In focus: The Forth Cataract and its gold industry

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!

References

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 Reports 7: 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.

Tentative steps towards reconstructing cultural diversity in the Attab to Ferka region through material studies

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.

Such a privilege: unpacking ceramic samples in Munich just one month after excavating the sherds and their contexts in Sudan!

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.

Documenting a set of early New Kingdom samples from Attab West.

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).

References

D’Ercole, G. 2021. Seventy Years of Pottery Studies in the Archaeology of Mesolithic and Neolithic Sudan. Afr Archaeol Rev 38, 345–372. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-021-09432-y

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.

de Souza, A.M., Ownby, M.F. 2022. Re-assessing Middle Nubian cultural constructs through ceramic petrography. Afr Archaeol Rev 39, 35–58. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10437-022-09473-x

A surprising find from the Kerma cemetery at Ginis

In the course of excavations at site GiE003—a Kerma MoyenKerma 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!

Figure 1: ivory body of a fly pendant from GiE003. Photos by R. Lemos.

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).

Figure 2: fly pendant from grave J33 at Buhen now at Penn Museum.

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.

References

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.

Corona & wind, but also loads of finds – summary of week 3

After a very exhausting week 2, we started with really bad news into week 3 – half of the team tested positive for the corona virus… Fortunately, all are getting better and only have mild symptoms, but this unpleasant infection in the digging house changed our entire daily routine and of course had an impact on the work in the field. Only four of us tested negative and could carry out the excavations tasks.

On the bright side, despite of our sudden reduction of people working in the field and again strong winds, we managed to finish both GiE 002 (the Prenapatan/Napatan cemetery) and also GiE 003 (the Kerma cemetery) this week.

*NB: Since we are excavating cemeteries, this blog post contains pictures of human remains.

At Trench 4 in GiE 002, I had another well-preserved burial in extended position in the southern niche of the tomb. It was partly moved during the looting in antiquity but is otherwise complete. With remains of mud bricks which were formerly blocking the niche (Fig. 1), this tomb finds close parallels in Missimina (Vila xxx), also as far as the material culture is concerned.

Fig. 1: A view of the burial within the niche of the tomb in Trench 4.

The Kerma cemetery GiE 003 situated between Attab and Ginis East really turned out to be worth all of our efforts. Despite of ancient looting, some of the Kerma burials were nicely preserved and some finds were left in place for us. Furthermore, dating the cemetery and a certain spatial development became possible. With our Trench 2 in the southern part of the cemetery, we cleaned part of the cemetery which shows large circular pits of the Middle Kerma period (Fig. 2). In Trench 1 further north, we had mostly rectangular pits, all with depressions on the east and west end, which can be nicely dated to the Classical Kerma period (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2: Our inspector Huda excavating animal bones in one of the Middle Kerma graves.
Fig. 3: View of some of the excavated graves in Trench 1 datable to the Classical Kerma period.

In general, GiE 003 finds a very close parallel in the cemetery of Ukma in the Second Cataract region (Vila 1987). At our sites, the wooden funerary beds are not as nicely preserved and the burials more disturbed, but the pottery is very similar as are pieces of jewelry like beads and other objects. Some complete pottery vessels were found in GiE 003 and others can still be large reconstructed from fragments. One of the highlights from a Classical Kerma burial was a 15th Dynasty scarab with a royal name and this important piece will be presented in a separate blog post.

All in all, I am more than happy with the results this week and just wish that all of us can work again soon as the complete team – catching the Covid19 virus is never a good thing but getting infected while on excavation in the field in Sudan is really bad timing. Especially since our last week of excavation is approaching. Please keep your fingers crossed, we will keep you posted.

References

Vila 1980 = A. Vila, La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 12: La nécropole de Missiminia. I. Les sépultures napatéennes. Paris 1980.

Vila 1987 = A. Vila, Le cimetière Kermaique d’Ukma Ouest. Paris.

Sand, wind and dust – week 2, 2022 fieldwork season at Ginis

This week was as the last ended – we had very strong winds, 3 days in a row with too much sand and dust in the air to excavate in open areas. The only place I could continue to work was the tomb in Trench 4 in GiE 002.

However, photographing, surveying and measuring under these conditions were really a challenge and Fabian and Max managed all what was possible (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Measuring outlines of stratigraphical units in the tomb at GiE 002 during heavy wind was anything else than easy or pleasant.

The results in this tomb (Fig. 2) are really amazing – we have found seven individuals so far and maybe more are to come!

Fig. 2: I hope to finally finish excavating this really intriguing tomb at GiE 002 in the upcoming days.

