Rock art in Sudan has become one of my favourite topics ever since I worked in the Fourth Cataract region in the 2000s. Within the MUAFS concession between Attab and Ferka, there are not many sites with rock drawings. Unsurprisingly, rock art is restricted to certain areas with fitting geology and large boulders – in our concession these are the districts of Ferka, Mograkka and Kosha (Fig. 1). Close to Mograkka, one particularly handsome engraving was chosen as the basis for the MUAFS logo.
Some of these sites are located in close proximity to Kerma funerary sites. This holds especially true for 3-P-14 (Kosha West), 3-G-18 (Ferka East) and 3-P-5 (Kosha East).
3-G-18 is located on rocky outcrops within the large plain of Ferka and directly adjacent to the Kerma cemetery 3-G-16 (Fig. 2). Kerma cemetery 3-G-19 is also not far away. These sites are of particular interest because they are the northernmost Kerma sites in our concession.
The largest rock art site is located at the border between Mograkka and Kosha East, site 3-P-5, with more than 400 individual rock art pictures (Vila 1976, 79‒87). The motifs comprise mostly cattle, antelopes, some human depictions, birds, dogs and other animals (Figs. 3-4).
While Vila left the dating as unclear, most of the rock art pictures at 3-P-5 seem to belong to the Kerma period (Budka 2020). Similar to 3-G-18 in Ferka, there are Kerma sites in the close proximity to 3-P-5 which support this dating.
In all phases of the Kerma culture, the dominant motif of rock art is cattle. Of course this reflects the importance of cattle herding to Kerma people – some aspects of which were recently addressed by Jérôme Dubosson at one of our DiverseNile Seminar Series 2022. In the words by Louis Chaix: “Cattle are a key constituent element of the civilization of Kerma. They played a major role in the diet of the population and as a source of secondary products such as milk, hides, and raw materials for making tools. They also contributed to agriculture as traction animals.” (Chaix 2017). Within the DiverseNile project, we aim to address the local role of cattle for the Kerma people by means of a multidisciplinary approach, combining landscape archaeology with bioarchaeology and of course analysing all kinds of archaeological findings like animal bones, animal figurines and engraved figures of cattle in rock art.
Coming back to the question of rock art, the spatial proximity of rock art panels depicting cattle and Kerma funerary sites was already noted by Cornelia Kleinitz in the Fourth Cataract region (Kleinitz 2007). As tempting as it is to link these rock drawings with Kerma funerary cult, at the Fourth Cataract and also in the MUAFS concession, a precise dating of cattle depictions in rock art often remains impossible.
Nevertheless, we will soon be back in the field in Sudan – one of the goals for the 2023 season is to expand the documentation of rock art in our concession, with a special focus on possible Kerma sites. Contextualising rock art sites clearly has much potential for a closer understanding of their date and function.
Budka, Julia 2020. Kerma presence at Ginis East: the 2020 season of the Munich University Attab to Ferka survey project. Sudan & Nubia 24, 57-71.
Chaix, Louis 2017. Cattle: a major component of the Kerma culture (Sudan). Edited by Umberto Albarella, Mauro Rizzetto, Hannah Russ, Kim Vickers, and Sarah Viner-Daniels. Oxford Handbooks Online 2017 (April), 15 p.; 4 figs. DOI: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199686476.013.2
Kleinitz, Cornelia 2007. Rock art and archaeology: the Hadiab survey. Sudan & Nubia 11, 34-42
Vila, André 1976. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise).Fascicule 4: District de Mograkka (Est et Ouest), District de Kosha (Est et Ouest). Paris.
Still on the traces of Nubian goldsmiths, I would like to share some thoughts about a fascinating type and a goldsmith technique common in modern jewellery but already used and widespread in Kerma time: the gold bezel.
Significant for the study of local gold working in Nubia is a scarab necklace with gold bezel from tomb K1053 at Kerma (Fig. 1), dating to the Classic Kerma Period (c. 1700-1550 BCE). This string is composed of carnelian and amethyst beads of different shapes and typologies and a beautiful blue-glazed steatite scarab pendant set in an accurate gold bezel. According to Markowitz, the gold bezel was added and created by Nubian goldsmiths to emphasize the high rank and role of its owner (Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). The elite individual (Body D) of the Classic Kerman subsidiary grave K1053 was a Kerman woman buried with typical personal adornments, such as a silver headdress, a leather skirt with silver beaded drawstring, a necklace of blue-glazed crystal ball beads, a double set of gold armlets and bracelets on her upper and lower arms and this fascinating gold bezel scarab necklace held in her hand (Minor, 2018) (Fig. 2).
