On the footsteps of Vila and the archaeology of monumental surveys in northern Sudan

Every archaeologist knows that what we write about the past is mediated by present-day questions, expectations and challenges, but also state-of-the-art documentation techniques. Archaeologists don’t simply reconstruct what happened back in the day. Instead, archaeological and historical narratives are essentially modern constructions that can either be repaired or demolished as scholarship moves forward. Archaeological research is also mediated by complex site and object biographies that span thousands of years; e.g., in our case, from the Neolithic to monumental surveys carried out in northern Sudan in the mid-20th century.

To understand tombs, burials and mortuary objects in the region from Attab to Ferka we need to understand the impact of André Vila’s work in the region, the epistemological framework from which he was reporting and his methodology. How Vila’s work materialise in the landscape directly affect the questions we ask and the methodologies we apply today. Not surprisingly, archaeologists in Sudan usually deal with traces left by earlier archaeologists at various sites, and retracing their steps becomes a fundamental aspect of accessing the past through remaining material culture (e.g., Howley 2018: 86-87).

Vila’s survey can be seen as part of a long tradition of large-scale surveys going back to the first Archaeological Survey of Nubia (see Adams 2007). From Dal (the southern limit of Lake Nubia) to Nilwatti Island, Vila identified 462 sites of which 219 sites are within the MUAFS concession (figure 1). These sites were attributed to cultural units, e.g., Kerma, Christian etc. Even though Vila noted that various sites belonged to one or more cultural units, today archaeologists approach those ‘units’ more fluidly, especially in situations of cultural exchanges, which is especially true for Kerma and New Kingdom sites. On the one hand, revisiting sites surveyed and reported in the 1960s and ’70s requires us to contextualise archaeology to ‘deconstruct’ theoretical biases and ask different questions. On the other hand, Vila’s methodology determines the extent to which sites can be explored.

Figure 1: distribution of sites in the MUAFS/DiverseNile concession area (map: C. Geiger)

In terms of method, Vila’s survey aimed to keep disturbance to sites to a minimum. Test excavations and sampling followed rigid guidelines and excavations were only carried out when cultural affiliations couldn’t be distinguished otherwise, e.g., based on surface finds. Cemeteries were approached in a slightly different way. Cemeteries were usually cleared to determine their extent and number of graves at each site. A few graves were fully excavated and recorded, as well as ‘peculiar’ collective burials (figure 2).

Figure 2: Bagagin Farki, Ginis East. “Egyptian” New Kingdom pit burial containing an individual deposited in extended position together with sherds from two pots and the remains of other six individuals (Vila 1977, Vol. 5: 47)

In Work Package 2, I am responsible, among other things, for reassessing the material from such graves. For example, comparison of items from graves in our concession area with objects from other sites allows us to shed new light onto different roles performed by the same types of objects in different contexts (Lemos 2020). Scientific analysis of pottery also allows us to explore the (potentially) alternative role of objects in rituals (stay tune to Giulia D’Ercole’s blog!). I am currently collaborating with Kate Fulcher from the British Museum on the topic of mortuary rituals in New Kingdom Nubia based on scientific analysis of artefacts (see Fulcher and Budka 2020 for examples of such approaches).

Working with previously excavated material culture poses several theoretical and methodological challenges, mostly related to the lack of information provided by earlier excavation reports and the problematical categories used to classify things. However, revisiting the burials excavated by Vila holds an immense potential for us to ask different questions within larger-scale perspectives on burial communities, the role of (foreign) objects in the constitution of (local) social relations and identity formation strategies. Comparative approaches to sites and material culture allow us to understand different social realities within Nubia, challenging previous homogenising perspectives on cultural interactions focusing on elite centres. Revisiting sites also holds great potential to unveil things under new theoretical perspectives and using state-of-the-art documentation techniques. This is especially the case because disturbance to sites was limited during Vila’s survey, although looting poses an additional challenge to new fieldwork in our concession area.

Ultimately, researching burials and other sites in our concession area and excavating sites firstly worked by Vila presupposes a deep knowledge of the data sets produced by him, what was ignored/discarded, what was considered worth investigating etc. Previous ways of excavating, identifying and reporting sites also determine the extent to which we can revisit them through excavation and comparative analysis.

References

Adams, W. Y. 2007. A Century of Archaeological Salvage, 1907-2007. Sudan and & Nubia 11: 48-56.

Fulcher, K. and J. Budka. 2020. Pigments, incense, and bitumen from the New Kingdom town and cemetery on SaiIsland in Nubia. Journal of Archaeological Science https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102550.

Howley, K. 2018. Return to Taharqo’s Temple at Sanam: the inaugural field season of the Sanam Temple Project. Sudan & Nubia 22: 81-88.

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

Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Sudanaise). Fascicule 5: Le district de Ginis, Est et Ouest. Paris: CNRS.

On the tracks of ancient cultures: Archaeological Geophysics

As a team member of the first MUAFS season 2018/2019 responsible for magnetic investigations I would like to introduce the geophysical methods used for archaeological purposes. These methods will also be highly relevant for the DiverseNile project.

