Preparing the 2020 field season

Time flies by, the winter term at LMU is in its final stage with exams approaching – and thus the next field season in the Attab to Ferka region in northern Sudan is getting closer.

We will work 4 weeks in February/March with new headquarters in Ginis East, where there are multiple Bronze Age sites and a stunning landscape.

Landscape at Ginis East, looking northwest.

Today, we had a team meeting in the office, discussing the main aims and logistics for this season. As kind of prelude for the new ERC project DiverseNile, we will test a very promising Kerma site at Ginis East.

The principal goal of our first season is a test excavation at the site GiE 004. This site was documented by Andrè Vila in the 1970s (as site NF-36-M/2-T-5) and his work included some test trenches. We made a successful magneometry survey of this very intriguing Kerma village in 2019 and would now like to check the validity of our own results (created by Marion Scheiblecker). This Kerma settlement system comprises rounded huts and additional walls or fences; the southern part of the site, consisting of Kerma graves, is very recently destroyed. Rectangular as well as circular features are visible in the northern part of the investigated area showing negative magnetic anomalies. They could be caused by mudbrick with less magnetisable content than in the southern part, where the magnetic anomalies show high positive values indicating different building materials and/or sources. The borders of the wadi systems are clearly visible in the magnetogram of GiE 004; an excavation could proof if there was a kind of fortification along the wadi. This is the main aim for the 2020 excavation season.

Looking much forward to our first season of excavation in the MUAFS concession – and of course we will keep you posted!

Drone photography and more during the MUAFS 2019 season

We are currently processing the data from our first season – while I am busy with assessing the potential of the individual sites for research questions, Marion works on the interpretation of the results from the geophysical survey and Cajetan composes new maps illustrating our findings. Additionally, the processing of the drone photographs that Cajetan took, assisted by Franziska and Valentina, is still ongoing.

A large part of the concession on the East Bank was completely covered with the drone of type Phantom 4Pro, kindly lent to the project from the Department of Archaeology and Cultural Studies of the LMU. Compared to the AcrossBorders project, for which we were using a kite for aerial photography, this was really a great advancement, especially in terms of the extensive reach the drone can cover!

The aerial photographs allow not only georeferenced orthophotos of selected sites, but especially to establish a digital landscape model of parts of the MUAFS concession. In combination with the results from magnetometry, these surface models, especially from Ginis East, offer plenty of possibilities for interpreting our multi-period sites within their environmental surroundings. Great advances thanks to this first very successful season!

Summary of the first MUAFS field season

From the Nile back to the Isar, from sun and sand back to clouds and snow, from desert walking back to desk work, emails, meetings and teaching – although our travel back from Attab via Khartoum via Istanbul to Munich took more than 30 hours, it feels like a very sudden transposition.

Landscape view of our concession area in northern Sudan.

Our first season of the MUAFS project was successfully closed and all of the principle goals were achieved thanks to the great support of NCAM and our inspector Huda Magzoub.

The principal goal of the first season was a new survey of the concession area, which was already recorded by Andrè Vila in the 1970s and published in his volumes 3-6. Altogether, 119 sites by Vila were re-identified and documented in the area between Attab East and Ferka East and Attab West and Mograkka West. For some of these sites, the dating can now be corrected, especially for Khartoum Variant and Abkan sites, Pre-Kerma sites, Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan sites. Diagnostic stone tools and pottery fragments were collected from relevant sites. Other findspots of pottery and lithics that were previously not recorded by Vila, were documented as GPS waypoints and will be integrated in the new map of the area to be composed based on the results of our first season.

One particular focus was on the state of preservation of the sites nowadays – unfortunately, at almost all sites, we observed modern destruction and/or plundering. Especially drastic were destructions because of road building, the electricity posts and modern gold working areas (in particular at Mograkka West).

Major changes were observed compared to the state of preservation in times of Vila – one particularly illustrative example is Vila’s Kerma Period site 2-T-36B, partly overbuilt by modern houses and reduced because of the new electricity posts. Another example from the well-attested Christian period in our concession area is the church of Mograkka (2-L-2). While Vila documented it as single monument on a small hilltop, it is now embedded in newly built modern houses of the expanding village. The church new next-door neighbor is a modern mosque erected in the last years. Unfortunately, most of the Christian rock art, located by Vila in the immediate surroundings, are presently covered by modern debris from recent chanel works.