Other interesting gold bezel scarabs are attested from Kerma: a blue-glazed steatite scarab back covered with gold plate (K X B, western part, Body XK); a scarab with gold back-cover and two carnelian sphinxes amulets (K 439, Body B); an uninscribed amethyst scarab uninscribed with a gold mounting (K IV B, Body J) (Reisner, 1923, pp. 198-228-305).
Really fascinating traces of a specific typology of gold bezel come from the heart scarab (SAC5 349) of the goldsmith Khnummose, found with his body in the Tomb 26 (Chamber 6) at Sai Island (New Kingdom, mid-18th Dynasty) (Budka, 2021). This inscribed serpentinite heart scarab, discovered by our PI Julia Budka and her AcrossBorders’ Team (read here more on this extraordinary discovery!), was found in situ with gold foil remains. During the process of cleaning, fragile strips of gold were found close to the head of the scarab and only one piece was clearly attached around the base, suggesting the presence of a bezel, most likely made with a very fine gold leaf. Indeed, the largest gold fragment has a large hole pierced through it, probably connected to the holes of the scarab (Budka, 2021) (Fig. 3).
The heart scarabs were occasionally enclosed in gold mountings in Egyptian jewellery during the New Kingdom, manufactured through the use of two main techniques: the lost wax or the welding of two separate pieces of a gold sheet (Andrews, 1994; Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910). Both are still used in modern jewellery; the second technique allows the creation of a particular type of bezel exclusively used for heart scarabs. It’s a gold bezel that not only holds the base of the scarab but is characterized by a T-cage that supports the funerary amulet along the part of the scarab body called elytra (the closed wings), following their shape (Fig. 4). These gold bezel heart scarabs were hung from a gold chain or tourques through a suspension loop welded on the upper part of the bezel or the perforated scarab and bezel. Excellent examples are dated to the 18th Dynasty: the serpentinite and gold heart scarab of Neferkhawet (MMA 729), early 18th Dynasty, Thebes, Asasif (Fig. 5); the green schist and gold heart scarab of Maruta (Tomb of the Three Foreign Wives of Thutmose III), 18th Dynasty, Thebes, Wadi Gabbanat el-Qurud (Fig. 6); the green jasper and gold heart scarab of Djehuty, 18th Dynasty, Saqqara (Andrews, 1994; Budka, 2021).
Coming back to Tomb 26, the family tomb of goldsmith Khnummose, there was also an exceptional steatite scarab ring in gold and silver (SAC5 388) of the 18th Dynasty (Budka, 2021) (Fig. 7). It was discovered with the female Individual 324. Among her bodily adornment, there was also an interesting necklace with carnelian and bone crocodile pendants and beads in different materials, such as gold (exactly 180 beads!). The finger ring has a heavy gold setting, most likely made by wax carving and lost wax techniques. The shank of the ring is in silver, while its small domed caps are gilded. The thin gold wire threads through the scarab, the gold bezel and the gilded caps twisting on both sides of the ring and finally fixed in small holes drilled in the silver shank (for an accurate description of these and other beautiful finds from the Tomb 26 do not forget you can find the complete book here https://www.sidestone.com/books/tomb-26-on-sai-island).
The gold bezel seems to be a distinctive feature of the Nubian jewellery, but additionally, these bezels from Sai come from the tomb of a local goldsmith and his family. Khnummose held two titles: “goldworker/goldsmith” and “overseer of goldworkers” (Auenmüller, 2020; Budka, 2021).
Even if with a less sophisticated mounting than the typology of the gold and silver ring from the Tomb 26, another intriguing comparison comes from Aniba and two scarab rings (n.34, n.36; see Budka, 2021, 212). The moving bezel is fixed to the ring by a thin metal wire that passes through the scarab, twisting on both sides of the ring. The ring n.34 is in silver, while the n.36 is in bronze (Steindorff, 1937, 111, pl. 57, nos. 34 and 36).
During the New Kingdom, the scarab mounted in gold remained the most common design for finger rings (Wilkinson, 1971). This technique, the mounting of the gold bezel, characterized by different methods (Maryon, 1971), appears already among the “innovations” of the Middle Kingdom goldsmithing. The first scarab rings were made from a single wire. From the 13th Dynasty the ends of the ring were equipped with grommets through which passed the wire that held the perforated stone. However, friction between the stone and the metal frequently led to shredding, therefore goldsmiths started to create “a metal protection” for the stone: the bezel (Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910).
It has been suggested that the Egyptians adopted this goldsmithing typology and technique from a foreign people, perhaps from the Mycenaean culture where these rings were used (Schäfer, Möller, Schubart, 1910). However, the gold bezels found at Kerma, used as pendants/amulets rather than rings, but also the later examples from Sai, could attest to a local Nubian typology and manufacturing, the possible influence or technology transfer between Egypt and Nubia and the use of different techniques and specific tools already during Kerma times and through the New Kingdom.
