Report on the 2020 test excavations: Kerma sites at Ginis East

As already reported, the 2020 test excavations of the MUAFS project focused on Bronze Age sites at Ginis East, including Gie 001, where much Egyptian New Kingdom material was found. The following is a very short summary of our work at the Kerma sites GiE 004, 005 and 006.

GiE 004

In 2019, we assumed that the site GiE 004 was documented by Andrè Vila in the 1970s as site 2-T-5. However, new georeferenced data and fresh GPS waypoints made it clear that this needs to be corrected and that GiE 004 was not documented by Vila, being located further to the south than 2-T-5.

The magnetometry survey of the site by MUAFS in 2019 yielded promising results which, according to the finds and the structures visible on the magnetogram, were interpreted as remains of a Kerma village. Rounded huts, fences and walls seemed to be visible. The borders of the wadi systems were also clearly visible in the magnetogram. Our 2020 test trenches were chosen to proof if there was a kind of fortification along the wadi and whether the interpretation of the anomalies were correct.

Three trenches were laid out (Trench 1: 18 x 3 m, at the edge of a wadi; Trench 2: 14 x 4 m, at the top of the plateau of the site; Trench 3: 2 x 3.5 m, within a circular depression around the central part of the site). After a shallow, sandy surface layer with many finds, no sedimentation and no structures were found in all three trenches. All features documented and which were alternating areas of sand and clay are clearly natural. Thus, the clear result of the 2020 text excavation at GiE 004 was that the anomalies of the magnetometry were over interpreted as structures and are actually natural features.

GiE 005 (Vila 2-T-5)

The Kerma site documented by Vila as 2-T-5 was labelled by MUAFS as GIE 005. The site is situated on the alluvial plain, and extends east west on the remains of a shallow, barely visible terrace (25-40 cm high). The site covered in the 1970s an area of c. 500 EW x 35 m NS – part of this is now below modern houses or destroyed because of car tracks. Two test trenches were laid out in 2020 in the eastern part of GIE 005.

Trench 1 (8 x 2 m) yielded some small depressions and pits below a shallow sandy surface. Very few Kerma sherds were discovered in a lower muddy level, without evidence of structures or stratigraphy.

Work in progress at Trench 1.

Trench 2 (6 x 3 m) comprised a small sandy hill with many schist stones scattered around. Here again, no structures and no sedimentation or stratigraphy were observed. The sandy hill seems to be a sub-recent assemblage of wind-blown sand. Interestingly, the same muddy layer like in Trench 1 below the sand yielded one single artefact, a Kerma sherd laying on a solid clay surface.

Overall, the camp site 2-T-5 is badly preserved, and no stratification is present, as already observed by Vila. One important result of our work in 2020, however, is a tentative dating to the Kerma Classique period and the presence of 18th Dynasty Egyptian material which has not been noted before. There were some Egyptian wheel-made pottery sherds between the ceramics – nicely datable to the early New Kingdom!

GiE 006 (south of Vila 2-T-5)

Surface finds suggest that the camp site 2-T-5 might also extend further to the south, south of the barely visible terrace of GiE 005. In order to test this, a trench was opened at a site now labelled as GIE 006. Trench 1 (3 x 5 m) only yielded surface finds and showed an irregular muddy, natural surface below the sandy surface layer. As in GiE 005, no stratification is preserved.

Cleaning the surface at GiE 006.

Although the finds are mixed and can also be explained with a multi-period use of the site, most of the material belongs to the Kerma horizon. Thus, this is probably an extension of a Kerma camp identical or similar to GiE 005.

Summary

In sum, the test excavations at Ginis East – including the results from GIE 001, provided important new data on 1) the character of the sites, 2) the dating of the sites and 3) the clarification that the interpretation of the magnetometry survey from 2019 turned out to show no actual structures, but different natural layers at GiE 001 and GiE 004.

As it was already observed by Vila, at many sites on the east bank in the MUAFS concession there is little or no sedimentation preserved. This is an important aspect to consider in our next field seasons – the situation is markedly different on the west bank where we also documented some intriguing Bronze Age sites with mud brick remains. There is still much work ahead of us!

