This past season in Sudan, our drone program took flight (pun-intended) in more ways than one. We dedicated most of our efforts to flying programmed missions over large areas of the landscape mainly in Attab West, to collect data for the generation of Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) and orthophotos. In addition, we found time to make targeted flights of standing architecture for 3D modeling and visualization purposes. Digital recording of archaeological sites using the methods and principles of photogrammetry has immense implications for cultural heritage preservation.
I was able to spend an entire day in Attab East documenting an extremely interesting, and remarkably well-preserved Islamic house, located just south of the Nile. The structure was identified and recorded by André Vila as site 2-S-57, a fortified Islamic house. It was built on a small raised rocky plateau, east of a small drainage channel.
The house is especially interesting in that many of its walls are still very well preserved, along with evidence of a second story, multiple small staircases, and a larger staircase in the northwestern corner of the house, leading to a tower-like structure. Several walls have also collapsed in recent years, and the collapsed building material remains in situ in the southeastern corner of the structure.
The house itself is designed with a large central courtyard surrounded by relatively small interior rooms. These rooms are all roughly rectangular in shape, seem to be similar sizes, and are mostly oriented east to west. Some rooms contain interior sub-divisions, as well as windows and doorways preserved along the northern exterior wall. The rooms form a cellular pattern around the central courtyard, a common architectural pattern in Islamic houses (Abu-Lughod 1987; Petruccioli 2008; Zolfagharkhani and Ostwald 2021). It would certainly be interesting to consider the use of domestic space in this house, as activity areas and movement patterns are surely present.
Current challenges exist to the house’s preservation, including erosion, flooding, and modern use of the house’s rooms as animal pens. It is interesting that there is continuity in the use of this structure for subsistence activities. However, it is extremely important to have the opportunity to digitally document well-preserved, at-risk sites such as this one. I collected approximately 700 images using our Phantom 4 drone of the site and processed a 3D model in Drone2Map.
Given the high-quality model, the site can be virtually “visited” on open-access sites like Sketchfab. This gives diverse publics the opportunity to engage with and experience the site. Furthermore, systematic analyses such as space syntax can be conducted to further understand the use of the site with the data from the model. Digital representations of archaeological sites are especially valuable during periods of political turmoil when cultural heritage may come under threat. Given the on-going conflict and humanitarian crisis in Sudan, and the enduring impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on research disciplines in general, archaeologists must continue to develop innovative solutions to critical problems of cultural heritage management and preservation.
Check out the model of the Islamic house for yourself on MUAFS’s Sketchfab profile:
Here you can play with the model, manipulate the view, zoom in on rooms and features, and experiment with the size of the model. Sketchfab is a completely free educational platform for all users. Be on the lookout for more models from the project in the future!
Abu-Lughod, J.L. (1987). “The Islamic City–Historic Myth, Islamic essence, and Contemporary Relevance”, International Journal of Middle East Studies, 19(2), pp. 155-176.
Petruccioli, A. (2008). “House and Fabric in the Islamic Mediterranean City” in S.K. Jayyusi, R. Holod, A. Petruccioli, and A. Raymond (eds.), The City in the Islamic World: Volume 1. Leiden: Brill: pp. 851-876.
Zolfagharkhani, M. and Ostwald, M.J. (2021). “The Spatial Structure of Yazd Courtyard Houses: A Space Syntax Analysis of the Topological Characteristics of the Courtyard”, Buildings, 11(262), pp. 1-22.
As a “landscape” archaeologist, I often have to ask myself, “What do I actually mean when I talk about landscapes?” This is far from a simple exercise, as landscapes seem to defy singular definition. Landscapes are also inherently multidimensional and interact with multi-layered social phenomena and processes such as economy, subsistence, religion, ritual, and political organization. I define landscape as the integration of natural surroundings with cultural phenomena which constitute and are constituted by social relationships. Landscapes are continuously reinvigorated and transformed by the experiences and identities of humans operating within them, and the interactions between humans, animals, ecosystems, climate, and topography. As I delve further into analysis of the landscapes of the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey region, I try to revisit these central questions; what are landscapes and how can we best approach them from an archaeological and theoretical toolkit?
