Sudan Studies Research Conference, Munich edition

We are delighted to announce the sixth edition of the international Sudan Studies Research Conference in collaboration with Durham University’s DUSESG Founders on Saturday, June 25. The conference will be held as a hybrid event – the reservation of online tickets is still possible! Please check the website for more information: https://www.sudan-conference.com/

The schedule of talks is now available, and the programme covers a large variety of topics, from various parts of Sudan and different periods, presenting a large range of perspectives and methodological approached.

I am especially delighted to welcome two distinguished German colleagues as keynote speakers – Angelika Lohwasser and Friedrike Jesse. Both will address highly interesting regions outside the Nile Valley – Angelika Lohwasser will present new approaches to archaeology in remote areas and Friederike Jesse will talk about explorations in the South-Eastern Sahara.

The DiverseNile team is grateful for the opportunity to host this event with postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers as its prime audience and we are all very much looking forward to it, expecting plenty of fruitful discussion!

Another recruitment: introducing our new student assistant Caroline

Together with Chloë Ward, another new team member joined the ERC DiverseNile team in June. I am very happy that Caroline Stadlmann is now assisting the project with digitalising drawings, especially pottery drawings. Among the priorities of  our current tasks is the digitalisation of pottery drawings we made during our field season in Sudan in order to prepare publication-ready illustrations.

Caroline drawing in the field in Asasif.

Caroline is a very active MA student in Egyptology at LMU. She has worked with me in Egypt, for both the Ankh-Hor and also the South Asasif Conservation Project (directed by Dr. Elena Pischikova), last year. She has gained much experience in archaeological artefact drawing and was very quick to learn the digitalising of the original pencil drawings into beautiful graphics.

One example of the pottery sherds from the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.

In the last weeks, I was busy processing pottery from the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 and together with Iulia, Caroline provided me with nice drawings which will soon be published. Her present task is the large amount of New Kingdom ceramics from AtW 001, so this will keep her busy for the next weeks! Welcome to the team, Caroline!

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.

Tentative steps towards reconstructing cultural diversity in the Attab to Ferka region through material studies

One of our objectives within the DiverseNile project, to reconstruct cultural encounters based on the material record by the detailed assessment of the most important productive activities, technologies and foodways, has received plenty of new material evidence during the 2022 excavation season. Most importantly, thanks to the support of NCAM and especially our inspector Huda Magzoub, I was able to export a selection of pottery samples for scientific analysis to Germany. These new samples from our excavations in Ginis East (sites GiE 001 and 003) and Attab West (site AtW 001) are of huge importance for the project, especially because due to the restrictions caused by the corona pandemic for archaeological fieldwork in the last two years, we could until now only investigate the petrography of ceramic samples from Dukki Gel.

Such a privilege: unpacking ceramic samples in Munich just one month after excavating the sherds and their contexts in Sudan!

This ties in with what our PostDoc Giulia D’Ercole has summarised in a recent paper: „For over seventy years, theoretical approaches and methods of classification of ceramic objects in Sudan have gradually changed, as have the perspectives and the general purposes of archaeological research. In general, scholarly attention has progressively shifted from forms (i.e., decoration and shape) to mineral and chemical compositions of ceramics and vessel contents (i.e., petrographic, compositional, and organic residue analyses)“ (D’Ercole 2021). This changed focus already influenced our research within the framework of the AcrossBorders project and is now continued with the DiverseNile project.

The analysis of the material culture in Work Package 3 of the DiverseNile project is undertaken from a multi-perspective level, including scientific analyses focusing on provenience studies (e.g. ceramic petrography and iNAA, see already D’Ercole and Sterba 2018). For the ceramics, we will combine macroscopic observations with analytical approaches and evaluate the results of optical microscopy (OM) and chemical analyses (XRF and iNAA) in conjunction. Together with LMU colleagues, Giulia has also introduced Raman spectroscopy as a new application to answer various technological questions, in particular on the manufacturing stages of production and firing of the pots. This will especially help to understand questions about local productions and influences of Nubian ceramic traditions for preparing wheel made pots in the Middle Nile region.

In the last days, I was busy preparing the documentation of our new ceramic samples from Ginis East and Attab West. I selected twenty-one samples for optical microscopy (OM) and thus for the preparation of thin sections, while I will bring 108 samples later this week to the Atominstitute in Vienna where they are being analysed for instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (iNAA) by our colleague and external expert in the project, Johannes Sterba.

Documenting a set of early New Kingdom samples from Attab West.