Report on the test excavations of the 2020 season: GiE 001

The world has changed since last week – COVID-19 has a major influence on archaeological fieldwork, universities and museums. MUAFS was very lucky in this respect – after our odyssey with the extra day in Khartoum and a night in Istanbul, we made it safely to Munich, just in time before borders got closed and flights cancelled. Of course all planned fieldwork in Egypt in April had to be cancelled and I could also not make my home visit to Vienna. But difficult times require flexibility and the most important thing now is of course to flatten the curve and to stay safe (and home)!

Well – research for MUAFS is of course still possible and all of us are using the time in home office for reading things and compiling the data from the 2020 season.

The following is just a short summary of our test excavations of the 2020 season – this season was a preparation season for the next, longer field season which will be the start of my new European Research Council Project DiverseNile. Thus, the focus was on promising sites dating to the Bronze Age/Kerma Period in the Ginis East area where also Egyptian presence of the New Kingdom is attested.

In order to get familiar with the site formation processes and sedimentation in the area, we conducted at four sites in the district of Ginis East small test excavations. A total of 8 trenches were excavated by the team; local workmen will be engaged in the next season.

Location of sites and test trenches at Ginis East 2020.

As you will see in the following – the results from the individual sites were not as we hoped for but are nevertheless very important outcomes of what was designed as a test season.

I will start with site GIE 001 and a separate post will present the results from the other sites at Ginis East.

GiE 001 – a New Kingdom (and Kerma?) settlement site

Recorded by Vila as 2-T-36B, this domestic site at Ginis East can be assigned to the Egyptian New Kingdom, showing also an intriguing Kerma presence according to the surface finds. Magnetometry was conducted by MUAFS in 2019. In the 2020 season, two trenches were laid out above promising anomalies in the magnetometry in the northeastern part of the site.

Trench 1 (6 x 4 m) yielded, apart from surface finds which were mixed and dated from the Kerma Period, the New Kingdom, the Napatan Period and Christian times, some Kerma Classique sherds from lower levels. However, no structures were found and the magnetometry seems to show natural features, especially more sandy areas which contrast to clay layers/alluvial sediments.

Trench 2 (10 x 4 m) generated large quantities of ceramics and stone tools from the surface. The main archaeological features found in this trench were sub-recent pits deriving from marog activities. The largest of these pits in Trench 2, Feature 1, is 2.40 m in diameter and 75 cm deep. It was filled with fine sand and the traces of the tools the marog diggers used are clearly visible on the sloping edges. We documented everything in 3D according to our standard procedure. The find material comprised mostly mixed pottery from the New Kingdom, Napatan and Medieval era as well as some recent date seeds and small pieces of charcoal and bone.

Feature 1, the marog pit, in Trench 2 at GIE 001.

Both trenches in GiE 001 did not yield mud bricks or any structures from the New Kingdom; it is likely that this part with the trenches is already located outside of the former settlement area. That the area was inhabited and used during both the 18th Dynasty and the Ramesside period, becomes nevertheless evident from the find assemblages we collected.

Excavation and processing of data at GIE 001 will continue, but for now the New Kingdom site with later use seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island and Amara West, as I have already proposed in an earlier post based on the finds (ceramics and stone tools).

The 2020 season in pictures

We should just have landed in Munich these minutes… but since a sandstorm in Khartoum prevented the airplanes to land yesterday, our flight was cancelled and Jessica and me are now stuck in a hotel close to the airport…

Well, we are still waiting for information when we will have the next try and thus I thought I use the time to go through some of the pictures we took this season.

The 4.5 weeks of work at Ginis East and sourroundings were intense and varied, in terms of tasks, weather, nimiti and other things. Here are some impressions with a huge load of thanks to my great 2020 team! Looking much forward to the next season!

First day in the field, setting up the trenches (photo: C. Geiger)
Veronica setting on of the posts for our trench (photo: C. Geiger).

Giulia at work (photo: C. Geiger).
Surface cleaning at GiE 001, Jessica and Huda (photo: J. Budka).
Jessica documenting the church of Mograkka (photo: C. Geiger).
Cajetan at work – image based documentation of the church of Mograkka (photo: J. Distefano).
Giulia, Veronica and Huda at GiE 006 (photo: J. Budka).
The 2020 Team at Ginis East.
The Nile and riverbank at Ginis (photo: J. Budka).
Me busy with surface documentation at GiE 001 (photo: J. Distefano).
Photographing Trench 2 at GIE 001 (photo: J. Distefano).
Jessica taking survey points with the total station (photo: J. Budka).
The landscape at Mograkka East (photo: J. Budka).
Jessica looking for diagnostic pottery sherds at one of the Christian cemeteries in Mograkka (photo: J. Budka).
Jessica taking measurements at the curch of Ferka East (photo: J. Budka).
Me photographing Post-Meroitic tumuli at Ferka (photo: J. Distefano).
Huda, Jessica and me after we finished the survey in Mograkka.