Andrews C., 1994, Amulets of Ancient Egypt, British Museum Press, London.
Auenmüller J., 2020, Nubisches Gold und ägyptische Präsenz: Pharaonische Goldgewinnung in der Nubischen Wüste, in: M. Kasper, R. Rollinger, A. Rudigier& K. Ruffing (eds.), Wirtschaften in den Bergen. Von Bergleuten, Hirten, Bauern, Künstlern, Händlern und Unternehmern, Montafoner Gipfeltreffen 4, Wien, 37–54.
Budka J., 2021, Tomb 26 on Sai Island. A New Kingdom elite tomb and its relevance for Sai and Beyond, Sidestone Press, Leiden.
Markowitz Y., Doxey D. M., 2014, Jewels of Ancient Nubia, MFA Publications, Boston.
Minor E., 2018, Decolonizing Reisner: a case study of a Classic Kerma female burial for reinterpreting Early Nubian archaeological collections through digital archival resources, Nubian Archaeology in the XXIST century, Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Conferencefor Nubian Studies, Neuchâtel, 1st-6th September 2014, PEETERS, LEUVEN – PARIS – BRISTOL, CT, 251–262.
Reisner G.A., 1923, Excavations at Kerma, Parts I-III,Joint Egyptian Expedition of Harvard University and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard African Studies 5, Cambridge.
Schäfer H., Möller G., Schubart W., 1910, Äegyptische Goldschmiedearbeiten, Verlag Von Karl Curtius, Berlin.
Steindorff G., 1937, Aniba. Zweiter Band. Service des Antiquites de l’Egypte. Mission archeologique de Nubie 1929-1934. Glückstadt: Augustin.
Wilkinson A., 1971, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery, London.
It’s hard to believe – but tomorrow the last DiverseNile seminar of this year will take place. Chloë works already on the programme for next year, so we will continue with this successful online format discussing important aspects of the archaeology of the Middle Nile.
Tomorrow, Elizabeth Minor (Wellesley College), will be speaking about „Social Complexity and Community Resilience Strategies under a Changing Climate on the Middle Nile: Life at Es-Selim R4“.
The site of Es-Selim R4 (Minor et al. 2020) is an intriguing Kerma Period settlement located in the Northern Dongola Reach. Preliminary results suggest that Es-Selim R4 represents an opportunity to determine a cultural sequence for rural Kerma settlement sites, being inhabited from at least the Kerma Ancien period through to the Kerma Moyen period. Most interestingly, the site also allows to shift perspectives and to investigate the nature of socio-economic interactions between Kermans and Egyptians on a regional level.
Elizabeth is a Visiting Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Wellesley College. She received her Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley, and her research focuses on the Kingdom of Kerma and cultural connections between ancient Egypt and Sudan. She has a special interest in understanding interregional and local social relationships – and we will hear more about this in her lecture.
For those interested in Kerma art, I highly recommend Elizabeth’s most recent article on key elements of Classic Kerma religious imagery (Minor 2022). In this though-provoking analysis she traces possible echoes of Kerman animal representations in later Kushite religion.
I am delighted that Elizabeth is joining us tomorrow! In case you cannot attend, be sure to check out the recording of her lecture – it will be available soon on LMU Cast.
Minor 2022 = Minor, Elizabeth 2022. Afterlives of Kerma religion: rams, lions, and fantastical winged animals (hippopotami and giraffes) in Classic Kerma and later Kush contexts. Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections 35, 141-154.
Minor et al. 2020 = Minor, Elizabeth, Sarah M. Schellinger, Christopher Severa, Ahmed el-Ameen Ahmed el-Hassan, and Sajda Adam Omer Ahmed 2020. Laying the groundwork: the 2020 survey season and community outreach programme at the Kerma Period settlement site es-Selim R4 in the Northern Dongola Reach. Sudan & Nubia 24, 100-111.
One of my PhD research aims, as well as a crucial aspect of the study of Nubian goldsmithing, is to outline the possible goldsmith techniques involved in Nubian jewellery making, especially during the Kerma times.
