The periphery of New Kingdom urban centres in the Middle Nile

My ERC project DiverseNile focuses on the Attab to Ferka region as a peripheral zone in the neighbourhood of Amara West and Sai Island. However, I do not apply the problematic core-periphery concept for our case study of the Bronze Age, but I have introduced the contact space biography approach.

This morning, I just read a very inspiring paper I found in a new open access journal: Federica Sulas and Innocent Pikirayi wrote about “From Centre-Periphery Models to Textured Urban Landscapes: Comparative Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa”.

They review the relations between ancient capital centres in Africa and their peripheries, using Aksum and Great Zimbabwe as case studies. They include a very good introduction about the history of research from central-place theory and world-system theory to network theories and stress that „archaeological research on centre–periphery relations has largely focused on the structure of integrated, regional economic systems“ (Sulas and Pikirayi 2020, 67). Like DiverseNile, they advocate to take the dynamics of interactions into account, the fluidity of what is considered “centre” and what “periphery”.

In Nubian studies and Egyptology, there is a considerable gap of work at sites in the periphery of major settlements (see Moeller 2016, 25). At present, despite of much progress on settlement patterns in Nubia during the New Kingdom (see e.g. Budka and Auenmüller 2018) we still know almost nothing about the surroundings of administrative centres set up by the Egyptians in the Middle Nile and the cultural processes within this periphery. The urban centres of this period in the Middle Nile are the Egyptian type towns Amara West, Sai, Soleb, Sesebi and Tombos and Kerma City as capital of the Nubian Kerma Kingdom. Very little rural settlements have been investigated up to now, creating a dearth of means to contextualise the central sites (Spencer et al. 2017: 42). Sites classified as ‘Egyptian’ apart from the main centres are almost unknown (Edwards 2012) and there are only two case studies for Kerma ‘provincial’ sites with Gism el-Arba (Gratien et al. 2003; 2008) and H25 near Kawa (Ross 2014).

If we want to understand the proper dynamics of Bronze Age Middle Nile, this bias between studies of urban centres and rural places in the so-called peripheries needs to be addressed. However, such a new study should avoid the problematic issues of a hierarchy of sites associated with the centre-periphery relations. Thus, DiverseNile intends to offer a new model focusing on the landscape and consequently human and non-human actors in a defined contact space.

Our new approach: beyond core and periphery

Within the DiverseNile project, we understand the Attab to Ferka area as a dynamic, fluid contact space shaped by diverse human and non-human actors. My main thesis is that we need to investigate cultural relations and coalitions between people on a regional level within the so-called periphery of the main urban centres in order to catch a more direct cultural footprint than what the elite sources and state built foundations can reveal. I expect that cultural refigurations reflected in material remains are partly less, partly more visible than in the centres shaped by elite authorities, where dynamic cultural developments are often disguised under an ‘official’ appearance. However, I completely agree with Sulas and Pikirayi that: “Peripheral settlements are always an integral part of the core, as these play a crucial part in enhancing the dynamics exhibited at the centre” (Sulas and Pikirayi 2020, 80). Thus, our new work in the Attab to Ferka region will allow us to contextualise the findings at sites like Amara West and Sai further.

There is still much work to do and data to assess, but I am positive that in the next few years, we will be able to propose a new understanding of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’ in Bronze Age Middle Nile (see already the stimulating article by Henriette Hafsaas-Tsakos 2009).

References

Budka, Julia and Auenmüller, Johannes 2018. Eds. From Microcosm to Macrocosm. Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Leiden.

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

Gratien, Brigitte et al. 2003. Gism el-Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29–43.

Gratien, Brigitte et al. 2008. Gism el-Arba – Habitat 2, Campagne 2005–2006, Kush 19 (2003–2008), 21–35.

Hafsaas-Tsakos, Henriette 2009. The Kingdom of Kush: An African Centre on the Periphery of the Bronze Age World System, Norwegian Archaeological Review 42, 50–70.

