It’s almost June and the next DiverseNile Seminar Series is approaching. We are delighted that the next lecture will be given by Carl Walsh on June 6. The very promising title is: “Monsters in the Bed: Hybrid Furniture and Composite Creatures in Kerman Cross-Cultural Interactions”.
Carl is an archaeologists who has received his PhD in 2016 from the University College London. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Barnes Foundation, USA. He is an expert on the Kerma culture and has successfully placed Kerma and Nubia in his publications within wider theoretical and archaeological discussions of the eastern Mediterranean during the Bronze and Iron Ages.Carl kindly provided us with an abstract of his talk – this nicely illustrates why you really should not miss it!
The Kerma state in Upper Nubia (modern Sudan) was a major cultural, political, and economic power in northeast Africa, especially in its later phase during the Classic Kerma period (1700-1550 BCE). While originally viewed as an isolated periphery of Egypt, this kingdom is now understood as heavily interconnected with other Nile Valley and desert groups in northeast Africa—and perhaps even further afield in the Mediterranean and western Asia. This paper builds on recent approaches on Kerman cross cultural interactions through examining the evidence for Egyptian influences in furniture forms and styles during the Classic Kerma period. The distribution and forms of furniture—bedframes, beds, and stools—are examined across Kerma sites and periods and are argued to be indigenous Kerman status objects. At the start of the Classic Kerma period, however, new hybrid furniture types incorporated Egyptian furniture designs alongside fantastical imagery of composite creatures and fauna. The incorporation of these foreign styles and development of composite creatures is argued to be part of a concerted effort by the Kerman court to construct inter-regional identities through shared “international” visual vocabularies and courtly habitus. Diplomacy provided a social and embodied framework for these engagements, which connected different court and elite groups in a wider diplomatic system within northeastern Africa, the Mediterranean, and western Asia during the later second millennium BCE (Abstract by Carl Walsh).
First day back in the office after a fantastic few days in Naples for the 7th Sudan Studies Research conference.
The conference took place in the beautiful Palazzo Du Mesnil by the Naples sea front with some magnificent views. It was also a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues. Although this was tempered of course by the ongoing conflicts in Sudan. Despite this, the conference organisers decided to go ahead with the conference and you can read their statement here https://www.sudan-conference.com/post/april-2023-update. It was also made clear that the conference did not officially close and it is hoped that an online session can be held later in the year for Sudanese colleagues who could not present, hopefully under better circumstances.
The conference included a range of different papers covering a number of themes, including updates on recent fieldwork. I provided a short update on our most recent field season, as well as some of the work we have been doing with André Vila’s 1970s survey data (see previous blog posts about this here and earlier see also the earlier blog posts by Rennan Lemos and Veronica Hinterhuber).
And this was a great opportunity to discuss some of our ongoing work and research as part of the DiverseNile project. It was also great to be able to hear updates from other projects as well, which covered a range of different time periods from the Pleistocene to the modern day.
Distribution of sites identified in the region (and the MUAFS concession) during the 1970s survey directed by André Vila
The keynotes were also diverse in theme, but both extremely interesting with Dr Donatella Usai focusing on life in during the Holocene on the White Nile, providing fascinating insights on this early period in Sudan (you can read more about this research and the wide range of methods used here: https://doi.org/10.1080/0067270X.2019.1691846). Johannes Auenmüller gave the Friday keynote focusing in detail on the remains of a workshop at Amara West (this also included references to a new publication on resource management and metal production which is definitely worth a read: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jas.2023.105766). This was also a useful reminder of the fantastic resources available through the Amara West ResearchSpace website (https://amara-west.researchspace.org/resource/rsp:Start), including a whole range of material and data such as all of the excavators notebooks.
As well as specific archaeological sites or periods in Sudanese history (and prehistory), a large number of presentations focused on material science and scientific analyses. This ranged from archaeobotanical evidence (for example Mohammed Nsreldein and Simone Riehl) to the study of ancient glass (Juliet Spedding). Abdelhadi Abdellatif Salih also gave a fascinating talk on teeth mutilation in Sudan, and was able to present his research live over zoom from Khartoum.