Identity and technical skills of local craftsmen seem already attested by the Early Kerma jewels (c. 2500-2050 BCE). Among them, interesting cowrie shell reproductions made in precious metals and stone, gold and calcite, were found (Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). Ten base gold cowries were confirmed by Reisner at Kerma (K 5611) among the beads attached to the typical Nubian leather skirts (Reisner, 1923). Cowries are present also in Kerma assemblages recently investigated in the 4th Cataract. Moreover, these shells fixed on leather bands and used as personal body adornments were found in Gash Group tombs (early 2nd millennium BCE) (Manzo, 2012). This practice is still attested in Aksum and Adwa areas, Tigray, Ethiopia, decorating mahasal, gorfa – maternitytools – and necklaces for children and women (Silverman, 1999). European traveller accounts suggest particular customs of Sennar women such as the wearing leather skirt with cowrie belt sewed, to protect fertility and sexuality (Cailliaud, 1826; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fC9O_Wc50wo).
An exquisite example of cowrie necklace in gold, imported from Egypt or made locally, comes from the grave 3, at Uronarti (Fig. 1). This site is one of the Middle Kingdom Egypt strategic forts, such as Askut, Buhen, Mirgissa, Semna and Kumma, linked to trade and gold mining operations (Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019; Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). In comparison with the Middle Kingdom cowrie jewellery, the gold cowries of the Uronarti necklace seem to be quite different from each other. They have irregular shapes and notches, probably not made through the use of a mould like those Egyptian but worked individually with chisels and burins. The central pendant seems differently manufactured, extremely precise, probably made with the lost wax technique. Gold cowrie reproductions appear again in Meroitic goldsmithing. For example, the beautiful cowrie jewels of the Queen Amanishakheto (Fig. 2), display female and warrior symbolism (Aldred, 1978; Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019; Manzo, 2011; Markowitz, Doxey, 2014; Wilkinson, 1971). The technique used in the cowrie reproductions seems to be the same process that was used in Egypt and attested by the cowrie-shell girdles found in the tombs of the 12th Dynasty royal ladies, at Lahun and Dashur: the welding of two halves (Fig. 3).
A particular typology of ornaments that could attest to the influence of the Nubian style on Egyptian goldsmithing are the penannular earrings (Fig. 4). Already found among the Early Kerma ornaments, they appear as a typology in Egypt only during the New Kingdom. In the shape of a small ring with an opening in the circumference, the hoop earrings are an interesting Nubian identity marker and at the same time a Nubian ethnic topos, recovered from Kerma burials at Tombos (Smith, 2003). During the New Kingdom traditional Nubian styles and jewellery were introduced to Egypt and adopted by Egyptians (see Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019).
The penannular earrings appear in Egyptian jewellery made of gold, probably created with the common technique of two halves welding (e.g. Sennefer tomb, TT 96) (Fig. 5). An example comes from the tomb of Horemheb (TT 78) dated to the reign of Thutmose IV (c. 1400-1390 BCE). A dancer is depicted with a haircut typical of those worn in Sudan even today, an ivory bracelet, a necklace with gold beads, armlets with attached beaded streamers and a penannular earring, probably in gold (Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019) (Fig. 6). A late Ramesside example of penannular earrings, in carnelian, jasper and shell/ivory/bone, comes from one of the most remarkable tombs in the MUAFS concession, 3-P-50, at Ginis West (Lemos, 2022) (Fig. 7).
From a technological and typological point of view, these jewels help us to outline a native Nubian style that influenced and built Nile Valley goldsmithing with specific identities. Nubian technology shows a deep knowledge of the goldsmithing process, from the finding of the raw material (mining, wadi-working, panning), its transformation (smelting, casting) and working (hammering, welding, polishing), until the final result: the jewel, a story waiting only to be read and told.
We are only at the beginning of our journey into the ancient Nubian goldworking and goldsmithing, and we eagerly await the opportunity to get back on the field… stay tuned!
Aldred C., 1978, Jewels of the Pharaohs. Egyptian jewellery of the Dynastic Period, London.
Cailliaud F., 1826, Voyage a Mèroè, au Fleuve Blanc, au Dela de Fazoql, Paris.
Lacovara P., Markowitz Y.J., 2019, Nubian Gold. Ancient jewellery from Sudan and Egypt, Cairo, New York.
Lemos, R, 2022, Can We Decolonize the Ancient Past? Bridging Postcolonial and Decolonial Theory in Sudanese and Nubian Archaeology, Cambridge Archaeological Journal: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774322000178
Manzo A., 2011, Punt in Egypt and beyond, Egypt and the Levant 21: 71-85.
Manzo A., 2012, From the sea to the deserts and back: New research in Eastern Sudan, British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 18: 75-106.
Markowitz Y., Doxey D. M., 2014, Jewels of Ancient Nubia, MFA Publications, Boston.
Reisner G. A., 1923, Excavations at Kerma. Parts IV-V, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.
Silverman R., 1999, Ethiopia. Traditions of Creativity, University of Washington.
