Although the current temperatures both in Germany and Egypt would suggest it is still summer, our short summer break comes to an end. I am delighted to announce the next DiverseNile Seminar by Egyptologist Fatma Keshk next week.
Fatma is an old friend I have meet many years ago during the German excavations in Elephantine; she then also joined me once for our AcrossBorders project on Sai Island in Sudan, a truly enjoyable experience. It was actually 10 years ago – amazing how time flies by (there are photos as evidence that we were both younger back then 😉).
Through our personal encounters, I have been able to follow Fatma’s career over the last years. And it’s just amazing how successful it is!
After obtaining her PhD in 2021 at the Free University of Berlin with a dissertation entitled: “An Ethno-archaeological Study of Streets and Open Courtyards from Modern Nubia and Ancient Egyptian Settlements from the Predynastic Period to the end of the Middle Kingdom”, she was successful in securing two postdoctoral fellowships in Cairo in the past years. She is currently affiliated with the IFAO. Last year, she was the organizer of the fantastic conference “Living in the House”, which Chloë and I had the pleasure to attend (see also Chloë’s report on this event).
Fatma has a strong interest in settlement archaeology and here especially in understanding the use of space – this makes her an ideal person to exchange ideas for our own DiverseNile project. She applies inter-disciplinary methodologies in her research, notably ethno-archaeological approaches. Fatma has also engaged in heritage outreach activities with different local Egyptian communities over the past years. In her upcoming DiverseNile Seminar on Tuesday, September 19, she will focus on her observations for the site of Saqqara – stressing that there are peculiarities for every site in Egypt, not least because of diverse participants, audience, and overall goals.
I am very much looking forward to this presentation and grateful to Fatma for sharing her experience in an important and growing field of studies.
Julia and I have just returned to (a very cold!) Germany, after a fantastic time in Cairo for the Living in the House: Researching the Domestic Life in Ancient Egypt and Sudan conference. The conference, organised by Fatma Keshk, was fascinating and stimulating, and it was also a great opportunity to catch up with many colleagues and friends.
The conference organised by the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (IFAO) and the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology in Cairo (PCMA), was held over four days between the two institutes and included a wide range of papers and international scholars. Despite, the significant amount of work and research that tackles settlement and domestic archaeology in Egypt and Sudan, it is rare to have an entire conference dedicated to the topic, and it was fantastic to have this conference held in Cairo. The papers covered a broad range of themes, topics, periods, and interdisciplinary approaches and has given us a lot to think about, particularly for Work Package 1 of the DiverseNile project.
The papers were very well organised into different themes, which allowed for discussion of particular topics and ideas in the time after each session. They included domestic material culture, settlement space and accessibility, the use of domestic spaces, cooking spaces and material culture, recent research on settlement excavations, architecture and building techniques, ethnoarchaeology, religion, and house property. Papers also drew on sensorial experiences and phenomenology to consider what it would have been like to actually live in these houses and settlements, focusing on the lived experience.
All of the papers have given us a lot to think about and consider in our own project, particularly in terms of the separation of domestic and work spaces which was brought up in a number of talks. Including in Mark Lehner’s excellent keynote on the second day, which raised an interesting discussion on the separation, or lack thereof, of public and private life. This drew on interdisciplinary approaches to the study of space and the layout of buildings from architectural and social studies.
The use or influence of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of domestic archaeology was a major theme throughout the conference, which is always fantastic to see in archaeological research. And again, gives us a lot to consider and think about! Such as the numerous ethnographic examples raised, both to provide comparisons and parallels to archaeological evidence, as well as to help us challenge assumptions and think about archaeological remains in different ways. This included Fatma Keshk’s paper on Egyptian houses, drawing on ethnography and ethnoarchaeology to give a better understanding of a number of aspects, including design, categories of houses, factors effecting use (both practical and social), as well as privacy patterns in domestic settings. Also drawing on contemporary examples, was Mennat-Allah El Dorry’s talk, which focused specifically on the kitchen and how it is identified in the archaeological record, based in many cases on modern western concepts of what constitutes a kitchen, rather than the more ephemeral and mobile nature of food preparation.
Challenges to existing assumptions about domestic archaeological interpretation were also raised in a number of other papers. Specifically, for Nubia and Sudan, this included Aaron de Souza’s paper which raised the difficulty of defining ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ sites based on architectural and material culture remains. As well, as the long-standing historical biases of Egyptology’s colonial legacies. All of which are of course highly relevant for the DiverseNile project. It was also fantastic to have Ulrike Nowotnick give a talk on the Meroitic town of Hamadab in Sudan, to consider what life would have been like in a densely occupied Meroitic town in the Middle Nile, as well as the spatial organisation of the houses and the walled town. Archaeology in Sudan has, like in Egypt, often focused on mortuary, religious, or monumental archaeological sites.
The question of the spatial organisation of settlements and domestic spaces was another recurring theme over the four days, often in terms of state or centrally organised spaces versus individual agency and choices. Particularly, in the case of remote sites with limited access to natural resources. This is again, something which we need to think about carefully in the DiverseNile project, with the temporary nature or seasonal use of many of the sites likely linked to industrial activities, such as gold processing.
