Evidence for Kerma settlements and an intriguing dry-stone structure in Kosha East

Studying Kerma remains in the MUAFS concession area will provide fresh and urgently needed input for manifold, still open questions about a region far north of the Kerma capital, as our PI Julia Budka stated lately in her article about the Kerma presence in Ginis East (Budka 2020).

Today, I would like to give a short outlook over the settlements of the Kerma horizon in the Attab to Ferka region and exemplarily introducing you to an intriguing site, which seems to hold the potential for further thought (for Kerma tombs in Attab to Ferka see the blog entry of my colleague Rennan Lemos with his presentation of a fascinating Kerma burial).

Currently, 30 settlements classified as Kerma are included in our database – whereby Egyptian New Kingdom presence at some of them and vice versa clearly illustrates the need to move away from the previous used interpretation of sites as rigid ‘Egyptian and ‘Nubian’ cultural units, addressing them as more closer interconnected cultures in this region (Budka 2020: 63).

Concerning their location, the settlements with Kerma presence are consistently distributed between both river banks with a certain dominance (18) on the right bank. Kerma sites on the left bank (12) were often situated in an impressive distance from the modern Nile, thus following the ancient course of the river. Besides a striking number of Kerma remains in the districts Attab and Ginis, Kerma sites can also be traced much further north (see Fig. 1).

Figure 1: Kerma sites in the region from Attab to Ferka (status 2020). Budka 2020: fig. 13 (modified).

These observations will not only shed further light on Sai during the Kerma period and its periphery, or the northern borders of the Kerma kingdom. Particularly important will be the insight how people lived there in the period of the New Kingdom occupation of Nubia – how the diverse social and cultural groups interacted with each other away from the major urban centres, collectively shaping, exploiting and making the landscape their home (Budka 2020: 63, Budka 2019: 24).

In a contact space like Attab to Ferka, it is the physical manifestations of the living that can shed light on how a cultural exchange could have happened, not only through the adoption or modification of ‘Egyptian’ patterns by the Nubians, but clearly vice versa – visible in the choice of design or used building material. Concerning the latter, with the fascinating site we will have a closer look now, I will focus today on dry-stone as building technique – a method Liszka states that “appears to have been passed down through generations of Nubians for many millennia” (Liszka 2017: 41).

Besides the material the second characteristic of this site, detected by Vila and his team at Mindiq and numbered as NF-36-M/3-P-8 is its location further in the north of the MUAFS concession (Vila 1976: 90–96). More precisely the archaeological remains were found in the north-eastern part of Kosha East, situated in an impressive distance of 750 m to the modern Nile on the first hills rising 10 to 12m above the Kosha plain. The site occupied an overall surface of 200 x 60m (NE-SW), with intermediate sterile zones.Within this area, the areal NF-36-M/3-P-8A/B is from special interest (Fig. 2), being categorised by Vila as habitation site – a term he specifically used for remains of organised structures, perhaps being once a permanent settlement.

Whereas Vila still proposed a Neolithic or Nubien Ancien/Moyen context of the site, his attribution could be revised by our PI during our last campaign, giving, besides the Neolithic, a presumptive Old or Middle Kerma date, based on a large number of Kerma pottery.

Looking closer at Vila’s description of the character and the nature of the site, the division in 3-P-8A and 3-P-8B is explained by the existence of stone structures together with sherds and stone tools in part 3-P-8A at the centre and in the northern part of the site, whereas 3-P-8B consisted of a massive amount of stone tools scattered all over the site, with a certain concentration in the southern part, where no sherds were found.

Figure 2: Mindiq, General sketch plan of site NF-36-M/3-P-8A/B (Kosha E). Vila 1976: fig. 41 (modified).

