Perfect timing – summer term at LMU Munich has just ended, I am currently in Vienna, busy with preparing the next AcrossBorders volume to be published with the Austrian Science press, and a new dissemination article about the MUAFS project just appeared in the latest issue of The Project Repository Journal (July 2019, pp. 50-51) and is now live.
In this short article, freely available for download,
I tried to stress that the
MUAFS research concession is primary a geological boundary zone being located
next to a cataract region – the Second Cataract and especially the Dal Cataract
– , and secondly a frontier in terms of cultures. During millennia, the region
was on one hand the northernmost area of an archaeological culture, and on the
other hand the southernmost area of influence by other cultural groups. The
Attab to Ferka region is therefore a perfect case study for a contact space which is shaped by diverse encounters of human actors as
a complex social space.
We could confirm this rich potential with the results of our first field season back in December and January. The new approach of the MUAFS project to focus on cultural encounters and peripheral sites in a border region over several millennia will result in important new insights of this region of the Middle Nile Valley. With this new research concession, my team and I have the means to fill the considerable gap of investigations at sites in the periphery of major settlements in the Nile Valley. Within the MUAFS project’s long durée approach, the focus of the next years will be on Bronze Age and Iron Age sites. The distribution of these sites within the concession area already poses several questions which need to be addressed by means of excavations and detailed data analysis.
An update on our plans for the next field season in Sudan will follow shortly.
MUAFS concession, sites datable to the Meroitic Empire are rare and comprise primarily
tombs and cemeteries. Settlement sites in the region between Attab and Ferka
fall into other periods of Sudan’s history, including the Napatan Empire.
Towns and cities of the Kingdom of Meroe are well known from regions of the country further south – in particular within the island of Meroe, a semi-desert landscape between the Nile and Atbara rivers.
delighted that one of the major Meroitic sites, Mouweis, will be the focus of this
week’s Sudan archaeology in Munich. Marie Millet from the Louvre Museum will
present the recent French excavations at this important city with temples, a palace
and production areas. Her research ties in perfectly with the archaeological
project of my neighbours here in Munich, the Staatliches
Museum für Ägyptische Kunst, and their excavations at the Meroitic site of
Come and join us on June 27 for Marie Millet’s lecture highlightening recent advances on the archaeology and history of Meroitic Sudan!
The last months were really busy with work in Egypt and administrative tasks in Munich. Although the teaching term is ongoing and preparing classes keeps me occupied, there is also some time to process the data we collected in December and January between Attab and Ferka.
The annual one-day international colloquium on “Recent Archaeological Fieldwork in Sudan” at the British Museum London is approaching – and I am delighted that I will have the chance to talk about the most important results from our first field season.
I will try to summarise the distribution of the Vila sites we re-located and discuss some aspects of their dating and cultural classification.
Within the 119 sites we documented, the majority are Christian sites (28,6%). Kerma sites are with 21% also very numerous. The strong presence of Late Bronze Age/Iron Age (New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan) sites is with 18,5% also noteworthy. Especially in the northern part of our concession, large tumuli cemetery from the Post-Meroitic period were noted and Post-Meroitic sites comprise 11,8% of our total. The early periods, in particular Abkan and Khartoum Variant sites, are also well presented in the MUAFS concession area (Neo- and Mesolithic sites with 9,2%).
Looking much forward to process these data further until next Monday and in particular to meet all the colleagues working in Sudan on this occasion in London – for scientific and social updates!
everybody has already experienced something similar: working very hard on
something, finishing just in time and then getting slightly lost in a sudden emptiness!
Well – I personally enjoyed such emptiness tremendously yesterday at 5pm… The call for the ERC Consolidator grants 2019 just ended, the online participant portal just closed, my proposal being submitted in time! Of course this proposal concerns an archaeological project in Sudan – all the data we collected in our first season in the Attab to Ferka region were reviewed and included in the new idea. Although it was much work and all of us involved had to go to the limit, it was also much fun and exciting to write for the following reasons:
Fresh appreciation of my new research concession: the MUAFS concession is such a rich area in northern Sudan, so full of possibilities and potential – the perfect area to answer some of the pressing questions I currently have, especially about Bronze Age Nubia… Very very grateful to NCAM for giving me this possibility – I will make the most out of this!
Gratitude for all my team members and supporters – ERC proposals are only possible to write (and to sell…) if you can build on the perfect team as I am fortunate to have! Many thanks go especially to Veronica, Cajetan, Marion and Giulia – their input and feedback was crucial and is much appreciated!
