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!

Processing data from MUAFS first field season

The last months were really busy with work in Egypt and administrative tasks in Munich. Although the teaching term is ongoing and preparing classes keeps me occupied, there is also some time to process the data we collected in December and January between Attab and Ferka.

The annual one-day international colloquium on “Recent Archaeological Fieldwork in Sudan” at the British Museum London is approaching – and I am delighted that I will have the chance to talk about the most important results from our first field season.

I will try to summarise the distribution of the Vila sites we re-located and discuss some aspects of their dating and cultural classification.

Within the 119 sites we documented, the majority are Christian sites (28,6%). Kerma sites are with 21% also very numerous. The strong presence of Late Bronze Age/Iron Age (New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan) sites is with 18,5% also noteworthy. Especially in the northern part of our concession, large tumuli cemetery from the Post-Meroitic period were noted and Post-Meroitic sites comprise 11,8% of our total. The early periods, in particular Abkan and Khartoum Variant sites, are also well presented in the MUAFS concession area (Neo- and Mesolithic sites with 9,2%).

Looking much forward to process these data further until next Monday and in particular to meet all the colleagues working in Sudan on this occasion in London – for scientific and social updates!

Summary of the first MUAFS field season

From the Nile back to the Isar, from sun and sand back to clouds and snow, from desert walking back to desk work, emails, meetings and teaching – although our travel back from Attab via Khartoum via Istanbul to Munich took more than 30 hours, it feels like a very sudden transposition.

Landscape view of our concession area in northern Sudan.

Our first season of the MUAFS project was successfully closed and all of the principle goals were achieved thanks to the great support of NCAM and our inspector Huda Magzoub.

The principal goal of the first season was a new survey of the concession area, which was already recorded by Andrè Vila in the 1970s and published in his volumes 3-6. Altogether, 119 sites by Vila were re-identified and documented in the area between Attab East and Ferka East and Attab West and Mograkka West. For some of these sites, the dating can now be corrected, especially for Khartoum Variant and Abkan sites, Pre-Kerma sites, Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan sites. Diagnostic stone tools and pottery fragments were collected from relevant sites. Other findspots of pottery and lithics that were previously not recorded by Vila, were documented as GPS waypoints and will be integrated in the new map of the area to be composed based on the results of our first season.

One particular focus was on the state of preservation of the sites nowadays – unfortunately, at almost all sites, we observed modern destruction and/or plundering. Especially drastic were destructions because of road building, the electricity posts and modern gold working areas (in particular at Mograkka West).

Major changes were observed compared to the state of preservation in times of Vila – one particularly illustrative example is Vila’s Kerma Period site 2-T-36B, partly overbuilt by modern houses and reduced because of the new electricity posts. Another example from the well-attested Christian period in our concession area is the church of Mograkka (2-L-2). While Vila documented it as single monument on a small hilltop, it is now embedded in newly built modern houses of the expanding village. The church new next-door neighbor is a modern mosque erected in the last years. Unfortunately, most of the Christian rock art, located by Vila in the immediate surroundings, are presently covered by modern debris from recent chanel works.

Detail of the well-preserved Church at Mograkka East with its new neighbour.

At other places, especially between Mograkka and Kosha, Neolithic and Post-Meroitic as well as Christian rock art was relocated by us. The most frequent motifs are cattle pictures and other animals like gazelles, hippos, ostriches and elephants.

Rock art site at Mograkka West.

The focus of our work in the first season was the east bank and here in particular the district of Ginis. We conducted aerial photography of large parts of the east bank, covering the area between Attab and Ginis by the drone kindly lent to us from the Department of Cultural and Ancient Studies of LMU Munich. These data will enable a digital elevation model and detailed orthophotos. A survey system with measuring points using the GPS Antenna was set up in this area as well, securing future work according to this coordination.

A geophysical survey of four sites from the Kerma period and the New Kingdom was realized by Marion Scheiblecker in Ginis East, using the Magnetometer of the type Ferex Foerster. New site labels were created for these find spots (GiE 001 for Vila 2-T-36B: Kerma and New Kingdom settlement, GiE 002 for Vila 2-T-13: New Kingdom cemetery, GiE 003 for Vila 2-T-39: Kerma cemetery and GiE 004 for Vila 2-T-5: Kerma settlement). The respective results are very promising and can serve as firm basis for a focused excavation of these important sites in the upcoming seasons.

In sum, the first season of the MUAFS project was very successful, providing new and partly unexpected results (like the strong presence of Napatan sites in the region), highlightening the rich potential of the concession area for detailed work from the Mesolithic period up to Christian times and allowing us to plan the next working steps. For now, we consider the Kerma and New Kingdom sites already investigated by magnetometry as of prime priority for further fieldwork.

We will be busy in the next week working on the collected data from our field season and setting up a strategy for the next years of work between Attab and Ferka. Of course we will keep you updated!

Tracing the Kerma Period in Ginis and elsewhere

Just one last visit to Abri and to WLAN, before it goes back to Khartoum! Has been a great first short season of the MUAFS project with plenty of intriguing data and impressions!

We documented many impressive sites in the last two weeks – altogether, I managed to re-identify and check 119 sites, which Vila recorded in the 1970s. For some of these sites, the dating is of much interest. A slightly revised dating as compared to the published data adds fresh information about several periods of presence in this part of the Nile valley, for example during the Napatan period.

Of prime interest this week was the Kerma period and here in particular settlement sites and cemeteries. Various large tumuli cemeteries, especially of the Kerma Moyen and Kerma Classique periods, are located at the East Bank; we found several older and smaller ones on the West Bank.

Ginis East was once again of particular importance and two more sites were investigated by magnetometry this season. GiE 003, labelled by Vila as 2-T-39, is a huge tumulus cemetery comprising probably more than 150 tombs, stretching from East to West and now partly destroyed by modern pathways and streets. A similar site is 2-P-7, located further upstream at Kosha East. There, the tumuli are quite dismantled, but various ceramics including Egyptian imports can still be found and suggest a Kerma Moyen date as prime phase of use for this cemetery.

Kerma cemetery 2-P-7

Marion’s work with the Ferrex Foerster magnetometer revealed amazing results at GiE 004, a Kerma settlement documented by Vila as site 2-T-5. The main structure of the site and its multiple circular huts, possible enclosures for animals and fences are clearly visible on the magnetogramm. The site is surrounded by later structures from Post-Meroitic and Christian times – like at other places in our concession, a long-lasting multi-period use of this part of Ginis East is obvious.

Finally, intriguing Kerma sites can be found at Attab West – in the immediate surroundings of 18th Dynasty sites, comprising both mudbrick and stone architecture. These sites, which are located along an ancient branch of the Nile, are especially relevant to investigate cultural encounters during the Bronze Age in our concession area since Egyptian pottery was found frequently associated with Kerma Classique ceramics.

One of the Kerma sites with much Egyptian pottery on the surface.

So many exciting new finds, so much work to do in the near future between Attab and Ferka!