Facing colonisation together? The collective use of tombs in New Kingdom colonial Nubia

I studied various cemeteries throughout Nubia for my PhD on the role of foreign objects in local contexts in New Kingdom colonial Nubia. The most important of these cemeteries are Aniba, Sai and Soleb. Other important cemeteries are either gradually coming to light (e.g., Amara West) or remain totally unpublished (e.g., Sesebi). I was interested mostly in variation across sites, which I explored through an analysis of distributions of types of objects at each of them. However, the sites that I just mentioned also have a lot in common.

One of the aspects that instantly caught my attention was the collective use of tombs, both synchronically and diachronically. It is interesting how Egyptologists usually interpret New Kingdom Nubia through the lens of Egyptianisation, but at the same fail to recognise one structural difference between the organisation of elite cemeteries in Egypt and Nubia in the New Kingdom. While elite tombs in Egypt, in places such as Thebes, bear an essential connection with one’s individuality, tombs at elite cemeteries in Nubia are essentially collective. One well-documented example is tomb 26 on Sai island, which will be published very soon (Budka 2021).

These tombs are usually interpreted as family tombs, which remains a plausible hypothesis. Elite tombs in New Kingdom Nubia usually consist of a vertical shaft leading to a main chamber connected with various smaller burial chambers. Inside these smaller chambers, there are the burials of more or less contemporary individuals. Individual chambers are usually occupied by “couples”; e.g. Khnummose and his alleged wife at Sai tomb 26 (figure 1) and Wsir and Taneferet at Aniba tomb S91. Later burials are usually placed in the larger main chamber, where archaeologists usually find scattered bones, and disarticulated skeletons alongside New Kingdom Egyptian-style objects and later pottery styles in upper layers. In extreme cases of tomb reuse, vertical shafts could be completely filled with burials, one on top of the other, as evidence from Soleb demonstrates.

Figure 1: burial chamber of Master of Goldsmiths Khnummose and his “wife”. Courtesy of the AcrossBorders project.

If we move to non-elite contexts we’ll find a different situation. In a context of overall material limitations, cemeteries are characterised by a vast majority of single burials possessing no burial goods or a few pots. The best example of non-elite cemetery in New Kingdom Nubia is Fadrus, which bears similarities with various non-elite cemeteries in New Kingdom Egypt in terms of scarcity. However, at Fadrus, a few larger tombs contained a considerably higher quantity of burial goods. These tombs are characterised by their collective use, both contemporaneously and by later generations.

I have suggested in a paper that will be published in the next Sudan & Nubia that the larger, collective tombs of Fadrus should not be interpreted as evidence for inter-site hierarchies, as has been done in the past. Instead, in my forthcoming paper, I suggested that these tombs should be interpreted through the lens of collective engagement theory (DeMarrais and Earle 2017; Lemos forthcoming). In a context of scarcity within a colonised Nubia, people seem to have gathered together to achieve more, namely access to Egyptian-style objects, including more restricted items within the New Kingdom Nubian mortuary landscape. On the contrary, those who remained by themselves ended up buried with no accompanying goods. It is possible that a similar collective logic was behind the organisation of cemeteries associated with Egyptian temple-towns such as Aniba, Sai and Soleb. However, it remains a difficult task to distinguish phases and individual burials sharing restricted Egyptian-style objects due to the high degree of plundering and the quality of most of the published evidence (see Näser 2017).

With DiverseNile, my focus turns to a different social space: geographical peripheries of temple-towns. Elite cemeteries associated with colonial centres seem to have been organized by extended families buried in collective tombs which were later reused. Non-elite cemeteries consisted of mostly poor individual graves with a few larger collective tombs housing the bodies of individuals potentially sharing objects that remained out of the reach of most their peers. In a different way, the burial evidence from the peripheries usually consist of graves scattered through the landscape with and a few ‘formal’ cemeteries. Scarcity also seems to be the rule here. However, there are also collective exceptions.

