Mortuary archaeology in the area from Attab to Ferka (MUAFS concession area)

With my appointment as the newest member of the DiverseNile team, it’s now time to present Work Package 2: The Variability of Funerary Monuments in the Region from Attab to Ferka, Northern Sudan.

Figure 1: Map of MUAFS concession with overview of surveyed areas (C. Geiger).

As responsible for Work Package 2, I will investigate, with PI Julia Budka, all aspects of mortuary sites within the MUAFS concession area (figure 1). The area from Attab to Ferka was firstly surveyed by André Vila within a larger survey from Dal to Missiminia. The results of Vila’s survey were published by the French CNRS in 15 volumes, which describe numerous sites located in the area­­­­­. Volumes 3 to 6 focus on the MUAFS concession in the region from Attab to Ferka.

Vila identified a series of funerary sites between Attab and Ferka, which I will explore in my research within the DiverseNile team. The aim is to understand the materialisation of cultural diversity through tomb architecture, burial customs and goods, focusing on the Bronze Age, which in our concession area comprises the Kerma, Egyptian New Kingdom and Napatan periods.

The 2018/19 and 2020 seasons of MUAFS survey re-identified and documented various burials sites previously listed by Vila, some of which were extensively plundered in recent times (Budka 2019; see also our online reports). Two cemeteries at Ginis East seem to be especially relevant for future excavation. GiE002 (Vila site 2-T-13) and GiE003 (Vila site 2-T-13) date to the Kerma Period and Egyptian New Kingdom, respectively. Kerma cemeteries usually comprise tumuli burials, while New Kingdom sites include shaft tombs with no preserved superstructure. Magnetometry was carried out at both sites in 2019 and will be used to further assess the archaeological potential of the cemeteries to plan future excavations. An additional survey is also planned for the next season, which will hopefully reveal more potentially relevant cemeteries or isolated tombs.

Besides new excavations, a large part of research on mortuary sites in our concession area consists of revisiting publications, archives and material culture previously excavated and now in museums. I’m currently developing a research strategy that will explore both avenues. My PhD experience demonstrated the huge potential of revisiting old excavation reports and archival material (see, for example, Edwards 2020), as well as museum collections from a fresh theoretical perspective.

In general, the DiverseNile project focuses on shifting conceptualisations and experiences of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’. My previous research stresses the contextual role performed by foreign objects in local contexts in New Kingdom cemeteries in Nubia. I argue that foreign, Egyptian-style objects could perform alternative, local tasks other than materialising Egyptian colonisation through objects in Nubian contexts (Lemos 2020). DiverseNile Work Package 2 will combine both general theoretical perspectives to unveil cultural diversity in contexts previously thought to express homogenisation only.

I am also particularly interested in refining our understanding of New Kingdom chronology in Nubia. So far, Egyptocentric approaches have mainly accepted that the same dates used to understand Egyptian history apply to Nubian colonial contexts. In my PhD thesis, I discuss the use of alternative terminology, based on local Nubian experiences of colonisation, instead of landmarks of Egyptian political history. DiverseNile has been adopting ‘Bronze Age Nubia’ as a working alternative. PI Julia Budka and I will be closely working on this topic, and I hope that new excavations will provide us with more refined dates than those usually extracted from typological approaches to sites and material culture. This would be especially relevant for the end of the New Kingdom colonial period/pre-Napatan Period, which is still poorly understood (e.g., Thill 2007; Binder 2011).

Stay tuned to this space for updates regarding my work on mortuary sites and material culture in Attab-Ferka!

References

Binder, M. 2011. The 10th-9th century BC – New Evidence from Cemetery C of Amara West. Sudan & Nubia 15: 39-53.

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. ed. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-1969. The Pharaonic Sites. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Lemos, R. 2020. Material Culture and Colonization in Ancient Nubia: Evidence from the New Kingdom Cemeteries. In Encyclopedia of Global Archaeology, ed. C. Smith. New York: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-51726-1_3307-1

Thill, F. 2007. Les réoccupations “(pré)napatéennes” dans le cimetière égyptien 8B5/SAC5 de Sai. In Mélanges offerts à Francis Geus, ed. B. Gratien. CRIPEL 26: 353–369.