The new samples comprise sherds of various surface treatments and different fabrics of the Kerma ceramic tradition as well as diverse Egyptian style wheel made samples of which the majority seems to attest to a local pottery production in the Attab to Ferka region. Photographing the samples, I was again struck by the extremely interesting appearance of the material from the domestic site AtW 001. Although I know that the scientific analyses will take some time and I need to be patient, I cannot wait to integrate the results from iNAA and petrography with my archaeological assessment and macroscopical observations and discuss them further with Giulia and Johannes.

Like Aaron M. de Souza and Mary F. Ownby very truly remarked in a recent paper: more micro-analyses of Nubian material culture need to be undertaken to achieve a better understanding of cultural diversity in the Middle Nile (de Souza and Ownby 2022, 55).

References

D’Ercole, G. 2021. Seventy Years of Pottery Studies in the Archaeology of Mesolithic and Neolithic Sudan. Afr Archaeol Rev 38, 345–372. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-021-09432-y

D’Ercole, G. and Sterba, J. H. 2018. From macro wares to micro fabrics and INAA compositional groups: the Pottery Corpus of the New Kingdom town on Sai Island (northern Sudan), 171–183, in: J. Budka and J. Auenmüller (eds.), From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Leiden.

de Souza, A.M., Ownby, M.F. 2022. Re-assessing Middle Nubian cultural constructs through ceramic petrography. Afr Archaeol Rev 39, 35–58. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-022-09473-x

A surprising find from the Kerma cemetery at Ginis

In the course of excavations at site GiE003—a Kerma MoyenKerma Classique cemetery at Ginis East—we found a small intriguing object in a large, roughly rectangular Kerma Classique tomb containing nice pottery and the remains of a large funerary bed (sadly, extremely fragile and badly preserved).

At first, it was difficult to determine the nature of the object, made of ivory and measuring c. 2.3 x 2.2 cm (figure 1). However, after looking at Reisner’s report on the excavations at the cemeteries of Kerma I could determine that the object was actually the upper part—the body—of a fly pendant!

Figure 1: ivory body of a fly pendant from GiE003. Photos by R. Lemos.

Based on my extensive research on New Kingdom cemeteries in Nubia, I was expecting that Bronze Age cemeteries in the region of Ginis in general would comprise mostly non-elite contexts, as is the case with New Kingdom burial contexts in the Batn el-Hajar (Edwards 2020) or rural, small-scale communities in the Kerma hinterland at Abu Fatima (Akmenkalns 2018).

The overall wealth of the community buried at Ginis—at least in the Kerma Classique Period—surprised me a bit. The closest parallel to the tombs we excavated at Ginis would probably be the Kerma cemetery at Ukma West, both in terms of tomb architecture and grave goods (Vila 1987). At GiE003, wealthy archaeological contexts were detected, including animal offerings, funerary beds and especially grave goods, including a glazed steatite Second Intermediate Period scarab—which works as evidence for long distance trade—and our interesting fly pendant.

Fly pendants were found at Kerma (Reisner 1923). Those were made of gilded ivory or bronze. Fly pendants were also found at Semna (ivory; Dunham and Janssen 1960) and Buhen (electrum body and ivory wings; Randall-McIver and Wooley 1911; figure 2). At Kerma, fly pendants were usually associated with bodies wearing swords/daggers, which led Egyptologists to transfer the Egyptian military symbolism attributed to flies in the New Kingdom to Kerma contexts (Binder 2008). However, as these objects became more common in the Kerma Classique Period, one could hypothetically establish a connection between flies and the Kerma expansion (Manzo 2016).

Figure 2: fly pendant from grave J33 at Buhen now at Penn Museum.

Despite not being made of gold or electrum, the fragmentary fly pendant from Ginis works as evidence for the relative wealth of the community buried at the cemetery, which raises questions about the source of such wealth in the context of Bronze Age geographical “peripheries” in Nubia. The object also allows us to discuss other topics, such as identities and social hierarchies, but I need more research time before I’m able to do discuss these any further. Nonetheless, the fly pendant from Ginis allows us to catch glimpses of the potential of material culture to reveal unknown aspects about Kerma communities living outside of Kerma and therefore to understand cultural diversity in Bronze Age Nubia.

References

Akmenkalns, J. 2018. Cultural Continuity and Change in the Wake of Ancient Nubian-Egyptian Interactions. PhD thesis, UCSB.

Binder, S. 2008. The Gold of Honor in New Kingdom Egypt. Oxford: Aris and Phillips.

Dunham, D. and J. Janssen. 1960. Second Cataract Forts. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.

Edwards, D. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Manzo, A. 2016. Weapons, Ideology and Identity at Kerma (Upper Nubia, 2500-1500 BC). Annali, Sezione Orientale 76: 3-29.

Randall-McIver, D. and L. Wooley. 1911. Buhen. Philadelpha: University Museum.

