Four years have passed since the last International Conference of Nubian Studies in Paris and on Sunday, the 2022 edition of the 15th congress will start in Warsaw.
Rennan, Chloë and I will be attending, and I will present the MUAFS project and its main results of the last years. My paper will give an overview of our activities from 2018 until 2022, with a special focus on the ongoing subproject ERC DiverseNile focusing on the Bronze Age remains. I will introduce our landscape biography approach in the Attab to Ferka region as the investigation of encounters of humans and landscapes in a peripheral borderscape with a longue-durée perspective, considering all attested finds from Palaeolithic times until the Islamic age.
For the presentation, I updated our list of sites and processed some of the quantitative data. At present, a total of 266 sites was documented. This comprises 186 of the 219 Vila sites as well as 80 newly identified sites. This number of sites is still preliminary because parts of Kosha, Mograkka and Ferka on the West bank have not yet been surveyed.
Regarding the types of sites, the most common sites are settlements and burial grounds. However, it is also remarkable that the MUAFS concession includes one granite quarry, one gold extraction site and several rock art sites.
As far as the dating of the sites in concerned, the majority belongs to the Medieval time. However, Bronze Age sites, here labelled as Kerma and New Kingdom sites, which are relevant to the DiverseNile project are also well represented. There are also several multi-period sites and others were re-used in later periods (e.g. Kerma sites in Medieval times).
I will also present some general patterns of the distribution of sites throughout the ages. This allows to highlight the importance of environmental parameters and changing landscapes in the region.
Although my last visit to Warsaw was just in May this year, I cannot wait to be back in this beautiful town. I am very much looking forward to the Nubian conference and meeting all the international colleagues working in Sudan.
The 15th International Conference for Nubian Studies in Warsaw is approaching at the end of this month, and I am currently busy preparing my paper. I will give a brief overview of the main results of the MUAFS project in the past years – and thus I revisited some of the sites of major interest between Attab and Ferka.
Until now, our work only focused on the left and right banks of the Nile – but my concession also comprises all the islands of the region. While we still have to visit Firkinarti island close to Ferka with its impressive archaeological remains, Huda and I spent one productive day this January on Gergetti island during our survey season.
Gergetti island is a beautiful island dominated by sandy dunes, located between Attab East and Attab West with an East West extension of c. 1.7km and a North South extension of c. 250m. The landscape and the view to the east bank is stunning – and provides a completely different view of Gebel Abri than I was used to when working on Sai island.
Vila documented two sites on the island – the better preserved one is 2-S-21, a fortified village of 110 x 70m in size which Vila associated with the Terminal Medieval period (Vila 1977: 32-37) in the southwestern corner of the island. He provided an excellent map of the site, and we could follow in his footsteps and check the present day preservation.
The enclosure wall has a hexagon shape and is made of mud brick with blocks and pieces of schist stone. In the southern part, the enclosure has already partly collapsed in the times of Vila, but the buildings in the interior are still very well preserved.
A dozen of preserved mud brick houses are square or rectangular buildings with one very small room in the back and a larger room in the front. Such a layout as well as the general appearance of the settlement 2-S-21 seems typical of the Funj period. Much progress in research on Funj house architecture has just been made in the last years, most prominently by the UMMA project at Old Dongola. In one of their recent publications, Obłuski and Dzierzbicka point out the main characteristics and differences to the medieval Nubian house types. They also mentioned Gergetti island as a close parallel to Old Dongola (Obłuski & Dzierzbicka 2021, 237, 242).
Especially since research of Funj period domestic architecture between the Second and Third Cataracts is still limited, the site 2-S-21 has much potential for future exploration. It became obvious that the map of Vila, as useful as it is, needs to be improved in several respects and that some buildings were also omitted on his plan. One possibility would be to document the site by drone aerial photography and thus to generate a new georeferenced 3D model as well as detailled plans. Excavations should also be undertaken in selected parts of the town, especially for clarifying building phases. The earliest phase of the settlement would be extremely relevant – not only for further comparisons with Old Dongola and other sites, but also from a historical view for the region of Attab to Ferka. Apart from the architecture, the material culture will give important information on the fine dating (as well as on so many other questions like room function, activities etc.). There is plenty of pottery on the surface, including nice painted wares and we also found one small piece of glazed ware. Without doubt, undisturbed contexts more useful for dating can be expected below some of the collapsed walls.
