All set for the official start of the excavation season 2023

It has been a busy week – arriving in Khartoum, finishing the paperwork, travelling to the north, arriving in Ginis, settling in our digging house, sorting the material and equipment and organizing the gang of workmen for our excavations as well as the boat transport to the west bank. All went very smoothly thanks to great support from our Sudanese friends and colleagues, especially the help of our inspector Huda, our friends Waleed in Khartoum and Magzoub here in Abri as well as our driver Imad and cook Ali.

Just great to be back in oir digging house in Ginis!

We will start with extended excavation in the small settlement AtW 001 – in 2022, a first test trench provided interesting results, suggesting that there was a use at the site from Classic Kerma times through the Thutmoside period (for details see Budka 2022).

We managed to prepare everything for our first day of excavation tomorrow: Chloe and Sofia set up the new grid and took all necessary measurements, I was busy with taking micromorphological soil samples from the section of our 2022 trench – Huda was a great help here, not only in taking working pictures.

Taking our first micromorphological samples at AtW 001.

It was the first time I took these samples using plaster of paris, quick-setting gypsum plaster – and although the sediment is partly very soft and challenging to sample, it worked really well. We hope that the analysis of these samples will allow us a more detailed understanding whether our excavated area was an open space or a roofed space, what kind of activities apart from the visible fire places and the dumping of food waste are traceable and much more! Very exciting, especially since we did not yet find standing architecture although loose mud bricks are present at the site.

Today is our day off and tomorrow we will start week 1 of excavations at AtW 001 with our local workmen – stay tuned, this site is really full of potential!

Reference

Budka 2022 = J. Budka, Early New Kingdom settlement activities in the periphery of Sai Island: towards a contextualisation of fresh evidence from Attab West, MittSAG – Der Antike Sudan 33, 2022, 45‒61.

…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.

Conference hopping from Germany to Egypt

November is usually one of the busiest months of the year. This holds especially true when one has just returned from fieldwork in Egypt and even more since some conferences are now organised as hybrid events, allowing in person attendance.

Though it will be quite a challenge, I am extremy grateful to have been invited to two events in the next days of which the topics are very close to my special fields and also to WP 3 Material culture of the DiverseNile project.

Today, I will be heading towards Mainz in Germany. Tomorrow and on Saturday the international workshop „Excavating the extra-ordinary 2. Challenges & merits of working with small finds“ will take place.

My own presentation on Saturday has the title: „What makes a pottery sherd a small find? Processing re-used pottery from settlement contexts“.

Re-cut pot sherds are among my favourite small finds and they occur in great numbers at domestic sites in both Egypt and Sudan (e.g. Qantir, Elephantine, Amarna and Sai Island). As multi-functional tools they attest to material-saving recycling processes.

Re-used pottery sherds offer many intriguing lines of research, first because of the recycling process and questions related to objects biographies. Second, the multiple function of tools created from re-cut sherds allows to investigate diverse sets of tasks and practises in settlement contexts. Third, lids and covers created from pottery sherds illustrate the blurred boundaries between categories of finds in the archaeological documentation, especially between ceramic small finds and pottery. Lids are also commonly part of ceramic typologies when produced as individual vessels. Can we determine if it made a difference to the ancient users whether a lid was made from a re-used sherd or as a new vessel? I will use the nice example of a complete Kerma vessel found with a stone lid in situ in one of our tombs in cemetery GiE 003 as case study to discuss these points.

My lecture in Mainz mainly aims to address some terminological and methodological issues arising from processing re-used pottery sherds as small finds as well as dating problems. I will outline the recording procedure established in the framework of the ERC AcrossBorders project for New Kingdom Sai and how we have adapted this workflow for the ERC DiverseNile project.

On Sunday, I will be heading to Cairo for the next event, the conference “Living in the house: researching the domestic life in ancient Egypt and Sudan”. The conference is organized by Dr. Fatma Keshk on behalf of the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale and the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology, University of Warsaw, Research Center in Cairo. The main focus of this event is settlement archaeology in its multi- and interdisciplinary aspects in ancient Egypt and Sudan. Chloe will also join the conference and we are expecting much input for the DiverseNile project, especially WP 1, settlements.

At the “Living in the house” conference, my lecture on Monday will again focus on ceramics, but this time on cooking ware.