As well as archaeological research, a number of papers focused on more recent Sudanese society including Nadir A. Nasidi on the democratisation of Shari’ah in Sudan between 1983 and 2015, and Beau Stocker on the translation of musical rhythmic traditions in Sudan and South Sudan. Mahmoud A. Emam also presented on ethnoarchaeological approaches to the study of the use and role of amulets in ancient Sudan.
A number of papers also addressed the importance of ongoing conservation and preservation, this included the Italian Mission at Jebel Barkal (presented by Francesca Iannarilli) who, in part, discussed restoration work on the Palace of Natakamani and future plans for the preservation of monuments in the area. A talk in the final session of the conference (delivered by Abdelrhman Fahmy) focused specifically on new developments in the protection of archaeological lime mortar.
The conference was nicely wrapped up with a visit to the National Archaeological Museum in Naples and their Egyptian and Roman galleries. I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of the organisers, Samantha Tipper, Sofia Kakembo, Elena D’Itria, Gilda Ferrandino, Francesco Rega, and Marco Baldi, for a fascinating and very well organised conference.
The ongoing situation in Sudan were of course raised by most speakers and attendees of the conference, with all hoping for a swift resolution to the conflicts. With the organisers stating in their opening address that they hoped this conference and research on the archaeology of Sudan would be taken as a sign of ongoing support.
On behalf of the DiverseNile project I would also like to extend our ongoing support to the people of Sudan at this time, and our hopes for democratic civilian rule in the country.
Archaeologist is a meaningful career although our amazing job is constantly challenging under many respects and it often is physically and emotionally demanding. This is especially true for those among us who work in the field and even more for archaeologists who are part of projects, like ours, that investigate very remote and fragile geographical areas. And Sudan was in the past, and is clearly still nowadays, an extremely fragile and unpredictable land both in terms of its environmental and climatic conditions, resources, borders, cultural entities, and interregional socio-political relationships. This can be certainly attributed to the vastness of the country and to its long history of intricate and fragmented cultural, linguistic and religious identities which intertwine with an alike complex mosaic of many diverse and complementary landscapes and ecological niches.
Having said that, with these words, I do not want in any way to justify under the umbrella of the general geo-political complexity of the country, the horrible conflicts and fighting that have been going on in the capital city of Khartoum for days now and that make us seriously fear for the lives of our colleagues and friends there, as well as for the possibility of being able to return to work in our beloved Sudan. This insane war has in fact to do with geo-political balances and power games, and at the moment I consider myself blessed to have still had the privilege of having a successful field season there and hence returning just in time to get safely back home, in Munich – our team left Khartoum just five weeks ago, before all this catastrophe started!
Even more grateful we can consider ourselves, although in the last days ours is not just normal business, to manage to successfully export to Germany all our bunch of samples for laboratory analysis. And this was possible as usual thanks to the kind cooperation of our inspector and friend, Huda Magzoub, and of the NCAM in Khartoum.
A few days ago, just before the Easter break, my desk, or rather, every flat surfaces of my office (!) was still covered by a multitude of tiny, beautiful ceramic sherds for analysis. These samples, selected during the two weeks of field season I spent in Ginis, include a total of 131 specimens, attributable to Nubian-style and Egyptian-style ceramics made in Nile clays. Of these, 129 were eventually destinated to INAA and have been already successfully delivered to the AI of Vienna, where they are now in the wise hands of our colleague, Johannes Sterba. 28 intended for Optical Microscopy were additionally sent to Prague and are currently in the process of being manufactured as polished thin sections.
The sample incorporate mainly ceramic material from the Bronze Age sites in the area of Ginis and Attab, and specifically from the two excavated settlement sites of Attab West 001 ( 60 sherds in total) and Attab West 002 = Vila Site 2-S-54 (17 sherds in total), and from the cemetery GiE 003 in Ginis East (44 sherds in total). To these are added 10 samples from a surface collection conducted by our PI, Julia Budka, in the district of Kosha East (Kerma cemetery 3-P-7).