Smith S. T., 2003, Wretched Kush. Ethic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London.
Wilkinson A., 1971, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery, London.
The event is hosted at the Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale du Caire and was organised by Valentina Gasperini, Gihane Zaki and Giuseppe Cecere. I am very thankful to the organisers for giving me the opportunity to present the DiverseNile project in this context. I will be talking about “Cross-cultural dynamics in the Attab to Ferka region: reconstructing Middle Nile contact space biographies in the Late Bronze Age.”
I will present the material evidence for complex encounters of various Egyptian and Nubian groups in the region of Attab to Ferka in the hinterland of the New Kingdom urban sites of Sai Island and Amara West. The rich archaeological record of this part of the Middle Nile reveals new insights into the ancient dynamics of social spaces. I will give some case studies from both settlements and cemeteries and will focus on the intriguing domestic site AtW 001 and the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.
I will discuss our recent idea that the material culture and evidence for past activities at such sites suggest complex intersecting and overlapping networks of skilled practices, for example for pottery production – see here also the latest blog post by Giulia D’Ercole.
I will also argue that the evidence from cemetery GiE 003 supports the general picture emerging regarding cultural exchanges in the Kerma empire. There was no single Kerman cultural input to interactions with the Hyksos, Egyptians and nomadic people but 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 (cf. Lemos & Budka 2021 and most recently Walsh 2022). We are making very good progress in understanding the communities in the Attab to Ferka region and I am much looking forward to the next days and the possibility to discuss cultural exchanges throughout the centuries in the Nile Valley (and beyond) with all the participants of this exciting IFAO conference.
Lemos and Budka 2021 = Lemos, R. and Budka, J., Alternatives to colonization and marginal identities in New Kingdom colonial Nubia (1550-1070 BCE), World Archaeology 53/3 (2021), 401-418, https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2021.1999853
I am delighted to announce that the DiverseNile Seminar Series 2022 continues after our short summer break. Next Tuesday, Sept 27, Jérôme Dubosson, Université de Neuchâtel, will talk about “Living and dying with livestock: Some thoughts on pastoralism in the Kingdom of Kerma during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BCE.”
Trained in archaeology and anthropology, Jérôme wrote his doctoral thesis on the cultural and social role of cattle among pastoralists in North East Africa. His interdisciplinary research aims to better understand the development of African pastoralism in time and space. Since 2007, Jérôme has been working with the Swiss Archaeological Mission in Kerma. He recently wrote the article “Cattle Cultures in Ancient Nubia” for the Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia (2021).
In this article, he gives a very useful overview of the ritual and cultural role of cattle in Nubian pre- and protohistoric societies according to archaeological findings like bucrania and engraved figures of cattle in rock art.
The question of the use of bucrania is also a very interesting one for our DiverseNile project. As Jérôme remarks, such deposits are mostly attested in the rich tombs in the main centres of the Kerma empire, at Kerma and Sai Island (Dubosson 2021). In marginal cemeteries of the Kerma kingdom, bucrania are rare and animal deposits are mainly found as meat offerings inside the grave. This also holds true for two of the Kerma cemeteries in our MUAFS concession, at Ferka (3-G-19) and Ginis (GiE 003) as well as for their closest parallels, the cemeteries of Ukma and Akasha in the Batn el-Haggar. Since all these marginal sites, especially GiE 003, find otherwise close parallels in the cemeteries at Sai, this really seems to relate to varying funerary customs in the hinterland of the northern Kerma stronghold.
There is much potential in further research on provincial Kerma cemeteries – as Carl Walsh recently pointed out in an inspiring article with an exciting fresh approach, social and funerary practices in the Kerma kingdom seem to reflect complex interactions between regions and communities in what can be called a “pastoral state” (Walsh 2022). We still know little about the internal structure of this state, but we should probably consider various hierarchical local responses determined by different communities’ ability to consume (cf. Lemos and Budka 2021). In this respect, the different roles of livestock within such marginal communities and regions – despite of a central value given to cattle – are of key interest.
For now, I am very much looking forwards to Jérôme’s upcoming lecture!
Lemos and Budka 2021 = Lemos, R. and Budka, J., Alternatives to colonization and marginal identities in New Kingdom colonial Nubia (1550-1070 BCE), World Archaeology 53/3 (2021), 401-418, https://doi.org/10.1080/00438243.2021.1999853
Summer term is approaching an end at LMU (finally!) and there is again some time for research. I am currently busy with processing the pottery from AtW 001, but I also managed to work on the Kerma cemetery GiE 003. Our two student assistants, Caroline and Iulia, have been very hard-working in digitalising the original pottery drawings.