Landscape archaeology tackles the nuances of culture, environment, memory, meaning, and place-making. Landscape perspectives have evolved to recognize the permeability and relativity of landscapes, in that societies imbue their own sense of place and time on spaces (Anschuetz et al. 2001). This is a realization that extends beyond archaeology, as works from the realms of architecture, design, environmental studies, geography, history, psychology, and others reiterate the same principles. As the architect Amos Rapoport writes, “People seem to shape and interact with built environments/material culture primarily through meaning and this seems to hold over time, cross-culturally, and in all kinds of environments, contexts, and situations” (1990: 42). Anschuetz et al. (2001) argue for the adoption of a unified landscape perspective, which accounts for the theoretical and methodological development of the field and builds an epistemology of landscapes. The authors claim, “a landscape approach complements traditional archaeological space and time systematics through its processual and scientific means of analysis while at the same time integrating human history and agency into their constructions” (187). This perspective unites the main concerns and objectives of the two most dominant theoretical schools within the discipline of archaeology, Processualism (New Archaeology) and Post-processualism.
As someone who also is particularly interested in cemeteries, I often think about the intersections between landscapes and death. Neither death, nor landscapes were static components of ancient life. Cemeteries can be reconceptualized within archaeology as “mortuary landscapes.” Mortuary landscapes are not isolated phenomena; monuments of death scattered throughout the landscape. They, in concert with the natural landscape, are physically and ideologically transformative embodiments of long term social and cultural processes. Many works have explored this reconceptualization of cemeteries as inextricable from their natural and cultural surroundings (for examples pertaining to North Africa, see Stone and Stirling 2007 and Richards 1999, 2005). My working definition of mortuary landscapes is that they are built landscapes of burial, consisting of tombs, temples, and other constructions dedicated to death, strategically integrated with natural surroundings. These landscapes are complex, hubs of activity that develop and change over time due to natural and cultural processes. We must consider mortuary landscapes as active and dynamic spaces for the maintenance of identities of the dead and living.
Many past studies since the mid-20th century have situated a discussion of landscape archaeology within the context of the culture, history, geography, and environment of ancient Nubia and modern-day Sudan (Ahmed 1984; Caneva 1988; Edwards 1989; Garcea and Sebastiani 1998; Grzymski 2004; Hinkel 1994; Trigger 1965, 1982; Welsby 1998; Williams 1985). With respect to cemeteries, landscapes have also been integrated into studies from Neolithic to post-Medieval Nubia (Bashir 2021; Costanzo et al 2021; Emberling 2012; Weschenfelder 2015). There is a need for more studies that evaluate diachronic relationships between mortuary practices and landscapes using systematic, spatial methodologies. I intend to delve further into the application of systematic and spatial methodologies to Nubian contexts in a future blog post.
A framework that I think is helpful in achieving this mortuary landscape approach is “inscribing” the landscape. Inscription as a concept and a process has been discussed within the field of archaeology broadly. For example, in David and Wilson’s edited volume, Inscribed Landscapes: Marking and Making Place, landscape inscription is presented as a two-fold process: 1) the physical marking of the natural environment through monument construction such as rock art, and 2) and the social engagement of people with their environment that embodies landscapes with memories and “anchors people in place” (2002: 6). In studies of Nubia, the process of inscribing is discussed with reference to identity formation (Buzon et al 2016: 285) as well as landscape formation (Ambridge 2007). While there are many ways to describe this concept, I want to emphasize landscape inscription as a continuous process of imprinting and reproducing social meaning and relationships onto the physical environment through interactions and alterations that create a material signature. This includes the construction of architecture, and the use and manipulation of natural resources and features in creating patterns. Inscribing the landscape is akin to creating a dialogue between material culture and natural surroundings to translate the immaterial aspects of social relationships and phenomena. The landscape is the canvas on which the images of social meaning are drawn. This does not imply that social meaning can only be viewed or understood in one way. Interpretations will differ according to the perspectives, objectives, and biases of the inscribers and the viewers. Landscape inscription does not have an end point, so long as humans are interacting with their surroundings.