Moeller, Nadine 2016. The Archaeology of Urbanism in Ancient Egypt. From the Prehistoric Period to the End of the Middle Kingdom. Cambridge.

Ross, T.I. 2014. El-Eided Mohamadein (H25): A Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan settlement on the Alfreda Nile, Sudan & Nubia 18, 58‒68.

Spencer, Neal et al. 2017. Introduction: History and historiography of a colonial entanglement, and the shaping of new archaeologies for Nubia in the New Kingdom, 1‒61, in: N. Spencer, A. Stevens and M. Binder (eds.), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived Experience, Pharaonic Control and Indigenous Traditions. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3. Leuven.

Sulas, Federica and Pikirayi, Innocent 2020. From Centre-Periphery Models to Textured Urban Landscapes: Comparative Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa, Journal of Urban Archaeology 1, 67–83 https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/epdf/10.1484/J.JUA.5.120910

An update: Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region

The last weeks were busy, among other tasks with completing data for our GIS project in order to create new maps based on our survey results. As I have shown in my OREA e-lecture, Cajetan has created site distribution maps according to periods – simply fantastic to work with!

Since the ERC project DiverseNile will focus on Bronze Age remains, the sites currently labelled as ‘Kerma’ are of much interest. The present map also includes some unclear sites where a proper dating and/or association with the Kerma culture remains to be checked.

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

Brigitte Gratien, one of the leading experts on the Kerma culture, recently pointed out the general problems related to Kerma remains outside of the heartland of the Kerma kingdom at the Third Cataract:

As everybody knows, writing about Kerma north of the Third Cataract is not so easy. Most of the excavations were done a long time ago and the results come mostly from the Nile valley. Where are the borders of the Kerma state or kingdom? What are the stages in the expansion of Kerma to the north, and what was the nature of the links and relationship with the other Nubian cultures and with Egypt?’(Gratien 2014, 95)

The Attab to Ferka region and renewed excavations at Kerma sites in the area have much potential to address these questions and problems which will be of first priority for the DiverseNile project. In general, very little rural settlements have been investigated up to now in northern Sudan, creating a lack of means to contextualise the central sites like Kerma or Sai Island. Sai is regarded, due to the strong Kerma presence on the island prior to the New Kingdom and especially the very large cemetery with huge tumuli, as northern stronghold of the Kerma kingdom. But how does this presumed function of the island relate to the periphery of Sai? What do we know about Kerma dwellings in the area?

This brings us back to the MUAFS concession and to our newly established distribution of ‘Kerma’ sites. Camps, settlements and cemeteries of the Kerma culture were recorded at both riverbanks. Except for two large Kerma tumulus cemeteries associated with the Kerma classique period in Ferka East, 3-G-16 and 3-G-19, all of the sites are clustered in the southern districts of Attab, Ginis and Kosha, thus quite close to Sai Island.

Dry-stone architecture datable to the Brone Age at Attab West.

Of particular interest are 1) stone structures in the Attab West district associated with 18th Dynasty pottery but of unclear cultural attribution since also Nubian material culture was present (Budka 2019, 24‒25) and 2) various settlement sites in the district of Ginis East. The latter were partly investigated by our text excavations earlier this year.

It is still too early, but sites like GiE 001 and the ‘watchtowers’ in Attab West will hopefully allow a comparison of ‘provincial’ Kerma remains like Gism el-Arba (Gratien et al. 2003; 2008) and H25 near Kawa (Ross 2014) with the capital of the Kushite kingdom, Kerma itself (Bonnet 2014). At least some of the questions regarding Kerma north of the Third Cataract are likely to be answered in the next years.

References

Bonnet 2014 = Bonnet, C. 2014. La ville de Kerma: une capitale nubienne au sud de lʼEgypte. Paris.

Budka 2019 = Budka, J. 2019. ‘Towards Middle Nile Biographies: The Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019’, Sudan & Nubia 23, 13‒26.