In the last decades, geophysics became a substantial part of archaeological projects. Depending on several factors, the most suitable geophysical method is chosen: the environment (desert, steppe, swampland etc.), the archaeological period and the used archaeological materials (stone, mudbrick etc.), but also the questioning (settlement layout and extension, cemetery detection etc.).  Additionally, the decision is influenced by available time, financial means and sometimes the season.

Still the fastest and most effective geophysical method in archaeology is magnetometry. It provides getting an overview of a site as well as its environment, extension and layout. Magnetic prospecting enables us to distinguish between settlement and burial sites, their structure, special buildings, open areas, as well as fortifications. Depending on the chosen sensors, we can learn more about the geology and environment and their changes over time. Accompanying measurements of magnetic susceptibility deliver information about magnetic properties of scattered objects and building materials as well as archaeological sediments and can be used in archaeological excavations as well.

Magnetic gradient investigations in Ginis 2019, site GiE 001 (Photo: Giulia D’Ercole).

But how does it work? Magnetometers are recording the intensity of the earth magnetic field with high-resolution. Nowadays, the earth magnetic field in the Attab to Ferka region has an intensity of around 39.400 Nanotesla (nT). With sensitive total field magnetometers, magnetic anomalies of less than 1 nT can be detected during archaeo-geophysical surveys, displaying even archaeological features like mudbrick walls or palisades.

Magnetic investigations benefit from varying magnetic properties of archaeological soils and sediments as well as materials. Every human activity regarding the surface is detectable because of different magnetic response. For example, digging a ditch, building a wall or using a kiln is changing or disturbing the actual earth magnetic field. What else can be detected? Architecture, streets, canals and riverbeds, ditches, pits and graves can be revealed just as palisades, posts and fire installations. Additionally, more information about geological and environmental conditions can be collected using magnetometry, e. g. paleo channels or former wadis.

For detecting stone architecture and for example voids, resistivity (areal or profile) and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) methods are applied, partly in addition to magnetic investigations. While magnetometry gives an overview about buried features beneath the surface in a ‘timeless picture’, GPR and ERT (Electrical Resistivity Tomography) provide more information about the depth and preserved height of the features. Of course, more than one geophysical method can be applied to get a comprehensive dataset for more complete interpretation of the results. Combined with archaeological work – survey and excavation – we can increase our knowledge and understanding of physical properties of archaeological and geological features as well as improve our interpretation.

Geophysical prospecting was originally developed for military purposes to detect submarine boats, aircrafts or gun emplacements. Furthermore, natural and especially mineral resources can be located. Geophysical methods and first of all magnetometry are used in archaeology since the late 1950s, when Martin Aitken detected Roman kilns in the UK. In Sudan, magnetometry is used since the late 1960s when Albert Hesse started investigations at Mirgissa in Lower Nubia. Since then, instruments as well as software programs for data collecting, processing and imaging have been developed and improved and offer detailed mapping of sites. First, geophysical prospecting can be applied fast, nondestructive and comprehensive. For magnetic prospection there is a variety of configurations to use, from handheld one/two-sensor instruments to motorized and multisensory systems but also different types of sensors. Through geographic information systems (GIS) geophysical investigations are benefiting from integrating high-resolution satellite images, drone images and models, survey and excavation data for a comprehensive interpretation of results.

After collecting magnetic data in the field, the files are downloaded and processed to get an idea of the first results. With that the field measurement proceeding can be adjusted as well as excavation trenches can be chosen. The detailed processing and analyzing of the collected field data are conducted back home on the desk.

References

Campana, Stefano; Piro, Salvatore (eds.) (2009): Seeing the Unseen. Geophysics and Landscape Archaeology. London: Taylor & Francis.

Dalan, R. (2017): Susceptiblity. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 939–944.

Fassbinder, Jörg W. E. (2017): Magnetometry for Archaeology. In: Allan S. Gilbert, Paul Goldberg, Vance T. Holliday, Rolfe D. Mandel and Robert Siegmund Sternberg (eds.): Encyclopedia of Geoarchaeology. Dordrecht: Springer Reference (Encyclopedia of Earth Sciences Series), 499–514.

Herbich, Tomasz (2019): Efficiency of the magnetic method in surveying desert sites in Egypt and Sudan: Case studies. In: Raffaele Persico, Salvatore Piro and Neil Linford (eds.): Innovation in Near-Surface Geophysics. Instrumentation, Application, and Data Processing Methods. First edition. Amsterdam, Oxford, Cambridge: Elsevier, 195–251.

Schmidt, Armin; Linford, Paul; Linford, Neil; David, Andrew; Gaffney, Chris; Sarris, Apostolos; Fassbinder, Jörg (2015): EAC Guidelines for the Use of Geophysics in Archaeology. Questions to Ask and Points to Consider. Namur: Europae Archaeologia Consilium (EAC Guidelines, 2).