Short update on the 2020 survey

The MUAFS 2020 season will be officially closed today – we arrived safely in Khartoum yesterday and will now finish all the paperwork.

The last days at Ginis were busy, finishing off the survey, packing and registering the finds from this season. A more concise summary of the 2020 season will follow shortly, but here are some observations regarding our survey.

Like in 2019, one particular focus of our survey 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.

One particular striking example is the large tumulus within the Post-Meroitic site 3-P-1 at Kosha East. This monumental tumulus, comparable to the ones at Ferka, but also to the famous tombs at Qustul and Ballana, has completely gone by now. According to information kindly given by local villagers, it was removed in 2008.

One of the sad discoveries of this season: the huge tumulus at Kosha was completly dismantled.

Where Jessica is standing in this photo, there used to be an elite tomb monument dating back to Post-Meroitic times. Large parts of cemetery 3-P-1 are now under modern fields; the line of electricity cuts the southern extension of the site. The nearby Kerma cemetery was affected by the construction work of the road to Wadi Halfa and the Neolithic sites located in the hills above the Kosha plain just 300m to the southeast are strongly influenced by modern gold working.

Altogether, as successful as our 2020 survey was, re-locating 40 sites of the ones documented by Vila and finding a number of previously unrecorded sites, we were also faced with very frustrating news and massive destruction of the archaeological monuments. There clearly is the urgent need to undertake cultural heritage actions in the region, but this is something where MUAFS will need help and support from several authorities.

Summary of week 4, 2020 season

We are already approaching the end of our second season of the MUAFS project.

As planned, we finished our test excavations at GiE 001 and GiE 004 earlier this week and were then busy with surveying areas of the concession on the East bank.

The marog digging activities at GiE 001 were fully documented and surface cleaning at GiE 004 yielded some interesting information regarding the possible function of the site where Kerma Classique material dominates the assemblage.

Thanks to the introduction by Cajetan before he left to Munich, we are also up-to-date regarding our 3D surface models and digital documentation– Jessica managed the processing with PhotoScan and QGis very well.

Three days of survey at Ginis, Kosha and Mograkka were exciting, but also partly very frustrating – we relocated a total of 27 sites documented by Vila in the 1970s, but unfortunately a number of these have been completely destroyed, especially because of the road construction work of the asphalt street going to Wadi Halfa. This holds in particular true for cemeteries laid out on sandy plains and alluvial platforms.

Example of changes in the landscape at Kosha East, due to the road construction and modern gold mining.

Further destruction is caused by modern gold mining and some areas of the region have been completely modified since the 1970s, making a crosscheck with Vila’s documentation sometimes were difficult. Sites located further into the hillsides were in most cases more lucky and still represent excellent example for the occupation of the region. We documented camp sites from various periods, especially Neolithic times and Kerma periods, but very often also multi-period sites.

Bristish pyramidal memorial at Kosha East.

An unexpected discovery was a small stone pyramid at Kosha East – I simply did not know that one of these pyramidal memorials set up by the British in Sudan and of which I have already seen quite a number further north, was also erected in our concession. Its label reads: „To the memory of British officers and men who died here in the Anglo-Egyptian campaigns”. This memorial is not the only reminder and evidence for the Anglo-Egyptian campaigns in our area – as already observed by Vila, several of our camp sites located in the hills show traces of recent re-use. Many of these sites were probably re-used by the Anglo-Egyptian soldiers. This is one of the more modern aspects of the landscape biography of the Attab to Ferka region which we will also incorporate into our general assessment.

We will continue with the survey next week, focusing now on the area around Ferka – fingers crossed that the storm that came up tonight will hopefully cease very soon.

An update from site GiE 004

We finished our test trenches and surface documentation at the Ginis East Kerma/New Kingdom sites yesterday. The last 6 working days until our departure to Khartoum will be dedicated to a foot survey – like last year, we will check the sites recorded by Vila and whether there are more findings, additional sites or other changes.