All in all, this material is highly significant in terms of diachronic representativeness of the area, covering in fact a wide time span from the Middle Kerma to the Kerma Classic and up until the 18th Dynasty of the New Kingdom period. Furthermore, these samples appear extremely promising with our general aim of understanding cultural diversity and investigating interregional and local social relationships between Egyptian and Nubian entities, comprising exceptionally not only Nubian Kerman material but also ceramic wares and types potentially attributable to the Pan-Grave cultural sphere (from Trench 5 at GiE 003).
I was glad to once again have a pleasant déjà vu of myself photographing, documenting, and packing these tiny samples that are now waiting to be analysed, while I am now busy in entering each of them in our Samples FileMaker DB.
Looking forward to revealing more about the inwardness of these tangible precious testimonies of Nubia’s Bronze Age material culture, I wish a bit of rest, peace, and hope for our beloved Sudan and mostly for all people and citizens who are now in danger because of this unjust violence.
Summer term has started at LMU today and we are happy to announce the start of the online DiverseNile Seminar Series 2023, organised by Chloe Ward. The theme of this year’s DiverseNile Seminar Series will focus on interdisciplinary approaches to archaeological research in the Nile Valley. A detailed programme will follow soon.
Our very own Kate Rose (PostDoc of the DiverseNile project) will give the first talk on Tuesday 25th of April (13-14 CET) with the title “Inscribing the Landscape: Continuity and Change in Napatan Royal Cemeteries”.
A must for anyone interested in landscape archaeology! See you next week!
P.S.: I would like to stress that also here in quiet Germany, nothing has been routine since Saturday and the outbreak of fighting in Sudan. My thoughts are with all friends, colleagues and the civilian population at large who are once again paying such a heavy price, suffering in this political fight for power. In the hope that peace will soon return to our beloved Sudan.
Excavations at the site AtW 001 on the west bank of Attab yielded a very large number of pottery sherds – I processed more than 10.300 pieces in our digging house in Ginis during the 2023 season and the final analysis and reconstruction of the number of individual vessels is still ongoing. Already in the field it became clear that a surprisingly large number of intact vessels has survived. These included primarily dishes and plates, beer jars, zir vessels, pot stands and cooking vessels – thus a clearly domestic set of ceramics which finds many parallels in the corpus I processed from the temple town of Sai, but also shows unique and specific features – just fantastiic material which allows addressing a number of various research questions!
One particular interesting piece which I would like to present today is a large fragment of a typical Nubian style cooking pot. The complete profile of this pot is preserved and it was found in dense mud brick debris, half buried below a collapsed brick. This context yielded a total of 34 pottery sherds with 15 diagnostic pieces and several almost complete vessels; the total of Nubian wares accounted to 32%, nicely confirming our results from 2022 when the number of Nubian wares in the various fill horizons was high, accounting for on average 33% of the ceramics (Budka 2022).
The Nubian pot in question is an example of the most common type of Nubian globular bowls used as cooking pots we found at AtW 001. The vessel shows plaited basketry impression with large rectangular patterns and a distinct rim zone. Such vessels find close parallels at Sai, Sesebi and other New Kingdom sites in Nubia (e.g. Rose 2012; Budka 2020). These basketry impressed cooking pots are firmly rooted in a Kerma tradition of shaping pots in a concave hole using mats/baskets but show an intriguing change of technique in the early 18th Dynasty which is present at sites between the Dongola Reach and southern Upper Egypt (see Gratien 2000 for the new style of basketry impressions starting with so-called Recent Kerma).
Our complete example from AtW 001 started its long journey on Jan. 30 which is not yet over – from the field to the digging house where it was washed, photographed and then put on my drawing table. The pencil drawing I created in Sudan is now in the process of being digitalised – Caroline scanned the drawing already and started the final digital drawing for publication on our interactive multi-touch pen display in the office.