I will present some results from the ERC Project AcrossBorders comparing cooking practices in two contemporaneous sites of the New Kingdom, Elephantine in Egypt and Sai Island in Nubia. I will also show a few examples from the MUAFS concession and how they fit to the other evidence. Preliminary results from organic residue analysis from Egyptian-style and Nubian-style cooking pots allow us to ask questions about diet and culinary traditions. My aim is to illustrate that dynamic and diverse choices within the New Kingdom reflect a high degree of cultural entanglement and challenge previous assumptions, for example of the role of Nubian cooking pots as cultural markers.

I am very much looking forward to these two workshops and especially the exchange and discussion with many colleagues.

The right lid for every pot?

Summer term is approaching an end at LMU (finally!) and there is again some time for research. I am currently busy with processing the pottery from AtW 001, but I also managed to work on the Kerma cemetery GiE 003. Our two student assistants, Caroline and Iulia, have been very hard-working in digitalising the original pottery drawings.

A topic that concerns me at the moment is the question of lids or covers for pots. In Egypt, ceramic lids are well attested since the earliest time. During the New Kingdom, it is sometimes really tricky to decide whether a shallow small dish was used as a lid or as an actual dish. In addition, reused sherds are commonly utilized as covers for pottery vessels (see also evidence from Sai Island, Budka 2020, 250, fig. 117).

How much do we know about lids and covers of pottery vessels from Nubia? Not a lot I am afraid (ast least I don’t).

Brigitte Gratien included some special types of lids in her corpus of the pottery of the Classical Kerma period (Gratien 1978, 36, fig. 7; fig. 63, type 19 and type 32, decorated lid). These are all specific for the site of Kerma and haven’t been found elsewhere. Type 32 of Gratien is especially noteworthy. It is a series of painted vessels with covers, which were interpreted as imitation of basketry or even as representation of a hut (Bonnet 2004, 83). For me, the interpretation of an imitation of basketry is more convincing, also because such imitations in pottery already exist much earlier, though with incised decoration (for nice examples, including pots with lids, see Old Kingdom Elephantine, Raue 2014, fig. 182).

One of the stunning painted vases with cover from Kerma, SNM 1119 (Bonnet 2004)

Interestingly, other than these basketry imitations from Elephantine, I do not know of any lids or covers of Nubian pottery prior to the Classical Kerma age. Could pots have been covered with non-ceramic materials – like with basketry or some other organic materials? And could the increase in pottery lids at the capital in Kerma during the heyday of the empire maybe reflect an inspiration from the Lower Nile/Egypt? Or something else? Another possibility is that we simply missed pottery lids in the Nubian ceramic tradition because we interpreted dishes and cups wrongly (as dishes/cups and not as lids).

These are all intriguing questions, and I will try to investigate them in more detail soon. For now, I would like to present some interesting case studies from the newly excavated Kerma cemetery GiE 003.

Feature 20 in Trench 1 is a rectangular burial pit with rounded edges, vertical walls, and impressions/pits in the east (40cm x 10cm) and west (30cm x 10cm). Remains of a contracted burial were still found in place on a wooden funerary bed. A goat/sheep offering and three almost complete pottery vessels were found below the foot end of the bed on the west side. The complete set of a red-burnished Kerma pot with a stone lid found in situ on top of the vessel (MUAFS 61 and 62) is especially remarkable.

The Kerma pot MUAFS 61 with its stone lid MUAFS 62.

The lid is just a nicely shaped circular disc without any modelling of the interior as it is for example known from lids of kohl pots. With a diameter of 5.4cm it fits perfectly on the pot. Some of you will wonder: with an in situ lid on the pot – what did they find inside the vessel? Well, to my disappointment the pot was completely empty except for some dust.

However, the stone lid MUAFS 62 is not a singular piece from GiE 003. Another stone lid was found in a plundering layer, MUAFS 10. Although it was impossible to associate this piece with a proper burial or feature, it is more or less contemporaneous to MUAFS 62 and can be attributed to the Classical Kerma time. With a diameter of 6.2cm it is slightly larger than MUAFS 62.

