on the traces of Nubian goldsmithing

One of my PhD research aims, as well as a crucial aspect of the study of Nubian goldsmithing, is to outline the possible goldsmith techniques involved in Nubian jewellery making, especially during the Kerma times.

Identity and technical skills of local craftsmen seem already attested by the Early Kerma jewels (c. 2500-2050 BCE). Among them, interesting cowrie shell reproductions made in precious metals and stone, gold and calcite, were found (Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). Ten base gold cowries were confirmed by Reisner at Kerma (K 5611) among the beads attached to the typical Nubian leather skirts (Reisner, 1923). Cowries are present also in Kerma assemblages recently investigated in the 4th Cataract. Moreover, these shells fixed on leather bands and used as personal body adornments were found in Gash Group tombs (early 2nd millennium BCE) (Manzo, 2012). This practice is still attested in Aksum and Adwa areas, Tigray, Ethiopia, decorating mahasal, gorfa – maternitytools – and necklaces for children and women (Silverman, 1999). European traveller accounts suggest particular customs of Sennar women such as the wearing leather skirt with cowrie belt sewed, to protect fertility and sexuality (Cailliaud, 1826; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fC9O_Wc50wo).

Fig. 1: Gold cowrie necklace from Uronarti (photo: Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019).

An exquisite example of cowrie necklace in gold, imported from Egypt or made locally, comes from the grave 3, at Uronarti (Fig. 1). This site is one of the Middle Kingdom Egypt strategic forts, such as Askut, Buhen, Mirgissa, Semna and Kumma, linked to trade and gold mining operations (Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019; Markowitz, Doxey, 2014). In comparison with the Middle Kingdom cowrie jewellery, the gold cowries of the Uronarti necklace seem to be quite different from each other. They have irregular shapes and notches, probably not made through the use of a mould like those Egyptian but worked individually with chisels and burins. The central pendant seems differently manufactured, extremely precise, probably made with the lost wax technique.  Gold cowrie reproductions appear again in Meroitic goldsmithing.  For example, the beautiful cowrie jewels of the Queen Amanishakheto (Fig. 2), display female and warrior symbolism (Aldred, 1978; Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019; Manzo, 2011; Markowitz, Doxey, 2014; Wilkinson, 1971). The technique used in the cowrie reproductions seems to be the same process that was used in Egypt and attested by the cowrie-shell girdles found in the tombs of the 12th Dynasty royal ladies, at Lahun and Dashur: the welding of two halves (Fig. 3).

Fig. 2: Gold shield ring with God Sebiumeker, udjat eye and cowrie pendants, Amanishakheto jewels, SMAEK, Munich (photo: S.Patrevita).
Fig.3: Girdle with gold cowries and lapislazuli, gold, turquoise and carnelian spherical beads, Middle Kingdom, The Egyptian Museum, Cairo (photo: S. Patrevita).

A particular typology of ornaments that could attest to the influence of the Nubian style on Egyptian goldsmithing are the penannular earrings (Fig. 4). Already found among the Early Kerma ornaments, they appear as a typology in Egypt only during the New Kingdom. In the shape of a small ring with an opening in the circumference, the hoop earrings are an interesting Nubian identity marker and at the same time a Nubian ethnic topos, recovered from Kerma burials at Tombos (Smith, 2003). During the New Kingdom traditional Nubian styles and jewellery were introduced to Egypt and adopted by Egyptians (see Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019).

Fig. 4: Tribute scenes with Nubians wearing ivory penannular earrings, Huy tomb (TT 40) (photo: www.osirisnet.net).
Fig. 5: Sennefer „Mayor of the Souther city“ with gold penannular earring and jewellery, TT 96 (photo: www.osirisnet.net ).

The penannular earrings appear in Egyptian jewellery made of gold, probably created with the common technique of two halves welding (e.g. Sennefer tomb, TT 96) (Fig. 5). An example comes from the tomb of Horemheb (TT 78) dated to the reign of Thutmose IV (c. 1400-1390 BCE). A dancer is depicted with a haircut typical of those worn in Sudan even today, an ivory bracelet, a necklace with gold beads, armlets with attached beaded streamers and a penannular earring, probably in gold (Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019) (Fig. 6). A late Ramesside example of penannular earrings, in carnelian, jasper and shell/ivory/bone, comes from one of the most remarkable tombs in the MUAFS concession, 3-P-50, at Ginis West (Lemos, 2022) (Fig. 7).