Originally, week 2 of our spring season was supposed to focus on excavation in GIE 003, a large Kerma cemetery at Attab/Ginis East. Here, we opened two trenches. In both of them, we found several burial pits and features filled with sand and human bones just below the surface, originally covered by tumulus superstructures. Excavation of these pits started on Thursday (Fig. 3) and although all is plundered, the material culture is really illustrative – high quality Kerma Classique ceramic vessels, Egyptian Marl clay vessels and some various types of beads as well as a pendant made of a mollusc. We are all very much looking forward to the next week!

Fig. 3: Excavations at the Kerma cemetery are now finally progressing fine!

In week 2, we were joined by late-comers from Munich and the 2022 field team is now complete: Together with Iulia, Sawyer helps with various tasks in the field and both of our student assistants were also drawing pottery during the very windy days; Rennan is excavating in the Kerma cemetery and Cajetan is using our drone for making aerial photographs.

Internet connection was and still is really unstable here at Ginis and more than updates on our weekend is difficult – so I hope to get your again interested next Friday!

Cemeteries between Attab and Ferka: What to expect from them?

Before we’re able to go to the field, a lot of work on the cemeteries in our concession area is currently underway from Munich. Marion’s recent blog posts already discussed the potential of magnetometry for us to better understand what we are dealing with, and this is especially true in connection with Cajetan’s remote sensing work. Cajetan’s work has been revealing some interesting aspects of our sites and hopefully you’ll be able to catch glimpses of his work soon in here.

This work provides important background regarding the specificities of our sites. Alongside an assessment of the cemeteries and comparison with other sites across Nubia, this allows us to put together an ‚ideal type‘ (sensu Max Weber) that can guide us through future survey and excavation. The data sets produced by Vila, as well as previous MUAFS seasons, are also crucial for us to establish this ideal type, which works as a methodological tool to confirm our hypotheses (or not).

In my previous posts, I’ve already shared details about the assessment of sites I’ve been carrying out over the past months. Base on Vila’s data, we can know what to expect from the cemeteries in terms of preservation, types of structures etc. For example, the Late New Kingdom „tomb of Isis“ works an example of „elite“ or „sub-elite“ burial ground in the periphery of temple towns, where Egyptian and Nubian features mixed, probably to a greater extent than at temple towns—an example of hypothesis that we can create departing from an ideal type. This mixture occurred, for instance, in the combination of Egyptian substructures and a tumuli superstructure, remains of which were located in previous MUAFS seasons (see my previous posts). Departing from an ideal type such as the „tomb of Isis“ we can approach how the ideal varies across geographical and social spaces within our concession area.

For example, Marion and Cajetan’s work are shedding light on the extension of cemeteries where we can easily see from above those tumuli, some of which already explored by Vila, but also other features. It is difficult to determine from a distance what is the nature of this evidence. Comparative research then comes in handy. I’ve already proposed a discussion on the whereabouts of the majority of the Nubian population during the New Kingdom (a discussion that also applies to the Kerma period).

Figure 1: tomb types at Fadrus, adapted from Spence 2019, based on Säve-Söderbergh and Troy 1991.

Other Nubian cemeteries such as Fadrus in Lower Nubia add information about non-elite groups to our ideal type (figure 1). If larger tumuli such as the „tomb of Isis“ are easily located based on drone and satellite imagery, simple non-elite pit graves originally with no extensive superstructures pose more challenges. Though, comparisons allow us to open up to possibilities that include, in our research framework, social groups not clearly represented by evidence accumulated from large temple-town cemeteries. These groups—which comprised the bulk of Nubian populations working in the fields, mines, and probably carrying out other work in the service of larger centres—are yet to be fully understood (and here work at the cemeteries of Amarna provide us interesting comparison points, see Stevens 2018).

Several are the challenges of doing research from the office, as we cannot yet go to the field. But work conducted so far, from various fronts, help us establish a pretty solid starting point from which to explore our sites knowing more or less what to expect. This takes into account old and new evidence, extensive comparisons with other sites and a clear theoretical framework, which is essential to formulate research questions and carry out large scale projects such as DiverseNile.

References

Säve-Söderbergh and Troy 1991. New Kingdom pharaonic sites: the finds and the sites.

Spence 2019. New Kingdom burials in Lower and Upper Nubia. In Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. D. Raue.