Apart from these two stone lids used as covers for pottery vessels, Trench 1 of GiE 003 also yielded a pottery lid. An almost complete lid, MUAFS 312-1/2022, was found in Feature 10 (a rectangular burial pit with pits for the funerary bed, very similar to Feature 20). This pottery lid is wheel-made, was imported from Egypt and is made in a Nile clay B2 variant. Such vessels are very common in the 17th Dynasty in Egypt (e.g. at Elephantine). With a diameter of 10.7cm and its convex shape, it is markedly different to the stone lids mentioned above.

The only attested wheel-made pottery lid from GiE 003 (original drawing J. Budka, digitalisation I. Comsa).

Although proof is lacking, I would assume that this pottery lid was used as the cover for one of the few Marl clay vessels imported from Egypt attested from Trench 1. However, the pottery found inside of Feature 10 apart from the lid was all Kerma in style, including typical Black topped fine wares.

To conclude, it requires more in situ found assemblages like MUAFS 61 and 62 to answer broader questions about the use of lids in Nubia in general and Kerma cemeteries in more particular. For now, the evidence from GiE 003 suggests some intriguing variation, especially in the Classical Kerma age.  

References

Bonnet 2004 = C. Bonnet, Catalogue no. 57: Vase with cover, in: D.A. Welsby and J.R. Anderson (eds.), Sudan. Ancient Treasures. An Exhibition of recent discoveries from the Sudan National Museum, London 2004, 83.

Budka 2020 = J. Budka, AcrossBorders 2: Living in New Kingdom Sai. Archaeology of Egypt, Sudan and the Levant 1, Vienna 2020.

Gratien 1978 = B. Gratien, Les cultures Kerma. Essai de classification, Lille 1978.

Raue 2014 = D. Raue, Elephantine und Nubien im 4. – 2. Jahrtausend v. Chr., Habilitation thesis, Leipzig 2014 (published in 2018, Berlin).

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

Advances in experimental archaeology: firing pottery, use of dung and much more

Most know by now that poop is of great interest for us archaeologists. Recently, the so-called ‘archaeology of dung’ has resulted in numerous cross-geographical publications confirming the use of animal dung in archaeological deposits as the main fuel source and several other purposes. Most of these studies focus on the analysis of the microscopic evidence attributable to dung, combining multi-proxy approaches to investigate the biological components and potential markers of herbivore dung, as well identifying archaeobotanical indications from dung pellets and related sediments. Less numerous are studies concerning the identification of dung as a tempering agent in ceramic material.

In a new paper just published, Giulia D’Ercole and I aimed to replicate, observe, and discuss the recipe utilised by the ancient potters of Sai Island (northern Sudan) in the New Kingdom period using an experimental approach. We discuss the possible adoption of organic inclusions, and especially animal dung, as tempering agents to produce some of the locally made Nubian and Egyptian style ceramics. We think that the use of animal dung within the large set of pottery production offers important fresh insights into both long-standing traditions and cultural encounters (Budka and D’Ercole 2022).

One observation in this paper was also that in terms of the firing process of our samples, it must have been at a low temperature resulting in a minimal supply of oxygen, as in most cases the typical relicts left by the combustion of organic materials were still visible. Questions regarding kilns for both handmade and wheel-made vessels, as opposed to open firing techniques, need to be investigated further, as does the kind of fuel used for firing pottery. Recent research suggests that fresh wood and animal dung were used in tandem in pottery kilns (see the case of the smelting furnace from Egypt, Verly et al. 2021), and possibly even for open firing.

This brings me to our most recent experiments connected with firing pottery. I spent the last weekend at Asparn (Austria), at the MAMUZ museum and had the pleasure to participate once again in the experimental archaeology class hosted by the University of Vienna.

Vera’s great Classical Kerma replicas placed in our lower bedding of goat dung.

Together with Vera and Ludwig Albustin and other colleagues, we were busy on the first day firing high quality replicas of Classical Kerma beakers. We used goat dung as the main fuel, but also some fresh wood and the results were really good – it went fast, and the appearance of the pots is very close to the ancient ones. We will clearly continue in this line, making more experiments with mixed fuels for firing pottery, for example with adding reed or straw.

Pottery firing in progress.

The second part of our experiments this year in Asparn was dedicated to fire dogs, their possible use and cooking pots. Our current line of research aims to test the advantage of using fire dogs together with Nubian style cooking pots – they differ slightly in shape and size of the Egyptian ones. I believe it is possible that the inhabitants of Sai found some creative ways to combine Egyptian fire dogs with Nubian cooking pots – thus they might have created something new.

