A day-off at Ginis

Today is Friday and after some crazy first weeks because of our initial problems, we’re finally in an ordinary working schedule, making a day-off to relax and to study finds. And there was also some unusual excitement: We had a very nice surprise visit by a group of tourists travelling through Sudan with Lendi Travels, the company of my dear friend Waleed in Khartoum. I gave them a short tour at GiE 001, explaining the challenges we are currently encountering, but also the huge potential of the site. For them it was of course a big difference compared to all the nicely preserved New Kingdom sites with stone architecture like Sai and Soleb.

After the nice group left, I took the opportunity for a relaxing walk back from the site to our house. And I am happy to share here some impressions of the stunning beauty of the landscape at Ginis, wishing everybody a relaxed weekend:

The fields along the river bank contrasting with the sandy dunes on the west bank.
View towards the west bank with some rocky outcrops.
The nice local house we rented as a digging house for this season.

Summary of week 3 at Ginis East

Our third week of the 2020 just ended and was very successful. We concentrated during the week on site GiE 001. Recorded by Vila as site 2-T-36B in the 1970s, this domestic site at Ginis East can be assigned to the Egyptian New Kingdom, showing also an intriguing Kerma presence according to the surface finds as well as Napatan ceramics. Magnetometry was conducted by MUAFS in 2019.

In the 2020 season, two trenches were laid out above promising anomalies in the magnetometry in the northeastern part of the site, just south of the modern car track. Trench 1 (6 x 4 m) yielded, apart from surface finds which were mixed and dated from the Kerma Period, the New Kingdom, the Napatan Period and Christian times, some Kerma Classique sherds from lower levels. However, no structures were found and the magnetometry seems to show natural features, especially more sandy areas which contrast to clay layers.

Trench 2 (10 x 4 m) is the area where we found plenty of evidence for marog digging. The pottery was abundant and is again a mix of predominantly New Kingdom material with Kerma, Napatan and Christian wares. Work in Trench 2 is not yet finished and will continue in the upcoming week.

All in all, remains in GiE 001 are clearly not as we were hoping according to the magnetometry, but it is still a very interesting site to study, especially within the context of the question of Egyptian presence during the New Kingdom in the area of Attab/Ginis/Kosha, thus in the periphery of Amara West and Sai Island.

Documenting marog digging pits at Ginis East

This week passed by very fast, the weekend is already approaching. Since half of the team left by now, we are working in a very small group these days. Huda, Jessica and me were busy at Ginis East, site GiE 001, where the surface is covered with primarily New Kingdom material.

Today, we made much progress in Trench 2 – first of all, we are currently excavating marog pits. Marog corresponds to sebbakh digging in Egypt and refers to recent pits excavated in the soil/mud bricks to use the clay as fertilizer in the fields.

The largest of these pits in Trench 2 is 2.40 m in diameter and 75 cm deep. It was filled with fine sand and the traces of the tools the marog diggers used are clearly visible on the sloping edges. We documented everything in 3D according to our standard procedure.

We have already much experience with these pits from Sai Island where they are also common in the New Kingdom town area. The material within the pits is usually very mixed – and this also holds true for GIE 001. Five baskets of pottery were collected from Trench 2 so far and although the majority is clearly New Kindom, including Ramesside material, there are also Napatan pottery and Christian ceramics. And of course some recent material like date seeds were also found in the filling of the pit.

Work will continue tomorrow, and since we have finished all the sandy fillings of the marog pits, we will now carry on with the muddy remains.

Kerma sites at Ginis East and the church of Mograkka

Since today is a study day in the digging house to work on the finds from week 1 and 2, especially pottery and lithics, I also have some time to give an update on our activities.

We concentrated on 3 sites in the area of Ginis East – all of them date back to the Kerma period, but especially at GiE 004 and GiE 005 there was also later activity based on surface finds and Christian ceramics.

We only laid out test trenches this season since we wanted to check the common status of sedimentation and stratigraphy. And this turned out as quite disappointing – no stratigraphy was preserved in most cases, although two trenches yielded a few pottery sherds from a quite deep level. For all trenches, we used the same imaged based documentation system that we developed over the last years at Sai Island and it was very valuable to practice it in these new surroundings.

In addition, we got some very nice kite aerial photos from the sites.

Well, we will collect and analyse all these data further and despite of all, these are of course useful information for the general understanding of our concession area and the individual sites.