Fig. 6: Nubian dancer with Nubian typical jewels, Horemheb tomb (TT78) (photo: Lacovara, Markowitz, 2019, p. 103, fig. 75).
Fig. 7: Jasper, carnelian and shell/ivory/bone penannular earrings, Tomb 3-P-50, Ginis West (from Lemos, 2022, courtesy DiverseNile Project).

From a technological and typological point of view, these jewels help us to outline a native Nubian style that influenced and built Nile Valley goldsmithing with specific identities. Nubian technology shows a deep knowledge of the goldsmithing process, from the finding of the raw material (mining, wadi-working, panning), its transformation (smelting, casting) and working (hammering, welding, polishing), until the final result: the jewel, a story waiting only to be read and told.

We are only at the beginning of our journey into the ancient Nubian goldworking and goldsmithing, and we eagerly await the opportunity to get back on the field… stay tuned!


Aldred C., 1978, Jewels of the Pharaohs. Egyptian jewellery of the Dynastic Period, London.

Cailliaud F., 1826, Voyage a Mèroè, au Fleuve Blanc, au Dela de Fazoql, Paris.

Lacovara P., Markowitz Y.J., 2019, Nubian Gold. Ancient jewellery from Sudan and Egypt, Cairo, New York.

Lemos, R, 2022, Can We Decolonize the Ancient Past? Bridging Postcolonial and Decolonial Theory in Sudanese and Nubian Archaeology, Cambridge Archaeological Journal: 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0959774322000178

Manzo A., 2011, Punt in Egypt and beyond, Egypt and the Levant 21: 71-85.

Manzo A., 2012, From the sea to the deserts and back: New research in Eastern Sudan, British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 18: 75-106.

Markowitz Y., Doxey D. M., 2014, Jewels of Ancient Nubia, MFA Publications, Boston.

Reisner G. A., 1923, Excavations at Kerma. Parts IV-V, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., U.S.A.

Silverman R., 1999, Ethiopia. Traditions of Creativity, University of Washington.

Smith S. T., 2003, Wretched Kush. Ethic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London.

Wilkinson A., 1971, Ancient Egyptian Jewellery, London.

Reflections on “Material meanings, technology and cultural choices: Pottery production in Bronze Age Nubia”

Time passes quickly, we know, especially when good things happen. Only last January with a 9-months pregnant belly – and an inspired although easily forgetful pregnancy brain – I wrote the blog post “Some thoughts around the concepts of materiality, identity and style”. By that time, I already had some ideas jumbling around in my mind, I was reading quite some articles about materiality, entanglement, and style, taking notes, and in a way I wanted to back them up somewhere, in a safe place, before starting my parental leave. Meanwhile, my second baby, Filippo, was born and he is now an eight months healthy and curious boy who crawls everywhere and chews anything (with a preference for books!) all around the apartment. Meanwhile, I have also ended my maternity leave and I am officially back in the office! And there could not be a more excited and effective return than being able to draw on those preliminary thoughts and notes and make them flow into my lecture on “Material meanings, technology and cultural choices. Pottery production in Bronze Age Nubia”, the penultimate within our 2022 DiverseNile Seminar Series of lectures on Landscape and Resource Management in Bronze Age Nubia.

Once again, I wish to express my gratitude to both Julia Budka and Rennan Lemos for having invited me to give this talk. Also, I take the chance to thank the colleagues who were present in the audience and took part in the discussion. For those who have not had the opportunity to attend the lecture, you can find it recorded on our website at the following link: DiverseNile Seminar Series 2022 (uni-muenchen.de). Eventually, I am going to summarize below some of the main topics I covered. In principle, there was the idea of taking stock of the state of the art of my results and current research aims within the Work Package 3 of the project. Also, I meant to compare the large-scope technological and compositional study conducted within the frame of the ERC AcrossBorders project on the ceramic assemblage from the New Kingdom colonial town of Sai Island with the results available from the analysis of the ceramic material from the Kerma/New Kingdom site of Dukki Gel. The latter have been actually already included in our DiverseNile database and together with the Sai Island corpus constitute a pretty massive reference collection of over 300 samples.

Fig. 1: One example for our new samples from the MUAFS concession – here a collection of Nubian-style sherds from the domestic site AtW 001 (photo: J. Budka).

Eventually, I was keen to introduce our new set of samples – 108 beautiful and highly promising ceramic sherds, among which diverse examples of Nubian-style and Egyptian-style wares in Nile clay, selected during our last field season from the region between Attab and Ferka, namely from the sites of Attab West 001, Ginis East 001, and Ginis East 003, two settlement sites and a Kerma cemetery (Figures 1 and 2).