As archaeology for decades has attempted to reconcile structure and agency within the past, I conceive of landscapes as both agents and products of actions, processes, and changes. Furthermore, considering the process of death and veneration of the dead adds an interesting dimension to the landscape equation. In many cultures, such as the ones under investigation by the DiverseNile Project, death is obviously not viewed as an end result or product of a life. It is the continuation, an open door to another stage of being, an unfinished sentence. Landscapes, to me, exist in a similar plane, always in a process of becoming, never serving as a conclusion.
Ultimately, we hope that through a social biography approach to landscape (Budka 2020: 57; Kolen and Renes 2015) that delves into the interconnectedness of people, environment, material culture, and all organisms we can elucidate further patterns in landscape use and management over time; and identify more trajectories of continuity and change the inscribed landscapes of the Attab to Ferka region.
Ahmed, K. A. (1984) Meroitic Settlement in the Central Sudan: An analysis of Sites in the Nile Valley and the Western Butana. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, International Series 197.
Ambridge, L. (2007) ‘Inscribing the Napatan Landscape: Architecture and Royal Identity’ in N. Yoffee (ed.), Negotiating the Past in the Past: Identity, Memory, and Landscape in Archaeological Research. Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, pp. 128-154.
Anschuetz, K.F., Wilshusen, R.H. and Scheick, C.L. (2001) ‘An Archaeology of Landscapes: Perspectives and Directions,’ Journal of Archaeological Research, 9(2), pp.157-211.
Bashir, M.A.S. (2021) ‘Medieval and Post-Medieval Archaeology in the Sudan: A Study of Two Cemeteries at Mura, Northern State,’ The Algerian Journal of Humanities, 3(1), pp. 178-201.
Budka, J. (2020) ‘Kerma Presence at Ginis East: The 2020 Season of the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project,’ Sudan & Nubia, 24, pp.57-71.
Caneva, I. (1988) El Geili: The History of a Middle Nile Environment, 7000 B.C.–A.D. 1500. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, International Series 424.
Costanzo, S., Brandolini, F., Idriss Ahmed, H., Zerboni, A. and Manzo, A. (2021) ‘Creating the Funerary Landscape of Eastern Sudan,’ PLoS ONE, 16(7), pp. e0253511–e0253511.
David, B. and M. Wilson (eds.) (2002) Inscribed Landscapes: Marking and Making Place. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.
Edwards, D. (1989) Archaeology and Settlement in Upper Nubia in the 1st Millennium A.D. Oxford: British Archaeological Reports, International Series 537.
Emberling, G. (2012) ‘Archaeological Salvage in the Fourth Cataract, Northern Sudan (1991 2008)’ in M. Fisher, P. Lacovara, S. D’Auria, and S. Ikram (eds.), Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press: pp. 71-77.
Garcea, E. and R. Sebastiani (1998) ‘Advantages and Limitations of Surveys: The Case of the Napatan Region,’ Archéologie du Nil Moyen, 8, pp. 55-83.
Grzymski, K., (2004) ‘Landscape Archaeology of Nubia and Central Sudan.’ African Archaeological Review, 21(1), pp.7-30.
Hinkel, M. (1994) ‘The Water Reservoirs in Ancient Sudan’ in C. Bonnet (ed.), Etudes nubiennes. Conférence de Genève. Actes du VIIe Congrès International d’études nubiennes. Volume II. Genève: Mission Archéologique de l’Université de Genève au Soudan, pp. 171-175.
Kolen, J. and J. Renes (2015) ‘Landscape Biographies: Key Issues’, in J. Kolen, J. Renes and R. Hermans (eds.), Landscape Biographies: Geographical, Historical and Archaeological Perspectives on the Production and Transmission of Landscapes. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, pp. 21-47.
Rapoport, A. (1990) History and Precedent in American Design. New York: Plenum Press.
Richards, J. (1999) ‘Conceptual landscapes in the Egyptian Nile valley’ in Ashmore, W. and B. Knapp (eds.), Archaeologies of Landscape: Contemporary Perspectives. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 83-100.
Richards, J. (2005) Society and Death in Ancient Egypt: Mortuary Landscapes of the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Trigger, B. G. (1965) History and Settlement in Lower Nubia. New Haven: Yale University, Department of Anthropology (Yale University Publications in Anthropology 69).