Thankfulness to all my friends, colleagues and family – for reading parts of the proposal as “outsiders”, and especially for much patience, support, small things and nice words to push my motivation and also the right amount of diversion with real life matters over the last weeks…
Last but definitely not least, I am also very grateful to the LMU – for the financial and administrative support enabling us to prepare a competitive proposal, especially the very useful advice by the team of Division VIII.3 of Research Services.
We celebrated a bit yesterday – to fill the emptiness, but especially to realise that we’ve made important progress and to let all the things described above settle a little bit.
After a short break (because of upcoming fieldwork in Egypt), we will be busy working on the MUAFS data again – keeping all fingers and toes crossed during the long reviewing process, but with the certainty that our research in Sudan is going to have a bright future and will continue.
We are currently processing the data from our first season – while I am busy with assessing the potential of the individual sites for research questions, Marion works on the interpretation of the results from the geophysical survey and Cajetan composes new maps illustrating our findings. Additionally, the processing of the drone photographs that Cajetan took, assisted by Franziska and Valentina, is still ongoing.
A large part of the concession on the East Bank was completely covered with the drone of type Phantom 4Pro, kindly lent to the project from the Department of Archaeology and Cultural Studies of the LMU. Compared to the AcrossBorders project, for which we were using a kite for aerial photography, this was really a great advancement, especially in terms of the extensive reach the drone can cover!
The aerial photographs allow not only georeferenced orthophotos of selected sites, but especially to establish a digital landscape model of parts of the MUAFS concession. In combination with the results from magnetometry, these surface models, especially from Ginis East, offer plenty of possibilities for interpreting our multi-period sites within their environmental surroundings. Great advances thanks to this first very successful season!
From the Nile back to the Isar, from sun and sand back to clouds and snow, from desert walking back to desk work, emails, meetings and teaching – although our travel back from Attab via Khartoum via Istanbul to Munich took more than 30 hours, it feels like a very sudden transposition.
Our first season of the MUAFS project was successfully closed and all of the principle goals were achieved thanks to the great support of NCAM and our inspector Huda Magzoub.
The principal goal of the first season was a new survey of the concession area, which was already recorded by Andrè Vila in the 1970s and published in his volumes 3-6. Altogether, 119 sites by Vila were re-identified and documented in the area between Attab East and Ferka East and Attab West and Mograkka West. For some of these sites, the dating can now be corrected, especially for Khartoum Variant and Abkan sites, Pre-Kerma sites, Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan sites. Diagnostic stone tools and pottery fragments were collected from relevant sites. Other findspots of pottery and lithics that were previously not recorded by Vila, were documented as GPS waypoints and will be integrated in the new map of the area to be composed based on the results of our first season.
One particular focus was on the state of preservation of the sites
nowadays – unfortunately, at almost all sites, we observed modern destruction
and/or plundering. Especially drastic were destructions because of road
building, the electricity posts and modern gold working areas (in particular at
Major changes were observed compared to the state of preservation in times of Vila – one particularly illustrative example is Vila’s Kerma Period site 2-T-36B, partly overbuilt by modern houses and reduced because of the new electricity posts. Another example from the well-attested Christian period in our concession area is the church of Mograkka (2-L-2). While Vila documented it as single monument on a small hilltop, it is now embedded in newly built modern houses of the expanding village. The church new next-door neighbor is a modern mosque erected in the last years. Unfortunately, most of the Christian rock art, located by Vila in the immediate surroundings, are presently covered by modern debris from recent chanel works.
At other places, especially between Mograkka and Kosha, Neolithic and Post-Meroitic as well as Christian rock art was relocated by us. The most frequent motifs are cattle pictures and other animals like gazelles, hippos, ostriches and elephants.
The focus of our work in the first season was the east bank and here in
particular the district of Ginis. We conducted aerial photography of large
parts of the east bank, covering the area between Attab and Ginis by the drone
kindly lent to us from the Department of Cultural and Ancient Studies of LMU
Munich. These data will enable a digital elevation model and detailed
orthophotos. A survey system with measuring points using the GPS Antenna was
set up in this area as well, securing future work according to this
A geophysical survey of four sites from the Kerma period and the New Kingdom was realized by Marion Scheiblecker in Ginis East, using the Magnetometer of the type Ferex Foerster. New site labels were created for these find spots (GiE 001 for Vila 2-T-36B: Kerma and New Kingdom settlement, GiE 002 for Vila 2-T-13: New Kingdom cemetery, GiE 003 for Vila 2-T-39: Kerma cemetery and GiE 004 for Vila 2-T-5: Kerma settlement). The respective results are very promising and can serve as firm basis for a focused excavation of these important sites in the upcoming seasons.