Apart from this, we took two samples from this Nubian cooking pot. One of which will be analysed using Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis – here, we aim to get information about the provenience of its fabric since this pot clearly seems to be a local product. The second sample is waiting for Organic Residue Analysis, hopefully enabling us to reconstruct what was once cooked within this pot. More details about our approach combining standard macroscopic analysis of pottery with various complementary laboratory methodologies can be found in an earlier blog post by Giulia D’Ercole.
As I hopefully could illustrate, the complex voyage of this Nubian cooking pot will continue – but within just 2 months we have already achieved important working steps in order to publish this important fragment of evidence of settlement activity on the west bank of Attab during the early New Kingdom.
Budka 2020 = Budka, J. AcrossBorders 2. Living in New Kingdom Sai. Archaeology of Egypt, Sudan and the Levant 1. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2020.
Budka 2022 = Budka, J. 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.
Gratien 2000 = Gratien, B. Les pots de cuisson nubiens et les bols décorés de la première moitié du 2e millénaire avant J.-C.: problèmes d’identification, Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne 6, 2000, 113‒148.
Rose 2012 = Rose, P. Early 18th Dynasty Nubian Pottery from the Site of Sesebi, Sudan. In Nubian Pottery from Egyptian Cultural Contexts of the Middle and Early New Kingdom. Proceedings of a Workshop held at the Austrian Archaeological Institute at Cairo, 1–12 December 2010. Ergänzungshefte zu den Jahresheften des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes 13, ed. by I. Forstner-Müller and P.J. Rose, 13‒29. Vienna: Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut, 2012.
The excavation season of the fourth MUAFS campaign lasted from January 23 to March 18 2023, and focused on aims of the ERC Project DiverseNile, investigating Bronze Age sites (Kerma and New Kingdom) and cultural diversity in the region. The team was supported by Huda Magzoub Elbashir as Antiquities Inspector from NCAM. Our major activities in the 2023 season are summarised in the following.
We focused on Bronze Age sites in the area of Ginis and Attab. Our selection included two settlement sites, AtW 001 and site 2-S-54, and one cemetery, GiE 003. Work was carried out with the support of a team of 12 local workmen from Ernietta, Ginis and Attab.
In 2023, the complete mound of this site in Attab West was excavated (Trench 2). Substantial layers of mud brick collapse were found as well as several phases of poorly preserved mud brick structures.
The domestic character of the site is also obvious from many ashy spots, rubbish deposits including much animal bones and charcoal as well as loads of broken pottery and a surprisingly large number of intact and almost intact vessels. In addition, several round and oval-shaped storage pits were documented, some of them with traces of firing/ash and possibly also connected with heating/cooking.
Most importantly, the same ashy layer on the alluvial surface like in 2022 was reached in the northern part of Trench 2. It is now clear that apart from a slight natural slope, most of the mound-like appearance of site AtW 001 was composed of settlement debris and especially mud brick debris in several layers, all dating to the 18th Dynasty.
Vila site 2-S-54
Structure 1 at site 2-S-54 is a domestic building measuring 6.5 x 3.5m on the interior and preserved to more than 80cm in height, datable to the 18th Dynasty. We cleaned it from windblown sand and exposed a substantial layer of mud brick debris as well as internal mud brick structures. The feature seems to have been divided in at least three parts, presumably with an open courtyard in the centre. It is still unclear where the main entrance of the structure was originally located (one side entrance seems to have been on the east side in the centre, leading into the open courtyard). Ceramics and collapsed mud bricks were also found on the slope towards the south and this area still needs to be fully cleaned and documented.
We excavated three new trenches (Trenches 3, 4 and 5) to check the extension of this Kerma cemetery, the distribution of burial types and chronological aspects.
The oldest material was exposed in Trench 5, just north of the Middle Kerma burials in Trench 2. One Middle Kerma circular pit (Feature 53) and a total of four pits associated with Pan-grave style material were discovered.
The largest pit, Feature 50, contained the remains of a wooden bed frame, the remains of a human contracted burial, several goat offerings and a considerable number of intact pottery vessels, comprising Black-topped fine wares as well as incised and impressed decorated vessels.