Gratien 2014 = Gratien, B. 2014. ‘Kerma north of the Third Cataract’, in J. Anderson and D. Welsby (eds), The Fourth Cataract and Beyond. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 1. Leuven, 95‒101.

Gratien et al. 2003 = Gratien, B., Marchi, S., Thuriot, O. and J.-M. Willot 2003. ‘Gism el-Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil’, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29-43.

Gratien et al. 2008 = Gratien, B., Marchi, S., Sys, D. and R.-P. Dissaux 2008. ‘Gism el-Arba – Habitat 2, Campagne 2005–2006’, Kush 19 (2003-2008), 21-35.

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

Official start of ERC project DiverseNile

Today is the day – after months of preparation, my new ERC project DiverseNile is now officially running under the grant agreement No. 865463! Many thanks go here first to all the officers in Brussels and the persons here at LMU who made this possible, even in challenging times like we are all experiencing in the last weeks. And of course I am very grateful to my core team who supported the application and without whom this project would not take place!

More information about the main hypothesis and the objectives of the project are now available here. We are still in the process of recruitment and due to the corona crisis this process will take longer than we thought. Nevertheless, for now we can start working at home collecting and processing data which will enable us to challenge the present categories of “New Kingdom”, “Egyptian”, “Nubian” and “Kerma”. Five exciting years have just started!

Report on the 2020 test excavations: Kerma sites at Ginis East

As already reported, the 2020 test excavations of the MUAFS project focused on Bronze Age sites at Ginis East, including Gie 001, where much Egyptian New Kingdom material was found. The following is a very short summary of our work at the Kerma sites GiE 004, 005 and 006.

GiE 004

In 2019, we assumed that the site GiE 004 was documented by Andrè Vila in the 1970s as site 2-T-5. However, new georeferenced data and fresh GPS waypoints made it clear that this needs to be corrected and that GiE 004 was not documented by Vila, being located further to the south than 2-T-5.

The magnetometry survey of the site by MUAFS in 2019 yielded promising results which, according to the finds and the structures visible on the magnetogram, were interpreted as remains of a Kerma village. Rounded huts, fences and walls seemed to be visible. The borders of the wadi systems were also clearly visible in the magnetogram. Our 2020 test trenches were chosen to proof if there was a kind of fortification along the wadi and whether the interpretation of the anomalies were correct.

Three trenches were laid out (Trench 1: 18 x 3 m, at the edge of a wadi; Trench 2: 14 x 4 m, at the top of the plateau of the site; Trench 3: 2 x 3.5 m, within a circular depression around the central part of the site). After a shallow, sandy surface layer with many finds, no sedimentation and no structures were found in all three trenches. All features documented and which were alternating areas of sand and clay are clearly natural. Thus, the clear result of the 2020 text excavation at GiE 004 was that the anomalies of the magnetometry were over interpreted as structures and are actually natural features.

GiE 005 (Vila 2-T-5)

The Kerma site documented by Vila as 2-T-5 was labelled by MUAFS as GIE 005. The site is situated on the alluvial plain, and extends east west on the remains of a shallow, barely visible terrace (25-40 cm high). The site covered in the 1970s an area of c. 500 EW x 35 m NS – part of this is now below modern houses or destroyed because of car tracks. Two test trenches were laid out in 2020 in the eastern part of GIE 005.

Trench 1 (8 x 2 m) yielded some small depressions and pits below a shallow sandy surface. Very few Kerma sherds were discovered in a lower muddy level, without evidence of structures or stratigraphy.

Work in progress at Trench 1.

Trench 2 (6 x 3 m) comprised a small sandy hill with many schist stones scattered around. Here again, no structures and no sedimentation or stratigraphy were observed. The sandy hill seems to be a sub-recent assemblage of wind-blown sand. Interestingly, the same muddy layer like in Trench 1 below the sand yielded one single artefact, a Kerma sherd laying on a solid clay surface.

