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.

Some thoughts on Ramesside remains on the left riverbank at Ginis and Kosha

As recently outlined by Rennan Lemos, a remarkable tomb of Ramesside date was found by Vila in Ginis West. We identified this monument during our survey in 2019 and it clearly once had a tumulus superstructure; the descent to the rock-cut chambers is still visible. Some broken pottery as well as bone fragments are scattered around the superstructure, but otherwise this structure is isolated and cannot be associated with burial monuments (apart from a few Christian tombs close by).

Figure 1: Site 3-P-50 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

A look at the distribution map of New Kingdom sites in our MUAFS concession (see Budka 2020, 65, fig. 14) is useful for a tentative contextualisation of the tomb which, among others, yielded shabtis of the lady of the house, Isis (Vila 1977, 151). The New Kingdom sites are clustered within the southwestern part of the research area, thus close to the urban sites Amara West and Sai Island. The role of these administrative centres Amara West and Sai Island needs to be considered when looking at the ‘periphery’ (cf. Spencer 2019; see also Stevens and Garnett 2017) and might have influenced the pattern of site distribution. The latter, however, is still preliminary as I pointed out in a earlier post.

Figure 2: Distribution of New Kingdom sites in the MUAFS concession including 3-P-50, 2-T-58 and 3-P-15 (see Budka 2020, fig. 14).

The closest possible New Kingdom site located in the neighbourhood of 3-P-50 is 2-T-58. This site is a small cemetery of several tumuli which can be attributed to the Late New Kingdom and/or the Pre-Napatan period. Unfortunately, 2-T-58 was already very much destroyed and plundered in the 1970s. There is little hope that more information than gathered by Vila can be gained from these tombs (Vila 1977, 119-122, figs. 53-54).

Figure 3: One of the looted tombs of site 2-T-58 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

Vila excavated one of the tombs and found the remains of four burials, of funerary beds, bodily adornment like beads and amulets and some ceramic vessels which seem to date to the late Ramesside period and the Pre-Napatan phase, finding close parallels at Amara West (Binder 2014, passim) and also at Hillat el-Arab (Vincetelli 2006, passim). A post-New Kingdom date is maybe the most likely for this excavated tumulus and its interments.

Especially interesting and most probably contemporaneous to the isolated tomb 3-P-50 is site 3-P-15 in Kosha West which is part of a cluster formed by three settlement sites (3-P-15, 3-P-16 and 3-P-17). 

This habitation site on a mound of c. 55-100m shows a surface covered by schist blocks and sherds. In the northeastern part, remains of mud bricks are visible. The surface ceramics we documented show a continuation from late Ramesside times well into the ninth and maybe even the eight century BCE, thus into the Napatan era.

Figure 4: Overview of site 3-P-15 in 2019 (photo: J. Budka).

A more precise dating and a concise characterisation will require excavations – but the site seems to have been in use during the time the cemeteries at Amara West flourished and 3-P-50 was built. As already pointed out by Michaela Binder, the best parallel for 3-P-50 is tomb G244 at Amara West (Binder 2014, Binder 2017, 599-606). The latter is the largest multi-chambered tomb at Amara West with a tumulus as superstructure and, like 3-P-50, also situated in what seems to have been an isolated position during the 20th Dynasty. Maybe these tombs, their architecture, their seemingly isolated location and rich equipment (which is an intriguing mixture of Egyptian- and Nubian-style material culture) point to common aspects of local elite communities in the Amara and Ginis regions we are still far away from understanding in detail.

Our planned excavations at 3-P-15 and especially the joint efforts of Rennan Lemos focusing on the mortuary evidence and Veronica Hinterhuber on the settlement remains will hopefully allow a closer assessment of the Ramesside period in the MUAFS concession and corresponding lived experiences in the near future.

References

Binder, M. 2014. Health and Diet in Upper Nubia through Climate and Political Change. A bioarchaeological investigation of health and living conditions at ancient Amara West between 1300 and 800 BC. Unpublished PhD thesis, Durham University.

Binder, M. 2017. The New Kingdom tombs at Amara West: Funerary perspectives on Nubian-Egyptian interactions, 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, 591-613.

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

Spencer, N. 2019. Settlements of the Second Intermediate Period and New Kingdom, in D. Raue (ed), Handbook of ancient Nubia, vol. 1. Berlin, 433-464.

Stevens, A. and A. Garnett 2017. Surveying the pharaonic desert hinterland of Amara West, 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, 287-306.

Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Fascicule 5: Le district de Ginis, Est et Ouest. Paris.

Vincentelli, I. 2006. Hillat El-Arab. The Joint Sudanese-Italian Expedition in the Napatan Region, Sudan. Sudan Archaeological Research Society Publication 15. British Archaeological Reports International Series 1570. Oxford.

Outlook for upcoming research at Kosha West

My personal favorite landscape in the MUAFS concession area is the left riverbank of the districts Ginis and Kosha which is also rich in archaeology. Beautiful sand dunes and tamarisks dominate the strip along the Nile; desert and rocky outcrops shape the hinterland.

Despite of Covid-19 and the unclear situation regarding our next field season in Sudan, we are of course planning for the ERC DiverseNile project. One of the main tasks for the next season will be test excavations at habitation sites at Kosha West.

If one looks at our new distribution map of sites dating to the New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan times, it is striking that the most downstream ones are three sites in the district Kosha West.