For now, Vila’s association of the site with Late Medieval times should be modified as most likely Funj period – more on this will follow when we return to the beautiful island of Gergetti.
Obłuski, A. and Dzierzbicka, D. (eds) 2021. Old Dongola: development, heritage, archaeology. Fieldwork in 2018-2019. Volume 1: Excavations. Polish Publications in Mediterranean Archaeology 1. Leuven et al.
Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Sudanaise). Fascicule 6: Le district de Attab, Est et Ouest. Paris: CNRS.
One of our objectives within the DiverseNile project, to reconstruct cultural encounters based on the material record by the detailed assessment of the most important productive activities, technologies and foodways, has received plenty of new material evidence during the 2022 excavation season. Most importantly, thanks to the support of NCAM and especially our inspector Huda Magzoub, I was able to export a selection of pottery samples for scientific analysis to Germany. These new samples from our excavations in Ginis East (sites GiE 001 and 003) and Attab West (site AtW 001) are of huge importance for the project, especially because due to the restrictions caused by the corona pandemic for archaeological fieldwork in the last two years, we could until now only investigate the petrography of ceramic samples from Dukki Gel.
This ties in with what our PostDoc Giulia D’Ercole has summarised in a recent paper: „For over seventy years, theoretical approaches and methods of classification of ceramic objects in Sudan have gradually changed, as have the perspectives and the general purposes of archaeological research. In general, scholarly attention has progressively shifted from forms (i.e., decoration and shape) to mineral and chemical compositions of ceramics and vessel contents (i.e., petrographic, compositional, and organic residue analyses)“ (D’Ercole 2021). This changed focus already influenced our research within the framework of the AcrossBorders project and is now continued with the DiverseNile project.
The analysis of the material culture in Work Package 3 of the DiverseNile project is undertaken from a multi-perspective level, including scientific analyses focusing on provenience studies (e.g. ceramic petrography and iNAA, see already D’Ercole and Sterba 2018). For the ceramics, we will combine macroscopic observations with analytical approaches and evaluate the results of optical microscopy (OM) and chemical analyses (XRF and iNAA) in conjunction. Together with LMU colleagues, Giulia has also introduced Raman spectroscopy as a new application to answer various technological questions, in particular on the manufacturing stages of production and firing of the pots. This will especially help to understand questions about local productions and influences of Nubian ceramic traditions for preparing wheel made pots in the Middle Nile region.
In the last days, I was busy preparing the documentation of our new ceramic samples from Ginis East and Attab West. I selected twenty-one samples for optical microscopy (OM) and thus for the preparation of thin sections, while I will bring 108 samples later this week to the Atominstitute in Vienna where they are being analysed for instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (iNAA) by our colleague and external expert in the project, Johannes Sterba.
The new samples comprise sherds of various surface treatments and different fabrics of the Kerma ceramic tradition as well as diverse Egyptian style wheel made samples of which the majority seems to attest to a local pottery production in the Attab to Ferka region. Photographing the samples, I was again struck by the extremely interesting appearance of the material from the domestic site AtW 001. Although I know that the scientific analyses will take some time and I need to be patient, I cannot wait to integrate the results from iNAA and petrography with my archaeological assessment and macroscopical observations and discuss them further with Giulia and Johannes.
Like Aaron M. de Souza and Mary F. Ownby very truly remarked in a recent paper: more micro-analyses of Nubian material culture need to be undertaken to achieve a better understanding of cultural diversity in the Middle Nile (de Souza and Ownby 2022, 55).
D’Ercole, G. and Sterba, J. H. 2018. From macro wares to micro fabrics and INAA compositional groups: the Pottery Corpus of the New Kingdom town on Sai Island (northern Sudan), 171–183, in: J. Budka and J. Auenmüller (eds.), From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Leiden.
One thing that always strikes me on excavations is the bizarre feeling of time one develops – it seems ages ago that we left Munich, but also years ago that we closed the excavation in Attab West (on March 31) and also as if at least a week has passed since we left Ginis yesterday morning!
Well – here we are – getting ready to leave this beautiful country with its rich archaeological and cultural heritage tonight after a very successful season´and a busy day in Khartoum with final paperworks and preparing accounts.
A summary of the 2022 spring season will follow soon – for now I am really grateful to all international team members, our wonderful inspector Huda Magzoub and all the other extremely helpful Sudanese colleagues at NCAM! Many thanks!