Chamber tomb 5-T-32 was among the sites excavated by the West Bank Survey from Faras to Gemai in Lower Nubia (figure 2). It consisted of a shallow mudbrick tomb divided into an entrance area leading via an unblocked arched doorway to an outer chamber or chapel, and a sealed arched doorway leading to the burial chamber. The tomb was located in the periphery of Mirgissa, one of the earlier fortresses reoccupied in the New Kingdom, and was plundered in ancient times. The excavators dated the tomb to the mid-18th Dynasty. The fact that no burials were placed in the outer chamber distinguishes tomb 5-T-32 from tombs at elite cemeteries associated with centres of colonial administration, such as nearby Aniba. The remains of 38 individuals were recovered from the burial chamber, eleven of which in situ. The bodies were deposited in an extended position, and remains of wood and rope suggest the existence of simpler mat coffins tied with ropes, which also appear in non-elite contexts in Egypt. Finds include steatite scarabs with parallels found at various Nubian cemeteries, New Kingdom pottery including a pilgrim flask, and a bronze finger ring and wooden headrest, which were more restricted objects in the Nubian mortuary objectscape of the New Kingdom.

Figure 2: tomb 5-T-32 in Abu Sir, periphery of Mirgissa (Nordström 2014: 135–137; plates 32–33).

In a previous post, I discussed tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West containing some nice restricted Egyptian-style objects, despite its tumulus superstructure. Although the tomb was plundered, with only scattered bones being recovered, it was most likely used collectively. After looking at the evidence from tombs such as 5-T-32 and 3-P-50, located in the periphery of Mirgissa and Amara West, respectively, I started feeling like there’s something happening here. At this stage, I’m still scratching the surface, but I think it’s probably a good idea to keep pursuing the communal engagement path to see what we can potentially learn from the peripheries of colonised Nubia. Therefore, I was especially happy to hear Andrea Manzo talk about heterarchy and communal engagement in Eastern Sudan in our last DiverseNile seminar (see also Manzo 2017). Degrees of variations can be detected amid elite sites, while evidence from non-elite sites provides us grounds from which to discuss alternative social realities taking place in colonised Nubia. I don’t really know what to expect from the colonial peripheries, but I’m optimistic evidence from these areas will allows to expand the discussion on alternative social realities, especially in the light of fresh excavations planned for the near future.

Further reading

Budka, J. 2021. Tomb 26 on Sai island: A New Kingdom elite tomb and its relevance for Sai and beyond (with contributions by J. Auenmüller, C. Geiger, R. Lemos, A. Stadlmayr and M. Wohlschlager). Leiden: Sidestone Press [in press].

DeMarrais, E. and T. Earle. 2017. Collective Action Theory and the Dynamics of Complex Societies. Annual Review of Anthropology 46: 183–201.

Lemos, R. 2020. Material Culture and Colonization in Ancient Nubia: Evidence from the New Kingdom Cemeteries. Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, ed. C. Smith. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-51726-1.

Lemos, R. forthcoming. Heart Scarabs and Other Heart-Related Objects in New Kingdom Nubia. Sudan & Nubia 25.

Manzo, A. 2017. Architecture, Power, and Communication: Case Studies from Ancient Nubia. African Archaeological Review 34: 121–143. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-016-9239-6.

Näser, C. 2017. Structures and Realities of the Egyptian Presence in Lower Nubia from the Middle Kingdom to the New Kingdom. In Nubia in the New Kingdom: Lived Experience, Pharaonic Control and Indigenous Traditions, ed. N. Spencer, A. Stevens and M. Binder, 557– 574. Leuven: Peeters.

Nördström, H.-Å. 2014. The West Bank Survey from Faras to Gemai. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Some thoughts on Ramesside remains on the left riverbank at Ginis and Kosha

As recently outlined by Rennan Lemos, a remarkable tomb of Ramesside date was found by Vila in Ginis West. We identified this monument during our survey in 2019 and it clearly once had a tumulus superstructure; the descent to the rock-cut chambers is still visible. Some broken pottery as well as bone fragments are scattered around the superstructure, but otherwise this structure is isolated and cannot be associated with burial monuments (apart from a few Christian tombs close by).

Figure 1: Site 3-P-50 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

A look at the distribution map of New Kingdom sites in our MUAFS concession (see Budka 2020, 65, fig. 14) is useful for a tentative contextualisation of the tomb which, among others, yielded shabtis of the lady of the house, Isis (Vila 1977, 151). The New Kingdom sites are clustered within the southwestern part of the research area, thus close to the urban sites Amara West and Sai Island. The role of these administrative centres Amara West and Sai Island needs to be considered when looking at the ‘periphery’ (cf. Spencer 2019; see also Stevens and Garnett 2017) and might have influenced the pattern of site distribution. The latter, however, is still preliminary as I pointed out in a earlier post.

