Reconstructing the burial of Feature 50 in cemetery GiE 003

I’m thrilled and privileged to have become part of the DiverseNile team in November 2023. My primary role entails consolidating and organizing the data on the variability of funerary monuments excavated in the Attab to Ferka region of Northern Sudan during the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Our PI Julia Budka has given me the specific task of preparing the documentation of Feature 50 from Trench 5 in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 (see Budka 2022). Interestingly, this burial shows many features associated with the Pan-Grave culture.

Different models of Feature 50.

The filling of Feature 50 comprised a diverse array of artifacts (see Budka, Rose, Ward 2023, 34), including pottery sherds, bones of at least one individual and three goats, beads, remnants of a wooden bed, alongside a mix of dense clay or mud fragments. The latter might have constituted a section of the superstructure wall surrounding the burial (cf. Irish 2007, 59, Figs. 2-3). Due to their dispersed nature within the tomb, not all of these finds were unearthed together or found within a single layer, necessitating their documentation either partially or separately. 

Using Metashape and Adobe Photoshop to rectify photos.

Because different parts of the same level were documented separately, I endeavored to amalgamate all these disparate 3D models into one comprehensive representation using Adobe Illustrator. This involved consolidating all the finds in a unified layout. Additionally, I utilized site photos, rectified them through programs like Metashape or Photoshop, and incorporated them into the combined models.

Using close-up photos for the finer details

I also leveraged daily site information, occasionally using the models as close-ups for finer details. Furthermore, throughout this process, I engaged in numerous discussions with Julia to ensure accuracy and completeness. 
In the end, through our collaborative efforts, we successfully integrated all elements into a single cohesive representation, meticulously illustrated using Adobe Illustrator.

I and Julia Budka discussing the different details of Feature 50.

The clarity of having everything consolidated sparked the idea of creating a reconstruction view using Adobe Illustrator. Inspired by this, I began exploring parallel cemeteries associated with the Pan-Grave horizon, including C-group burials (which are a bit earlier but nevertheless useful parallels). To enhance the visualization, I utilized Photoshop to craft different positions for the goat skeletons. However, despite these efforts, the original view remained somewhat unclear. This led me to consider creating a 3D model reconstruction using Google Sketch-Up, providing a clearer representation of all the features and finds.

Finally, I managed to develop a preliminary 3D reconstruction, but further investigation is needed. Interestingly, Pan-Grave burials, contrasting to Kerma burials, normally do not have wooden funerary beds.

My preliminary 3D reconstruction of Feature 50.

One last aspect: It’s incredible how something as simple as a color choice can drastically alter the way we perceive a scene. Chloe’s observation about the light blue floor of my reconstruction resembling a swimming pool was certainly amusing, but it prompted a smart adjustment to a grayish color to avoid any unintended connotations. These lighthearted moments amidst the serious work of archaeological reconstruction bring a sense of fun and camaraderie to the team.

References

Budka 2022 = Budka, J., Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: new evidence from a Kerma cemetery at Ginis, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 45 (2022), 37‒62.

Budka, Rose & Ward 2023 = Budka, J., Rose, K. & C. Ward, Cultural diversity in the Bronze Age in the Attab to Ferka region: new results based on excavations in 2023, MittSAG – Der Antike Sudan 34 (2023), 19−35.

Irish 2007 = Irish, J.D., Overview of the Hierakonpolis C-Group dental remains, Sudan & Nubia 11 (2007), 57-72.

Copper alloy production and use: upcoming DiverseNile Seminar

I am delighted that our next DiverseNile Seminar is approaching. Frederik Rademakers will be speaking about brand-new research on copper production in the New Kingdom.

Frederik is currently employed at the British Museum, Department of Scientific Research as a metals specialist. His core research focus lies on ancient copper metallurgy in the Nile Valley and central Africa. Frederik’s approach is a combination of analytical studies of archaeological remains (from museum collections as well as ongoing excavations, e.g. Kerma and Amara West in Sudan) and experimental archaeology. Through the latter, we have been frequently in contact in the last years, and I can very highly recommend his seminal publications, e.g. Rademakers et al. 2022.