We collected large amounts of data from Ginis as well as Attab that will keep us busy in the next months! And hopefully we will be back in our concession area with its stunning landscape later this year!
Week 5 of our 2022 spring season is almost finished and we are getting ready to leave to Khartoum early next week.
We made great progress processing and documenting our recent finds. Sawyer and I were busy with drawing pottery and small finds, Rennan took last photos (Fig. 1). A special focus was on the rich material from the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.
Because of the large amounts of ceramics, I could spend less time than I hoped for the continuation of the survey. Nevertheless, I managed to document some nice sites in the close vicinity of our digging house. For example, I re-traced the site labelled by Vila as 2-T-23 in Ginis East. Here, dwellings and remains of four saqiyas of a Medieval village are situated on a length of 1500m in the alluvial plain, still partly preserved. Sherds are scattered around the site which is now in parts covered by modern fields and has suffered from some destruction by car tracks.
One of the saqiya Vila documented in the 1970s is especially well preserved (Fig. 2). Recording this site was extremely pleasant because the setting close to the Nile is simply beautiful. One just needs to avoid the early morning hours – since it is hot, the nimiti flies are quite numerous at this time of the day.
Yesterday, I covered another stretch of the east bank of the MUAFS concession and went to its very south-western part in Attab East. Here, the most spectacular monument is the extremely well preserved Islamic fortress Kourfa Hemmet, 2-T-57 (Fig. 3), which is surrounded by some Late Medieval remains. In this part of Attab, the Nile is very close to the sites, with a narrow strip of fields and one can already make out the Amara cataract in the water.
All these important monuments in a beautiful setting underline the general richness of archaeological sites in the MUAFS concession – and luckily we still have a few more days left in this gorgeous and peaceful part of northern Sudan!
While the first weeks of our 2022 season focused on mortuary remains and excavations in cemeteries, first of all the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, we switched focus and location in our week 4.
Earlier this year during our MUAFS survey, I noted an extremely interesting site at Attab West, with loads of early 18th Dynasty potsherds as well as scatters of local schist pieces on the surface. This site, AtW 001, is a small almost circular mound (Fig. 1). Unfortunately, the new line of electricity runs right through the site and seems to have destroyed part of it. This week, we went back there and excavated one trench as a first check of whether stratigraphy is preserved and any structures are traceable.
It was our first excavation on the west bank, which differs considerably from the east bank in terms of landscape and general conditions. Logistics are a bit more complicated as well, bringing the team and the equipment to the site by boat and through large sandy dunes with picturesque tamarisks.
In sum, the test excavation at AtW 001 was a challenge but also very rewarding – we found what can be classified as domestic rubbish, loads of ashy deposits, plant remains, animal bones and lots of pottery sherds as well as debris from fires and other everyday activities. The ceramics are nicely datable to the early 18th Dynasty to Thutmoside times. Interestingly, the amount of Nubian wares in the various horizons of fill was really high, accounting to ca. 30% of the ceramics. The lower fills only had very little ceramics inside and here the Nubian wares were more common than Egyptian style wheelmade pots – this is just a first impression and I will follow up on this with a more detailed assessment soon!
We seem to have at least two phases of activity in the New Kingdom period preserved, possibly an early phase and a slightly later one which can be dated to Thutmose III. Remains of collapsed mud bricks and overfired sherds indicate the former existence of buildings and possible also ovens or kilns, but no standing remains of architecture was identified up to now. There were several homogenous deposits of silt, partly showing some ash. The ashy spots of the earliest phase are directly on top of the natural alluvium, suggesting that we either have an open courtyard or maybe part of the periphery of a domestic site. Apart from ceramics, the finds included some grindstones and stone tools like pounders, testifying to some grinding and crushing activities. However, many questions about this site are still open and AtW 001 needs to be excavated on larger scale in the near future.
Overall, our site finds a perfect parallel in the nearby site 2-R-18 in the desert hinterland of Amara West (Stevens and Garnett 2017, previously documented by Vila in the 1970s). As highlighted by Anna Stevens and Anna Garnett, there were also rubbish deposits above homogenous deposits of silt and ash, which seem to have accumulated directly on top of the natural surface. Similar to our site, no traces of architecture were preserved at 2-R-18. The material culture, especially of the pottery and the stone tools, is extremely well comparable to our finds. The dating to the early 18th Dynasty is also almost identical.