In sum, the first season of the MUAFS project was very successful, providing new and partly unexpected results (like the strong presence of Napatan sites in the region), highlightening the rich potential of the concession area for detailed work from the Mesolithic period up to Christian times and allowing us to plan the next working steps. For now, we consider the Kerma and New Kingdom sites already investigated by magnetometry as of prime priority for further fieldwork.
We will be busy in the next week working on the collected data from our field season and setting up a strategy for the next years of work between Attab and Ferka. Of course we will keep you updated!
Wow – it has been an amazing first season in my new concession up north between Attab and Ferka! Today, we left our house at Attab East and arrived safely in Khartoum – in just a few hours, we will board the plane back to Munich via Istanbul.
A proper summary of our results will follow as soon as I got some sleep. But for now, my amazing team deserved loads of thanks – for making a great season full of important new data possible and for all the individual commitment in many respects!
goes as always to our dear friend and NCAM inspector Huda who was a great
support, helping with surveying in the desert and on the east bank, with
ceramics and with the geophysical survey. Our two Mohammeds – the cook and the
driver – enabled us to focus on our scientific work, taking care of all
logistics in challenging times and providing us with plenty of delicious food.
Looking already now very much forward to the second season of the MUAFS project and coming back to the beautiful landscape full of archaeology covering several millennia of history just downstream of the Dal cataract.
last visit to Abri and to WLAN, before it goes back to Khartoum! Has been a
great first short season of the MUAFS project with plenty of intriguing data
documented many impressive sites in the last two weeks – altogether, I managed
to re-identify and check 119 sites, which Vila recorded in the 1970s. For some
of these sites, the dating is of much interest. A slightly revised dating as
compared to the published data adds fresh information about several periods of
presence in this part of the Nile valley, for example during the Napatan
interest this week was the Kerma period and here in particular settlement sites
and cemeteries. Various large tumuli cemeteries, especially of the Kerma Moyen
and Kerma Classique periods, are located at the East Bank; we found several
older and smaller ones on the West Bank.
Ginis East was once again of particular importance and two more sites were investigated by magnetometry this season. GiE 003, labelled by Vila as 2-T-39, is a huge tumulus cemetery comprising probably more than 150 tombs, stretching from East to West and now partly destroyed by modern pathways and streets. A similar site is 2-P-7, located further upstream at Kosha East. There, the tumuli are quite dismantled, but various ceramics including Egyptian imports can still be found and suggest a Kerma Moyen date as prime phase of use for this cemetery.
work with the Ferrex Foerster magnetometer revealed amazing results at GiE 004,
a Kerma settlement documented by Vila as site 2-T-5. The main structure of the
site and its multiple circular huts, possible enclosures for animals and fences
are clearly visible on the magnetogramm. The site is surrounded by later
structures from Post-Meroitic and Christian times – like at other places in our
concession, a long-lasting multi-period use of this part of Ginis East is
Finally, intriguing Kerma sites can be found at Attab West – in the immediate surroundings of 18th Dynasty sites, comprising both mudbrick and stone architecture. These sites, which are located along an ancient branch of the Nile, are especially relevant to investigate cultural encounters during the Bronze Age in our concession area since Egyptian pottery was found frequently associated with Kerma Classique ceramics.
exciting new finds, so much work to do in the near future between Attab and
Yesterday, our office was nothing for orderly persons – or let’s says armchair archaeologists unfamiliar with last minute preparations of archaeological fieldwork and how messy these can be… Cajetan, Marion, Giulia and me packed all the equipment we need for the upcoming field season in Sudan. Thanks to the great support of the Department of Ancient and Culture Studies of LMU we are particularly well equipped this year – but therefore it was also a challenge to get everything ready, sorted and packed. It took a while, but of course we succeeded and our luggage is almost ready to board the plane next week! And the office is tidy again.
prepared all the form sheets and find labels we need for the new project and
Jessica helped with last minute additions based on the Vila volumes about the
Attab to Ferka region.
Finally, the team got its well-deserved Xmas presents – the brand-new MUAFS T-shirts – and we had a last meeting, including Valentina and Franziska via skype, discussing logistics and priorities for the field.
to all, we are really almost ready to go, a few more days for final
preparations and then we will be arriving in Khartoum, meeting our Sudanese
colleagues and friends. Looking very much forward to the first field season of
the MUAFS project!