Detail of the well-preserved Church at Mograkka East with its new neighbour.

At other places, especially between Mograkka and Kosha, Neolithic and Post-Meroitic as well as Christian rock art was relocated by us. The most frequent motifs are cattle pictures and other animals like gazelles, hippos, ostriches and elephants.

Rock art site at Mograkka West.

The focus of our work in the first season was the east bank and here in particular the district of Ginis. We conducted aerial photography of large parts of the east bank, covering the area between Attab and Ginis by the drone kindly lent to us from the Department of Cultural and Ancient Studies of LMU Munich. These data will enable a digital elevation model and detailed orthophotos. A survey system with measuring points using the GPS Antenna was set up in this area as well, securing future work according to this coordination.

A geophysical survey of four sites from the Kerma period and the New Kingdom was realized by Marion Scheiblecker in Ginis East, using the Magnetometer of the type Ferex Foerster. New site labels were created for these find spots (GiE 001 for Vila 2-T-36B: Kerma and New Kingdom settlement, GiE 002 for Vila 2-T-13: New Kingdom cemetery, GiE 003 for Vila 2-T-39: Kerma cemetery and GiE 004 for Vila 2-T-5: Kerma settlement). The respective results are very promising and can serve as firm basis for a focused excavation of these important sites in the upcoming seasons.

In sum, the first season of the MUAFS project was very successful, providing new and partly unexpected results (like the strong presence of Napatan sites in the region), highlightening the rich potential of the concession area for detailed work from the Mesolithic period up to Christian times and allowing us to plan the next working steps. For now, we consider the Kerma and New Kingdom sites already investigated by magnetometry as of prime priority for further fieldwork.

We will be busy in the next week working on the collected data from our field season and setting up a strategy for the next years of work between Attab and Ferka. Of course we will keep you updated!

Tracing the Kerma Period in Ginis and elsewhere

Just one last visit to Abri and to WLAN, before it goes back to Khartoum! Has been a great first short season of the MUAFS project with plenty of intriguing data and impressions!

We documented many impressive sites in the last two weeks – altogether, I managed to re-identify and check 119 sites, which Vila recorded in the 1970s. For some of these sites, the dating is of much interest. A slightly revised dating as compared to the published data adds fresh information about several periods of presence in this part of the Nile valley, for example during the Napatan period.

Of prime interest this week was the Kerma period and here in particular settlement sites and cemeteries. Various large tumuli cemeteries, especially of the Kerma Moyen and Kerma Classique periods, are located at the East Bank; we found several older and smaller ones on the West Bank.

Ginis East was once again of particular importance and two more sites were investigated by magnetometry this season. GiE 003, labelled by Vila as 2-T-39, is a huge tumulus cemetery comprising probably more than 150 tombs, stretching from East to West and now partly destroyed by modern pathways and streets. A similar site is 2-P-7, located further upstream at Kosha East. There, the tumuli are quite dismantled, but various ceramics including Egyptian imports can still be found and suggest a Kerma Moyen date as prime phase of use for this cemetery.

Kerma cemetery 2-P-7

Marion’s work with the Ferrex Foerster magnetometer revealed amazing results at GiE 004, a Kerma settlement documented by Vila as site 2-T-5. The main structure of the site and its multiple circular huts, possible enclosures for animals and fences are clearly visible on the magnetogramm. The site is surrounded by later structures from Post-Meroitic and Christian times – like at other places in our concession, a long-lasting multi-period use of this part of Ginis East is obvious.

Finally, intriguing Kerma sites can be found at Attab West – in the immediate surroundings of 18th Dynasty sites, comprising both mudbrick and stone architecture. These sites, which are located along an ancient branch of the Nile, are especially relevant to investigate cultural encounters during the Bronze Age in our concession area since Egyptian pottery was found frequently associated with Kerma Classique ceramics.

One of the Kerma sites with much Egyptian pottery on the surface.

So many exciting new finds, so much work to do in the near future between Attab and Ferka!