Stevens 2018. Death and the city: The cemeteries of Amarna in their urban context. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 28 (1): 103–126. doi:10.1017/S0959774317000592

In focus: Site H25 in the Northern Dongola Reach

In the framework of the DiverseNile project, I have introduced the application of ‘contact space biographies’ as a new concept in the study of intercultural encounters in the Middle Nile. We will specify the question of cultural encounters through the distribution of the sites and their duration, settlement infrastructures, building techniques, production activities and technologies, trade, diet, material culture, burial customs, religious practices and social structures. The importance of peripheral areas, like the Attab to Ferka region, for our understanding of cultural formations will be stressed. In line with this, the DiverseNile Seminar Series 2021 focuses on cultural diversity in Northeast Africa, giving several case studies from various perspectives.

Our next presentation, to be held tomorrow by Loretta Kilroe, will introduce an exciting example of so-called ‘provincial’ Kerma remains in the Northern Dongola Reach.

Site H25 was partly excavated in the last years and yielded settlement remains and evidence from the Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan eras (Ross 2014; Porter 2019; Kilroe 2019). The site is, among others, shedding new light onto trade networks in New Kingdom Nubia. Because Loretta is an expert on ancient Egyptian and Sudanese pottery, she will focus tomorrow on ceramics and what they can tell us about frontier economics.

I am personally very much looking forward to this exciting presentation about an as yet little known but very important site! As usual, last minute registrations are still possible and highly welcome!

References

Kilroe, L., 2019. ‘H25 2019 – the ceramics,’ Sudan & Nubia 23: 81‒84.

Porter, S., 2019. ‘Excavations at H25 in the Northern Dongola Reach,’ Sudan & Nubia 23: 77‒80.

Ross, T.I., 2014. ‘El-Eided Mohamadein (H25): A Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan settlement on the Alfreda Nile,’ Sudan & Nubia 18: 58‒68.

New research goals at the time of Covid-19. Testing Raman Spectroscopy on Nubian and Egyptian-style pots

If there is something that the Covid-19 pandemic has taught us is resilience, work flexibility and mostly the capacity to design alternative solutions to meet the various physical restrictions and newly shaped work conditions and needs. Further, we learned the importance of networks and acquiring skills even in remote formats, and that online (and/or hybrid) classes and conferences can give virtuous outputs as those in presence.  Within the framework of our project, a successful  example of this is certainly represented by our online Diverse Nile Seminar Series 2021 Cultural Diversity in Northeast Africa.

For me operating within the Work package 3 of the project and principally dealing with laboratory analysis on the material data – ceramic samples – collected in the field, the pandemic has inevitably meant that I had to shift my main focus from the study of fresh excavation data to the study of reference collections. Hence, in the last months my work schedule has been mainly centred on documentation, database archive, and comparison among the various ceramic datasets. Also, the obligatory permanence in Germany (missing the field and the warmness of the Sudanese sun) together with the need to work often via remote or, whenever possible from the lab, pushed me to convey my working goals to search for new theoretical approaches and interpretative inputs, eventually enlarging the spectrum of the analytical competencies and methodologies devoted to the study of the ceramic samples.

In these circumstances the idea was born together with our PI and other colleagues from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the LMU to cooperate and expand the networking between our departments hence to test together a new analytical methodology for archaeological ceramic material, namely Raman Spectroscopy.

This technique, which took its unusual name after the Indian physicist C. V. Raman who was the first to observe Raman scattering in 1928 and won a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1930 for this discovery, is a molecular spectroscopy procedure which provides information about vibration and rotational states of molecules. It works using the interaction of a source of monochromatic light, normally an intensive monochromatic laser radiation, and the matter of the sample. The largest part (99.99%) of the laser light radiates through the sample, a very small proportion is scattered in all spatial directions (so-called Rayleigh scattering), finally an even smaller part is scattered inelastically (so-called Raman scattering). This latter contains information about the sample, its molecular structure (no the single chemical elements) and specific characteristics of the material (see among others, Spieß et al. 1999; also What is Raman Spectroscopy? | Raman Spectroscopy Principle (edinst.com); Raman spectroscopy – Wikipedia).

For the study of archaeological samples like ceramics, Raman spectroscopy has the advantage of being a non-destructive (only a minimum portion of the sample as the same slide of the thin section is needed), rapid and relatively low-priced technique. However, the high potential of this methodology may collide with the natural heterogeneity of most of the ancient, especially hand-made, ceramic manufactures (Medeghini et al. 2014; Vandenabeele & Van Pevenage 2017; see also Legodi & de Waal 2007). This is why, at the moment, our goal consists primarily to observe the methodological potentials of Raman and discern its use for our specific research questions.