Fig. 2: A summary of the number and provenience of our new set of samples from the MUAFS concession.

For presenting these data, I built up a consistent theoretical frame that provided for the concepts of materiality, style, and “chaîne opératoire”. I started by talking about the meaning that we attribute to objects, not only those with high symbolic value like luxury goods or amulets, but also and above all those objects of domestic use, which we all have in our kitchens and which intersect daily with our traditions, culinary practices, gestures, and phares so that every family, and in a broad sense every culture, has not only its own family lexicon (sensu Ginzburg 1963) but also a familiar lexicon of the material culture that has belonged to it. I have therefore examined the etymology of the word object, from the Medieval Latin obiectum „thing put before“ (the mind or sight), from which comes the idea of the object as everything that the subject (human/culture) perceives as different from himself. Hence the reference to a long tradition of philosophical and linguistic studies in which the objects, and material culture in the extended sense, has been interpreted according to an anthropocentric one-way perspective mainly as static representation of the (human) subject (for further details see Fahalander 2008). The discussion continued by examining the concept of material culture in archaeology and anthropology with reference to the academic movement of ‘Processual archaeology’ and then in accordance to the ‘post-Processualism’. Eventually, I have talked upon the recently increasing interest on ‘things and materiality’, the so-called New Materialism (see e.g., Olsen et al. 2012) and with it a new way of perceiving the material reality as centred on itself, if not freed by the human subject (it can never be completely so), at least less depended on the human apparatus of symbolic representation and functional meanings. Not by chance in the last decades, we have also witnessed a progressive change of terminology with the use of the words things and materiality gradually replaced that of material culture.

I therefore examined the concepts of materiality and style in reference to the manufacturing sequence linked to the production of Egyptian-style and Nubian-style vessels in Nile clay, with case studies from both Sai Island and Dukki Gel, and thus observed in which stages of the chaîne opératoire were the identity aspects of the aforementioned cultures and ceramic traditions more (or less) emphasized.

Looking at the ceramic manufacture not just as a finished product resulted from the human action and intended for functional, social, and representative needs, but as the outcome of a series of gestures and corporeal actions that take shape in the first place in direct contact with the environment, by means the choice and manipulation of the raw materials, implies putting ourselves in a new multi-scale perspective, so that we can move forward from the anthropocentric dimension and add to the dialectical relation objects vs. humans a third party, namely the environment with its vegetation, animals, bodies, and various materials such as clay, water and sand.

Secondly, can we ask ourselves with greater knowledge and detail “Who produced the vessels?” That is, who, among the Nubian and / or Egyptian potters having their workshops settled in Upper Nubia – most of the analysed Egyptian style and Nubian style Nile wares in Nile clay from Sai Island have showed indeed the same chemical fingerprint (D’Ercole and Sterba forthcoming) – selected the raw material for making their vessels, kneaded the pastes, and then went to shape the pots, to treat the surfaces, to apply the decorations and finally to make the fire? It is plausible to think that if not all, at least some of the gestures and stages of the manufacturing sequences took place simultaneously in the same workshop without a too rigid separation between Egyptian and Nubian production. That is, that the same potter/s possibly prepared and fired together Nubian and Egyptian style vessels and that only the stages related to the production and finishing (those where we have observed the greater diversity of style!) took place separately on the basis of specific technological skills and regional traditions.

It is still plausible to think that in such promiscuous contexts some of the so-called hybrid vessels, showing a mixture of Egyptian and Nubian stylistic aspects and technologies, have taken shape, perhaps initially accidentally, to then become objects possibly intentionally sought and widespread as the expression of a shared use of the same territory and mostly of the progressive entanglement between the Egyptian and Nubian cultures. To what extent were these isolated cases or is it realistic (and ethically correct) to speak about “Creolization” or “Koinezation” of ceramic styles? (for the term koiné and “International artistic koiné” cf., Feldman 2006).

A solid theoretical background combined with a broad-spectrum analytical approach based on the combined macroscopic and microscopic analysis of several ceramic collections from several bordering regions environmentally and culturally highly similar but also extremity distinctive (e.g., Sai Island, Kerma/Dukki Gel, and the Attab to Ferka region) is already allowing us to answer some of these questions and to formulate many others more and more punctual on the way of expanding our knowledge on the complex system of socio-cultural, economical, and ecological dynamics that took place during the Bronze Age period in the various regions of Nubia.