Figure 2: Distribution of New Kingdom sites in the MUAFS concession including 3-P-50, 2-T-58 and 3-P-15 (see Budka 2020, fig. 14).

The closest possible New Kingdom site located in the neighbourhood of 3-P-50 is 2-T-58. This site is a small cemetery of several tumuli which can be attributed to the Late New Kingdom and/or the Pre-Napatan period. Unfortunately, 2-T-58 was already very much destroyed and plundered in the 1970s. There is little hope that more information than gathered by Vila can be gained from these tombs (Vila 1977, 119-122, figs. 53-54).

Figure 3: One of the looted tombs of site 2-T-58 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

Vila excavated one of the tombs and found the remains of four burials, of funerary beds, bodily adornment like beads and amulets and some ceramic vessels which seem to date to the late Ramesside period and the Pre-Napatan phase, finding close parallels at Amara West (Binder 2014, passim) and also at Hillat el-Arab (Vincetelli 2006, passim). A post-New Kingdom date is maybe the most likely for this excavated tumulus and its interments.

Especially interesting and most probably contemporaneous to the isolated tomb 3-P-50 is site 3-P-15 in Kosha West which is part of a cluster formed by three settlement sites (3-P-15, 3-P-16 and 3-P-17). 

This habitation site on a mound of c. 55-100m shows a surface covered by schist blocks and sherds. In the northeastern part, remains of mud bricks are visible. The surface ceramics we documented show a continuation from late Ramesside times well into the ninth and maybe even the eight century BCE, thus into the Napatan era.

Figure 4: Overview of site 3-P-15 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

A more precise dating and a concise characterisation will require excavations – but the site seems to have been in use during the time the cemeteries at Amara West flourished and 3-P-50 was built. As already pointed out by Michaela Binder, the best parallel for 3-P-50 is tomb G244 at Amara West (Binder 2014, Binder 2017, 599-606). The latter is the largest multi-chambered tomb at Amara West with a tumulus as superstructure and, like 3-P-50, also situated in what seems to have been an isolated position during the 20th Dynasty. Maybe these tombs, their architecture, their seemingly isolated location and rich equipment (which is an intriguing mixture of Egyptian- and Nubian-style material culture) point to common aspects of local elite communities in the Amara and Ginis regions we are still far away from understanding in detail.

Our planned excavations at 3-P-15 and especially the joint efforts of Rennan Lemos focusing on the mortuary evidence and Veronica Hinterhuber on the settlement remains will hopefully allow a closer assessment of the Ramesside period in the MUAFS concession and corresponding lived experiences in the near future.

References

Binder, M. 2014. Health and Diet in Upper Nubia through Climate and Political Change. A bioarchaeological investigation of health and living conditions at ancient Amara West between 1300 and 800 BC. Unpublished PhD thesis, Durham University.

Binder, M. 2017. The New Kingdom tombs at Amara West: Funerary perspectives on Nubian-Egyptian interactions, 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, 591-613.

Budka, J. 2020. Kerma presence at Ginis East: the 2020 season of the Munich Universit Attab to Ferka Survey Project, Sudan and Nubia 24, 57-71.

Spencer, N. 2019. Settlements of the Second Intermediate Period and New Kingdom, in D. Raue (ed), Handbook of ancient Nubia, vol. 1. Berlin, 433-464.

Stevens, A. and A. Garnett 2017. Surveying the pharaonic desert hinterland of Amara West, 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, 287-306.

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

Vincentelli, I. 2006. Hillat El-Arab. The Joint Sudanese-Italian Expedition in the Napatan Region, Sudan. Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication 15. British Archaeological Reports International Series 1570. Oxford.

A Remarkable New Kingdom Tomb at Ginis West

Most of the available burial evidence in New Kingdom Nubia come from large cemeteries associated with temple-towns. Evidence from the hinterland of colonial towns or ‘peripheral’ areas such as the Batn al-Hajar are usually discontinuous and pose various challenges to interpretation (figure 1). Edwards recently raised discussion on the role of isolated tombs in such areas. According to him, mortuary evidence from such locations, in contrast with evidence from formal cemeteries, “should not narrow our perspectives, to the exclusion from our narratives of the vast majority of the population who were buried otherwise” (Edwards 2020: 396).