A topic that concerns me at the moment is the question of lids or covers for pots. In Egypt, ceramic lids are well attested since the earliest time. During the New Kingdom, it is sometimes really tricky to decide whether a shallow small dish was used as a lid or as an actual dish. In addition, reused sherds are commonly utilized as covers for pottery vessels (see also evidence from Sai Island, Budka 2020, 250, fig. 117).
How much do we know about lids and covers of pottery vessels from Nubia? Not a lot I am afraid (ast least I don’t).
Brigitte Gratien included some special types of lids in her corpus of the pottery of the Classical Kerma period (Gratien 1978, 36, fig. 7; fig. 63, type 19 and type 32, decorated lid). These are all specific for the site of Kerma and haven’t been found elsewhere. Type 32 of Gratien is especially noteworthy. It is a series of painted vessels with covers, which were interpreted as imitation of basketry or even as representation of a hut (Bonnet 2004, 83). For me, the interpretation of an imitation of basketry is more convincing, also because such imitations in pottery already exist much earlier, though with incised decoration (for nice examples, including pots with lids, see Old Kingdom Elephantine, Raue 2014, fig. 182).
Interestingly, other than these basketry imitations from Elephantine, I do not know of any lids or covers of Nubian pottery prior to the Classical Kerma age. Could pots have been covered with non-ceramic materials – like with basketry or some other organic materials? And could the increase in pottery lids at the capital in Kerma during the heyday of the empire maybe reflect an inspiration from the Lower Nile/Egypt? Or something else? Another possibility is that we simply missed pottery lids in the Nubian ceramic tradition because we interpreted dishes and cups wrongly (as dishes/cups and not as lids).
These are all intriguing questions, and I will try to investigate them in more detail soon. For now, I would like to present some interesting case studies from the newly excavated Kerma cemetery GiE 003.
Feature 20 in Trench 1 is a rectangular burial pit with rounded edges, vertical walls, and impressions/pits in the east (40cm x 10cm) and west (30cm x 10cm). Remains of a contracted burial were still found in place on a wooden funerary bed. A goat/sheep offering and three almost complete pottery vessels were found below the foot end of the bed on the west side. The complete set of a red-burnished Kerma pot with a stone lid found in situ on top of the vessel (MUAFS 61 and 62) is especially remarkable.
The lid is just a nicely shaped circular disc without any modelling of the interior as it is for example known from lids of kohl pots. With a diameter of 5.4cm it fits perfectly on the pot. Some of you will wonder: with an in situ lid on the pot – what did they find inside the vessel? Well, to my disappointment the pot was completely empty except for some dust.
However, the stone lid MUAFS 62 is not a singular piece from GiE 003. Another stone lid was found in a plundering layer, MUAFS 10. Although it was impossible to associate this piece with a proper burial or feature, it is more or less contemporaneous to MUAFS 62 and can be attributed to the Classical Kerma time. With a diameter of 6.2cm it is slightly larger than MUAFS 62.
Apart from these two stone lids used as covers for pottery vessels, Trench 1 of GiE 003 also yielded a pottery lid. An almost complete lid, MUAFS 312-1/2022, was found in Feature 10 (a rectangular burial pit with pits for the funerary bed, very similar to Feature 20). This pottery lid is wheel-made, was imported from Egypt and is made in a Nile clay B2 variant. Such vessels are very common in the 17th Dynasty in Egypt (e.g. at Elephantine). With a diameter of 10.7cm and its convex shape, it is markedly different to the stone lids mentioned above.
Although proof is lacking, I would assume that this pottery lid was used as the cover for one of the few Marl clay vessels imported from Egypt attested from Trench 1. However, the pottery found inside of Feature 10 apart from the lid was all Kerma in style, including typical Black topped fine wares.
To conclude, it requires more in situ found assemblages like MUAFS 61 and 62 to answer broader questions about the use of lids in Nubia in general and Kerma cemeteries in more particular. For now, the evidence from GiE 003 suggests some intriguing variation, especially in the Classical Kerma age.
Bonnet 2004 = C. Bonnet, Catalogue no. 57: Vase with cover, in: D.A. Welsby and J.R. Anderson (eds.), Sudan. Ancient Treasures. An Exhibition of recent discoveries from the Sudan National Museum, London 2004, 83.
Budka 2020 = J. Budka, AcrossBorders 2: Living in New Kingdom Sai. Archaeology of Egypt, Sudan and the Levant 1, Vienna 2020.
Gratien 1978 = B. Gratien, Les cultures Kerma. Essai de classification, Lille 1978.
Raue 2014 = D. Raue, Elephantine und Nubien im 4. – 2. Jahrtausend v. Chr., Habilitation thesis, Leipzig 2014 (published in 2018, Berlin).