Distribution of New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan sites in the MUAFS concession.

These are remains of structures/dwellings, situated on three isolated mounds on the dune area with tamarisks. The distance to the Nile is 100-150m. This group of habitation site was already noted by André Vila in the 1970s and he attributed all of them to the Egyptian New Kingdom. This is, however, not the case.

Overview of site 3-P-17.

3-P-17 is traceable with some mud bricks and scattered stones on a mound, the total extension of the site is at present a bit unclear. According to the surface pottery we recorded last year, this site can be attributed to the early 18th Dynasty.

The remains of 3-P-16 are located on a circular mound with a diameter of c. 50m. In the south-eastern part of the mound large amount of mud bricks seem to have once formed a fortification. The dating of this structure must remain unclear for now; the surface material suggests indeed a New Kingdom date, but there were also some Medieval sherds.

Surface at site 3-P-15.

The third habitation site, 3-P-15, comprises a mound of c. 55-100m, the surface is covered by schist blocks and sherds. The appearance of the site is very similar to 3-P-16. In the northeastern part, remains of mud bricks are visible. 3-P-15 is especially intriguing because it shows a continuation from late Ramesside times well into the ninth and maybe even the eight century BC according to the surface ceramics we documented. A more precise dating and a concise characterisation will require excavations – but a New Kingdom only date as suggested by Vila seems were unlikely.

Mud brick remains at site 3-P-15.

For now, we keep our fingers crossed that the Covid-19 situation in Sudan – and of course everywhere else! – will soon improve and everybody stays healthy. Insha’allah our planned fieldwork will be possible somewhen in the near future – there are definitly plenty of things to be checked and discovered between Attab and Ferka!

Short update on the 2020 survey

The MUAFS 2020 season will be officially closed today – we arrived safely in Khartoum yesterday and will now finish all the paperwork.

The last days at Ginis were busy, finishing off the survey, packing and registering the finds from this season. A more concise summary of the 2020 season will follow shortly, but here are some observations regarding our survey.

Like in 2019, one particular focus of our survey 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.

One particular striking example is the large tumulus within the Post-Meroitic site 3-P-1 at Kosha East. This monumental tumulus, comparable to the ones at Ferka, but also to the famous tombs at Qustul and Ballana, has completely gone by now. According to information kindly given by local villagers, it was removed in 2008.

One of the sad discoveries of this season: the huge tumulus at Kosha was completly dismantled.

Where Jessica is standing in this photo, there used to be an elite tomb monument dating back to Post-Meroitic times. Large parts of cemetery 3-P-1 are now under modern fields; the line of electricity cuts the southern extension of the site. The nearby Kerma cemetery was affected by the construction work of the road to Wadi Halfa and the Neolithic sites located in the hills above the Kosha plain just 300m to the southeast are strongly influenced by modern gold working.

Altogether, as successful as our 2020 survey was, re-locating 40 sites of the ones documented by Vila and finding a number of previously unrecorded sites, we were also faced with very frustrating news and massive destruction of the archaeological monuments. There clearly is the urgent need to undertake cultural heritage actions in the region, but this is something where MUAFS will need help and support from several authorities.

Summary of week 4, 2020 season

We are already approaching the end of our second season of the MUAFS project.

As planned, we finished our test excavations at GiE 001 and GiE 004 earlier this week and were then busy with surveying areas of the concession on the East bank.

The marog digging activities at GiE 001 were fully documented and surface cleaning at GiE 004 yielded some interesting information regarding the possible function of the site where Kerma Classique material dominates the assemblage.

Thanks to the introduction by Cajetan before he left to Munich, we are also up-to-date regarding our 3D surface models and digital documentation– Jessica managed the processing with PhotoScan and QGis very well.

Three days of survey at Ginis, Kosha and Mograkka were exciting, but also partly very frustrating – we relocated a total of 27 sites documented by Vila in the 1970s, but unfortunately a number of these have been completely destroyed, especially because of the road construction work of the asphalt street going to Wadi Halfa. This holds in particular true for cemeteries laid out on sandy plains and alluvial platforms.

Example of changes in the landscape at Kosha East, due to the road construction and modern gold mining.

Further destruction is caused by modern gold mining and some areas of the region have been completely modified since the 1970s, making a crosscheck with Vila’s documentation sometimes were difficult. Sites located further into the hillsides were in most cases more lucky and still represent excellent example for the occupation of the region. We documented camp sites from various periods, especially Neolithic times and Kerma periods, but very often also multi-period sites.

Bristish pyramidal memorial at Kosha East.

An unexpected discovery was a small stone pyramid at Kosha East – I simply did not know that one of these pyramidal memorials set up by the British in Sudan and of which I have already seen quite a number further north, was also erected in our concession. Its label reads: „To the memory of British officers and men who died here in the Anglo-Egyptian campaigns”. This memorial is not the only reminder and evidence for the Anglo-Egyptian campaigns in our area – as already observed by Vila, several of our camp sites located in the hills show traces of recent re-use. Many of these sites were probably re-used by the Anglo-Egyptian soldiers. This is one of the more modern aspects of the landscape biography of the Attab to Ferka region which we will also incorporate into our general assessment.

We will continue with the survey next week, focusing now on the area around Ferka – fingers crossed that the storm that came up tonight will hopefully cease very soon.

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!