Figure 1: different physiographic zones along the Middle Nile. Wikimedia Commons.

Ginis West is located north of Amara West, on the way to the Batn al-Hajar. In our concession area, evidence for formal cemeteries associated with established settlements is scarce, although continuing research and excavations will likely shed more light on this topic. In the New Kingdom, the whole area between Amara West and Lower Nubia, comprising the north Abri-Delgo Reach and the Batn el-Hajar represents a gap in our knowledge of New Kingdom Nubia. Revisiting the evidence produced by various surveys in these areas is crucial for us to develop new comparative research, especially evidence produced by the Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia (ASSN, Edwards 2020), the Finnish Expedition to Sudanese Nubia (Donner 1998) and other projects working in the Batn el-Hajar; and, particularly for us working in the Attab-Ferka stretch of the Nile, Vila’s survey south of Dal cataract (Vila 1975-79).

In the Batn el-Hajar, the ASSN uncovered not only simple pit graves, characteristic of non-elite burial grounds, but also a few elaborate tombs. Those can be compared to tombs at main cemeteries throughout the Nile Valley, at least in terms of substructures (Edwards 2020; see Spence 2019). At Ginis West, Vila’s team excavated a remarkable New Kingdom tomb (site 3-P-50). Based on a first look at the material culture retrieved inside, I would say it was used especially in the later part of the New Kingdom. The tomb was cut at the intersection between the alluvial plain and bedrock, and a few supporting slabs were used to reinforce the four subterranean chambers, accessible through a descending passage (figure 2).

Figure 2: plan and section of tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West (Villa 1977: 146).

The tomb was heavily looted, with scattered bones found in the descending passage and chamber three. The tomb likely housed the burials of various contemporaneous individuals, as well as later burials. No superstructure has been detected, although Binder pointed out to later New Kingdom tombs combining Egyptian-style substructures with tumuli superstructures at Amara West, Ginis and Sesebi (Binder 2014: 45).

The material culture from tomb 3-P-50 suggest cultural affinities with both Egypt and Nubia. On the Egyptian side, there are figurative scarabs, pendants representing deities and animals, including a rare crocodile pendant, an equally rare wooden headrest, and two late 19th Dynasty shabtis of Isis, lady of the house (figure 3). Various types of beads were also excavated, including long beads and spacers, which are characteristic of elite cemeteries and monumental tombs in New Kingdom Nubia (Lemos 2020). However, various earrings made of shell and carnelian were also found (figure 4), which represent affinities with local styles, which were later exported to Egypt (Lemos 2020). The combination of Egyptian-style objects with stone/ivory/shell earrings and bangles is especially strong at Soleb (Schiff Giorgini 1971).

Figure 3: Egyptian-style objects retrieved inside tomb 3-P-50 (Vila 1977: 151).
Figure 4: Nubian-style earrings retrieved inside tomb 3-P-50 (Vila 1977: 151).

Tomb 3-P-50 did not belong to a formal cemetery as its material culture alone would suggest. Vila only identified two later (likely Christian) tombs in the vicinity of the site. What is a relatively elaborate tomb containing a large quantity of restricted items typical of large New Kingdom colonial cemeteries doing at Ginis West? There is still so much for us to understand about ‘peripheral’ zones in New Kingdom Nubia. Tombs like 3-P-50 at Ginis West and a few examples from the Batn el-Hajar allow us to think that, at least for some people, what we characterise as ‘peripheries’ were actually the centre of life and death experiences of colonisation in New Kingdom Nubia. My research for DiverseNile will hopefully shed light onto shifting conceptions and experiences of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’, which will allow us to rewrite historical narratives of Nubia in the New Kingdom based on local experiences instead of Egyptian ways of classifying history.

References

Binder, M. 2014. Health and Diet in Upper Nubia through Climate and Political Change. A bioarchaeological investigation of health and living conditions at ancient Amara West between 1300 and 800 BC. Unpublished PhD thesis, Durham University.

Donner, G. 1998. The Finnish Nubia Expedition to Sudanese Nubia, 1964–65. Helsinki: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy.

Edwards, D. ed. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Lemos, R. 2020. Foreign Objects in Local Contexts: Mortuary Objectscapes in Late Colonial Nubia. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.