It is of course impossible to talk here about all of the discussions, topics, and papers which took place during the conference, but all the talks were recorded and are available online through the IFAO’s YouTube page. We are both very grateful to the IFAO, the PCMA, and in particular to Fatma Keshk, for an excellent and very inspiring conference.
Just one week ago, I closed the very successful 2021 season of the LMU Ankh-Hor project and finished my last tasks of the pottery study for the South Asasif Conservation Project. It has been 5 amazing and intriguing weeks in Luxor, and it was great to be back in the field, especially because it was the first time since the covid-19 crisis.
This week, the winter term at LMU has started and I am also busy preparing a short field trip to Sudan in November. In respect of teaching, I will continue to combine aspects of my current research in Egypt and Sudan with classes for both undergraduates and graduates. There are two personal highlights in my classes this winter term – one seminar focuses on the First Cataract area where I have been working since 1997 and here in particular on the role of the region as link between the Lower and Middle Nile. We will discuss cultural contacts over 5 millennia and complex two-ways of interactions which is very much in line with both my previous AcrossBorders project and the current DiverseNile project.
The second highlight is a seminar I will be co-teaching with Rennan Lemos. Under the title “Egyptian History: Colonial Narratives on Ancient Egypt” we will explore particular topics in the archaeology of colonialism in northeast Africa, with a special focus on Egypt and Nubia. Among others, we will discuss case studies like the question of power of colonial centres during the New Kingdom and the formation of „peripheries“ in colonised Nubia. Particular attention will be paid to the role of objects and material culture and how these shaped colonial interactions; but we will also discuss how the remnants of colonial discourses characterised earlier scholarship about ancient Egypt and Sudan.
Both Rennan and me are very much looking forward to this seminar which will offer the students fresh insights from our ongoing research about cultural diversity in the Middle Nile and will provide us, without doubt, with much food for thought. We believe that the new method of contact space biography I introduced for DiverseNile will reveal an alternative narrative regarding colonial Nubia, stressing the importance of social practices, communities, and the subsistence strategies of marginal regions in Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology. Discussing these points with a group of students will undoubtedly be an enrichment.
Although it is still partly difficult to adapt from the splendid atmosphere of the Theban Westbank and from a dig schedule to Munich and Vienna and the daily routine in the office/home-office, this winter and our teaching term promise much input for all of us! Looking much forward to the feedback from our participants.
October has passed really fast, with increasing attention given to the covid-19 crisis. The latter will of course continue in the next weeks…
The DiverseNile project has got some reinforcement in the person of Giulia D’Ercole. Building upon her expertise gained in the framework of the AcrossBorders project, she will be focusing within our Work Package 3 (material culture) on various assessments and analyses of ceramics from the MUAFS concession. A special focus will be on the question of ‘peripheral’ Kerma pottery production including a comparison with the one at the capital, at Kerma city.
Also in other respects, October was very busy – and somehow sentimental, full of memories – nice ones fortunately! Earlier this month, one of the most remarkable present-day Austrian Egyptologists celebrated a round-numbered birthday – my PhD supervisor Manfred Bietak is well-known for his research and publication activities on Egyptian archeology and especially on cultural contacts during the Middle Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. Very remarkable, but little-known is also his field work in Nubia early in his career – as a member of the excavations by the Austrian National Committee of the UNESCO Campaign for the Rescue of the Nubian Antiquities in the Sayala district, he excavated between 1961-1965 various cemeteries of Nubian groups (especially so-called C-Group and Pan-Grave, but also later tombs potentially associated with Blemmyes), as well as relics of the Medieval period. This early experience left a deep impression and all of his students know stories by Manfred being told at excavations and excursions starting with “once upon in Nubia, …”. I consider myself fortunate to be among these students and am simply grateful for such an inspiring teacher!
To celebrate Manfred’s birthday but also his achievements for the study of Late Period Egypt, I organized the first online Study Day of the Ankh-Hor project. This day was a real success and the lectures are by now available online via LMU cast. Finally, a podcast has been released where I immerse myself in my memories – talking about the critical moment in my career when it was unclear whether I can stay in academia or not.
If you want to know what an egg and my dog’s interest in this egg has to do with that – then you will have to listen to the podcast 😉!
Bietak, M. and Jungwirth, J. Die österreichischen Grabungen in Ägyptisch-Nubien im Herbst 1965, in: Ann. Naturhistorisches Museum 69, 1966, 463-470.
Munich is very busy again, the quiet days of the summer break in the city are gone, the parks are crowded again, school vacations are almost finished and a new school year will start next week.
The MUAFS project and DiverseNile had just a very short break in August, everything was quite packed due to the extended corona term at LMU and some appointments including a very pleasant one in Vienna: my family lecture about archaeology in Egypt and Sudan! This lecture was part of activities by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in the framework of the KinderUniOnline.
I tried to explain to kids in the age of 7-12 years why I am personally still fascinated by ancient Egypt and Sudan. I talked about the numerous finds we unearth and can use to try to reconstruct daily life activities and more. I highlighted some examples from the tomb of Ankh-Hor in Luxor and of course I talked about cooking pots, ceramics in general (and brought some sherds with me to show!) and the very promising remains in the Attab to Ferka region which still have so many open questions for us.
You can watch my lecture (in German) at youtube:
Let’s hope that some future archaeologists are inspired by the rich archaeological heritage in Egypt and Sudan!