Trigger, B. G. (1982) ‘Reisner to Adams: Paradigms of Nubian cultural history’ in J.M. Plumley (ed.), Nubian Studies. Warminster, pp. 223–226.
Welsby, D. (1998) ‘Roman Military Installations Along the Nile South of the First Cataract,’ Archeologie du Nil Moyen, 8, pp. 157–182.
Weschenfelder, J. (2015) ‘The Terminal Neolithic Cemetery in the Funerary Landscape of MOG034, Mograt Island, Sudan,’ Der Antike Sudan. Mitteilungen der Sudanarchäologischen Gesellschaft zu Berlin, 26, pp.145-152.
Williams, B. (1985) ‘A Chronology of Meroitic Occupation Below the Fourth Cataract,’ Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, 22, pp. 149–195.
The aim of this paper was to present the preliminary excavation results of this large Kerma cemetery on the outskirts of Sai. Based on our excavation results from 2022, we know that it was continuously used from Middle Kerma to Classic Kerma times and has close parallels to cemeteries in Batn el-Haggar (especially at Ukma). Our excavations allow a better understanding of rural Kerman funerary practices and the types of imported objects that are present or missing within these communities (such as scarabs, pottery vessels), demonstrating local prosperity and the superregional interconnectedness of these groups.
The Kerma cemetery, which Vila documented as 2-T-39, was labelled GiE 003 by the MUAFS project. It comprises an estimated 150 tombs in an area of c. 200 x 100m. The actual extent of the cemetery requires further investigation; in the northern part, the site partially overlaps with the Medieval habitation 2-T-43.
In March 2022, two trenches were opened in GiE 003 and are discussed in the EVO paper. Both trenches had eroded circular tumuli structures on their surfaces, which were covered with pottery sherds and human bones, clearly indicating ancient looting. Despite the age of the looting, some of the Kerma burials unearthed were well preserved and could be dated through the finds. The finds include fly pendants, a scarab with the name of a Hyksos king, a dagger, remains of funerary beds and plenty of beads as well as pottery.
A total of 27 pits were excavated in 2022. Through stratigraphic and pottery analysis it is also possible to make suggestions on the spatial and chronological development of the site. The EVO article is a preliminary assessment based on fieldwork results from 2022, including my detailed study of all the ceramics, but excluding bioarchaeological studies of human and animal bones, as well as the botanical remains.
The most important result of the 2022 excavation is the dating of the southern trench, Trench 2, to the Middle Kerma Period (c. 2000-1750 BCE) and of the northern trench, Trench 1, to the Classic Kerma Period (c. 1750-1500 BCE). This is especially significant, given that there were no notable differences in the surface structures.
In the EVO article, I proposed a possible relation of the Kerma community using GiE 003 to gold exploitation. First, in the MUAFS concession area, gold-rich quartz-veins have been found in Attab, Ginis, and Kosha, and some archaeological sites point to gold exploitation throughout the centuries, starting well before the Egyptian New Kingdom. Moreover, recent surveys in the Eastern Desert suggest that both control of gold mines and trade relationships with desert nomads played a major role in Kerman access to gold before Egyptian colonisation in the New Kingdom (see Cooper 2021). The affiliation of some of the pottery from GiE 003 with the Pan-Grave horizon seemed to illustrate in 2022 connections to nomadic people, possibly in relation to gold mining. This thesis could now be partly confirmed in 2023: in Trench 5 several Pan-Grave style burials were found (see my short summary of the 2023 season).
Here, I would like to follow Claudia Näser and her appeal for an “archaeology of interaction” (Näser 2012) – during the Kerma period, there were a number of Pan-Grave people present in the Nile Valley and for sure also in the Attab and Ginis area. They were community members (at least seasonally) interacting in various ways with other members – and our focus should be on understanding these interactions and reconstructing them as best we can. This is one of the core interests of the DiverseNile project and will keep us busy in the next years.