Another task this week was the small mud brick church at Mograkka (Vila site 3-L-22). Cajetan, Jessica and Huda spent an intense day there and re-mapped it. Our documentation includes a 3D structure from motion digital photographic documentation in combination with survey points from a total station. This is the first working step within a planned excavation and site management plan for this monument in the near future.

In the coming days, we will continue with test trenches at sites in Ginis East. This time with a very promising site where the surface is covered with loads of pottery from the Kerma period, the Egyptian New Kingdom and Napatan times. Keep your fingers crossed that there is some stratigraphy preserved!

Lessons learned in the 2020 season: Part 1

Time flies by, we have been very busy at several sites in Ginis East. Our technical problems continued and the only solution was to cope with these and to learn something for the future.

What follows here could be classified under “fucked-up science” – things that go wrong in science and are communicated and not covered up. I am a big fan of this approach, especially on blogs and social media. However, I know that critics always question this now quite fancy way of science communication as being too simplistic, too self-focused and that it just serves for self-representation. Well – granted that there are always two sides of a coin… But why I personally think it is useful to incorporated “fucked up science” is first of all one aspect: communicating failures and problems also tells people who are no insiders and experts of the field, how many things must actually go right that we come up with results and a nice documentation of archaeological sites. And how much can go wrong… There are of course many errors, mistakes and new trials behind most of scientific research – and in fields like archaeology, where we depend on a large set of technical equipment, chances are very high to waste time and money before all works out as planned… And thus, words like “waste of” and “failure” do not always really fit, it is simply life with all its ups and downs and daily challenges…

So let’s start with an example from the current MUAFS season which is still full of daily issues.

Our drone (property of my department at LMU) was stuck in customs since we arrived in Khartoum. Although our dear friend George from the Acropole Hotel did his best, gave almost daily updates, nothing changed and no clearance was issued. We finally decided to skip the procedure, abandon the efforts and to accept that we will not be able to conduct drone aerial photography like last year – after all, the only person with a proper license to use the drone is Cajetan. And Cajetan is already leaving Sudan in the next days. The drone now stays at the airport and will depart with me to Munich in March…

Here comes the lesson we learned: as fantastic, as it is to use a drone for aerial photography, in countries like Sudan their use comes with a number of complications and also of costs. We believe it is crucial to have an unsophisticated subsidiary at hand – like in our case the kite we already used for Sai Island in the framework of the ERC AcrossBorfders project. This kite I bought back in 2015 “lives” since than in Sudan, always stays here and last year I stored it in Ginis. Thus, it is always available, without electricity, without fancy equipment.

Of course, we did not cover the area we originally wanted to, as the kite has its limits compared to the drone – but it was a great joy to see that it works, that the surface models and photos themselves are really useful and of high quality. In Sai, we have experienced also days when kite aerial photography fails because of too strong wind, because there is not enough wind or due to the simple fact that the features we want to document are too close to the Nile (as Sai is an island) and would be too risky for the person holding the kite (and there are plenty of crocodiles around in the Nile…). So – there are of course situations when a kite in Sudan is not the best solution, we had been lucky in this respect this season.

To conclude, lesson 1 is: always have a Plan B for site documentation/aerial photography and keep this as much independent from external factors as possible. There were more lessons learned in this challenging season at Ginis, but these will follow in another post.

P.S.: network is really low these days, internet connection very slow so this blog must work for now without pics… But feel free to check my twitter account for some photos from the field!

ERC Consolidator Grant for Julia Budka: DiverseNile at LMU

I am both very thankful and extremely proud to be one of the four LMU scientists being awarded with an ERC Consolidator Grant 2019, thus with the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research for 5 years with a budget of 2 million EUR. My second ERC grant after a Starting Grant in 2012!

My project is entitled “Cultural diversity in the Middle Nile Valley. Reconstructing biographies in the periphery of urban centres in northern Sudan during the Bronze Age” and has the acronym DiverseNile. Within the MUAFS concession, we will be investigating the cultural contact between the various groups inhabiting this part of the Nile valley and their relations with the intriguing landscape of this region.

My goal is to refine the cultural entanglement concept in New Kingdom Nubia with its current elite and religious bias in favour of addressing actual cultural diversity in peripheral zones. In order to test my main hypothesis, I will develop a new concept, re-designing the concept of contact spaces (Stockhammer/Athanassov 2018) in combination with the landscape biography approach (Kolen/Renes 2015). This new concept of ‘contact space biography’ aims to investigate whether degrees of cultural diversity and entanglement relate to the peripheral location of the sites, which may also be influenced by the general landscape.