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

An update: Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region

The last weeks were busy, among other tasks with completing data for our GIS project in order to create new maps based on our survey results. As I have shown in my OREA e-lecture, Cajetan has created site distribution maps according to periods – simply fantastic to work with!

Since the ERC project DiverseNile will focus on Bronze Age remains, the sites currently labelled as ‘Kerma’ are of much interest. The present map also includes some unclear sites where a proper dating and/or association with the Kerma culture remains to be checked.

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

Brigitte Gratien, one of the leading experts on the Kerma culture, recently pointed out the general problems related to Kerma remains outside of the heartland of the Kerma kingdom at the Third Cataract:

As everybody knows, writing about Kerma north of the Third Cataract is not so easy. Most of the excavations were done a long time ago and the results come mostly from the Nile valley. Where are the borders of the Kerma state or kingdom? What are the stages in the expansion of Kerma to the north, and what was the nature of the links and relationship with the other Nubian cultures and with Egypt?’(Gratien 2014, 95)

The Attab to Ferka region and renewed excavations at Kerma sites in the area have much potential to address these questions and problems which will be of first priority for the DiverseNile project. In general, very little rural settlements have been investigated up to now in northern Sudan, creating a lack of means to contextualise the central sites like Kerma or Sai Island. Sai is regarded, due to the strong Kerma presence on the island prior to the New Kingdom and especially the very large cemetery with huge tumuli, as northern stronghold of the Kerma kingdom. But how does this presumed function of the island relate to the periphery of Sai? What do we know about Kerma dwellings in the area?

This brings us back to the MUAFS concession and to our newly established distribution of ‘Kerma’ sites. Camps, settlements and cemeteries of the Kerma culture were recorded at both riverbanks. Except for two large Kerma tumulus cemeteries associated with the Kerma classique period in Ferka East, 3-G-16 and 3-G-19, all of the sites are clustered in the southern districts of Attab, Ginis and Kosha, thus quite close to Sai Island.

Dry-stone architecture datable to the Brone Age at Attab West.

Of particular interest are 1) stone structures in the Attab West district associated with 18th Dynasty pottery but of unclear cultural attribution since also Nubian material culture was present (Budka 2019, 24‒25) and 2) various settlement sites in the district of Ginis East. The latter were partly investigated by our text excavations earlier this year.

It is still too early, but sites like GiE 001 and the ‘watchtowers’ in Attab West will hopefully allow a comparison of ‘provincial’ Kerma remains like Gism el-Arba (Gratien et al. 2003; 2008) and H25 near Kawa (Ross 2014) with the capital of the Kushite kingdom, Kerma itself (Bonnet 2014). At least some of the questions regarding Kerma north of the Third Cataract are likely to be answered in the next years.

References

Bonnet 2014 = Bonnet, C. 2014. La ville de Kerma: une capitale nubienne au sud de lʼEgypte. Paris.

Budka 2019 = Budka, J. 2019. ‘Towards Middle Nile Biographies: The Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019’, Sudan & Nubia 23, 13‒26.

Gratien 2014 = Gratien, B. 2014. ‘Kerma north of the Third Cataract’, in J. Anderson and D. Welsby (eds), The Fourth Cataract and Beyond. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 1. Leuven, 95‒101.

Gratien et al. 2003 = Gratien, B., Marchi, S., Thuriot, O. 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.

Gratien et al. 2008 = Gratien, B., Marchi, S., Sys, D. and R.-P. Dissaux 2008. ‘Gism el-Arba – Habitat 2, Campagne 2005–2006’, Kush 19 (2003-2008), 21-35.

Ross 2014 = Ross, T.I. 2014. ‘El-Eided Mohamadein (H25): A Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan settlement on the Alfreda Nile’, Sudan & Nubia 18, 58‒68.