Our new set of fire dogs which was fired and is now ready for use.
New replicas of Nubian cooking pots placed on fire dogs.

For some canines, all this effort and attention to the curious fire dogs remains incomprehensible. The different smells at the experimental archaeological site were a lot more exciting here.  

References

Budka and D’Ercole 2022 = Budka, J. and D’Ercole, G. 2022. An Experimental Approach to Assessing the Tempering and Firing of Local Pottery Production in Nubia during the New Kingdom Period. EXARC Journal 2022/2. https://exarc.net/ark:/88735/10638

Verly et al. 2021 = Verly, G., Rademakers, F.W., Somaglino, C., Tallet, P., Delvaux, L. and Degryse, P. 2021. The chaîne opératoire of Middle Kingdom smelting batteries and the problem of fuel: excavation, experimental and analytical studies on ancient Egyptian metallurgy. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 37 (article no. 102708) DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102708

In focus: The Forth Cataract and its gold industry

One of the first associations most archaeologists have with ancient Nubia is as a source of gold. Although it is well known that raw gold was extracted from various locations across Nubia (see Klemm & Klemm 2013), the previous focus of research was on Lower Nubia, the region between the Second and Third Cataract as well as the Eastern Desert (see most recently Davies & Welsby 2020).

Recent fieldwork in the Forth Cataract region is shedding new light on Nubia’s gold production and processing in regions previously considered as marginal. Of prime importance are the excavations at Hosh el-Guruf (Emberling & Williams 2010: 22; Williams 2020: 188).

I am delighted that tomorrow’s DiverseNile Seminar will be focusing on “Hosh el Guruf, a gold processing centre on the Fourth Cataract and a gold industry in Old Kush”. Bruce Williams will present evidence from this important site which offers glimpses of early gold processing activities, among others numerous large grindstones associated with quartz crushing to extract gold.

One of the big questions about gold processing in Nubia is the origin of this grindstone technology (see Meyer 2010) – was it an innovation brought by the Egyptians or is it rather a local technique? Hosh el-Guruf has the potential to provide here answers and to illustrate the complexity of Nubian organisation of gold processing before the Egyptian colonisation (Williams 2020: 188).

I am very much looing forward to tomorrow’s lecture and highly recommend not to miss it!

References

Davies, W. Vivian & Derek A. Welsby (eds) 2020. Travelling the Korosko Road: archaeological exploration in Sudanʼs Eastern Desert. Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication 24. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Emberling, G. & B. Williams. 2010. The Kingdom of Kush in the 4th Cataract: Archaeological Salvage of the Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition 2007 Season. Part I. Preliminary Report on the Sites of Hosh el-Guruf and El-Widay. Gdańsk Archaeological Museum and Heritage Protection Fund African Reports 7: 17–38.

Klemm, R. & D. Klemm. 2013. Gold and Gold Mining in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Geoarchaeology of the Ancient Gold Mining Sites in the Egyptian and Sudanese Eastern Deserts. New York: Springer.

Meyer, C. 2010. The Kingdom of Kush in the 4th Cataract: Archaeological Salvage of the Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition 2007 Season. Part II. Grinding Stones and Gold Mining at Hosh el Guruf, Sudan. Gdańsk Archaeological Museum and Heritage Protection Fund African Reports 7: 39–52.

Williams, B. 2020. Kush in the Wider World during the Kerma Period, in G. Emberling & B. Williams (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia: 179–200. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Excavating on the west bank of the MUAFS concession – summary of week 4

While the first weeks of our 2022 season focused on mortuary remains and excavations in cemeteries, first of all the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, we switched focus and location in our week 4.

Earlier this year during our MUAFS survey, I noted an extremely interesting site at Attab West, with loads of early 18th Dynasty potsherds as well as scatters of local schist pieces on the surface. This site, AtW 001, is a small almost circular mound (Fig. 1). Unfortunately, the new line of electricity runs right through the site and seems to have destroyed part of it. This week, we went back there and excavated one trench as a first check of whether stratigraphy is preserved and any structures are traceable.

Fig. 1: Work in Week 4 focused on site AtW 001 at Attab West. View of Trench 1 to the south, with the loose surface removed. The mound covered with potsherds and schist pieces on the surface is still visible in the back.