Trench 3 yielded a total of 14, Trench 4 ten new Classic Kerma burial pits, closely resembling our results from 2022 in Trench 1. These burials are rectangular east-west oriented burial pits with rounded corners, vertical walls, and two depressions in the east and west for the funerary bed of which wooden remains were found in some of the features. Two niche burials in Trench 4 also seem to date to the Classic Kerma time.
Drone Aerial Photography
Kate Rose was busy conducting Drone aerial photography (DAP) at the excavated sites and on a larger scale at Attab West, Attab East, Ginis East and Ferka East. Many precise measurements were taken with our new Trimble Catalyst GNSS Antenna and extensive mapping of drystone walls in Attab and Ginis West was carried out as well.
We used a total of 566 find bag numbers in the 2023 spring season. 229 finds were registered, photographed and recorded in detail in the Filemaker Database.
Simultaneously to the excavations, I carried out the recording of the pottery. The numerous settlement material from AtW 001, accounting to more than 10.000 sherds, was very time consuming to process, especially since a large number of pottery vessels could be reconstructed from fragments to complete vessels like an amazing hybrid cooking pot. A total of 43 vessels was documented by drawing in 2023.
The 2023 season survey
Two Vila sites in Attab West and one in Kosha East were newly identified and documented as well as seven new MUAFS site in Attab East, Attab West and Kosha East. A number of these sites is difficult to date and might be sub-recent.
In sum, our 2023 season was very successful, achieving all planned work tasks despite of the looting events and the destruction of site 2-S-54. Especially cemetery GiE 003 with its mixed material culture of Middle Kerma, Pan-Grave and Classic Kerma illustrates cultural encounters between various Nubian groups in the region. The living aspect of these cultural encounters seems to be traceable at sites like 2-S-54 where both Egyptian and Nubian ceramics were found, rectangular and circular buildings appear side by side and mud bricks were used jointly with dry-stone architecture.
Plenty of post-excavation work is now waiting for us and updates will follow soon.
We are almost there – I am still waiting for last papers, but we are almost ready for departure tonight. The 2023 season really has come to an end.
The last days were really busy and a proper summary of the 2023 season will follow shortly. For now, I would just like to repeat my thanks to all the team – and here especially to our local workmen from Ernietta, Attab and Ginis who were: Nail Mohamed, Fuad Ali, Afifi Mohamed, Mohamed Soubho, Aboud Abdu, Samer Ali, Ali Mohamed Ali, Mohamed Gelal, Ahmed Moukhtar, Ahmed Elzebeir, Abdelfatah Mohamed, Ibrahim Abdo, Ahmed Ibrahim and Awad Arafat. They did an amazing job, partly in very difficult circumstances, like during the very windy days in Attab West in February. Some of them have worked with Neal Spencer and his team at Amara West before and their expertise in working at both settlement sites and in tombs was very valuable for the project! Mohamed Soubho also turned out to be a great expert of animal bones and helped sorting this material at the site.
Here are some working pictures from site AtW 001 which was anything else than easy to excavate with its sandy layers, mud brick debris and various levels:
One of the nearby dry-stone walls of site Vila 2-T-62 was also cleaned and documented.
And here some impressions from work in the cemetery GiE 003 – these pictures should work without words I hope!
Well done, guys, it was a great pleasure, many thanks and I am looking much forward working again with this great team next year!
Time flies by, especially when you are enjoying and/or are very busy! This clearly holds true for our last days here – they were extremely demanding but also very pleasant and full of important results and discoveries.
We managed to close the excavation in Kerma cemetery GiE 003. The original aims for the 2023 season there, building on our work from 2022, were to clarify its dating, the distribution of certain burial pit types and to check for aspects of cultural diversity. All of this worked out perfectly and more details will follow soon. For now, the most important result is the discovery of a Pan-Grave style burial in Trench 5, located just north of Trench 2 from 2022 (with Kerma Moyen burials). Since some of our pottery from 2022 was already indicating that we might have the presence of what is normally called Pan-Grave horizon, this did not come as a big surprise, but simply as what I was really wishing for.