Thus, the results of our trench are clearly promising and work at AtW 001 will continue in the near future. Especially the function and duration of use of this site will make a considerable impact to our aims of addressing seasonal sites as well as sites connected with gold working (as suggested by Stevens and Garnett 2017 for 2-R-18 and other desert hinterland sites) and other activities in the 18th Dynasty periphery of Sai Island.
With the final day of work at AtW 001 yesterday, our fieldwork with workmen and excavation has come to an end – just in time before Ramadan starts tomorrow. Part of the team – all of them fully recovered from the corona infection by now – has already left and is heading back to Vienna and Munich. A small team will continue with processing finds here at Ginis and documenting the rich material culture from our very successful excavations in 2022.
Many thanks go to all team members of 2022 – it has been a challenging season with so much wind, cold weather, covid-19 and a dense excavation programme at four different sites. The results are clearly remarkable and I am very grateful to all! For now, I am really keen to process the new material in more detail in the upcoming week.
Stevens and Garnett 2017 = Stevens, A. and Garnett, A. 2017. Surveying the pharaonic desert hinterland of Amara West, 287‒306, 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.
During our short season in December 2021/January 2022, we were able to record 14 sites on the East bank of the district of Ginis. These are 12 sites previously recorded by Vila as well as two new MUAFS sites (Fig. 1).
One particularly noteworthy site is the Abkan occupation site 2-T-21 at Ginis East, on a hill above the modern asphalt road (Fig. 2). According to the current chronologies, the Abkan period is dated to between c. 5500 and 3700 cal BCE (see D’Ercole 2021 with discussion and references).
We could note that the meticulous documentation by Vila (1977) for 2-T-21 was correct (Fig. 3). Many diagnostic pottery sherds are still scattered on the surface. This site is clearly worth a more detailed investigation, although it has recently suffered from modern destruction like car tracks running through the site.
Significant traces of Abkan occupation were recently documented by Elena Garcea on the island of Sai (Garcea 2020, 50 and 94 with references). The contemporaneous sites in our concession, of which several were documented on both riverbanks in Attab and Ginis, hold much potential and have received until now only little attention. Especially the relations of the Neolithic Abkan sites to Khartoum Variant sites in the region between the Dal Cataract and Sai Island needs to be explored in detail, not only regarding the chronology and possible overlaps but also in terms of subsistence strategies of these prehistoric communities as semi-sedentary hunter-gatherers and/or herding groups. This ties in with general questions about changes in the settlement strategies by Mesolithic groups compared to Neolithic communities (see D’Ercole 2021). Furthermore, until today, no cemeteries of the Abkan cultural complex have been identified – a highly unusual feature for a Neolithic culture in Sudan and something worth investigating in the future. Maybe the region between Attab and Ferka will provide some answers in this respect.
We have returned safely from Sudan and our short preparation season of the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project (MUAFS) in its research concession between Attab and Ferka from Dec. 29 to January 9 was very successful.
Huda and I conducted a foot survey in areas of Attab East, Attab West, Ginis East, Ginis West and Ferka West. The focus was on the identification of sites already recorded by Vila. We were able to document a total of 79 sites, comprising 21 new MUAFS sites. The sites range in date from Palaeolithic times to the Medieval and Ottoman eras. The types of sites are mostly camp sites, habitations, and tombs/cemeteries, but also include rock art and stone wadi walls.
Whenever possible, we collected diagnostic pottery and lithics from the sites for dating purposes. I was able to document most of them by photography and also managed to draw 35 Kerma and New Kingdom sherds. Most interesting are some newly documented New Kingdom sites, attesting to both a use in the 18th Dynasty and a Ramesside presence in the periphery of Amara West.
One particularly striking site, a cluster of cleft tombs at Ginis East, has never been documented before but was unfortunately lately plundered. And this is not an isolated example! Recent plundering, modern gold working, new electricity lines and damaged caused by car tracks, roads and new buildings are unfortunately very frequent, have increased since 2020 and stress how urgently we need to document this rich area in the Middle Nile.
The surveying campaign carried out by Cajetan resulted in the setup of new benchmarks using a GPS Antenna and a totalstation in Attab East, Ginis East and Ginis West. We will use these benchmarks as basis for future measurements during our planned excavations. Drone aerial photography was successfully conducted in Ginis East, Ginis West and Ferka West.
All in all, I am very grateful to the support of our Sudanese friends and colleagues – without them our work at site would not have been possible in these very difficult times of political changes. We collected a large amount of new data and will now be very busy processing these here in Munich – and of course we will keep you updated.