I am especially happy that the upcoming presentation by Frederik on November 21, 2023 will nicely connect to our previous DiverseNile Seminar 2022, focusing on landscape and resource management. In general, the procurement of materials and management of resources are topics which have gained popularity in archaeology in recent years, also in Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology. Modern multidisciplinary approaches enable us to investigate objects’ complete chaîne opératoire. An excellent example for these new advances is the study of copper in Egypt and Nubia (see Odler 2023) and in particular copper production at Kerma, a topic Frederic is an expert in (Rademakers et al. 2022). From the New Kingdom town of Amara West, a recent study in which Frederik was one of the main persons involved has provided important insights into the complexity of production chains, the question of material availability and supply in colonial Nubia and the direct comparison with Egypt (Rademakers et al. 2023).

In the upcoming DiverseNile Seminar, Fredrik will discuss unpublished material and data for the New Kingdom – nothing you want to miss if you are interested in archaeometry, copper production and interdisciplinary approaches to the topic.

References

Older, M. 2023. Copper in ancient Egypt: before, during and after the pyramid age (c. 4000-1600 BC), Culture and History of the Ancient Near East 132, Leiden; Boston.

Rademakers, F. W., Verly, G., Degryse, P., Vanhaecke, F., Marchi, S. and C. Bonnet. 2022. Copper at ancient Kerma: a diachronic investigation of alloys and raw materials, Advances in Archaeomaterials 3 (1), 1−18.

Rademakers, F., Auenmüller, J., Spencer, N., Fulcher, K., Lehmann, M., Vanhaecke, F. and Degryse, P. 2023. Metals and pigments at Amara West: Cross-craft perspectives on practices and provisioning in New Kingdom Nubia, Journal of Archaeological Science 153, 105766. 10.1016/j.jas.2023.105766.

A Hyksos royal name scarab from Kerma cemetery GiE 003

As announced last week, the first preliminary report about Kerma cemetery GiE 003 in Attab/Ginis East has just been published (Budka 2022).

Today, I would like to discuss one of the highlights from this cemetery which was published in the EVO paper: a glazed steatite royal scarab with the name of a Hyksos king.

Scarab MUAFS 005. Photos: Rennan Lemos, editing: Marion Devigne, ©DiverseNile Project.

Found in Feature 4, the name of Pharaoh Y’amu is given on the bottom of this piece, MUAFS 005. Already on the day of its discovery, Manfred Bietak kindly helped remotely with the initial reading of the royal name of this scarab – many thanks for this! I am also particularly grateful to Karin Kopetzky, who provided detailed information about the dating criteria of this piece. The design of its back, head, legs, and sides all directly correspond to other known attestations of Y’amu (Tufnell 1984, 32, 35, 37, pl. 61: 3416, 3417, 3418, 3419; Ward 1984, 164) whose exact position within the sequence of 15th Dynasty rulers is unfortunately not clear (see Ben-Tor 2007, 107-108).

Scarabs are in general rare in cemetery GiE 003 and only two pieces have been found in our excavations. The context of scarab MUAFS 005, Feature 4, appears to belong to the later part of the Classic Kerma period, possibly contemporaneous with the Theban 17th Dynasty. As is known from other marginal regions of the Kerma empire like the Fourth Cataract area, our Hyksos scarab might have been circulating in Nubia for some time before ending up in GiE 003’s Feature 4.

The Hyksos king Y’amu has not been attested to in Nubia before the discovery of his scarab MUAFS 005 in GiE 003. Interestingly, in Ward’s sequence he would postdate the other Hyksos rulers attested to at Sai and Kerma as well as at the northern sites. Ward (1984, 164) placed Y’amu in the second half of the 15th Dynasty, but this sequence has been discussed and is not archaeologically confirmed (Ben-Tor 2007, 108 with references).