With our new archaeological and scientific evidence we will move the current understanding of Bronze Age Middle Nile groups to a new level, first of all because of the combined assessment of villages and cemeteries. The novel concept will also allow highlighting fluid perceptions of what was considered as centre and as periphery.

The major goal of DiverseNile is to evaluate the specific living conditions in the region between Attab to Ferka in direct comparison with the urban centres of Amara West and Sai (see my ERC Starting Grant project AcrossBorders https://acrossborders.oeaw.ac.at/ ), and to reconstruct biographies based on material and textual evidence. My new cohesive approach considering humans, non-humans, technologies and environmental properties in a peripheral frontier region in northern Sudan has four main objectives and corresponding work packages.

We hope that our present comprehension of categorisations of ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ sites will be significantly revised by this new method capitalising on the concept of the dynamics of cultural encounters and add most important new insights to the growing debate of how to understand ‘Nubian’ and ‘Egyptian’.The field-related outcome will thus be a fresh understanding of processes currently labelled either as ‘Egyptianisation’ (with a one-dimensional perception of culture) or ‘cultural entanglement’ (with an elite bias). Our bottom-up research will illustrate the connectivity, complexity and social diversity within life worlds along the Nile in the presently unidentified periphery of urban centres. Can’t wait to start this exciting project!

Last but definitely not least, I must thank all of those who supported my application in various respects, from colleagues to friends, family and my partner. Foremost is, however, the wonderful MUAFS team – such a huge project is only possible as team work and I am very proud of my excellent team of researchers and graduate students who contributed a lot to our joint success!


Stockhammer/Athanassov 2018 = Stockhammer, P.W. and Athanassov, B. 2018. Conceptualising Contact Zones and Contact Spaces: An Archaeological Perspective, 93‒112, in: S. Gimatzidis, M. Pieniążek and S. Mangaloğlu-Votruba (eds.), Archaeology across Frontiers and Borderlands. Fragmentation and Connectivity in the North Aegean and the Central Balkans from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. OREA 9. Vienna.

Kolen/Renes 2015 = Kolen, J. and Renes, J. 2015. Landscape Biographies: Key Issues, 21–47, in: J. Kolen, H. Renes and R. Hermans (eds.), Landscape Biographies: Geographical, Historical and Archaeological Perspectives on the Production and Transmission of Landscapes. Amsterdam.

Soapbox Science Munich in retrospect

The Soapbox Science event last Saturday in Munich was much fun – and, as far as I can tell, also a great success. Many people were passing by, young and old, Munich citizens as well as tourists, people from very different backgrounds. Amazingly, quite a lot of them stayed for some time – so the concept really worked, people were stopping to hear more about science and in my case about archaeology.

Since so many friends sent me pictures of the event, here are some illustrating my performance. Special thanks go in particular to Veronica Hinterhuber, Sarah Zauner, Maren Goecke-Bauer, Jessica Izak, Jessica Distefano, Elisabeth Gütschow, Mona Dietrich and Tanja Kessler.

Would I recommend the Soapbox Science format in general? The answer is definitely yes – it’s an excellent way to present one’s research to the public and to discuss aspects rarely address in other contexts with such a diverse audience, including gender issues and the role of women in science. And besides it’s something very special to get to talk as a scientist in public places like Odeonsplatz.

Sudan lecture in Munich

Having just returned from Egypt, I am delighted to announce a lecture on ancient Sudan here in Munich today – Emanuele Ciampini (Università ca‘ Foscari, Italy) will present latest results about the palace and royal city of king Natakamani at Napata.

This lecture is part of the lecture series dedicated to Ancient Sudan as „The South Gate to the Ancient World“, organised by MUAFS in cooperation with the SMÄK, the Museum of Egyptian Art here in Munich. Entrance is free, everybody welcome!

Some glimpses from the West – Attab, Ginis and Kosha

The second week of the MUAFS project is well underway – time flies by, only the temperatures have dropped markedly.

With limited internet access, here are just some very brief comments on our ongoing survey of the westbank. It was just stunning in the last days to experience a boat ride into a completely different landscape every morning. Attab, Ginis and Kosha look as much different as the Nile is changing its direction and course. Most beautiful so far was clearly Ginis – with impressive sand dunes and archaeological sites set between these picturesque desert landscapes and tamarisks.

