Four years have passed since the last International Conference of Nubian Studies in Paris and on Sunday, the 2022 edition of the 15th congress will start in Warsaw.
Rennan, Chloë and I will be attending, and I will present the MUAFS project and its main results of the last years. My paper will give an overview of our activities from 2018 until 2022, with a special focus on the ongoing subproject ERC DiverseNile focusing on the Bronze Age remains. I will introduce our landscape biography approach in the Attab to Ferka region as the investigation of encounters of humans and landscapes in a peripheral borderscape with a longue-durée perspective, considering all attested finds from Palaeolithic times until the Islamic age.
For the presentation, I updated our list of sites and processed some of the quantitative data. At present, a total of 266 sites was documented. This comprises 186 of the 219 Vila sites as well as 80 newly identified sites. This number of sites is still preliminary because parts of Kosha, Mograkka and Ferka on the West bank have not yet been surveyed.
Regarding the types of sites, the most common sites are settlements and burial grounds. However, it is also remarkable that the MUAFS concession includes one granite quarry, one gold extraction site and several rock art sites.
As far as the dating of the sites in concerned, the majority belongs to the Medieval time. However, Bronze Age sites, here labelled as Kerma and New Kingdom sites, which are relevant to the DiverseNile project are also well represented. There are also several multi-period sites and others were re-used in later periods (e.g. Kerma sites in Medieval times).
I will also present some general patterns of the distribution of sites throughout the ages. This allows to highlight the importance of environmental parameters and changing landscapes in the region.
Although my last visit to Warsaw was just in May this year, I cannot wait to be back in this beautiful town. I am very much looking forward to the Nubian conference and meeting all the international colleagues working in Sudan.
The 15th International Conference for Nubian Studies in Warsaw is approaching at the end of this month, and I am currently busy preparing my paper. I will give a brief overview of the main results of the MUAFS project in the past years – and thus I revisited some of the sites of major interest between Attab and Ferka.
Until now, our work only focused on the left and right banks of the Nile – but my concession also comprises all the islands of the region. While we still have to visit Firkinarti island close to Ferka with its impressive archaeological remains, Huda and I spent one productive day this January on Gergetti island during our survey season.
Gergetti island is a beautiful island dominated by sandy dunes, located between Attab East and Attab West with an East West extension of c. 1.7km and a North South extension of c. 250m. The landscape and the view to the east bank is stunning – and provides a completely different view of Gebel Abri than I was used to when working on Sai island.
Vila documented two sites on the island – the better preserved one is 2-S-21, a fortified village of 110 x 70m in size which Vila associated with the Terminal Medieval period (Vila 1977: 32-37) in the southwestern corner of the island. He provided an excellent map of the site, and we could follow in his footsteps and check the present day preservation.
The enclosure wall has a hexagon shape and is made of mud brick with blocks and pieces of schist stone. In the southern part, the enclosure has already partly collapsed in the times of Vila, but the buildings in the interior are still very well preserved.
A dozen of preserved mud brick houses are square or rectangular buildings with one very small room in the back and a larger room in the front. Such a layout as well as the general appearance of the settlement 2-S-21 seems typical of the Funj period. Much progress in research on Funj house architecture has just been made in the last years, most prominently by the UMMA project at Old Dongola. In one of their recent publications, Obłuski and Dzierzbicka point out the main characteristics and differences to the medieval Nubian house types. They also mentioned Gergetti island as a close parallel to Old Dongola (Obłuski & Dzierzbicka 2021, 237, 242).
Especially since research of Funj period domestic architecture between the Second and Third Cataracts is still limited, the site 2-S-21 has much potential for future exploration. It became obvious that the map of Vila, as useful as it is, needs to be improved in several respects and that some buildings were also omitted on his plan. One possibility would be to document the site by drone aerial photography and thus to generate a new georeferenced 3D model as well as detailled plans. Excavations should also be undertaken in selected parts of the town, especially for clarifying building phases. The earliest phase of the settlement would be extremely relevant – not only for further comparisons with Old Dongola and other sites, but also from a historical view for the region of Attab to Ferka. Apart from the architecture, the material culture will give important information on the fine dating (as well as on so many other questions like room function, activities etc.). There is plenty of pottery on the surface, including nice painted wares and we also found one small piece of glazed ware. Without doubt, undisturbed contexts more useful for dating can be expected below some of the collapsed walls.
For now, Vila’s association of the site with Late Medieval times should be modified as most likely Funj period – more on this will follow when we return to the beautiful island of Gergetti.
Obłuski, A. and Dzierzbicka, D. (eds) 2021. Old Dongola: development, heritage, archaeology. Fieldwork in 2018-2019. Volume 1: Excavations. Polish Publications in Mediterranean Archaeology 1. Leuven et al.
Vila, A. 1977. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Sudanaise). Fascicule 6: Le district de Attab, Est et Ouest. Paris: CNRS.
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.
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.
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.
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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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!