The textual evidence for contact between Kerma rulers and Hyksos kings has already been addressed from a variety of perspectives. In this context, the appearance of Tell el-Yahudiyeh ware in Nubia and of Kerma wares in Egypt, especially at the Hyksos capital Avaris, were also noted as possible indicators of exchange. Alexander Ahrens and Karin Kopetzky recently examined the appearance of Hyksos scarabs in the context of Kerma burials (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021). Royal Hyksos scarabs are known from Ukma, Akasha, Sai, and Kerma, as well as several Lower Nubian sites (Aniba, Dakka, Sayala, Masmas, Faras, Mirgissa, Uronarti and Debeira). All of the kings mentioned on these sealings ruled during the early Hyksos period, and it is logical to assume that this was when the Hyksos engaged in direct trade with the Kerma kingdom (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021, 295 with references and discussion). During the early Second Intermediate Period, the fortresses in Lower Nubia were under Kerma control, and the Hyksos were probably keen to establish trade and direct contact to achieve “continued access to resources and particularly to the Nubian gold essential for trade in the Eastern Mediterranean” (Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021, 295). The Lower Nubian fortresses have always been linked to gold mines and access to gold – recent work has stressed also the importance of Kerma gold working sites in Batn el-Haggar (Edwards 2020, 406-407; 415), and the same is likely for the Attab to Ferka region, especially for Ginis and Kosha. Could the Hyksos scarabs found at Ukma, Akasha, and Sai reflect not only international trade but also, indirectly, gold exploitation between the Second and Third Cataracts during Kerman rule? And could the same apply for the newly found scarab in Ginis?

It is tempting to assume that this new Hyksos scarab can be seen in connection to an intense period of Kerman exchange with the Hyksos kingdom, which sought gold from not only former Egyptian fortresses in Lower Nubia but also sites further south under Kerma rule. Sai’s importance during the Kerma Period might be linked to both the island’s strategic position and its location in a gold-rich region, making it ideal for supervising gold exploitation as we know it from the New Kingdom. Maybe the halting of trade with the Hyksos in the second part of the 15th Dynasty was one of the reasons why the character of Sai as a Kerman stronghold changed during Classic Kerma times (for this change see Gratien 2014; Manzo 2016). It remains to establish possible changes towards the end of the Classic Kerma period in marginal regions like Ginis – and cemetery GiE 003 with its use from Middle Kerma to Classic Kerma times and its close proximity to gold exploitation sites (as well as its connection to desert nomads presumably involved in the gold trade) has here lots of potential for future analysis.

References:

Ahrens, Kopetzky 2021 = A. Ahrens, K. Kopetzky, “Difficult times and drastic solutions: the diffusion of looted Middle Kingdom objects found in the northern Levant, Egypt and Nubia”, in M. Bietak, S. Prell (eds), The enigma of the Hyksos, volume IV: Changing clusters and migration in the Near Eastern Bronze Age. Collected papers of a workshop held in Vienna 4th-6th of December 2019, Wiesbaden 2021, 253-313.

Ben-Tor 2007 = D. Ben-Tor, Scarabs, Chronology, and Interconnections: Egypt and Palestine in the Second Intermediate Period, Fribourg, Göttingen 2007.

Budka 2022 = J. Budka, Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: new evidence from a Kerma cemetery at Ginis, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 45, 2022, 37-62.

Edwards 2020 = D.N. Edwards (ed.), The archaeological survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69: the pharaonic sites, Oxford 2020.

Gratien 2014 = B. Gratien, Saï I. La nécropole Kerma, Paris 1986.

Manzo 2016 = A. Manzo, “Weapons, ideology and identity at Kerma (Upper Nubia, 2500-1500 BC)”, Annali Sezione Orientale 76 (1-2) (2016), 3-29.

Tufnell 1984 = O. Tufnell, Scarab Seals and their Contribution to the History in the Early Second Millennium BC, Warminster 1984.

Ward 1984 = W.A. Ward, “Royal-name scarabs”, in O. Tufnell, Scarab Seals and their Contribution to the History in the Early Second Millennium BC, Warminster 1984, 151-192.

Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: the case study of GiE 003

I am delighted that Volume 45 of the journal Egitto e Vicino Oriente has been published, including my own contribution about Kerma cemetery GiE 003 in Attab/Ginis East (Budka 2022).

The aim of this paper was to present the preliminary excavation results of this large Kerma cemetery on the outskirts of Sai. Based on our excavation results from 2022, we know that it was continuously used from Middle Kerma to Classic Kerma times and has close parallels to cemeteries in Batn el-Haggar (especially at Ukma). Our excavations allow a better understanding of rural Kerman funerary practices and the types of imported objects that are present or missing within these communities (such as scarabs, pottery vessels), demonstrating local prosperity and the superregional interconnectedness of these groups.

The Kerma cemetery, which Vila documented as 2-T-39, was labelled GiE 003 by the MUAFS project. It comprises an estimated 150 tombs in an area of c. 200 x 100m. The actual extent of the cemetery requires further investigation; in the northern part, the site partially overlaps with the Medieval habitation 2-T-43.

