Processing of finds and surveying – an update from the field, week 5

Week 5 of our 2022 spring season is almost finished and we are getting ready to leave to Khartoum early next week.

We made great progress processing and documenting our recent finds. Sawyer and I were busy with drawing pottery and small finds, Rennan took last photos (Fig. 1). A special focus was on the rich material from the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.

Fig. 1: Rennan was busy photographing beads and other objects from GiE 003.

Because of the large amounts of ceramics, I could spend less time than I hoped for the continuation of the survey. Nevertheless, I managed to document some nice sites in the close vicinity of our digging house. For example, I re-traced the site labelled by Vila as 2-T-23 in Ginis East. Here, dwellings and remains of four saqiyas of a Medieval village are situated on a length of 1500m in the alluvial plain, still partly preserved. Sherds are scattered around the site which is now in parts covered by modern fields and has suffered from some destruction by car tracks.

One of the saqiya Vila documented in the 1970s is especially well preserved (Fig. 2). Recording this site was extremely pleasant because the setting close to the Nile is simply beautiful. One just needs to avoid the early morning hours – since it is hot, the nimiti flies are quite numerous at this time of the day.

Fig. 2: One of the stone-built saqiyas of site 2-T-23.

Yesterday, I covered another stretch of the east bank of the MUAFS concession and went to its very south-western part in Attab East. Here, the most spectacular monument is the extremely well preserved Islamic fortress Kourfa Hemmet, 2-T-57 (Fig. 3), which is surrounded by some Late Medieval remains. In this part of Attab, the Nile is very close to the sites, with a narrow strip of fields and one can already make out the Amara cataract in the water.

Fig. 3: View of the inner courtyard of the islamic fortress 2-T-57.

All these important monuments in a beautiful setting underline the general richness of archaeological sites in the MUAFS concession – and luckily we still have a few more days left in this gorgeous and peaceful part of northern Sudan!

The Church of Mograkka East

Fig. 1: Location of the Church of Mograkka East (map: C. Geiger).

The well-preserved church of Mograkka East (3-L-2, Fig. 1) is one of the most remarkable monuments datable to Medieval times in the MUAFS concession. This mudbrick church is also an exemplary case to study church architecture south of the Dal cataract. I am delighted that a new study on this important monument has just been published (Budka, Distefano & Geiger 2021), the result of our 2020 field season.

Based on a revised assessment of the ground plan (Fig. 2), the installations and the remaining traces of wall paintings, the church 3-L-2 can be dated to the 10th century CE. The church of Mograkka can be described as Type 3b according to William Adams (2009) due to the lack of a tribune within the apse. Regarding the ground plan, some small details as well as the dimensions and proportions can be specified compared to the preliminary version published by Vila (1976).

Fig. 2: New ground plan of the Church of Mograkka East, based on the orthophoto & digital elevation model (illustration: C. Geiger).

Besides this improved dating, our article presents the current state of preservation and new architectural observations based on a photogrammetric documentation of the church and the created 3D model (Fig. 3). One exciting new feature, not noted by any other scholars before, is the possible existence of intramural graves at 3-L-2. However, this would need to be confirmed by means of excavations.

Fig. 3: View of the Church of Mograkka East (3D model), from southsoutwest (illustration: C. Geiger).

All in all, the well-preserved mudbrick church of Mograkka provides important evidence of local variants of ​​Nubian church building in Nobadia, parallels for which can be found south of the Second Cataract from the 9th century CE onwards. A future task will be to analyse these local forms in more detail and to embed these variants in a larger historical, cultural, social, and religious context.

References

Adams, W. Y. The churches of Nobadia. Oxford: Archaeopress, 2009.

Budka, J., Distefano, J. & Geiger, C. 2021. Kirchenarchitektur südlich des Dal-Kataraktes: Das Fallbeispiel der Kirche 3-L-2 in Mograkka Ost. MittSAG – Der Antike Sudan 32, 109‒121.

Vila, A. La prospection archéologique de la vallée du Nil, au sud de la cataracte de Dal (Nubie soudanaise). 4. District de Mograkka (est et ouest). District de Kosha (est et ouest). Paris: Centre national de la recherche scientifique, 1976.

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!