Coming back to cemetery GiE 003: one of the results of our excavation work is clearly that funerary practices reflecting social practices in the periphery of the Kerma kingdom must be considered in a more complex light than previously thought. Cultural diversity in the Middle Nile is well traceable during the Middle and Classic Kerma age in terms of architecture, location, burial types and grave goods. However, this requires further material assistance, with a focus on the social impact of cultural contact and the emerging patterns of globalisation during the Kerma kingdom’s heyday. The proximity of Kerma cemeteries (and thus also of possible settlements), especially also of dome grave assemblages well attested in the Attab to Ferka region, to potential gold working sites is clearly an interesting research question to be investigated in the future.
All in all, it seems likely that there was no single Kerman cultural input to interactions with the Hyksos, Egyptians and nomadic people like the Pan-Grave horizon. Rather, we must consider various hierarchical local responses determined by different communities’ ability to consume, shaping what can be called marginal communities in the Kerma state (see also Walsh 2022).
To concluse, the rich finds in GiE 003 enable us to compare this newly excavated Kerma cemetery to the well-known cemeteries of Ukma and Akasha further north. There are very close parallels, as well as notable differences and what appears to be local variations (for details see Budka 2022). This opens new avenues for future research on Kerma communities outside of the Third Cataract region, shifting the focus away from cultural and chronological classification and toward aspects of the social relationships among Middle Nile groups (and their neighbours).
Budka 2022 = J. Budka, Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: new evidence from a Kerma cemetery at Ginis, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 45, 2022, 37-62.
Cooper 2021 = J. Cooper, Between the Nile and the Red Sea: Medjay desert polities in the third to first millennium BCE. Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 1 (1), 2021, 1-22.
Näser 2012 = C. Näser, Nomads at the Nile: towards an archaeology of interaction, in: H. Barnard and K. Duistermaat (eds), The history of the peoples of the Eastern Desert, Los Angeles: University of California 2012, 80-89.
Walsh 2022 = C. Walsh, Marginal Communities and Cooperative Strategies in the Kerma Pastoral State. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History, 9/2, 2022, 195-220.
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.
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.
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!
Our week 3 of the 2023 season was dominated by another drop in temperatures and very windy weather – there were only three days when we could work all day, on the other days too much sand in the air forced us to stop work early and continue with documentation and processing in the digging house.
Most importantly, our totalstation was fixed and is back to its normal daily routine. The wind prevented Kate to do much drone aerial photography, but thanks to the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna she was very busy documenting the landscape and many dry-stone walls in the area of Attab West and Ginis West.
While we were waiting for our totalstation, Chloe, Jose and I continued at the intriguing site 2-S-54, the 18th Dynasty building made of mud bricks and stones located on a steep slope of a rocky outcrop within the district of Foshu. A stunning view to work!
We exposed more of the surface around the structure and worked on the dense mud brick debris on its interior – more early 18th Dynasty ceramics, including Nubian style pots and also one hybrid cooking pot were unearthed – extremely exciting! A good number of large fragments of sandstone grindstones came to light and these were already documented by Sofia. This could already be a small hint that also this site is associated with goldmining. Modern gold working is carried out in large scale just next to us – in general a nice continuation illustrating the long-lasting impact of the natural resources for this part of the Middle Nile. However, since some of these modern pits and diggings also threaten the archaeological sites, I am rather concerned about this new development at Attab West.
Work at 2-S-54 will continue in week 4, since we moved back to the domestic site AtW 001 with our gang of local workmen during week 3. Here, the dense mud brick debris revealed further complete pottery vessels as well as a very well preserved animal skull, most probably of a donkey.
There are plenty of other animal jaws and bones in the collapse and it really seems as if most of this debris is partly rubbish. In addition, we have exposed more circular pits, presumably fire pits or storage structures.
Since we have reached a level where the contexts are now quite delicate and also space for work is limited, we moved our team of local workmen to the East bank (this is the “better” bank regarding wind and was thus received with much enthusiasm by the workmen). Jose and Huda started yesterday at the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 with two new trenches, aiming for a better understanding of the distribution patterns of burials at the site. Chloe and Sofia were busy setting up the new fix points and conducting measurements with the totalstation. The first burial pits are already visible in the new Trench 3 and I am sure I will be able to report interesting finds on the next update coming Friday.