Feature 50, the Pan-Grave burial pit, yielded not only the remains of a funerary bed, of goat offerings as well as jewelry and ivory objects but also several intact pots. This complete beaker with some repair holes is a typical Black Topped ware associated with the Pan-Grave horizon.
In Trench 4, there were two important niche tombs cutting Classic Kerma burial pits. At least Feature 66 (which was discovered just before closing for the weekend last week) is clearly associated with Classic Kerma material culture as well – thus providing much food for thought about who decided when (and why) to be buried in a niche tomb rather than in the more common rectangular burial pits? The burial of Individual 18 found in Feature 66 was unfortunately looted, but it can be reconstructed as a contracted burial which was placed in the oval niche without a funerary bed with the head in the West and the feet in the East.
Furthermore, we finished sampling of pottery from AtW 001, GiE 003 and the Vila site 2-S-54. Giulia did prepare more than 100 samples which we will hopefully analyze together with Johannes Sterba of the Atominstitut Wien by iNAA, just like the samples we took already in 2022. Our focus was on a range of Nubian wares and Egyptian-style Nile clay wares.
Thanks to the support of NCAM and our colleague Sami, Kate managed to conduct at least three days of Drone Aerial Photography after the crash of our own Phantom 4 Pro. I also managed to squeeze in some surveying on the west bank – with the discovery of some amazing new 18th Dynasty sites – very promising for the next season!
By now, most of our team members have already left – many thanks to all of them! It was a particular pleasure to welcome Mohamed and Tasabeh from Al-Neelain University – hope to see you again next year!
The remaining small team of Jose, Sofia, Huda and I will be busy finalizing everything here in Ginis before our own departure early next week. More updates about our results of the 2023 season will follow soon insha’allah.
Week 5 of our 2023 field season just flew by, especially because of several very disturbing incidents.
On the positive side, we managed to close excavations at site AtW 001, postponed further exploration of Vila site 2-S-54 to next year and made good progress in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.
AtW 001 will require much post-excavation work – we documented several still standing mud brick walls, there were clearly several phases of building and use. Chloe Ward who did an excellent job this season has already arrived back in Munich and is busy finalizing the stratigraphy and feature description as well as other details from her desk back home.
Most importantly, we managed to reach the same ashy layer on the alluvial surface like in 2022. It is now also clear that apart from a slight natural slope, most of the mound-like appearance of site AtW 001 is actually composed of settlement debris and especially mud brick debris in several layers.
Excavations at Vila site 2-S-54 came to an unexpected stop – the material culture of the mud brick and stone building is really intriguing and currently being studied by Giulia D’Ercole and myself. Giulia arrived this week and already prepared all the samples from site 2-S-54 we will export for iNAA analysis in order to investigate the provenience of Nile clay wares (see earlier posts by Giulia on this subject, e.g. https://www.sudansurvey.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/index.php/2020/12/22/where-are-you-from-a-diverse-material-perspective-on-this-common-tricky-question/). Of course, a substantial part of our 2023 samples will come from site AtW 001, but here I am still busy reconstructing the large number of complete vessels. More than 10.000 sherds need to be checked for matching pieces and this clearly takes a while.
Finally, much progress was made in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, where work in Trench 3 was concluded (and yielded a total of 14 new Classic Kerma burial pits, closely resembling our results from 2022) and excavation in Trench 4 is still ongoing. All tombs have been looted in antiquity, most probably in Medieval times, but there are still substantial remains of material culture, especially pottery, beads and remains of wooden funerary beds.
One of the most remarkable finds of this season is a small ivory bracelet from Tomb 33 in Trench 3. It was clearly used for a long time, was broken at a certain point, and then repaired by means of repairing holes – this is how we found it deposited in the burial pit. An intriguing object in many respects!
Jose M.A. Gomez, Huda Magzoub, Sofia Patrevita and our team of local workmen got new reinforcement this week: two students from Al-Neelain University in Khartoum have joint us. Tasabeh Obaid Hassan and Mohamed Abdeldaim Khairi Ibrahim have been already extremely helpful at the excavation in the Kerma cemetery and for example very quickly learned to measure targets and outlines of stratigraphic units with the totalstation.