Schiff Giorgini, M. 1971. Soleb II: Les Nécropoles. Firenze: Sansone.

Spence, K. 2019. New Kingdom Tombs in Lower and Upper Nubia. In Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. D. Raue, 541–566. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Vila. A. 1975-79. La prospection archéologique de la vallée du Nil au sud de la Cataracte de Dal. Vols 1-11. Paris: CNRS.

Investigating the variability of domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region (MUAFS concession area)

After the recent blog posts by my colleagues Rennan Lemos and Giulia D’Ercole presenting their tasks within Work Package 2 and Work Package 3 I am not only happy to introduce Work Package 1: The variability of domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region I am – together with our PI Julia Budka – responsible for, but also to write my first blog entry as a member of the ERC Consolidator Grant project DiverseNile. This especially, since I already could join the previous ERC Starting Grant project AcrossBorders of Julia Budka for its last year at the end of 2017, leaving Berlin and moving to Munich, which – as a Tyrolean – felt a bit like coming home.

My first contact with Sudan, which I immediately fell in love with, while working in Hamadab/Meroe and Musawwarat es-Sufra, was very long ago in 2003. But also my first visit to the region between the Second and Third Cataract – and here specifically to Sai Island with its impressive New Kingdom town – dates some years back to 2012.

At Sai Island, especially by the AcrossBorders project or at the neighbouring town Amara West (Spencer et al. 2017), the research of the recent years concerning the manifold relations between the Egyptians and the Nubians in the Middle Nile already moved towards a more differentiated approach with implementing the concept of ‘cultural entanglement’ (see van Pelt 2013 with references). The focus of work at sites like Sai and Amara being administrative centres in New Kingdom Nubia was necessarily set on the official and elite sphere.

The DiverseNile project investigating the Attab to Ferka region now goes a step further aiming to throw light on the peripheries still very much standing in the shadows of the powerful urban sites. Shifting the focus towards the hinterland not only broadens our horizon filling the still significant voids of research in this region of the Nile valley but very much promises to give a new and deeper insight in the cultural diversity of people living in the hinterland of towns, their interactions and possible more autonomous living situations – as these aspects become archaeologically more visible aside official power throughout the rich cultural history of Nubia.

In this regard WP 1 aims to contribute to a better understanding of the occupants of the Attab to Ferka region, their cultural identities and interactions, their social structures or complexity through investigating the diverse settlement sites, their variability and development and thus their spatial and temporal frame. Concerning the latter our focus lies on Bronze Age Nubia, a term introduced by our PI reflecting the need to have a more differentiated look at the so far used categories ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ during the Kerma and the Egyptian Second Intermediate and New Kingdom Periods in Nubia and thus an era with multiple upheavals. This need became also clear studying the previously classifications attributed to the diverse archaeological remains in this part of the Middle Nile valley.

In this respect the region of our interest was previously and firstly surveyed by the Sudan Antiquities Service together with the French Archaeological Research Unit in the 1970ies directed by A. Vila and resulting in several Volumes. These works serve as very important input for our research, as Vila and his team impressively discovered and documented 219 sites from Palaeolithic to Medieval times. Among these, sites qualified by Vila as Kerma and New Kingdom remains were represented both at around 7% on the right and with a larger number at 12.4% resp. 16.9% on the left riverbanks, the latter consisting predominantly of settlement sites.

Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region identified by the MUAFS project (status: 2020)

Among all of the sites listed by Vila a total of 138 sites could be successfully re-identified during our two MUAFS seasons in 2018/2019 and at the beginning of this year, shortly before Covid-19 became the new reality (for further details see the online reports as well as Budka 2019). As an fascinating example for an Egyptian New Kingdom domestic site comprising evidence for Kerma presence too, GiE 001 (Vila’s site NF-36-M/2-T-36B), can be emphasized here, where a test excavation was started in 2020, which we will hopefully further pursue next year.