Estimated outline of cemetery GiE 003 (Map: C. Geiger, courtesy of the DiverseNile project).

In March 2022, two trenches were opened in GiE 003 and are discussed in the EVO paper. Both trenches had eroded circular tumuli structures on their surfaces, which were covered with pottery sherds and human bones, clearly indicating ancient looting. Despite the age of the looting, some of the Kerma burials unearthed were well preserved and could be dated through the finds. The finds include fly pendants, a scarab with the name of a Hyksos king, a dagger, remains of funerary beds and plenty of beads as well as pottery.

A total of 27 pits were excavated in 2022. Through stratigraphic and pottery analysis it is also possible to make suggestions on the spatial and chronological development of the site. The EVO article is a preliminary assessment based on fieldwork results from 2022, including my detailed study of all the ceramics, but excluding bioarchaeological studies of human and animal bones, as well as the botanical remains.

The most important result of the 2022 excavation is the dating of the southern trench, Trench 2, to the Middle Kerma Period (c. 2000-1750 BCE) and of the northern trench, Trench 1, to the Classic Kerma Period (c. 1750-1500 BCE). This is especially significant, given that there were no notable differences in the surface structures.

Excavated features in Trench 1 in GiE 003, 2022. Colour coding: blue for interfaces; green for individual stratigraphic units (SU). Map: Max Bergner, ©DiverseNile Project.

In the EVO article, I proposed a possible relation of the Kerma community using GiE 003 to gold exploitation. First, in the MUAFS concession area, gold-rich quartz-veins have been found in Attab, Ginis, and Kosha, and some archaeological sites point to gold exploitation throughout the centuries, starting well before the Egyptian New Kingdom. Moreover, recent surveys in the Eastern Desert suggest that both control of gold mines and trade relationships with desert nomads played a major role in Kerman access to gold before Egyptian colonisation in the New Kingdom (see Cooper 2021). The affiliation of some of the pottery from GiE 003 with the Pan-Grave horizon seemed to illustrate in 2022 connections to nomadic people, possibly in relation to gold mining. This thesis could now be partly confirmed in 2023: in Trench 5 several Pan-Grave style burials were found (see my short summary of the 2023 season).

Here, I would like to follow Claudia Näser and her appeal for an “archaeology of interaction” (Näser 2012) – during the Kerma period, there were a number of Pan-Grave people present in the Nile Valley and for sure also in the Attab and Ginis area. They were community members (at least seasonally) interacting in various ways with other members – and our focus should be on understanding these interactions and reconstructing them as best we can. This is one of the core interests of the DiverseNile project and will keep us busy in the next years.

Our work in GiE 003 in the 2023 season resulted in many important new insights, supporting and strengthening ideas raised in the EVO article based on the 2022 season.

Coming back to cemetery GiE 003: one of the results of our excavation work is clearly that funerary practices reflecting social practices in the periphery of the Kerma kingdom must be considered in a more complex light than previously thought. Cultural diversity in the Middle Nile is well traceable during the Middle and Classic Kerma age in terms of architecture, location, burial types and grave goods. However, this requires further material assistance, with a focus on the social impact of cultural contact and the emerging patterns of globalisation during the Kerma kingdom’s heyday. The proximity of Kerma cemeteries (and thus also of possible settlements), especially also of dome grave assemblages well attested in the Attab to Ferka region, to potential gold working sites is clearly an interesting research question to be investigated in the future.

All in all, it seems likely that there was no single Kerman cultural input to interactions with the Hyksos, Egyptians and nomadic people like the Pan-Grave horizon. Rather, we must consider various hierarchical local responses determined by different communities’ ability to consume, shaping what can be called marginal communities in the Kerma state (see also Walsh 2022).

To concluse, the rich finds in GiE 003 enable us to compare this newly excavated Kerma cemetery to the well-known cemeteries of Ukma and Akasha further north. There are very close parallels, as well as notable differences and what appears to be local variations (for details see Budka 2022). This opens new avenues for future research on Kerma communities outside of the Third Cataract region, shifting the focus away from cultural and chronological classification and toward aspects of the social relationships among Middle Nile groups (and their neighbours).

References:

Budka 2022 = J. Budka, Investigating Nubian funerary practices of marginal communities: new evidence from a Kerma cemetery at Ginis, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 45, 2022, 37-62.