Concerning the questions of used material and building techniques the design of the stone remains in 3-P-8A are highly interesting – for a tentative interpretation of the site’s purpose also the nature of 3-P-8B can add some hints. In 3-P-8A Vila noted the remains of five dry stone huts – and in close proximity to them (originally connected?) – a feature from special interest (3-P-8A/1) (only) for which he gave a more detailed sketch plan and description: Its visible remains consisted of a quite circular structure made of stone blocks (possibly continuing with similar adjoining structures further north) with a diameter of approx. 4m. Within this stone structure the most interesting detail is a square stone-lined bin measuring approx. 60 cm x 60cm, with a depth of around 50/60cm, whose vertical walls were reinforced with raised slabs (Figs. 3a, b).

Figure 3a: Sketch plan and section of circular structure with stone-lined bin (NF-36-M/3-P-8A/1). (Vila 1976: fig. 42).
Figure 3b: Detail of stone-lined bin in NF-36-M/3-P-8A/1, view towards S. (Vila 1976: fig. 44.1).

When visiting the place in the 1970ies, Vila and his team noted a heavily disturbed area in the northern part of the site, dividing 3-P-8A in two zones (Fig. 2), and consisting of pits of modern stone extractions. A similar picture emerged during our visit in the last campaign, when we found the site badly damaged by modern gold mining. These endangering activities not only clearly illustrate the urgent need of our research in the MUAFS concession, but also the richness of resources of this region, especially in this area, still being extracted today.

Thus, together with the abundance of stone tools indicated by Vila in 3-P-8A/B – further attested by the numerous quartz flakes we found on site – may point to an original purpose of the site associated with gold processing activities. In this context, one may wonder what role the above mentioned stone-lined bin might have played and if the architectural nature of the site 3-P-8/A with its dry-stone constructions could strengthen this assumption? Looking outside the box – thus beyond the MUAFS research area to other comparable frontier and contact spaces of similar time periods within Nubia may help to gain more thought-provoking hints.

Here I will just refer to the evidence in the Batn el-Hagar, recently published by Edwards who introduced the occurrence of a fascinating category of Pharaonic sites, that clearly outnumbered other types of settlements in this region. Besides their number, their peculiarity consists especially of their dry-stone architecture and their often curvilinear layout – representing as Edwards stated “a still unfamiliar form of an ‘Egyptian’ presence” in Nubia (Edwards 2020: 378). These sites were apparently linked to gold mining activities within the region, which is why Edwards refers to them as ‘workshop sites’. Mostly situated in larger distances to the Nile their architecture consists of a number or dry-stone walls forming complexes of subcircular or curvilinear rooms. The different equipment found in these rooms points to different working units and working steps, as illustrated by large granite mortars and grinding installations of diverse types – but it is especially indicated by numerous stone-lined bins or tanks (Fig. 4) comparable to “our” example from Mindiq. Some of the latter seemed to be originally associated withworking processes using water and still contained accumulations of fine water-laid crushed gold bearing quartz (Edwards 2020: 404).

Figure 4: Example of a stone-lined bin (diam: 55 cm, depth: 45 cm, workshop site 11-Q-61, Saras E). Edwards 2020: fig. 3.3.31.

Concerning the rather unusual ‘Egyptian’ architectural appearance of those workshop sites, Edwards suggested a possible more complex history of Egyptian gold mining in this region – and a very plausible stronger role of Nubians in this context. His assumption was not only based on often found Nubian or Kerma style pottery within these workshops (f. ex. Duweishat area, workshop 16-O-12, Attiri – Sorki, with even a predominance of Nubian style ceramics, Edwards 2020: 226–234), but also on the existence of at least one similar site clearly dating in the Middle Kerma period (Duweishat area, workshop 16-S-16, also addressed as ‘Kerma/C-Group’ workshop site). The layout, finds and crushed quartz debris of his clearly Nubian site hold striking similarities to those qualified as Pharaonic workshop sites in this region (Edwards 2020: 406–407).

Figure 5: ‘Kerma/C-Group’ workshop site (16-S-16, Duweishat), 1967. Several large grindstones are visible at floor level of the nearest structure. Edwards 2020: Fig. 7.32.