Distribution of New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan sites in the MUAFS concession (status: 2020)

Although Covid-19 has restricted us to office work, it has not limited us to carry out our research or staying in contact with our Sudanese colleagues and friends. Re-planning rather is giving us the possibility not only to evaluate the already gained data and information but also to engage with the topic in depth. In this regard I am currently not only further screening sites of our interest indicated by Vila, analysing his approach and state of documentation, but also their distribution within our concession area. Concerning the latter the examination of similar situations of periphery within frontier zones like for example the Third Cataract (Edwards 2012) and a deeper study of other rural Kerma villages like Gism el-Arba (Gratien 2003) yields a very fruitful input for our questionings in many ways. As I dealt a lot with Kushite sacral architecture in the last years doing my PhD, I am especially happy to explore architectural remains aside of the official sphere telling a lot of different and lesser known stories. In this regard – as my next blog entry will address Kerma types of domestic architecture and building techniques – keep reading here in our space!

References

Budka, J. 2019 (with contributions by G. D’Ercole, C. Geiger, V. Hinterhuber and M. Scheiblecker). Towards Middle Nile Biographies: the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019. Sudan & Nubia 23, 13–26.

Edwards, D. N. 2012. ‘The Third-Second Millennia BC. Kerma and New Kingdom Settlements’, in A. Osman and D. N. Edwards (eds), Archaeology of a Nubian frontier. Survey on the Nile Third Cataract, Sudan. Leicester, 59–87.

Gratien, B., S. Marchi, O. Thuriot, and J.-M. Willot 2003. ‘Gism el- Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil’. Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29–43.

Spencer, N., Stevens, A. and Binder, M. 2017. Introduction: History and historiography of a colonial entanglement, and the shaping of new archaeologies for Nubia in the New Kingdom, 1‒61, 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.

Van Pelt, W.P. 2013. Revising Egypto-Nubian Relations in New Kingdom Lower Nubia: From Egyptianization to Cultural Entanglement. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 23.3, 523‒550.

The periphery of New Kingdom urban centres in the Middle Nile

My ERC project DiverseNile focuses on the Attab to Ferka region as a peripheral zone in the neighbourhood of Amara West and Sai Island. However, I do not apply the problematic core-periphery concept for our case study of the Bronze Age, but I have introduced the contact space biography approach.

This morning, I just read a very inspiring paper I found in a new open access journal: Federica Sulas and Innocent Pikirayi wrote about “From Centre-Periphery Models to Textured Urban Landscapes: Comparative Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa”.

They review the relations between ancient capital centres in Africa and their peripheries, using Aksum and Great Zimbabwe as case studies. They include a very good introduction about the history of research from central-place theory and world-system theory to network theories and stress that „archaeological research on centre–periphery relations has largely focused on the structure of integrated, regional economic systems“ (Sulas and Pikirayi 2020, 67). Like DiverseNile, they advocate to take the dynamics of interactions into account, the fluidity of what is considered “centre” and what “periphery”.

In Nubian studies and Egyptology, there is a considerable gap of work at sites in the periphery of major settlements (see Moeller 2016, 25). At present, despite of much progress on settlement patterns in Nubia during the New Kingdom (see e.g. Budka and Auenmüller 2018) we still know almost nothing about the surroundings of administrative centres set up by the Egyptians in the Middle Nile and the cultural processes within this periphery. The urban centres of this period in the Middle Nile are the Egyptian type towns Amara West, Sai, Soleb, Sesebi and Tombos and Kerma City as capital of the Nubian Kerma Kingdom. Very little rural settlements have been investigated up to now, creating a dearth of means to contextualise the central sites (Spencer et al. 2017: 42). Sites classified as ‘Egyptian’ apart from the main centres are almost unknown (Edwards 2012) and there are only two case studies for Kerma ‘provincial’ sites with Gism el-Arba (Gratien et al. 2003; 2008) and H25 near Kawa (Ross 2014).

If we want to understand the proper dynamics of Bronze Age Middle Nile, this bias between studies of urban centres and rural places in the so-called peripheries needs to be addressed. However, such a new study should avoid the problematic issues of a hierarchy of sites associated with the centre-periphery relations. Thus, DiverseNile intends to offer a new model focusing on the landscape and consequently human and non-human actors in a defined contact space.

Our new approach: beyond core and periphery

Within the DiverseNile project, we understand the Attab to Ferka area as a dynamic, fluid contact space shaped by diverse human and non-human actors. My main thesis is that we need to investigate cultural relations and coalitions between people on a regional level within the so-called periphery of the main urban centres in order to catch a more direct cultural footprint than what the elite sources and state built foundations can reveal. I expect that cultural refigurations reflected in material remains are partly less, partly more visible than in the centres shaped by elite authorities, where dynamic cultural developments are often disguised under an ‘official’ appearance. However, I completely agree with Sulas and Pikirayi that: “Peripheral settlements are always an integral part of the core, as these play a crucial part in enhancing the dynamics exhibited at the centre” (Sulas and Pikirayi 2020, 80). Thus, our new work in the Attab to Ferka region will allow us to contextualise the findings at sites like Amara West and Sai further.