For our trial study, we selected ten samples (of which six are ceramics from Sai Island and four from the Dukki Gel’s reference collection). All of them are either locally produced cooking pots or other local ware manufactured both according to the so-called Nubian and Egyptian style (Figure 1). In testing this new analytical technique, our main aims are the following: to search for differences in producing technique and firing temperatures/regimes 1) between the Nubian and Egyptian-style samples; 2) between the Nubian samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; 3) between the Egyptian-style samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; 4) among the different Nubian types (cooking pots with basketry impressions, incisions, and others). In addition, we also want to look at the behaviour of the organics and their carbonization and check for a possibility of a better characterisation of some opaque mineral phases.

Figure 1 – Examples of Nubian cooking pots with basketry impressions from Sai Island (left) and Dukki Gel; Kerma (right).

In the last days, together with the colleague Fabian Dellefant, geoscientist and doctoral student at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the LMU, we have realized high resolution scans of the selected ceramic thin sections and photographed them at the petrographic microscope under different light conditions (both transmitted cross polarized and plane polarized light, and also reflected light) in order to describe and document the areas which we are ultimately going to analyse by Raman.

Stay tuned to know more about our ongoing work and first results!

Selected references and links

Legodi, M. A. &, de Waal, D. 2007. Raman spectroscopic study of ancient South African domestic clay pottery, Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, 66, Issue 1, 135-142.

Medeghini et al. 2014. Micro-Raman spectroscopy and ancient ceramics: applications and problems. Journal of Raman Spectroscopy, 45, Issue 11-12, Special Issue: Raman in Art and Archaeology 2013, 1244-1250.

Spieß, G. et al. 1999. Eine einfache Einführung in die Raman-Spektroskopie. LMU. Die quantitative Analyse (uni-muenchen.de).

Vandenabeele, P. & Van Pevenage J. 2017. Raman Spectroscopy and the Study of Ceramic Manufacture: Possibilities, Results, and Challenges. In Hunt, Al (Ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Archaeological Ceramic Analysis.

What is Raman Spectroscopy? | Raman Spectroscopy Principle (edinst.com)

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.

Kerma Tombs from Attab to Ferka

Sudan & Nubia 24 is now out and it includes a paper by PI Julia Budka on the Kerma presence at Ginis East (Budka 2020). The paper also presents an updated overview of MUAFS fieldwork, which relates to my work in the DiverseNile Project focusing on Kerma, New Kingdom and early Napatan cemeteries in the region. In the past three seasons, the MUAFS team reidentified hundreds of sites firstly described by Vila, but also identified 40 additional sites so far, including tombs which are of interest to my subproject. In my previous posts, I have focused mainly on the New Kingdom. Here I will present a brief overview of the Kerma presence, as attested by cemetery sites and isolated tombs, in Attab-Ferka (figure 1).

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

I have previously mentioned that, for the New Kingdom, our knowledge is mainly based on evidence from major colonial settlements and cemeteries. There are clear geographical gaps in what we know about the Egyptian colonisation of Nubia in areas such as the Batn el-Hajjar (Edwards 2020) or the MUAFS concession area. A similar situation occurs during the Kerma Period. As Julia Budka pointed out in her recent S&N paper, evidence from Attab-Ferka is extremely relevant “to address the issue of the borders of the Kerma kingdom as well as cultural manifestations of what has been labelled as ‘rural Kerma’” (Budka 2020: 63).

Veronica Hinterhuber’s last post provided an overview of her general database of sites based on information published by Vila. Her work is invaluable for my preliminary assessment of mortuary sites in our concession area. Based on her database, 10 mortuary sites first identified by Vila as dating to the Kerma Period can help us to preliminarily understand the Kerma spread in the region. Recent fieldwork has identified a large degree of destruction and plundering at those sites, which makes it important to revisit previously published and archival data with a fresh mindset to extract valuable information. Comparison with other sites, especially those at the Kerma hinterland and other ‘peripheral’ zones across Nubia, also help us shed light onto blurred spots in our datasets from Attab-Ferka.

Besides the overall plundering, Kerma tombs in the region were tumuli with granite superstructures (usually not preserved) and oval or large rectangular pits containing bone fragments, sherds and very rarely burial goods (e.g., faience beads). Kerma tombs were either larger, aprioristically isolated tombs or part of cemeteries grouping a higher number of burials; e.g., at Ferka East and Kosha East. A few skeletons were found in situ, although plundered. They were all deposited in a flexed position, sometimes on a bed; e.g. at Ferka East. Kerma tombs were reused in the Christian Period. For instance, one wrapped body dating to this period was found inside a Kerma tomb at Kitfogga, Ferka East. Sherds usually include Kerma beakers and goblets. Due to plundering, it is difficult to determine, based on the amount of information currently available, whether these burials were characterised by a simple approach to graves goods or not. Comparison with sites such as Abu Fatima, where Stuart Tyson Smith and Sarah Schrader are currently working, should allow us to gain a better picture of continuity and variation in Kerma contact spaces between, for instance, elites and non-elites or urban and rural communities.