It was our first excavation on the west bank, which differs considerably from the east bank in terms of landscape and general conditions. Logistics are a bit more complicated as well, bringing the team and the equipment to the site by boat and through large sandy dunes with picturesque tamarisks.

In sum, the test excavation at AtW 001 was a challenge but also very rewarding – we found what can be classified as domestic rubbish, loads of ashy deposits, plant remains, animal bones and lots of pottery sherds as well as debris from fires and other everyday activities. The ceramics are nicely datable to the early 18th Dynasty to Thutmoside times. Interestingly, the amount of Nubian wares in the various horizons of fill was really high, accounting to ca. 30% of the ceramics. The lower fills only had very little ceramics inside and here the Nubian wares were more common than Egyptian style wheelmade pots – this is just a first impression and I will follow up on this with a more detailed assessment soon!

We seem to have at least two phases of activity in the New Kingdom period preserved, possibly an early phase and a slightly later one which can be dated to Thutmose III. Remains of collapsed mud bricks and overfired sherds indicate the former existence of buildings and possible also ovens or kilns, but no standing remains of architecture was identified up to now. There were several homogenous deposits of silt, partly showing some ash. The ashy spots of the earliest phase are directly on top of the natural alluvium, suggesting that we either have an open courtyard or maybe part of the periphery of a domestic site. Apart from ceramics, the finds included some grindstones and stone tools like pounders, testifying to some grinding and crushing activities. However, many questions about this site are still open and AtW 001 needs to be excavated on larger scale in the near future.

Fig. 2: Final status of Trench 1 at AtW 001 in 2022 – there is still much work waiting for us at this domestic site!

Overall, our site finds a perfect parallel in the nearby site 2-R-18 in the desert hinterland of Amara West (Stevens and Garnett 2017, previously documented by Vila in the 1970s). As highlighted by Anna Stevens and Anna Garnett, there were also rubbish deposits above homogenous deposits of silt and ash, which seem to have accumulated directly on top of the natural surface. Similar to our site, no traces of architecture were preserved at 2-R-18. The material culture, especially of the pottery and the stone tools, is extremely well comparable to our finds. The dating to the early 18th Dynasty is also almost identical.

Thus, the results of our trench are clearly promising and work at AtW 001 will continue in the near future. Especially the function and duration of use of this site will make a considerable impact to our aims of addressing seasonal sites as well as sites connected with gold working (as suggested by Stevens and Garnett 2017 for 2-R-18 and other desert hinterland sites) and other activities in the 18th Dynasty periphery of Sai Island.

With the final day of work at AtW 001 yesterday, our fieldwork with workmen and excavation has come to an end – just in time before Ramadan starts tomorrow. Part of the team – all of them fully recovered from the corona infection by now – has already left and is heading back to Vienna and Munich. A small team will continue with processing finds here at Ginis and documenting the rich material culture from our very successful excavations in 2022.

Fig. 3: Group picture of the DiverseNile 2022 fieldwork team.

Many thanks go to all team members of 2022 – it has been a challenging season with so much wind, cold weather, covid-19 and a dense excavation programme at four different sites. The results are clearly remarkable and I am very grateful to all! For now, I am really keen to process the new material in more detail in the upcoming week.

Reference

Stevens and Garnett 2017 = Stevens, A. and Garnett, A. 2017. Surveying the pharaonic desert hinterland of Amara West, 287‒306, in: N. Spencer, A. Stevens and M. Binder (eds.), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived Experience, Pharaonic Control and Indigenous Traditions. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3. Leuven.

Corona & wind, but also loads of finds – summary of week 3

After a very exhausting week 2, we started with really bad news into week 3 – half of the team tested positive for the corona virus… Fortunately, all are getting better and only have mild symptoms, but this unpleasant infection in the digging house changed our entire daily routine and of course had an impact on the work in the field. Only four of us tested negative and could carry out the excavations tasks.

On the bright side, despite of our sudden reduction of people working in the field and again strong winds, we managed to finish both GiE 002 (the Prenapatan/Napatan cemetery) and also GiE 003 (the Kerma cemetery) this week.

*NB: Since we are excavating cemeteries, this blog post contains pictures of human remains.