But back to the test trenches and our results from site GiE 004 where we documented in total 5 test areas. 3 were excavated, in 2 we only cleaned the surface and checked the find distribution/density.

I will deal with the relation between our results and the magnetometry from 2019 in another “Lessons learned from the 2020 season” blog post in the next days – for today, I’d like to share some news about the finds from GiE 004.

Initially, we thought that it is a Kerma site with a long occupation. This was partly confirmed and interestingly, Kerma Classique material dominants the ceramics! But more important, especially for our investigations of “cultural markers”, is that 18th Dynasty, Egyptian New Kingdom pottery is also present, including imported Canaanite amphora and very few Marl clay sherds. A quite unexpected result, which gives us much food for thought!

But let’s look at some basic numbers of finds – of course you have to keep in mind the differing sizes of our test trenches, but the quantities of stone tools and pottery are quite significant:

Trench 1 – stone 3, pottery 5

Trench 2 – stone 167, pottery 412

Trench 3 – stone 7, pottery 105

Trench 4 – stone 242, pottery 991

Trench 5 – stone 110, pottery 503

These numbers support the interpretation that Trench 1 and 3 are located at the edges or even outside the actual site; Trenches 2, 4 and 5 are very similar and all yielded much Kerma Classique material as well as Egyptian wheel-made pottery of the New Kingdom. The majority comes here from Trench 4 where almost 50% of the pottery from GiE 004 was found.

Trench 4 also yielded very nice stone tools, including a wonderful small arrowhead.

Overall, although much of the surface material in these trenches from GiE 004 was wind-worn and eroded as well as mixed (of course, there were also Medieval pieces present), both the pottery and lithics/stone tools speak for a domestic character of the site with different activity zones.

Assessing functional aspects of GiE 001: Preliminary data from the finds

The last two days were really nice – hot and sunny. Today, the weather has changed again, a very strong wind made work difficult today and the temperatures are again a bit cooler.

Since work in the field with such a wind was not possible after lunch, I spent this afternoon playing with some statistics for the two test trenches in GiE 001 where we are currently working.

Of course, any interpretation based on two test trenches only must remain very tentative, but I believe there are already some interesting facts and possible glues for understanding the function of the site. The domestic character of GIE 001 was already noted by Vila and we confirmed its dating to the New Kingdom with a strong Kerma presence in 2019. What new data derives now from our test trenches?

Let’s look at the pottery – the surface material was mixed in both trenches, comprising Kerma, Egyptian New Kingdom, Napatan and Christian wares. Many of the sherds are very eroded (wind-worn).

Trench 1 only yielded a total of 328 sherds, of which 13 are diagnostic pieces (4%). 271 pieces from all sherds (83%) can be dated to the Kerma/New Kingdom period.

This pattern is repeated in Trench 2 were a larger quantity of pottery was found. As of today, a total of 3709 sherds were collected, 177 of which are diagnostic pieces (5%). In this trench, 3203 sherds belong to the Kerma/New Kingdom horizon (86% and thus the clear majority).

Especially relevant was today’s muddy layer in a deep level which yielded only 13 small pottery sherds, but of which all are New Kingdom in date, 6 wheel-made of the Egyptian tradition, 7 handmade Nubian wares.

Some stone artefacts from Trench 2 in GiE 001.

The second most frequent category of finds after pottery are stone tools and lithics. These were quite numerous, especially in Trench 2, where for example 102 pieces were collected from the surface layer. The stone artefacts are mostly flakes and here predominately quartz flakes; very frequent are also fragments from sandstone grindstones and handmills. A few chert flakes and some pounders and hammer stones were also noted.

All in all, the stone artefacts seem to attest first of all quartz working and grinding of materials. This fits perfectly to the topographical situation of the site – just south of GiE 001, there is a large quartz vein visible on the surface. And this might very well be connected with ancient gold working like it is well attested in the general region of Upper Nubia and especially around the main centres of the New Kingdom empire like Sai, Sesebi and Amara West.

Overview of quartz vein just south of site GiE 001.

In the 1970s, Vila documented a gold working site at Kosha East (the neighbouring village of Ginis) where New Kingdom and Napatan ceramics on the surface next to a quartz vein resemble the evidence from GiE 001.