I am very grateful to all team members and looking much forward to the results of week 6!
We all know that science is also all about failure, mistakes, and unexpected events. I have addressed this topic already on several occasions, especially for outreach activities like podcasts, Science Slams and blog posts (see, e.g. https://on.soundcloud.com/MYkcX). All of us working in Sudan also know that despite of the beauty of the country, the great Sudanese people, and the wonderful archaeology here, it takes a good amount of resilience to work here – and flexibility.
Having said this all, it is not my intention to write a just negative piece here, but nevertheless to share at least a small glimpse of all the frustration I experienced this week.
According to plan, I shifted my focus from site AtW 001 to the Vila site 2-S-54 in Foshu where we have been already working earlier this season (when I had to come up with Plan B with the crash of our totalstation). Despite of severe nimiti attacks, all went well on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and I was getting all prepared to excavate the original occupation deposit of this well-preserved 18th Dynasty building, when one of the most depressing days of my professional life to far occurred on Tuesday.
I arrived at the site, a bit ahead of my co-worker Mohamed Soubho (since he was kindly pushing the wheelbarrow with our equipment), and could not believe my eyes: every single brick, almost every laid stone block of the structure were simply gone, have been destroyed and smashed to pieces! This destruction was so massive that I was simply speechless and felt completely helpless.
Yes, of course we documented everything until the destruction, but the original deposits were now simply gone and the previously complete architecture severely damaged, including a deep hole cut into the bedrock in the center of the site.
By the time Mohamed arrived, I had found my voice again, made some phone calls and informed our inspector Huda and the tourism police in Abri and Wadi Halfa. We gave a complete report also to higher authorities in Dongola – it is clear that the destruction must be seen in connection with the increase in modern gold working in the area. And that this poses a major threat for all the other sites located nearby.
Mohamed and I started then cleaning up the mess these looters left when I received a phone call from Kate Rose, who was nearby busy flying our drone. First, I thought her slightly irritated voice is probably because her workman Samer told her about our disaster at Foshu (Mohamed called him of course). But then I realized what she is telling me: for unknown reasons, our drone crashed, simply fell from the sky, from the height of 70m. When a very bad day is about to get worse… and yes – it really did: once we had finished cleaning our mess and I was about to document everything with my camera, the camera did not work… it’s also broken – like site 2-S-54, like our drone, and all of this within a few hours.
Well, by now, thanks to Kate and our colleague and friend Sami from NCAM at Khartoum, we will probably be able to kindly borrow the drone of NCAM in the next days… but the site is lost (and my camera still not working).
Why do I share this with you all? Well, maybe partly out of selfish feelings, I just needed to get all of this out, this was a real nightmare week and not business as usual. But more importantly, I believe that we do not talk enough about things which go wrong in academia and in science – partly because of a false feeling of embarrassment (even if much like in in our case is due to external factors and not to real human-caused errors; not wanting to say that mistakes do not also happen), but most prominently because we are trained that only success and more precisely in archaeology great discoveries count and receive attention. But there is so much more than that, so much is hidden below the surface, so much energy is sapped by all these things which do not work out as planned.
I am very frank here – I consider myself a resilient person, but it took me two days to recover, it really was a shock, especially in combination with the drone and camera. And I am still sad when I see the damaged site I was about to excavate (of course we went back to check if further destruction happened which is not the case…), but I already have specific ideas about the improvement of the protection of our sites in the next years. Although it was impossible for me to continue at 2-S-54 after this disaster, I am now done with its documentation and description, including the pottery analysis for 2023. Despite of a vague sad feeling, I very much appreciate what we documented this season and how much new material and ideas we gained from this amazing site – even if we lost the most crucial part of it.
Archaeology is not just about progress, discoveries, and success – we should be open about the fact that we also constantly fail in many respects, for a great range of different reasons. This then also allows us to appreciate our positive results and working steps even further – because these are rarely what we call in Viennese “a gmahte Wiesn”.