Cooper 2021 = J. Cooper, Between the Nile and the Red Sea: Medjay desert polities in the third to first millennium BCE. Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 1 (1), 2021, 1-22.

Näser 2012 = C. Näser, Nomads at the Nile: towards an archaeology of interaction, in: H. Barnard and K. Duistermaat (eds), The history of the peoples of the Eastern Desert, Los Angeles: University of California 2012, 80-89.

Walsh 2022 = C. Walsh, Marginal Communities and Cooperative Strategies in the Kerma Pastoral State. Journal of Ancient Near Eastern History, 9/2, 2022, 195-220.

Upcoming DiverseNile Seminar Series: Carl Walsh about „Monsters in the Bed“

It’s almost June and the next DiverseNile Seminar Series is approaching. We are delighted that the next lecture will be given by Carl Walsh on June 6. The very promising title is: “Monsters in the Bed: Hybrid Furniture and Composite Creatures in Kerman Cross-Cultural Interactions”.

Carl is an archaeologists who has received his PhD in 2016 from the University College London. He is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Barnes Foundation, USA. He is an expert on the Kerma culture and has successfully placed Kerma and Nubia in his publications within wider theoretical and archaeological discussions of the eastern Mediterranean during the Bronze and Iron Ages.Carl kindly provided us with an abstract of his talk – this nicely illustrates why you really should not miss it!

The Kerma state in Upper Nubia (modern Sudan) was a major cultural, political, and economic power in northeast Africa, especially in its later phase during the Classic Kerma period (1700-1550 BCE). While originally viewed as an isolated periphery of Egypt, this kingdom is now understood as heavily interconnected with other Nile Valley and desert groups in northeast Africa—and perhaps even further afield in the Mediterranean and western Asia. This paper builds on recent approaches on Kerman cross cultural interactions through examining the evidence for Egyptian influences in furniture forms and styles during the Classic Kerma period. The distribution and forms of furniture—bedframes, beds, and stools—are examined across Kerma sites and periods and are argued to be indigenous Kerman status objects. At the start of the Classic Kerma period, however, new hybrid furniture types incorporated Egyptian furniture designs alongside fantastical imagery of composite creatures and fauna. The incorporation of these foreign styles and development of composite creatures is argued to be part of a concerted effort by the Kerman court to construct inter-regional identities through shared “international” visual vocabularies and courtly habitus. Diplomacy provided a social and embodied framework for these engagements, which connected different court and elite groups in a wider diplomatic system within northeastern Africa, the Mediterranean, and western Asia during the later second millennium BCE (Abstract by Carl Walsh).

The last days in the field – towards closing the 2023 season

Time flies by, especially when you are enjoying and/or are very busy! This clearly holds true for our last days here – they were extremely demanding but also very pleasant and full of important results and discoveries.

We managed to close the excavation in Kerma cemetery GiE 003. The original aims for the 2023 season there, building on our work from 2022, were to clarify its dating, the distribution of certain burial pit types and to check for aspects of cultural diversity. All of this worked out perfectly and more details will follow soon. For now, the most important result is the discovery of a Pan-Grave style burial in Trench 5, located just north of Trench 2 from 2022 (with Kerma Moyen burials). Since some of our pottery from 2022 was already indicating that we might have the presence of what is normally called Pan-Grave horizon, this did not come as a big surprise, but simply as what I was really wishing for.

Final surface cleaning in Trench 5; Feature 50 is the large circular pit, here fully excavated.

Feature 50, the Pan-Grave burial pit, yielded not only the remains of a funerary bed, of goat offerings as well as jewelry and ivory objects but also several intact pots. This complete beaker with some repair holes is a typical Black Topped ware associated with the Pan-Grave horizon.

Pan-Grave style beaker from Feature 50 with multiple repair holes.

In Trench 4, there were two important niche tombs cutting Classic Kerma burial pits. At least Feature 66 (which was discovered just before closing for the weekend last week) is clearly associated with Classic Kerma material culture as well – thus providing much food for thought about who decided when (and why) to be buried in a niche tomb rather than in the more common rectangular burial pits? The burial of Individual 18 found in Feature 66 was unfortunately looted, but it can be reconstructed as a contracted burial which was placed in the oval niche without a funerary bed with the head in the West and the feet in the East.