Overall, the camp site 2-T-5 is badly preserved, and no stratification is present, as already observed by Vila. One important result of our work in 2020, however, is a tentative dating to the Kerma Classique period and the presence of 18th Dynasty Egyptian material which has not been noted before. There were some Egyptian wheel-made pottery sherds between the ceramics – nicely datable to the early New Kingdom!

GiE 006 (south of Vila 2-T-5)

Surface finds suggest that the camp site 2-T-5 might also extend further to the south, south of the barely visible terrace of GiE 005. In order to test this, a trench was opened at a site now labelled as GIE 006. Trench 1 (3 x 5 m) only yielded surface finds and showed an irregular muddy, natural surface below the sandy surface layer. As in GiE 005, no stratification is preserved.

Cleaning the surface at GiE 006.

Although the finds are mixed and can also be explained with a multi-period use of the site, most of the material belongs to the Kerma horizon. Thus, this is probably an extension of a Kerma camp identical or similar to GiE 005.

Summary

In sum, the test excavations at Ginis East – including the results from GIE 001, provided important new data on 1) the character of the sites, 2) the dating of the sites and 3) the clarification that the interpretation of the magnetometry survey from 2019 turned out to show no actual structures, but different natural layers at GiE 001 and GiE 004.

As it was already observed by Vila, at many sites on the east bank in the MUAFS concession there is little or no sedimentation preserved. This is an important aspect to consider in our next field seasons – the situation is markedly different on the west bank where we also documented some intriguing Bronze Age sites with mud brick remains. There is still much work ahead of us!

Report on the test excavations of the 2020 season: GiE 001

The world has changed since last week – COVID-19 has a major influence on archaeological fieldwork, universities and museums. MUAFS was very lucky in this respect – after our odyssey with the extra day in Khartoum and a night in Istanbul, we made it safely to Munich, just in time before borders got closed and flights cancelled. Of course all planned fieldwork in Egypt in April had to be cancelled and I could also not make my home visit to Vienna. But difficult times require flexibility and the most important thing now is of course to flatten the curve and to stay safe (and home)!

Well – research for MUAFS is of course still possible and all of us are using the time in home office for reading things and compiling the data from the 2020 season.

The following is just a short summary of our test excavations of the 2020 season – this season was a preparation season for the next, longer field season which will be the start of my new European Research Council Project DiverseNile. Thus, the focus was on promising sites dating to the Bronze Age/Kerma Period in the Ginis East area where also Egyptian presence of the New Kingdom is attested.

In order to get familiar with the site formation processes and sedimentation in the area, we conducted at four sites in the district of Ginis East small test excavations. A total of 8 trenches were excavated by the team; local workmen will be engaged in the next season.

Location of sites and test trenches at Ginis East 2020.

As you will see in the following – the results from the individual sites were not as we hoped for but are nevertheless very important outcomes of what was designed as a test season.

I will start with site GIE 001 and a separate post will present the results from the other sites at Ginis East.

GiE 001 – a New Kingdom (and Kerma?) settlement site

Recorded by Vila as 2-T-36B, this domestic site at Ginis East can be assigned to the Egyptian New Kingdom, showing also an intriguing Kerma presence according to the surface finds. Magnetometry was conducted by MUAFS in 2019. In the 2020 season, two trenches were laid out above promising anomalies in the magnetometry in the northeastern part of the site.

Trench 1 (6 x 4 m) yielded, apart from surface finds which were mixed and dated from the Kerma Period, the New Kingdom, the Napatan Period and Christian times, some Kerma Classique sherds from lower levels. However, no structures were found and the magnetometry seems to show natural features, especially more sandy areas which contrast to clay layers/alluvial sediments.

Trench 2 (10 x 4 m) generated large quantities of ceramics and stone tools from the surface. The main archaeological features found in this trench were sub-recent pits deriving from marog activities. The largest of these pits in Trench 2, Feature 1, is 2.40 m in diameter and 75 cm deep. It was filled with fine sand and the traces of the tools the marog diggers used are clearly visible on the sloping edges. We documented everything in 3D according to our standard procedure. The find material comprised mostly mixed pottery from the New Kingdom, Napatan and Medieval era as well as some recent date seeds and small pieces of charcoal and bone.