As much impressed as we are by the surroundings, as rewarding are the survey results and the archaeological remains. Giulia in particular was really happy that we located a number of meso- and neliothic sites with nice pottery; my personal favourite these days was site Vila 3-P-17 in Kosha West. This is a settlement mound with early 18th Dynasty pottery, of tremendous importance for understanding the early presence of Egypt in this area during the New Kingdom (and contemporaneous to the early levels at Sai the AcrossBorders project was investigating in the last years).

Especially remarkable are also three sites in the central part of Ginis West, which Vila dated to the New Kingdom but which are clearly Napatan based on the pottery from the surface. As settlement remains with peculiar architectural features, these sites hold rich potential for investigating Napatan occupation in the Batn el-Hagar region.

The next days will be very busy finalising the archaeological survey on the westbank, the geophysical survey on the eastbank and aerial photography of Kosha East. An update will follow shortly, once we are again connected to the www.

Some impressions from the first week of fieldwork

Fieldwork without internet connection – something very unusual these days, but during this season none of our mobile devices is working, so please forgive that this blog has been as silent as I was on twitter the last week.

Today, we have the great chance to catch up with emails and connect to the world again thanks to a kind Sudanese friend and his wonderful WLAN-connection! And of course I would like to give you a very brief account of our past week.

We set up headquarters in a really nice and comfortable Nubian house at Attab East, thus in the southern end of our concession. This proofed to be perfect, we can reach the most important sites in the surroundings by foot and shopping for our driver at Abri, the only major town nearby, is also very convenient.

In week 1, we succeeded in a survey of the most relevant sites on the East Bank from Attab, Ginis, Kosha, Mograkka up to Ferka. Although most of them have been located and documented by Vila, we also discovered some new sites, especially Pre-Kerma occupation sites. Ferka, Mograkka and Kosha are dominated by Christian remains and large Post-Meroitic cemeteries, including tumuli of very considerable size. Kerma cemeteries are also found until the northern part of our concession area.

Work focused on Ginis where also a new field measurement system was set up – we conducted a multi-disciplinary documentation of three selected sites in this area: magnetometry, aerial photography by drone and of course a surface survey.

Site  GiE 001 is most interesting – it is a very complex settlement, having been used from the Kerma period throughout the New Kingdom and possibly until Pre-Napatan times. Vila observed a Kerma and a New Kingdom part of the site – however, this is probably much more complicated, and interestingly we not only found 18th Dynasty but also Ramesside pottery on the surface. Was this site really occupied during most of the era of the New Kingdom? So many important questions!

But I must confessed that I was very shocked when we first reached this site which was, just according to my preparation of this field season based on Vila’s documentation, my personal favourite for excavation in the upcoming years. The western part of the site is now completely covered by modern houses that were built in the last 20 years! And its eastern part is heavily damaged by construction work for the electricity posts.

Well… After the first shock, I stuck to my original plan and we started to document the site in detail. Marion, helped by Huda and Giulia during this week, managed to conduct a great magnetometry survey at GiE 001 – the results are amazing and definitely what I was hoping for!

The site is much damaged, but plenty of information is still available under ground. We will keep you updated here – the site will keep us busy in the upcoming years.

Exciting results from Marion’s magnetometry survey!

Other sites have already been documented using the drone of our department at LMU – Cajetan, assisted by Franziska and Valentina, managed to cover large parts of Ginis, focusing on the sites which will be excavated in the near future.

Although work during this week has been in parts very frustrating – many sites were badly damaged, others even disappeared since Vila’s work!, the results are very promising and exceed my expectations already. And apart from all – the landscape is amazing and just really splendid, especially the view towards the West Bank. A privilege to work in this part of the Middle Nile Valley.

I collected already a nice sample of pottery from sites at the East Bank – dating from Neolithic times, Pre-Kerma, Kerma, New Kingdom (both 18th Dynasty and Ramesside), Pre-Napatan, Napatan, Post-Meroitic and Christian times. The rare Meroitic tombs in our concession are unfortunately all very much disturbed and yielded no finds for us as of yet.

Giulia and Huda busy with sorting pottery from the survey.

Next week work will focus on the West Bank and on magnetometry of more Kerma and New Kingdom sites on the East Bank – it will again be a very full, but definitely rewarding week!