Remains of the contracted burial inside Feature 66, cutting an earlier Classic Kerma pit.

Furthermore, we finished sampling of pottery from AtW 001, GiE 003 and the Vila site 2-S-54. Giulia did prepare more than 100 samples which we will hopefully analyze together with Johannes Sterba of the Atominstitut Wien by iNAA, just like the samples we took already in 2022. Our focus was on a range of Nubian wares and Egyptian-style Nile clay wares.

Thanks to the support of NCAM and our colleague Sami, Kate managed to conduct at least three days of Drone Aerial Photography after the crash of our own Phantom 4 Pro. I also managed to squeeze in some surveying on the west bank – with the discovery of some amazing new 18th Dynasty sites – very promising for the next season!

Beautiful landscape and rich archaeology – Attab West is just breathtaking!

By now, most of our team members have already left – many thanks to all of them! It was a particular pleasure to welcome Mohamed and Tasabeh from Al-Neelain University – hope to see you again next year!

Group picture 2 of the 2023 season, without Chloe but with Giulia, Tasabeh and Mohamed.

The remaining small team of Jose, Sofia, Huda and I will be busy finalizing everything here in Ginis before our own departure early next week. More updates about our results of the 2023 season will follow soon insha’allah.

Excavation in Attab and Ginis, week 5 of the 2023 season

Week 5 of our 2023 field season just flew by, especially because of several very disturbing incidents.

On the positive side, we managed to close excavations at site AtW 001, postponed further exploration of Vila site 2-S-54 to next year and made good progress in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.

AtW 001 will require much post-excavation work – we documented several still standing mud brick walls, there were clearly several phases of building and use. Chloe Ward who did an excellent job this season has already arrived back in Munich and is busy finalizing the stratigraphy and feature description as well as other details from her desk back home.

A small glimpse of the final state of site ATW 001 with various remains of mud brick walls.

Most importantly, we managed to reach the same ashy layer on the alluvial surface like in 2022. It is now also clear that apart from a slight natural slope, most of the mound-like appearance of site AtW 001 is actually composed of settlement debris and especially mud brick debris in several layers.

Excavations at Vila site 2-S-54 came to an unexpected stop – the material culture of the mud brick and stone building is really intriguing and currently being studied by Giulia D’Ercole and myself. Giulia arrived this week and already prepared all the samples from site 2-S-54 we will export for iNAA analysis in order to investigate the provenience of Nile clay wares (see earlier posts by Giulia on this subject, e.g. https://www.sudansurvey.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/index.php/2020/12/22/where-are-you-from-a-diverse-material-perspective-on-this-common-tricky-question/). Of course, a substantial part of our 2023 samples will come from site AtW 001, but here I am still busy reconstructing the large number of complete vessels. More than 10.000 sherds need to be checked for matching pieces and this clearly takes a while.

One of the most remarkable vessels I am currently reconstructing – an „in-between“ cooking pot, combining Egyptian and Nubian pottery traditions.

Finally, much progress was made in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, where work in Trench 3 was concluded (and yielded a total of 14 new Classic Kerma burial pits, closely resembling our results from 2022) and excavation in Trench 4 is still ongoing. All tombs have been looted in antiquity, most probably in Medieval times, but there are still substantial remains of material culture, especially pottery, beads and remains of wooden funerary beds.

Work in Trench 4 is still ongoing.

One of the most remarkable finds of this season is a small ivory bracelet from Tomb 33 in Trench 3. It was clearly used for a long time, was broken at a certain point, and then repaired by means of repairing holes – this is how we found it deposited in the burial pit. An intriguing object in many respects!

The broken but repaired and thus complete ivory bangle from Tomb 33.

Jose M.A. Gomez, Huda Magzoub, Sofia Patrevita and our team of local workmen got new reinforcement this week: two students from Al-Neelain University in Khartoum have joint us. Tasabeh Obaid Hassan and Mohamed Abdeldaim Khairi Ibrahim have been already extremely helpful at the excavation in the Kerma cemetery and for example very quickly learned to measure targets and outlines of stratigraphic units with the totalstation.

I am very grateful to all team members and looking much forward to the results of week 6!

Exploring settlement patterns and funerary practices in Attab and Ginis

Week 4 of our 2023 field season has just ended – time passes very quickly and there are three more weeks to go!