Returning to our site in Kosha E, 3-P-8A/B, it would be tempting not only to assume a similar functional purpose, but – indicated by the today still visible remains – an original possibly related architectural layout. With clearly still needed further research in the coming years, this site with its presumed Old and Middle Kerma context already is from special interest due to its possible earlier date than the aforementioned site 16-S-16 in the Duweishat region. Thus site 3-P-8A/B, holds not only important hints about the gold-working activities in the Attab to Ferka area but also may help to shed further light on early Nubian gold exploitation.

Not least this early site has the potential to deeper explore the still pending ‘chicken or the egg-problem’ – so the question (is it) ‘Egyptian or Nubian?’ that Liszka chose concisely as title of her important article (Liszka 2017) on the matter of dry-stone architecture in Nubia in ‘Egyptian’ contexts. It is precisely such sites, that not only allow us to find answers concerning the activities of ancient people living there and the reasons for the choice of diverse building techniques, for different materials or locations (f. ex. being possible rather pragmatic choices depending on the better availability of stone or are they rather hinting to an internal cultural variability? Or point they to a rather seasonal occupation resp. are explained by the sites purpose?). But most importantly, architectural remains, such as these dry-stone buildings used by ‘Nubians’ or ‘Egyptians’ can also contribute to reconstruct the dynamics of such an ancient ‘contact space’ as the Attab and Ferka region – does it point, f. ex. to knowledge transfer throughout the times and cultures or to the inclusion of craftsmanship of well-trained people, thus not only resulting in acceptance or appropriation of various cultural influences, but also in possible fusions creating together something new.

In this regard – stay tuned for further insights in the fascinating topic of exploring the settlement-scape and the nature of living in the Attab to Ferka region!

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, in: Sudan & Nubia 23, 13–26.

Budka, J. 2020. Kerma presence at Ginis East: The 2020 season of the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project, in: Sudan & Nubia 24, 57–71.

Edwards, D.N (ed.). 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963–69. The Pharaonic Sites. Oxford.

Liszka, K. 2017. Egyptian or Nubian? Dry-Stone Architecture at Wadi el-Hudi, Wadi es-Sebua, and the Eastern Desert’, in: Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 103(1), 35–51.

Vila. A. 1976. La prospection archéologique de la vallée du Nil au sud de la Cataracte de Dal. Fascicule 4. District de Mograkka (Est et Ouest). District de Kosha (Est et Ouest).Paris.

The MUAFS logo explained

The ERC DiverseNile project is embedded in the MUAFS project. In a recent post I explained the meaning of the new DiverseNile logo. The MUAFS logo was already created in 2018, but what exactly does it show?

We tried to illustrate the main aims of the project in the logo which is based on a rock art drawing in our concession (see Vila 1976, fig. 22).

Rock art motif at 3-L-24 after Vila 1976, fig. 22.

Within the MUAFS project, the area between Attab and Ferka will be investigated with a biography of a landscape approach and a long durée approach, considering all attested periods; the area is a natural and cultural border zone and therefore relevant for border studies.

We are very much interested in humans and cultural groups inhabiting and shaping the area. Objects and the material culture throughout the time is another of our research aims. Animals and other non-humans like plants will also be considered with priority. And finally, bringing these aspects together, we also focus on general activities and production within this area.

Although I was not aware of it when I chose the specific piece of rock art as the future MUAFS logo, the logo is also graphic evidence for the emergency affecting the project: Modern gold mining, construction works and building activities are endangering the cultural heritage of the area.

The rock art site 3-L-24 in Mograkka East comprising the picture of a herdsman we used for the MUAFS logo is presently buried below sand and debris from recent channel construction.

Present situation of the site 3-L-24: rock art including the MUAFS logo is buried below the debris of modern construction work and no longer accessible.

The area between Attab and Ferka has changed tremendously since the time of Vila – and this will also be illustrated and studied by both the MUAFS and the DiverseNile project in the next years.

Reference

Vila 1976 = Vila, A. 1976. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Vol. 4. Paris.

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).

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.