At Trench 4 in GiE 002, I had another well-preserved burial in extended position in the southern niche of the tomb. It was partly moved during the looting in antiquity but is otherwise complete. With remains of mud bricks which were formerly blocking the niche (Fig. 1), this tomb finds close parallels in Missimina (Vila xxx), also as far as the material culture is concerned.

Fig. 1: A view of the burial within the niche of the tomb in Trench 4.

The Kerma cemetery GiE 003 situated between Attab and Ginis East really turned out to be worth all of our efforts. Despite of ancient looting, some of the Kerma burials were nicely preserved and some finds were left in place for us. Furthermore, dating the cemetery and a certain spatial development became possible. With our Trench 2 in the southern part of the cemetery, we cleaned part of the cemetery which shows large circular pits of the Middle Kerma period (Fig. 2). In Trench 1 further north, we had mostly rectangular pits, all with depressions on the east and west end, which can be nicely dated to the Classical Kerma period (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2: Our inspector Huda excavating animal bones in one of the Middle Kerma graves.
Fig. 3: View of some of the excavated graves in Trench 1 datable to the Classical Kerma period.

In general, GiE 003 finds a very close parallel in the cemetery of Ukma in the Second Cataract region (Vila 1987). At our sites, the wooden funerary beds are not as nicely preserved and the burials more disturbed, but the pottery is very similar as are pieces of jewelry like beads and other objects. Some complete pottery vessels were found in GiE 003 and others can still be large reconstructed from fragments. One of the highlights from a Classical Kerma burial was a 15th Dynasty scarab with a royal name and this important piece will be presented in a separate blog post.

All in all, I am more than happy with the results this week and just wish that all of us can work again soon as the complete team – catching the Covid19 virus is never a good thing but getting infected while on excavation in the field in Sudan is really bad timing. Especially since our last week of excavation is approaching. Please keep your fingers crossed, we will keep you posted.

References

Vila 1980 = A. Vila, La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 12: La nécropole de Missiminia. I. Les sépultures napatéennes. Paris 1980.

Vila 1987 = A. Vila, Le cimetière Kermaique d’Ukma Ouest. Paris.

An update on GiE 002: A cemetery with some surprises

Week 2 was very dense – we had strong winds on several days, even had to stop work on Monday and Tuesday. While the team and the workmen moved on Sunday to Kerma cemetery GiE 003, I was staying with two workmen at one of the tombs we found at GiE 002.

* Please note: since we are excavating tombs, this blog post includes pictures of human remains.

The first tomb we found in Trench 1 was just a simple pit burial of probably Prenapatan or Napatan date. A minimum of 2 adult burials was found, but all mixed and displaced.

The other tomb in Trench 4 (Fig. 1) was really quite surprising: an intact burial, wrapped in textiles from the head to the feet was found in an extended sidewards position in the sandy filling (Fig. 2). A few mud bricks were found along the body, the back part of the neck was resting on a large mud brick. This female burial seems to date from Medieval times (a completely wrapped body of this period was found by Vila in a cemetery nearby in Ginis, at 3-P-37, see Vila 1977: 98-101, Fig. 44) and is of intrusive character.

Fig. 1 – The tomb in Trench 4 with the outline of the pit and its sandy filling.
Fig. 2 – The intrusive (seemingly Medieval) burial in the pit.

The same holds true for two (or maybe even three) individuals discovered slightly above the Medieval burial in the side niche of the tomb. One well preserved burial in a contracted position and one skull with remains of the shoulders was unearthed (Fig. 3). Another skull probably belongs to the contracted burial, but was slightly displaced. This requires an expert check by a physical anthropologist.

Fig. 3 – The contracted burial and another intrusive skull in the side niche.

Apart from some Prenapatan (or maybe Napatan) sherds in the filling, no finds were made so far. My assumption is that the niche will continue as a proper side chamber to the south (see Fig. 4) and that we will find remains of the original burials in a lower depth. Let’s see if this expectation comes true! Already now, our findings in GiE 002 differ from the results by Vila and suggest a very interesting long use-life of this cemetery with multiple burials from various periods.

Fig. 4 – The status of the tomb with the upper burials removed – the side niche seems to continue towards the south.

Reference

Vila 1977 = A. Vila, La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 5: Le district de Ginis, Est et Ouest. Paris 1977.