Much progress was made this week – especially because we are currently working both on the west bank in Attab, at site AtW 001, and in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 on the east bank.

Chloe Ward, Mohamed Soubho and I managed to come close to an end at the intriguing settlement site AtW 001. We cleaned further substantial mud brick debris and revealed faint traces of mud brick walls – clearly datable to the 18th Dynasty.

Chloe at work in AtW 001.
There was still much mud brick collapse to excavate this week.
Site AtW 001 in its present state – much has changed since we started!

Unfortunately, we also had an incident of looting at the site this week – one complete pottery dish was pulled out from its location and an intact zir vessel was partly ripped apart. We reported this event to the tourism police and hope it will not happen again! Thankfully the vessels were left on site, obviously the looters were looking for gold or hidden treasures and did not like the ceramics which hold such great significance for us archaeologists.

The intact zir vessel was partly smashed by the looters at the site earlier this week.

The zir vessel still poses several questions – it seems to have been still in situ in a kind of silo or room, but this needs to be checked early next week. The same holds true for confirming the stratigraphic connection of our lowest ashy layer exposed in 2023 with the one excavated in 2022 in Trench 1.

All in all, AtW 001 yielded a large number of mud bricks, mostly as mud brick collapse but fortunately also as some in situ walls as well as considerable amounts of stone tools, ceramics, clay weights and various animal bones. Sheep/goat and donkey seem to be the dominant species, but some fish bones already attest to more complexity of the animal remains.

Contemporaneously to our work in AtW 001, Kate Rose, assisted by Samer Ali, was busy in taking drone aerial photos (a big challenge in this windy weather) and especially measurements with the Trimble Catalyst antenna. She focused on dry-stone walls in Attab and Ginis – some of which are clearly Kerma in date, others presumably of New Kingdom origin and some probably as late as Napatan.

Nail and his gang of workmen did an excellent job cleaning burial pits at GiE 003 this week.

At the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, three new trenches were set up and the work supervised by Jose M.A. Gomez and Huda Magzoub  focused on Trench 3 were a number of rectangular Classic Kerma burial pits with trenches for funerary beds were exposed. Our gang of local workmen is well familiar with this type of tombs from last season. There were already some interesting finds like one steatite scarab and one ivory bracelet, and more are to come! Especially intriguing is the abundant evidence for looting – maybe it will be possible to confirm my hypothesis from 2022 that most of the plundering happened in Medieval times.

Much progress was made for all work packages of the ERC DiverseNile project this week – the diversity of settlements (WP 1), cemeteries (WP 2), the material culture (WP 3) and the landscape of the Attab to Ferka region (WP 4). We have already plenty of data for post-excavation processing back home in Munich and thankfully we still have three more weeks here in the beautiful landscape of Attab and Ginis!

Week 3 – much progress on the West bank, start of work on the East bank

Our week 3 of the 2023 season was dominated by another drop in temperatures and very windy weather – there were only three days when we could work all day, on the other days too much sand in the air forced us to stop work early and continue with documentation and processing in the digging house.

Most importantly, our totalstation was fixed and is back to its normal daily routine. The wind prevented Kate to do much drone aerial photography, but thanks to the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna she was very busy documenting the landscape and many dry-stone walls in the area of Attab West and Ginis West.

While we were waiting for our totalstation, Chloe, Jose and I continued at the intriguing site 2-S-54, the 18th Dynasty building made of mud bricks and stones located on a steep slope of a rocky outcrop within the district of Foshu. A stunning view to work!

Chloe working at site 2-S-54.
Photographing the dense mud brick collapse in the northern part of the structure. We also took 3D models of all surfaces exposed so far.

We exposed more of the surface around the structure and worked on the dense mud brick debris on its interior – more early 18th Dynasty ceramics, including Nubian style pots and also one hybrid cooking pot were unearthed – extremely exciting! A good number of large fragments of sandstone grindstones came to light and these were already documented by Sofia. This could already be a small hint that also this site is associated with goldmining. Modern gold working is carried out in large scale just next to us – in general a nice continuation illustrating the long-lasting impact of the natural resources for this part of the Middle Nile. However, since some of these modern pits and diggings also threaten the archaeological sites, I am rather concerned about this new development at Attab West.

Much progress was made exposing the 18th Dynasty structure at site 2-S-54.