Feature 1, the marog pit, in Trench 2 at GIE 001.

Both trenches in GiE 001 did not yield mud bricks or any structures from the New Kingdom; it is likely that this part with the trenches is already located outside of the former settlement area. That the area was inhabited and used during both the 18th Dynasty and the Ramesside period, becomes nevertheless evident from the find assemblages we collected.

Excavation and processing of data at GIE 001 will continue, but for now the New Kingdom site with later use seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island and Amara West, as I have already proposed in an earlier post based on the finds (ceramics and stone tools).

An update from site GiE 004

We finished our test trenches and surface documentation at the Ginis East Kerma/New Kingdom sites yesterday. The last 6 working days until our departure to Khartoum will be dedicated to a foot survey – like last year, we will check the sites recorded by Vila and whether there are more findings, additional sites or other changes.

But back to the test trenches and our results from site GiE 004 where we documented in total 5 test areas. 3 were excavated, in 2 we only cleaned the surface and checked the find distribution/density.

I will deal with the relation between our results and the magnetometry from 2019 in another “Lessons learned from the 2020 season” blog post in the next days – for today, I’d like to share some news about the finds from GiE 004.

Initially, we thought that it is a Kerma site with a long occupation. This was partly confirmed and interestingly, Kerma Classique material dominants the ceramics! But more important, especially for our investigations of “cultural markers”, is that 18th Dynasty, Egyptian New Kingdom pottery is also present, including imported Canaanite amphora and very few Marl clay sherds. A quite unexpected result, which gives us much food for thought!

But let’s look at some basic numbers of finds – of course you have to keep in mind the differing sizes of our test trenches, but the quantities of stone tools and pottery are quite significant:

Trench 1 – stone 3, pottery 5

Trench 2 – stone 167, pottery 412

Trench 3 – stone 7, pottery 105

Trench 4 – stone 242, pottery 991

Trench 5 – stone 110, pottery 503

These numbers support the interpretation that Trench 1 and 3 are located at the edges or even outside the actual site; Trenches 2, 4 and 5 are very similar and all yielded much Kerma Classique material as well as Egyptian wheel-made pottery of the New Kingdom. The majority comes here from Trench 4 where almost 50% of the pottery from GiE 004 was found.

Trench 4 also yielded very nice stone tools, including a wonderful small arrowhead.

Overall, although much of the surface material in these trenches from GiE 004 was wind-worn and eroded as well as mixed (of course, there were also Medieval pieces present), both the pottery and lithics/stone tools speak for a domestic character of the site with different activity zones.

Kerma sites at Ginis East and the church of Mograkka

Since today is a study day in the digging house to work on the finds from week 1 and 2, especially pottery and lithics, I also have some time to give an update on our activities.

We concentrated on 3 sites in the area of Ginis East – all of them date back to the Kerma period, but especially at GiE 004 and GiE 005 there was also later activity based on surface finds and Christian ceramics.

We only laid out test trenches this season since we wanted to check the common status of sedimentation and stratigraphy. And this turned out as quite disappointing – no stratigraphy was preserved in most cases, although two trenches yielded a few pottery sherds from a quite deep level. For all trenches, we used the same imaged based documentation system that we developed over the last years at Sai Island and it was very valuable to practice it in these new surroundings.

In addition, we got some very nice kite aerial photos from the sites.

Well, we will collect and analyse all these data further and despite of all, these are of course useful information for the general understanding of our concession area and the individual sites.

Another task this week was the small mud brick church at Mograkka (Vila site 3-L-22). Cajetan, Jessica and Huda spent an intense day there and re-mapped it. Our documentation includes a 3D structure from motion digital photographic documentation in combination with survey points from a total station. This is the first working step within a planned excavation and site management plan for this monument in the near future.