One of the first associations most archaeologists have with ancient Nubia is as a source of gold. Although it is well known that raw gold was extracted from various locations across Nubia (see Klemm & Klemm 2013), the previous focus of research was on Lower Nubia, the region between the Second and Third Cataract as well as the Eastern Desert (see most recently Davies & Welsby 2020).
Recent fieldwork in the Forth Cataract region is shedding new light on Nubia’s gold production and processing in regions previously considered as marginal. Of prime importance are the excavations at Hosh el-Guruf (Emberling & Williams 2010: 22; Williams 2020: 188).
I am delighted that tomorrow’s DiverseNile Seminar will be focusing on “Hosh el Guruf, a gold processing centre on the Fourth Cataract and a gold industry in Old Kush”. Bruce Williams will present evidence from this important site which offers glimpses of early gold processing activities, among others numerous large grindstones associated with quartz crushing to extract gold.
One of the big questions about gold processing in Nubia is the origin of this grindstone technology (see Meyer 2010) – was it an innovation brought by the Egyptians or is it rather a local technique? Hosh el-Guruf has the potential to provide here answers and to illustrate the complexity of Nubian organisation of gold processing before the Egyptian colonisation (Williams 2020: 188).
I am very much looing forward to tomorrow’s lecture and highly recommend not to miss it!
Davies, W. Vivian & Derek A. Welsby (eds) 2020. Travelling the Korosko Road: archaeological exploration in Sudanʼs Eastern Desert. Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication 24. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Emberling, G. & B. Williams. 2010. The Kingdom of Kush in the 4th Cataract: Archaeological Salvage of the Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition 2007 Season. Part I. Preliminary Report on the Sites of Hosh el-Guruf and El-Widay. Gdańsk Archaeological Museum and Heritage Protection Fund African Reports7: 17–38.
Klemm, R. & D. Klemm. 2013. Gold and Gold Mining in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Geoarchaeology of the Ancient Gold Mining Sites in the Egyptian and Sudanese Eastern Deserts. New York: Springer.
Meyer, C. 2010. The Kingdom of Kush in the 4th Cataract: Archaeological Salvage of the Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition 2007 Season. Part II. Grinding Stones and Gold Mining at Hosh el Guruf, Sudan. Gdańsk Archaeological Museum and Heritage Protection Fund African Reports 7: 39–52.
Williams, B. 2020. Kush in the Wider World during the Kerma Period, in G. Emberling & B. Williams (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Ancient Nubia: 179–200. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
One of our objectives within the DiverseNile project, to reconstruct cultural encounters based on the material record by the detailed assessment of the most important productive activities, technologies and foodways, has received plenty of new material evidence during the 2022 excavation season. Most importantly, thanks to the support of NCAM and especially our inspector Huda Magzoub, I was able to export a selection of pottery samples for scientific analysis to Germany. These new samples from our excavations in Ginis East (sites GiE 001 and 003) and Attab West (site AtW 001) are of huge importance for the project, especially because due to the restrictions caused by the corona pandemic for archaeological fieldwork in the last two years, we could until now only investigate the petrography of ceramic samples from Dukki Gel.
This ties in with what our PostDoc Giulia D’Ercole has summarised in a recent paper: „For over seventy years, theoretical approaches and methods of classification of ceramic objects in Sudan have gradually changed, as have the perspectives and the general purposes of archaeological research. In general, scholarly attention has progressively shifted from forms (i.e., decoration and shape) to mineral and chemical compositions of ceramics and vessel contents (i.e., petrographic, compositional, and organic residue analyses)“ (D’Ercole 2021). This changed focus already influenced our research within the framework of the AcrossBorders project and is now continued with the DiverseNile project.
The analysis of the material culture in Work Package 3 of the DiverseNile project is undertaken from a multi-perspective level, including scientific analyses focusing on provenience studies (e.g. ceramic petrography and iNAA, see already D’Ercole and Sterba 2018). For the ceramics, we will combine macroscopic observations with analytical approaches and evaluate the results of optical microscopy (OM) and chemical analyses (XRF and iNAA) in conjunction. Together with LMU colleagues, Giulia has also introduced Raman spectroscopy as a new application to answer various technological questions, in particular on the manufacturing stages of production and firing of the pots. This will especially help to understand questions about local productions and influences of Nubian ceramic traditions for preparing wheel made pots in the Middle Nile region.
In the last days, I was busy preparing the documentation of our new ceramic samples from Ginis East and Attab West. I selected twenty-one samples for optical microscopy (OM) and thus for the preparation of thin sections, while I will bring 108 samples later this week to the Atominstitute in Vienna where they are being analysed for instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (iNAA) by our colleague and external expert in the project, Johannes Sterba.