Work at 2-S-54 will continue in week 4, since we moved back to the domestic site AtW 001 with our gang of local workmen during week 3. Here, the dense mud brick debris revealed further complete pottery vessels as well as a very well preserved animal skull, most probably of a donkey.

Well-preserved animal skull in the mud brick debris layer at AtW 001. It was found at the bottom of a slight slope, sourrounded by brick debris and pottery fragments.

There are plenty of other animal jaws and bones in the collapse and it really seems as if most of this debris is partly rubbish. In addition, we have exposed more circular pits, presumably fire pits or storage structures.

More complete pottery vessels were found in week 3 at ATW 001. Especially exciting is the complete zir in the pit on the right of the picture.

Since we have reached a level where the contexts are now quite delicate and also space for work is limited, we moved our team of local workmen to the East bank (this is the “better” bank regarding wind and was thus received with much enthusiasm by the workmen). Jose and Huda started yesterday at the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 with two new trenches, aiming for a better understanding of the distribution patterns of burials at the site. Chloe and Sofia were busy setting up the new fix points and conducting measurements with the totalstation. The first burial pits are already visible in the new Trench 3 and I am sure I will be able to report interesting finds on the next update coming Friday.

Much progress despite of external challenges – week 2 of the 2023 season

Our week 2 of the 2023 season has just ended – having been an intense week with several challenges. First, our totalstation suddenly did not work like it should and we needed to send it to Khartoum – it will be fixed, but of course this meant a stop for excavations at AtW 001. On the positive side, two of our DiverseNile team members joined us this week – Jose and Kate have arrived and are now supporting us in multiple ways. Kate had to fix technical issues with our drone and the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna, but is now all set and started her work focusing on documenting the landscape.

Before we stopped at AtW 001, the results were really impressive. We found several circular or oval-shaped fire pits and excavated more of the mud brick debris on top of the mound in Trench 2. More animal bones and complete vessels showed up. One particularly nice context was an area adjacent to the solid mud brick debris, where one deep bowl, one beer jar, one small pot stand and a lower part of the beer jar were found smashed below mud bricks (Fig. 1). Interestingly, the mud brick debris comprised both red bricks and ordinary mud bricks. The current hypothesis is that the red bricks are simply burnt from a use close to a fire place or possibly kiln.

Fig. 1: Deposit of early 18th Dynasty smashed pottery vessels at AtW 001.

The stop of fieldwork had the advantage that I could invest much needed time for the pottery processing – we have not only large amounts of sherds, but especially a considerable number of complete or almost complete vessels. These all need to be first washed and then reconstructed. Jose kindly helps with the task of reconstruction (Fig. 2) and he also started drawing the first pieces from the uppermost layers.

Fig. 2: Jose doing a great job reconstructing pottery vessels from AtW 001.

Apart from pottery, we mostly have stone tools and re-used sherds and clay weights (including net weights) among the finds. Sofia is updating our find list and also describing the stone tools in our Filemaker database.

Until our totalstation is back from Khartoum, we will focus both on find processing and on drone aerial photography as well as taking measurements with the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna. In order to combine the latter also with some surface cleaning of Bronze Age structures, I chose an area in the district of Attab West in Foshu – this is a densely used area during Kerma times adjacent to the major paleochannel.

While Kate is taking drone photos, Chloe, Jose and I were cleaning the intriguing site 2-S-54, described by Vila as a New Kingdom house with mud bricks supported by schist stones, from wind blown sand (Fig. 3). This building, measuring 6.5 x 3.5m, is located on the south side of a rocky outcrop within the paleochannel on a quite steep slope.

Fig. 3: Much windblown sand covered the structure at 2-S-54.

The task of removing 80cm of windblown sand was extremely rewarding – we revealed in the interior of the building a dense mud brick debris layer as well as occupation deposits and several internal mud brick walls. We documented everything in 3D using photogrammetry (Fig. 4) and will continue excavating this domestic structure. The pottery found so far associates the use of this site with the early 18th Dynasty.

Fig. 4: 3D documentation of cleaned structure at 2-S-54 (photo: JMA Gomez).

Thus, despite of all the technical challenges and modified working plans, we managed to get much work done in week 2. Hoping we will soon return to site AtW 001 with our workmen (and the totalstation), I am for now very much looking forward to investigating 2-S-54 in more detail.