Excavation and processing of data at GiE 001 must of course continue, but for now, this New Kingdom ocupation site seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island. Exciting first glimpses into the use of the Bronze and Iron Age landscapes in the MUAFS concession!

Summary of week 3 at Ginis East

Our third week of the 2020 just ended and was very successful. We concentrated during the week on site GiE 001. Recorded by Vila as site 2-T-36B in the 1970s, this domestic site at Ginis East can be assigned to the Egyptian New Kingdom, showing also an intriguing Kerma presence according to the surface finds as well as Napatan ceramics. Magnetometry was conducted by MUAFS in 2019.

In the 2020 season, two trenches were laid out above promising anomalies in the magnetometry in the northeastern part of the site, just south of the modern car track. Trench 1 (6 x 4 m) yielded, apart from surface finds which were mixed and dated from the Kerma Period, the New Kingdom, the Napatan Period and Christian times, some Kerma Classique sherds from lower levels. However, no structures were found and the magnetometry seems to show natural features, especially more sandy areas which contrast to clay layers.

Trench 2 (10 x 4 m) is the area where we found plenty of evidence for marog digging. The pottery was abundant and is again a mix of predominantly New Kingdom material with Kerma, Napatan and Christian wares. Work in Trench 2 is not yet finished and will continue in the upcoming week.

All in all, remains in GiE 001 are clearly not as we were hoping according to the magnetometry, but it is still a very interesting site to study, especially within the context of the question of Egyptian presence during the New Kingdom in the area of Attab/Ginis/Kosha, thus in the periphery of Amara West and Sai Island.

Kerma sites at Ginis East and the church of Mograkka

Since today is a study day in the digging house to work on the finds from week 1 and 2, especially pottery and lithics, I also have some time to give an update on our activities.

We concentrated on 3 sites in the area of Ginis East – all of them date back to the Kerma period, but especially at GiE 004 and GiE 005 there was also later activity based on surface finds and Christian ceramics.

We only laid out test trenches this season since we wanted to check the common status of sedimentation and stratigraphy. And this turned out as quite disappointing – no stratigraphy was preserved in most cases, although two trenches yielded a few pottery sherds from a quite deep level. For all trenches, we used the same imaged based documentation system that we developed over the last years at Sai Island and it was very valuable to practice it in these new surroundings.

In addition, we got some very nice kite aerial photos from the sites.

Well, we will collect and analyse all these data further and despite of all, these are of course useful information for the general understanding of our concession area and the individual sites.

Another task this week was the small mud brick church at Mograkka (Vila site 3-L-22). Cajetan, Jessica and Huda spent an intense day there and re-mapped it. Our documentation includes a 3D structure from motion digital photographic documentation in combination with survey points from a total station. This is the first working step within a planned excavation and site management plan for this monument in the near future.

In the coming days, we will continue with test trenches at sites in Ginis East. This time with a very promising site where the surface is covered with loads of pottery from the Kerma period, the Egyptian New Kingdom and Napatan times. Keep your fingers crossed that there is some stratigraphy preserved!

Ups and downs of archaeological fieldwork

Our second MUAFS season started very promising and successful – we arrived as planned last Wednesday in Ginis East and moved into a beautiful house we have rented for this season.

On Thursday, we set out our test trenches at the site of Ginis East 004, a Kerma camp which was already recorded by Vila in the 1970s and where we made a magnetometer survey last year.

The aim for this season is to check the stratigraphy of the site and especially to test whether the results of the magnetometry correspond to the actual archaeology.

The general site of GiE 004, a Kerma village.

Three test trenches were laid out on Thursday and I started already surface cleaning in Trench 1 while the rest of the team was busy mapping and taking survey points. And here some of our problems started – our total station sent error messages and a big drawback was when we discovered on Friday that some of our benchmarks we set last year have been destroyed and are no longer usable… And our printer did not work anymore… To make things worse, I caught a food poisoning and had to go to the clinic in Abri for treatment. Thus, fieldwork at GiE 004 was stopped for the last 2 days. We hope to continue this afternoon since after hours and hours Cajetan seems to have solved the problem with the total station and I am more or less recovered.

Well – sometimes life as an archaeologist is really like a box of chocolate, full of surprises and not always of the sweet kind. As difficult as it is, we will try to stick with our schedule – hoping that we are now done with all the major problems of this season!

News about proper fieldwork will therefore hopefully follow shortly…