The new samples comprise sherds of various surface treatments and different fabrics of the Kerma ceramic tradition as well as diverse Egyptian style wheel made samples of which the majority seems to attest to a local pottery production in the Attab to Ferka region. Photographing the samples, I was again struck by the extremely interesting appearance of the material from the domestic site AtW 001. Although I know that the scientific analyses will take some time and I need to be patient, I cannot wait to integrate the results from iNAA and petrography with my archaeological assessment and macroscopical observations and discuss them further with Giulia and Johannes.
Like Aaron M. de Souza and Mary F. Ownby very truly remarked in a recent paper: more micro-analyses of Nubian material culture need to be undertaken to achieve a better understanding of cultural diversity in the Middle Nile (de Souza and Ownby 2022, 55).
D’Ercole, G. and Sterba, J. H. 2018. From macro wares to micro fabrics and INAA compositional groups: the Pottery Corpus of the New Kingdom town on Sai Island (northern Sudan), 171–183, in: J. Budka and J. Auenmüller (eds.), From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Leiden.
In the course of excavations at site GiE003—a Kerma Moyen–Kerma Classique cemetery at Ginis East—we found a small intriguing object in a large, roughly rectangular Kerma Classique tomb containing nice pottery and the remains of a large funerary bed (sadly, extremely fragile and badly preserved).
At first, it was difficult to determine the nature of the object, made of ivory and measuring c. 2.3 x 2.2 cm (figure 1). However, after looking at Reisner’s report on the excavations at the cemeteries of Kerma I could determine that the object was actually the upper part—the body—of a fly pendant!
Based on my extensive research on New Kingdom cemeteries in Nubia, I was expecting that Bronze Age cemeteries in the region of Ginis in general would comprise mostly non-elite contexts, as is the case with New Kingdom burial contexts in the Batn el-Hajar (Edwards 2020) or rural, small-scale communities in the Kerma hinterland at Abu Fatima (Akmenkalns 2018).
The overall wealth of the community buried at Ginis—at least in the Kerma Classique Period—surprised me a bit. The closest parallel to the tombs we excavated at Ginis would probably be the Kerma cemetery at Ukma West, both in terms of tomb architecture and grave goods (Vila 1987). At GiE003, wealthy archaeological contexts were detected, including animal offerings, funerary beds and especially grave goods, including a glazed steatite Second Intermediate Period scarab—which works as evidence for long distance trade—and our interesting fly pendant.
Fly pendants were found at Kerma (Reisner 1923). Those were made of gilded ivory or bronze. Fly pendants were also found at Semna (ivory; Dunham and Janssen 1960) and Buhen (electrum body and ivory wings; Randall-McIver and Wooley 1911; figure 2). At Kerma, fly pendants were usually associated with bodies wearing swords/daggers, which led Egyptologists to transfer the Egyptian military symbolism attributed to flies in the New Kingdom to Kerma contexts (Binder 2008). However, as these objects became more common in the Kerma Classique Period, one could hypothetically establish a connection between flies and the Kerma expansion (Manzo 2016).
Despite not being made of gold or electrum, the fragmentary fly pendant from Ginis works as evidence for the relative wealth of the community buried at the cemetery, which raises questions about the source of such wealth in the context of Bronze Age geographical “peripheries” in Nubia. The object also allows us to discuss other topics, such as identities and social hierarchies, but I need more research time before I’m able to do discuss these any further. Nonetheless, the fly pendant from Ginis allows us to catch glimpses of the potential of material culture to reveal unknown aspects about Kerma communities living outside of Kerma and therefore to understand cultural diversity in Bronze Age Nubia.
Akmenkalns, J. 2018. Cultural Continuity and Change in the Wake of Ancient Nubian-Egyptian Interactions. PhD thesis, UCSB.
Binder, S. 2008. The Gold of Honor in New Kingdom Egypt. Oxford: Aris and Phillips.
Dunham, D. and J. Janssen. 1960. Second Cataract Forts. Boston: Museum of Fine Arts.
Edwards, D. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia. Oxford: Archaeopress.
Manzo, A. 2016. Weapons, Ideology and Identity at Kerma (Upper Nubia, 2500-1500 BC). Annali, Sezione Orientale 76: 3-29.
Randall-McIver, D. and L. Wooley. 1911. Buhen. Philadelpha: University Museum.
Reisner, G. 1923. Excavations at Kerma. Cambridge, Mass: Peabody Museum.
Vila, A. 1987. Le cimetière kermaïque d’Ukma Ouest. Paris: CNRS.