is still limited, the site 2-S-21 has much potential for future exploration. It became obvious that the map of Vila, as useful as it is, needs to be improved in several respects and that some buildings were also omitted on his plan. One possibility would be to document the site by drone aerial photography and thus to generate a new georeferenced 3D model as well as detailled plans. Excavations should also be undertaken in selected parts of the town, especially for clarifying building phases. The earliest phase of the settlement would be extremely relevant – not only for further comparisons with Old Dongola and other sites, but also from a historical view for the region of Attab to Ferka. Apart from the architecture, the material culture will give important information on the fine dating (as well as on so many other questions like room function, activities etc.). There is plenty of pottery on the surface, including nice painted wares and we also found one small piece of glazed ware. Without doubt, undisturbed contexts more useful for dating can be expected below some of the collapsed walls.

The state of preservation of the buildings at 2-S-21 is just amazing.

For now, Vila’s association of the site with Late Medieval times should be modified as most likely Funj period – more on this will follow when we return to the beautiful island of Gergetti.

References

Obłuski, A. and Dzierzbicka, D. (eds) 2021. Old Dongola: development, heritage, archaeology. Fieldwork in 2018-2019. Volume 1: Excavations. Polish Publications in Mediterranean Archaeology 1. Leuven et al.

Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Sudanaise). Fascicule 6: Le district de Attab, Est et Ouest. Paris: CNRS.

Not all archaeology takes place in the field!

Since joining the project in June, I have been busy catching up on the research that has been conducted to date. A considerable amount of this goes back much further than the start of the DiverseNile project to an archaeological survey which took place between 1969 and 1973 directed by André Vila (Budka 2020). As much as we archaeologists enjoy excavation, we also spend a huge amount of time using and building on the work of our predecessors (see also the earlier blog posts by Rennan Lemos and Veronica Hinterhuber). This is particularly important when considering large concession areas such as the one held by the DiverseNile project and the questions the project poses.

Published plan of the area surveyed between 1969 and 1973 (Vila 1979)

Past work such as Vila’s survey can help inform current (and future!) projects in myriad ways. At the most basic level, we can use the results to help locate potential sites of interest for the project and then identify and re-explore them in the field in Sudan. This can also be significant in noting changes in archaeological sites since Vila’s survey, which is crucial for their preservation (Budka 2019; 2020). We can also integrate past data into our current research, increasing the data we have available at our disposal to answer our present research questions. Finally, we can use this survey data to explore research and archaeological practices both today and in the past. Understanding these practices is crucial as they directly influence the way that archaeological knowledge is constructed (Ward 2022). Therefore, a key consideration when using Vila’s data is to understand how it was collected and presented at the time, this means we can make use of it much more effectively. To this end, considering Vila’s results as ‘legacy data’ is a useful way of integrating this past research into our current project.

Normally, the term legacy data in archaeology is used to define ‘obsolete’ archaeological data but, given the vast importance of digital data for any kind of analysis, manipulation, or mapping, this can broadly be applied to any data which is not digital (Allison 2008). As such, any work involving the re-contextualisation, application of modern techniques, or modelling of past data can be considered working with legacy data (Wylie 2016). Thinking of this evidence as legacy data rather than simply data is crucial when using it in any new or future research as it demands a more complex engagement with the material then simply extracting quantitative data. It would be redundant to simply apply new methods to old data, without engaging with more fundamental questions which consider how the data was originally collected and how it fits into the broader historical and methodological contexts of previous studies.

Fortunately for us, Vila’s survey is comprehensively published across 11 volumes, all of which are available on the website of the SFDAS (Section française de la direction des antiquités du Soudan). The volumes are nicely bookended by an introductory volume — which provides crucial information on how the survey and recording was conducted by the team, as well as the classification system used — and a concluding volume — which provides some quantitative analyses of the results of the survey.

Classification of sites used by Vila during the survey (after Vila 1975)

This is a fantastic resource for the project to draw upon as a key consideration when making effective use of legacy data is not only to understand the methodological processes used, but also to ensure the replication of past results (Corti and Thompson 2004; Corti 2007; Corti 2011). As in any science, the reproducibility of results is fundamental in ensuring the accuracy — and therefore usability — of past research, which is crucial when incorporating it into contemporary research. Furthermore, advances in the archaeology of Sudan means that some of Vila’s results — for example, in terms of phasing — may well need to be re-examined and ‘updated’ to take into account the half-century of subsequent research.

Of course, all of this leads to additional questions on the future of the research and data created by the DiverseNile project. This includes thinking about the best ways to collect, store, and share our data and ‘futureproof’ our work.  

Keep reading the blog for future updates on Vila’s work and its integration into the DiverseNile project!

References

Allison, P. 2008. Dealing with Legacy Data ‒ an introduction. Internet Archaeology 24. DOI:10.11141/ia.24.8

Budka, J. 2019 (with contributions by Giulia D’Ercole, Cajetan Geiger, Veronica Hinterhuber & Marion Scheiblecker). Towards Middle Nile Biographies: The Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019, Sudan & Nubia 23:13‒26

Budka, J. 2020. Kerma presence at Ginis East: the 2020 season of the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project, Sudan & Nubia 24: 57‒71

Corti, L. 2007. Re-using archived qualitative data ‒ where, how, why? Archival Science: 37‒54

Corti, L. 2011. The European Landscape of Qualitative Social Research Archives: Methodological and Practical Issues. Forum: Qualitative Soical Research 12(3)

Corti, L. and Thompson, P. 2004. Secondary Analysis of Archive Data. In: Seale, Gobo, Gubrium, et al. (eds) Qualitative Research Practice. London: Sage: 327‒343

Vila, A. 1975. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 1: General introduction. Paris: CNRS

Vila, A. 1979. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 11: Récapitulations et conclusions. Paris: CNRS

Ward, C. 2022. Excavating the Archive/Archiving the Excavation: Archival Processes and Contexts in Archaeology. Advances in Archaeological Practice 10(2). DOI:10.1017/aap.2022.1

Wylie, A. 2016. How Archaeological Evidence Bites Back: Strategies for Putting Old Data to Work in New Ways. Science, Technology, & Human Values 42(2): 203‒225