The region from Attab to Ferka was not only a contact space within the Kerma state. It was also an area where the Kerma ‘culture’ interacted with Egyptian patterns. For example, one very interesting burial was excavated by Vila at Shagun Dukki, Ginis East, where c. 10 other tombs were detected (figure 2). It consisted of a shallow, oval pit inside of which a flexed skeleton was found (disturbed). Together with the skeleton, a bone scarab was found in the right hand, a common pattern at Classic Kerma burials at Kerma city (Minor 2012: 144). Most scarabs found at Kerma city bear similarities with scarabs from Second Intermediate Period Egypt and Syria-Palestine and would have been acquired either via trade or reuse of graves in Lower Nubia (Minor 2012: 138-140). It is difficult to read the signs on the base of the scarab from Shagun Dukki. Moreover, bone was a material used to manufacture various items in the Kerma Period, as well as among other Nubian communities, and worked as a Nubian identity marker in the New Kingdom. Were bone scarabs the result of local copying practices? Looking at the evidence from Attab-Ferka holds the potential to shed light on internal contact and variability within the Kerma realm, as well as the local roles of foreign objects in local contexts in this period.

Figure 2: A Kerma burial at Shagun Dukki, Ginis East (Vila 1977: 25).

Gratien has previously pointed out how little we know about the Kerma state outside Kerma city, as well as how the Kerma state related to other ‘Nubian’ communities north and south of the Third Cataract (Gratien 2014: 95; 1978; Bonnet 2014). Evidence from Sai (Gratien 1986) and the Fourth Cataract (Paner 2014; Herbst and Smith 2014; Wlodarska 2014; Emberling et al. 2014) can illuminate further aspects of the spread of Kerma throughout the Middle Nile. The publication of evidence from Lower Nubia is also much expected (see Edwards 2020). Recent scholarship has also been shedding light on alternative, ‘rural’ experiences of the Kerma state outside of Kerma city (Akmenkalns 2018) and comparative, ‘global’ perspectives on specific categories of artefacts across cultural borders provide interesting avenues of inquiry (Walsh 2020). In a few years, the results of the DiverseNile Project will also contribute to our understanding of a more complex and diversified landscape beyond rigid cultural divisions.

References

Akmenkalns, J. 2018. Cultural continuity and change in the wake of ancient Nubian-Egyptian interactions. PhD thesis, University of California Santa Barbara.

Bonnet, C. 2014. Forty years research on Kerma cultures. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 81-94. Leuven: Peeters.

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

Edwards, D. ed. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Emberling, G. et al. 2014. Peripheral vision: Identity at the margins of the early Kingdom of Kush. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 329-336. Leuven: Peeters.

Gratien, B 1986. Saï I. La Nécropole Kerma. Paris: CNRS.

Gratien, B. 1978. Les cultures Kerma: essai de classification. Villeneuve-d’Ascq: Publications de l’Université de Lille III.

Gratien, B. 2014. Kerma north of the Third Cataract. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 95-101. Leuven: Peeters.

Herbst, G. and S. T. Smith. 2014. Pre-Kerma transition at the Nile Fourth Cataract: First assessments of a multi-component, stratified prehistoric settlement in the UCSB/ASU Salvage Concession. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 311-320. Leuven: Peeters.

Minor, E. 2012. The Use of Egyptian and Egyptianizing Material Culture in Nubian Burials of the Classic Kerma Period. PhD thesis, University of California Berkeley.

Paner, H. 2014. Kerma Culture in the Fourth Cataract of the Nile. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 53-80. Leuven: Peeters.

Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archeologique de la valee du Nil au sud de la cataracte de Dal 5. Paris: CNRS.

Walsh, C. 2020. Techniques for Egyptian eyes: Diplomacy and the transmission of cosmetic practices between Egypt and Kerma. Journal of Egyptian History 13: 295-332.

Wlodarska, M. 2014. Kerma burials in the Fourth Cataract region – Three seasons of excavations at Shemkhiya. In The Fourth Cataract and beyond, eds. J. Anderson and D. Welsby, 321-328. Leuven: Peeters.