Our week 2 of the 2023 season has just ended – having been an intense week with several challenges. First, our totalstation suddenly did not work like it should and we needed to send it to Khartoum – it will be fixed, but of course this meant a stop for excavations at AtW 001. On the positive side, two of our DiverseNile team members joined us this week – Jose and Kate have arrived and are now supporting us in multiple ways. Kate had to fix technical issues with our drone and the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna, but is now all set and started her work focusing on documenting the landscape.
Before we stopped at AtW 001, the results were really impressive. We found several circular or oval-shaped fire pits and excavated more of the mud brick debris on top of the mound in Trench 2. More animal bones and complete vessels showed up. One particularly nice context was an area adjacent to the solid mud brick debris, where one deep bowl, one beer jar, one small pot stand and a lower part of the beer jar were found smashed below mud bricks (Fig. 1). Interestingly, the mud brick debris comprised both red bricks and ordinary mud bricks. The current hypothesis is that the red bricks are simply burnt from a use close to a fire place or possibly kiln.
The stop of fieldwork had the advantage that I could invest much needed time for the pottery processing – we have not only large amounts of sherds, but especially a considerable number of complete or almost complete vessels. These all need to be first washed and then reconstructed. Jose kindly helps with the task of reconstruction (Fig. 2) and he also started drawing the first pieces from the uppermost layers.
Apart from pottery, we mostly have stone tools and re-used sherds and clay weights (including net weights) among the finds. Sofia is updating our find list and also describing the stone tools in our Filemaker database.
Until our totalstation is back from Khartoum, we will focus both on find processing and on drone aerial photography as well as taking measurements with the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna. In order to combine the latter also with some surface cleaning of Bronze Age structures, I chose an area in the district of Attab West in Foshu – this is a densely used area during Kerma times adjacent to the major paleochannel.
While Kate is taking drone photos, Chloe, Jose and I were cleaning the intriguing site 2-S-54, described by Vila as a New Kingdom house with mud bricks supported by schist stones, from wind blown sand (Fig. 3). This building, measuring 6.5 x 3.5m, is located on the south side of a rocky outcrop within the paleochannel on a quite steep slope.
The task of removing 80cm of windblown sand was extremely rewarding – we revealed in the interior of the building a dense mud brick debris layer as well as occupation deposits and several internal mud brick walls. We documented everything in 3D using photogrammetry (Fig. 4) and will continue excavating this domestic structure. The pottery found so far associates the use of this site with the early 18th Dynasty.
Thus, despite of all the technical challenges and modified working plans, we managed to get much work done in week 2. Hoping we will soon return to site AtW 001 with our workmen (and the totalstation), I am for now very much looking forward to investigating 2-S-54 in more detail.
It has been a busy week – arriving in Khartoum, finishing the paperwork, travelling to the north, arriving in Ginis, settling in our digging house, sorting the material and equipment and organizing the gang of workmen for our excavations as well as the boat transport to the west bank. All went very smoothly thanks to great support from our Sudanese friends and colleagues, especially the help of our inspector Huda, our friends Waleed in Khartoum and Magzoub here in Abri as well as our driver Imad and cook Ali.
We will start with extended excavation in the small settlement AtW 001 – in 2022, a first test trench provided interesting results, suggesting that there was a use at the site from Classic Kerma times through the Thutmoside period (for details see Budka 2022).
We managed to prepare everything for our first day of excavation tomorrow: Chloe and Sofia set up the new grid and took all necessary measurements, I was busy with taking micromorphological soil samples from the section of our 2022 trench – Huda was a great help here, not only in taking working pictures.
It was the first time I took these samples using plaster of paris, quick-setting gypsum plaster – and although the sediment is partly very soft and challenging to sample, it worked really well. We hope that the analysis of these samples will allow us a more detailed understanding whether our excavated area was an open space or a roofed space, what kind of activities apart from the visible fire places and the dumping of food waste are traceable and much more! Very exciting, especially since we did not yet find standing architecture although loose mud bricks are present at the site.
Today is our day off and tomorrow we will start week 1 of excavations at AtW 001 with our local workmen – stay tuned, this site is really full of potential!
Budka 2022 = J. Budka, 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.