Investigating the variability of domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region (MUAFS concession area)

After the recent blog posts by my colleagues Rennan Lemos and Giulia D’Ercole presenting their tasks within Work Package 2 and Work Package 3 I am not only happy to introduce Work Package 1: The variability of domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region I am – together with our PI Julia Budka – responsible for, but also to write my first blog entry as a member of the ERC Consolidator Grant project DiverseNile. This especially, since I already could join the previous ERC Starting Grant project AcrossBorders of Julia Budka for its last year at the end of 2017, leaving Berlin and moving to Munich, which – as a Tyrolean – felt a bit like coming home.

My first contact with Sudan, which I immediately fell in love with, while working in Hamadab/Meroe and Musawwarat es-Sufra, was very long ago in 2003. But also my first visit to the region between the Second and Third Cataract – and here specifically to Sai Island with its impressive New Kingdom town – dates some years back to 2012.

At Sai Island, especially by the AcrossBorders project or at the neighbouring town Amara West (Spencer et al. 2017), the research of the recent years concerning the manifold relations between the Egyptians and the Nubians in the Middle Nile already moved towards a more differentiated approach with implementing the concept of ‘cultural entanglement’ (see van Pelt 2013 with references). The focus of work at sites like Sai and Amara being administrative centres in New Kingdom Nubia was necessarily set on the official and elite sphere.

The DiverseNile project investigating the Attab to Ferka region now goes a step further aiming to throw light on the peripheries still very much standing in the shadows of the powerful urban sites. Shifting the focus towards the hinterland not only broadens our horizon filling the still significant voids of research in this region of the Nile valley but very much promises to give a new and deeper insight in the cultural diversity of people living in the hinterland of towns, their interactions and possible more autonomous living situations – as these aspects become archaeologically more visible aside official power throughout the rich cultural history of Nubia.

In this regard WP 1 aims to contribute to a better understanding of the occupants of the Attab to Ferka region, their cultural identities and interactions, their social structures or complexity through investigating the diverse settlement sites, their variability and development and thus their spatial and temporal frame. Concerning the latter our focus lies on Bronze Age Nubia, a term introduced by our PI reflecting the need to have a more differentiated look at the so far used categories ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ during the Kerma and the Egyptian Second Intermediate and New Kingdom Periods in Nubia and thus an era with multiple upheavals. This need became also clear studying the previously classifications attributed to the diverse archaeological remains in this part of the Middle Nile valley.

In this respect the region of our interest was previously and firstly surveyed by the Sudan Antiquities Service together with the French Archaeological Research Unit in the 1970ies directed by A. Vila and resulting in several Volumes. These works serve as very important input for our research, as Vila and his team impressively discovered and documented 219 sites from Palaeolithic to Medieval times. Among these, sites qualified by Vila as Kerma and New Kingdom remains were represented both at around 7% on the right and with a larger number at 12.4% resp. 16.9% on the left riverbanks, the latter consisting predominantly of settlement sites.

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

Among all of the sites listed by Vila a total of 138 sites could be successfully re-identified during our two MUAFS seasons in 2018/2019 and at the beginning of this year, shortly before Covid-19 became the new reality (for further details see the online reports as well as Budka 2019). As an fascinating example for an Egyptian New Kingdom domestic site comprising evidence for Kerma presence too, GiE 001 (Vila’s site NF-36-M/2-T-36B), can be emphasized here, where a test excavation was started in 2020, which we will hopefully further pursue next year.

Distribution of New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan sites in the MUAFS concession (status: 2020)

Although Covid-19 has restricted us to office work, it has not limited us to carry out our research or staying in contact with our Sudanese colleagues and friends. Re-planning rather is giving us the possibility not only to evaluate the already gained data and information but also to engage with the topic in depth. In this regard I am currently not only further screening sites of our interest indicated by Vila, analysing his approach and state of documentation, but also their distribution within our concession area. Concerning the latter the examination of similar situations of periphery within frontier zones like for example the Third Cataract (Edwards 2012) and a deeper study of other rural Kerma villages like Gism el-Arba (Gratien 2003) yields a very fruitful input for our questionings in many ways. As I dealt a lot with Kushite sacral architecture in the last years doing my PhD, I am especially happy to explore architectural remains aside of the official sphere telling a lot of different and lesser known stories. In this regard – as my next blog entry will address Kerma types of domestic architecture and building techniques – keep reading here in our space!

References

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. N. 2012. ‘The Third-Second Millennia BC. Kerma and New Kingdom Settlements’, in A. Osman and D. N. Edwards (eds), Archaeology of a Nubian frontier. Survey on the Nile Third Cataract, Sudan. Leicester, 59–87.

Gratien, B., S. Marchi, O. Thuriot, 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.

Spencer, N., Stevens, A. and Binder, M. 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.

Van Pelt, W.P. 2013. Revising Egypto-Nubian Relations in New Kingdom Lower Nubia: From Egyptianization to Cultural Entanglement. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 23.3, 523‒550.

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.

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.