In the coming days, we will continue with test trenches at sites in Ginis East. This time with a very promising site where the surface is covered with loads of pottery from the Kerma period, the Egyptian New Kingdom and Napatan times. Keep your fingers crossed that there is some stratigraphy preserved!

Ups and downs of archaeological fieldwork

Our second MUAFS season started very promising and successful – we arrived as planned last Wednesday in Ginis East and moved into a beautiful house we have rented for this season.

On Thursday, we set out our test trenches at the site of Ginis East 004, a Kerma camp which was already recorded by Vila in the 1970s and where we made a magnetometer survey last year.

The aim for this season is to check the stratigraphy of the site and especially to test whether the results of the magnetometry correspond to the actual archaeology.

The general site of GiE 004, a Kerma village.

Three test trenches were laid out on Thursday and I started already surface cleaning in Trench 1 while the rest of the team was busy mapping and taking survey points. And here some of our problems started – our total station sent error messages and a big drawback was when we discovered on Friday that some of our benchmarks we set last year have been destroyed and are no longer usable… And our printer did not work anymore… To make things worse, I caught a food poisoning and had to go to the clinic in Abri for treatment. Thus, fieldwork at GiE 004 was stopped for the last 2 days. We hope to continue this afternoon since after hours and hours Cajetan seems to have solved the problem with the total station and I am more or less recovered.

Well – sometimes life as an archaeologist is really like a box of chocolate, full of surprises and not always of the sweet kind. As difficult as it is, we will try to stick with our schedule – hoping that we are now done with all the major problems of this season!

News about proper fieldwork will therefore hopefully follow shortly…

2020 season all set to begin

We safely arrived in Khartoum Sunday night and we were really lucky this time, as we just left Munich before storm “Sabine” caused big problems for flights and other transportation. In the last two days here in Sudan, we were busy preparing everything for the second MUAFS seasons.

Quite a number of things have changed with the new government, with new regulations – there are still some pending Tasks for tonight but all in all, everything went well and we can stick to our time schedule and leave Khartoum tomorrow morning as planned.

Many thanks go already to the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) in Sudan for all their support. Our NCAM inspector will be again our dear old friend and colleague, Huda Magzoub, who worked with us already in the first MUAFS season.

Looking very much forward to our travel to the beautiful area of northern Sudan and starting fieldwork in Ginis at a Kerma settlement site on Thursday! Given that our mobile connection allows it, we will of course keep you updated about our progress.

Preparing the 2020 field season

Time flies by, the winter term at LMU is in its final stage with exams approaching – and thus the next field season in the Attab to Ferka region in northern Sudan is getting closer.

We will work 4 weeks in February/March with new headquarters in Ginis East, where there are multiple Bronze Age sites and a stunning landscape.

Landscape at Ginis East, looking northwest.

Today, we had a team meeting in the office, discussing the main aims and logistics for this season. As kind of prelude for the new ERC project DiverseNile, we will test a very promising Kerma site at Ginis East.

The principal goal of our first season is a test excavation at the site GiE 004. This site was documented by Andrè Vila in the 1970s (as site NF-36-M/2-T-5) and his work included some test trenches. We made a successful magneometry survey of this very intriguing Kerma village in 2019 and would now like to check the validity of our own results (created by Marion Scheiblecker). This Kerma settlement system comprises rounded huts and additional walls or fences; the southern part of the site, consisting of Kerma graves, is very recently destroyed. Rectangular as well as circular features are visible in the northern part of the investigated area showing negative magnetic anomalies. They could be caused by mudbrick with less magnetisable content than in the southern part, where the magnetic anomalies show high positive values indicating different building materials and/or sources. The borders of the wadi systems are clearly visible in the magnetogram of GiE 004; an excavation could proof if there was a kind of fortification along the wadi. This is the main aim for the 2020 excavation season.

Looking much forward to our first season of excavation in the MUAFS concession – and of course we will keep you posted!