Reisner, G. 1923. Excavations at Kerma. Cambridge, Mass: Peabody Museum.

Vila, A. 1987. Le cimetière kermaïque d’Ukma Ouest. Paris: CNRS.

Almost ready to leave Sudan

One thing that always strikes me on excavations is the bizarre feeling of time one develops – it seems ages ago that we left Munich, but also years ago that we closed the excavation in Attab West (on March 31) and also as if at least a week has passed since we left Ginis yesterday morning!

Well – here we are – getting ready to leave this beautiful country with its rich archaeological and cultural heritage tonight after a very successful season´and a busy day in Khartoum with final paperworks and preparing accounts.

A summary of the 2022 spring season will follow soon – for now I am really grateful to all international team members, our wonderful inspector Huda Magzoub and all the other extremely helpful Sudanese colleagues at NCAM! Many thanks!

We collected large amounts of data from Ginis as well as Attab that will keep us busy in the next months! And hopefully we will be back in our concession area with its stunning landscape later this year!

Processing of finds and surveying – an update from the field, week 5

Week 5 of our 2022 spring season is almost finished and we are getting ready to leave to Khartoum early next week.

We made great progress processing and documenting our recent finds. Sawyer and I were busy with drawing pottery and small finds, Rennan took last photos (Fig. 1). A special focus was on the rich material from the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.

Fig. 1: Rennan was busy photographing beads and other objects from GiE 003.

Because of the large amounts of ceramics, I could spend less time than I hoped for the continuation of the survey. Nevertheless, I managed to document some nice sites in the close vicinity of our digging house. For example, I re-traced the site labelled by Vila as 2-T-23 in Ginis East. Here, dwellings and remains of four saqiyas of a Medieval village are situated on a length of 1500m in the alluvial plain, still partly preserved. Sherds are scattered around the site which is now in parts covered by modern fields and has suffered from some destruction by car tracks.

One of the saqiya Vila documented in the 1970s is especially well preserved (Fig. 2). Recording this site was extremely pleasant because the setting close to the Nile is simply beautiful. One just needs to avoid the early morning hours – since it is hot, the nimiti flies are quite numerous at this time of the day.

Fig. 2: One of the stone-built saqiyas of site 2-T-23.

Yesterday, I covered another stretch of the east bank of the MUAFS concession and went to its very south-western part in Attab East. Here, the most spectacular monument is the extremely well preserved Islamic fortress Kourfa Hemmet, 2-T-57 (Fig. 3), which is surrounded by some Late Medieval remains. In this part of Attab, the Nile is very close to the sites, with a narrow strip of fields and one can already make out the Amara cataract in the water.

Fig. 3: View of the inner courtyard of the islamic fortress 2-T-57.

All these important monuments in a beautiful setting underline the general richness of archaeological sites in the MUAFS concession – and luckily we still have a few more days left in this gorgeous and peaceful part of northern Sudan!

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.

Sand, wind and dust – week 2, 2022 fieldwork season at Ginis

This week was as the last ended – we had very strong winds, 3 days in a row with too much sand and dust in the air to excavate in open areas. The only place I could continue to work was the tomb in Trench 4 in GiE 002.

However, photographing, surveying and measuring under these conditions were really a challenge and Fabian and Max managed all what was possible (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Measuring outlines of stratigraphical units in the tomb at GiE 002 during heavy wind was anything else than easy or pleasant.

The results in this tomb (Fig. 2) are really amazing – we have found seven individuals so far and maybe more are to come!

Fig. 2: I hope to finally finish excavating this really intriguing tomb at GiE 002 in the upcoming days.

Originally, week 2 of our spring season was supposed to focus on excavation in GIE 003, a large Kerma cemetery at Attab/Ginis East. Here, we opened two trenches. In both of them, we found several burial pits and features filled with sand and human bones just below the surface, originally covered by tumulus superstructures. Excavation of these pits started on Thursday (Fig. 3) and although all is plundered, the material culture is really illustrative – high quality Kerma Classique ceramic vessels, Egyptian Marl clay vessels and some various types of beads as well as a pendant made of a mollusc. We are all very much looking forward to the next week!

Fig. 3: Excavations at the Kerma cemetery are now finally progressing fine!

In week 2, we were joined by late-comers from Munich and the 2022 field team is now complete: Together with Iulia, Sawyer helps with various tasks in the field and both of our student assistants were also drawing pottery during the very windy days; Rennan is excavating in the Kerma cemetery and Cajetan is using our drone for making aerial photographs.

Internet connection was and still is really unstable here at Ginis and more than updates on our weekend is difficult – so I hope to get your again interested next Friday!