We are very pleased to announce the DiverseNile Seminar Series for 2022. As a follow up of this year’s event, we will now focus on material culture and society in Bronze Age Nubia and respective perspectives from landscape and resource management.
It is my pleasure to open the Seminar Series on January 25 with an introduction and some ideas about global networks and local agents in the Middle Nile. Middle Nile contact space biographies we are currently reconstructing for the Attab to Ferka region provide a complex picture of a social space as a home to diverse groups and actors, rather than a static landscape and the periphery of centre-oriented narratives of New Kingdom Nubia. Our aim within the DiverseNile project is to decode, through our interdisciplinary studies, the economic role of the Attab to Ferka region for the principal centres, as a production area, and as land for animal husbandry and agriculture as well as for mining activities and gold production.
Rennan Lemos managed to gather a splendid group of speakers for the talks, covering a large set of topics from pottery technology to animal husbandry, gold extraction and much more.
We are looking much forward to this event and registration for the online DiverseNile Seminar Series 2022 is already open! Hoping to see many of you there – we will keep you updated about the specific schedule of the talks (always Tuesday, 1pm CET)!
Before we’re able to go to the field, a lot of work on the cemeteries in our concession area is currently underway from Munich. Marion’s recent blog posts already discussed the potential of magnetometry for us to better understand what we are dealing with, and this is especially true in connection with Cajetan’s remote sensing work. Cajetan’s work has been revealing some interesting aspects of our sites and hopefully you’ll be able to catch glimpses of his work soon in here.
This work provides important background regarding the specificities of our sites. Alongside an assessment of the cemeteries and comparison with other sites across Nubia, this allows us to put together an ‚ideal type‘ (sensu Max Weber) that can guide us through future survey and excavation. The data sets produced by Vila, as well as previous MUAFS seasons, are also crucial for us to establish this ideal type, which works as a methodological tool to confirm our hypotheses (or not).
In my previous posts, I’ve already shared details about the assessment of sites I’ve been carrying out over the past months. Base on Vila’s data, we can know what to expect from the cemeteries in terms of preservation, types of structures etc. For example, the Late New Kingdom „tomb of Isis“ works an example of „elite“ or „sub-elite“ burial ground in the periphery of temple towns, where Egyptian and Nubian features mixed, probably to a greater extent than at temple towns—an example of hypothesis that we can create departing from an ideal type. This mixture occurred, for instance, in the combination of Egyptian substructures and a tumuli superstructure, remains of which were located in previous MUAFS seasons (see my previous posts). Departing from an ideal type such as the „tomb of Isis“ we can approach how the ideal varies across geographical and social spaces within our concession area.
For example, Marion and Cajetan’s work are shedding light on the extension of cemeteries where we can easily see from above those tumuli, some of which already explored by Vila, but also other features. It is difficult to determine from a distance what is the nature of this evidence. Comparative research then comes in handy. I’ve already proposed a discussion on the whereabouts of the majority of the Nubian population during the New Kingdom (a discussion that also applies to the Kerma period).
Other Nubian cemeteries such as Fadrus in Lower Nubia add information about non-elite groups to our ideal type (figure 1). If larger tumuli such as the „tomb of Isis“ are easily located based on drone and satellite imagery, simple non-elite pit graves originally with no extensive superstructures pose more challenges. Though, comparisons allow us to open up to possibilities that include, in our research framework, social groups not clearly represented by evidence accumulated from large temple-town cemeteries. These groups—which comprised the bulk of Nubian populations working in the fields, mines, and probably carrying out other work in the service of larger centres—are yet to be fully understood (and here work at the cemeteries of Amarna provide us interesting comparison points, see Stevens 2018).
Several are the challenges of doing research from the office, as we cannot yet go to the field. But work conducted so far, from various fronts, help us establish a pretty solid starting point from which to explore our sites knowing more or less what to expect. This takes into account old and new evidence, extensive comparisons with other sites and a clear theoretical framework, which is essential to formulate research questions and carry out large scale projects such as DiverseNile.
Säve-Söderbergh and Troy 1991. New Kingdom pharaonic sites: the finds and the sites.
Spence 2019. New Kingdom burials in Lower and Upper Nubia. In Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. D. Raue.
Stevens 2018. Death and the city: The cemeteries of Amarna in their urban context. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 28 (1): 103–126. doi:10.1017/S0959774317000592