There is still much work to do and data to assess, but I am positive that in the next few years, we will be able to propose a new understanding of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’ in Bronze Age Middle Nile (see already the stimulating article by Henriette Hafsaas-Tsakos 2009).

References

Budka, Julia and Auenmüller, Johannes 2018. Eds. From Microcosm to Macrocosm. Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Leiden.

Edwards, David N. 2012. The Third-Second Millennia BC. Kerma and New Kingdom Settlements, 59–87, in: A. Osman and D.N. Edwards (eds.), Archaeology of a Nubian frontier. Survey on the Nile Third Cataract, Sudan. Leicester.

Gratien, Brigitte et al. 2003. Gism el-Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29–43.

Gratien, Brigitte et al. 2008. Gism el-Arba – Habitat 2, Campagne 2005–2006, Kush 19 (2003–2008), 21–35.

Hafsaas-Tsakos, Henriette 2009. The Kingdom of Kush: An African Centre on the Periphery of the Bronze Age World System, Norwegian Archaeological Review 42, 50–70.

Moeller, Nadine 2016. The Archaeology of Urbanism in Ancient Egypt. From the Prehistoric Period to the End of the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge.

Ross, T.I. 2014. El-Eided Mohamadein (H25): A Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan settlement on the Alfreda Nile, Sudan & Nubia 18, 58‒68.

Spencer, Neal et al. 2017. Introduction: History and historiography of a colonial entanglement, and the shaping of new archaeologies for Nubia in the New Kingdom, 1‒61, 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.

Sulas, Federica and Pikirayi, Innocent 2020. From Centre-Periphery Models to Textured Urban Landscapes: Comparative Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa, Journal of Urban Archaeology 1, 67–83 https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/epdf/10.1484/J.JUA.5.120910

Towards a better understanding of the New Kingdom isoscape in Upper Nubia

A paper by the AcrossBorders project on the application of strontium isotopes to investigate cultural entanglement in Sai and its surroundings was just published (Retzmann et al. 2019)! In this study, strontium isotopes were applied to identify possible ‘colonialists’ coming from Egypt within the skeletal remains retrieved from Tomb 26 of the pharaonic cemetery SAC5 on Sai Island.

The local strontium signal on Sai Island during the New Kingdom was derived from archaeological animal samples (rodent, sheep/goat, dog and local mollusc shells, all dating from the New Kingdom) in agreement with local environmental samples (paleo sediments and literature Sr isotope value of Nile River water during the New Kingdom era).

As outlined in the article, the strontium values suggest that all people buried in Tomb 26 are members of the local population. A striking outcome, since the tomb, the tomb equipment, the personal names and titles are all clearly ‘Egyptian’.

These fresh results tie in nicely with research at other main Upper Nubian centres like Tombos (Smith and Buzon 2017) and Amara West (Buzon and Simonetti 2013) – and will be of great importance also for DiverseNile. More information on the complex coexistence and biological and cultural entanglement of Egyptians and Nubians during the New Kingdom are urgently needed.

We need to reconstruct the isoscape of the Attab-Ferka region in the next years.

In this respect, we will continue to investigate the isoscape of Upper Nubia further, enlarging our scope with my new concession – I am very happy that the successful team around Anika who did this for Sai will be again involved! The MUAFS area will provide new data from soil, water, molluscs and of course animal bones and human teeth which will allow us to place the data from Sai in a broader context. The periphery of Sai and Amara West, our Attab to Ferka region, has rich potential to check the validity of our present strontium analysis.

References

Buzon and Simonetti 2013 = Buzon, M. R. and Simonetti, A., Strontium isotope (87Sr/86Sr) variability in the Nile Valley: identifying residential mobility during ancient Egyptian and Nubian sociopolitical changes in the New Kingdom and Napatan periods, American Journal of Physical Anthropology 151, 2013, 1-9.

Retzmann et al. 2019 = A. Retzmann, J. Budka, H. Sattmann, J. Irrgeher, T. Prohaska, The New Kingdom population on Sai Island: Application of Sr isotopes to investigate cultural entanglement in ancient Nubia, Ägypten und Levante 29, 2019, 355–380

Smith and Buzon 2017 = Smith, S. T., and Buzon, M. R., Colonial encounters at New Kingdom Tombos: Cultural entanglements and hybrid identity, 615–630, 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 2017.

Cultural diversity in the Middle Nile: New media coverage for DiverseNile

Despite of the recent developments because of the crisis due to the COVID-19 virus, my new ERC project, DiverseNile, will start on April 1st 2020 here at LMU Munich. I am very grateful to the wonderful support of the administrative staff both in Brussels and in Munich – it was quite a challenge, but now all is set to go!

More information on the project, my team and our intermediate goals will follow shortly – for now I would like to share a new dissemination article in which I tried to highlight the challenges and aims of DiverseNile (read it open access or download it here as PDF).

DiverseNile will be conducted within the framework of the MUAFS project – the Attab to Ferka region in Sudan is the perfect area for our new study.

Location of the MUAFS concession in relation to the Batn el-Haggar, Amara West and Sai Island.

I believe that in order to address the actual diversity of ancient groups in the Nile Valley a new approach focusing on the periphery and hinterland of the main centres is needed, considering both landscape and people in an integrative method. This is where DiverseNile will step in with our perfect case study between Attab and Ferka. The main objective of DiverseNile is to reconstruct Middle Nile landscape biographies beyond established cultural categories, enabling new insights into ancient dynamics of social spaces. Can’t wait to get started in April!

Assessing functional aspects of GiE 001: Preliminary data from the finds

The last two days were really nice – hot and sunny. Today, the weather has changed again, a very strong wind made work difficult today and the temperatures are again a bit cooler.

Since work in the field with such a wind was not possible after lunch, I spent this afternoon playing with some statistics for the two test trenches in GiE 001 where we are currently working.

Of course, any interpretation based on two test trenches only must remain very tentative, but I believe there are already some interesting facts and possible glues for understanding the function of the site. The domestic character of GIE 001 was already noted by Vila and we confirmed its dating to the New Kingdom with a strong Kerma presence in 2019. What new data derives now from our test trenches?

Let’s look at the pottery – the surface material was mixed in both trenches, comprising Kerma, Egyptian New Kingdom, Napatan and Christian wares. Many of the sherds are very eroded (wind-worn).

Trench 1 only yielded a total of 328 sherds, of which 13 are diagnostic pieces (4%). 271 pieces from all sherds (83%) can be dated to the Kerma/New Kingdom period.

This pattern is repeated in Trench 2 were a larger quantity of pottery was found. As of today, a total of 3709 sherds were collected, 177 of which are diagnostic pieces (5%). In this trench, 3203 sherds belong to the Kerma/New Kingdom horizon (86% and thus the clear majority).

Especially relevant was today’s muddy layer in a deep level which yielded only 13 small pottery sherds, but of which all are New Kingdom in date, 6 wheel-made of the Egyptian tradition, 7 handmade Nubian wares.

Some stone artefacts from Trench 2 in GiE 001.

The second most frequent category of finds after pottery are stone tools and lithics. These were quite numerous, especially in Trench 2, where for example 102 pieces were collected from the surface layer. The stone artefacts are mostly flakes and here predominately quartz flakes; very frequent are also fragments from sandstone grindstones and handmills. A few chert flakes and some pounders and hammer stones were also noted.

All in all, the stone artefacts seem to attest first of all quartz working and grinding of materials. This fits perfectly to the topographical situation of the site – just south of GiE 001, there is a large quartz vein visible on the surface. And this might very well be connected with ancient gold working like it is well attested in the general region of Upper Nubia and especially around the main centres of the New Kingdom empire like Sai, Sesebi and Amara West.

Overview of quartz vein just south of site GiE 001.

In the 1970s, Vila documented a gold working site at Kosha East (the neighbouring village of Ginis) where New Kingdom and Napatan ceramics on the surface next to a quartz vein resemble the evidence from GiE 001.

Excavation and processing of data at GiE 001 must of course continue, but for now, this New Kingdom ocupation site seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island. Exciting first glimpses into the use of the Bronze and Iron Age landscapes in the MUAFS concession!