D’Ercole, G. and Sterba, J. H. Forthcoming. Chemical analyses of the pottery corpus from the New Kingdom town of Sai. In: J. Budka (with contributions by G. D’Ercole, J.H. Sterba and P. Ruffieux). AcrossBorders 3: Vessels for the home away from Egypt. The pottery corpus from the New Kingdom town of Sai Island. Archaeology of Egypt, Sudan and the Levant, Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press.

Fahlander, F. 2008. Differences that matter. Materialities, material culture and social practice (127-154). In: Glørstad, H., & Hedeager, L. eds. Six essays on the materiality of society and culture. Bricoleur Press.

Feldman, M. H. 2006. Diplomacy by Design: Luxury Arts and an ‘International Style’ in the Ancient Near East, 1400–1200BCE. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ginzburg, N. 1963. Family Lexicon. Daunt Books.

Olsen, B., Shanks, M., Webmoor, T., Witmore, C. 2012. Archaeology: The Discipline of Things. University of California Press.

Summary of week 1, 2022 fieldwork season at Ginis

We had an early and unpleasant start into the weekend – because of a strong sandstorm we needed to stop work at Thursday already before breakfast. Since we were just cleaning the human remains in the first tomb we found at GiE 002 and discovered a second pit burial, this was indeed unfortunate.

However, the first week of our 2022 was intense and in many respects successful. Part of this success might not seem very positive at the first glance, but is nevertheless of much relevance for the project. We stopped work at the settlement site GiE 001 already after 4 days. We did not succeeded in finding archaeological features at this site, but we confirmed my earlier impression about this site based on the results from the two test trenches we opened in 2020 (Trench 1 and 2`, Budka 2020, 66-67). With one large area (Fig. 1) and one small test trench (Fig. 2) we now know for sure that a thin sandy surface layer with finds from various periods – Kerma, 18th Dynasty, Ramesside, Napatan and Medieval – is directly on top of natural alluvial layers. No archaeological stratigraphy or sediments are preserved. Our magnetometry from 2018/2019 does not show any archaeological features but simply differences in the soil (e.g. sandy areas).

Fig. 1: Trench 3 at GiE 001 which did not yield any archaeological layers other than the top soil mixed with finds.
Fig. 2: Trench 4 where the natural surface was just covered by a sandy top layer comprising much pottery and stone tools (mixed date).

With this confirmed, we moved on Wednesday to cemetery GIE 002 just a bit further south. Here, the main aim was finding some tombs to check the dating as proposed by Vila in the 1970s. He dated the small cemetery with largely dismantled stone superstructures to the New Kingdom, but already the one pit burial he excavated and its pottery vessels suggest that this is too early. A Pre-Napatan or Napatan dating would clearly fit much better.

This is now getting more and more likely after just 1.5 days of work – we discovered two tombs of the pit burial type as described by Vila (site 2-T-13) and all of the associated ceramics seem to postdate the New Kingdom.

First, we opened a large area where we thought depressions of three tombs are visible on the surface (and on the magnetometry, Fig. 3). The result was a bit surprising, only one tomb in the eastern part was found (Fig. 4).

Fig. 3: Location of Trench 1 at GiE 002.
Fig. 4: the burial pit in Trench 1 found refilled by windblown sand.

In the sandy filling of this burial pit, we have a minimum of one adult burial in displaced position (Fig. 5). Because of the sandstorm, we did not yet finish excavations and still need to clean the pit. Since Vila found the remains of seven individuals in a similar burial pit (Vila 1977, 48, fig. 16), I expect more human remains closer to the bottom.

Fig. 5: the pit burial yielded displaced human remains within the sandy filling.

Two other areas in GiE 002 yielded no burials at all, but Trench 4 finally comprised another pit burial filled with windblown sand (Fig. 6). We also started work in another area (Trench 5) but had to stop there because of the storm. Thus, with a minimum of two pit burials to be excavated we will be able to reassess this site – please keep your fingers crossed that the tombs also include some diagnostic pottery!

Fig. 6: the newly discovered burial pit before we needed to stop because of the storm.

In our first week, the division of work within the team worked out perfectly. Max and Fabian from Novetus were documenting all trenches at GiE 001 and GiE 002, Iulia was responsible for writing find labels and the consecutive find list. Our inspector Huda helped with supervising the workmen and our driver Imad was helpful in many respects. All of them, our wonderful gang of Sudanese workmen included, did a great job and I am very much looking forward to the results of the upcoming week.


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

Vila 1977 = A. Vila, 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 1977.

First impressions from GiE 001, 2022 fieldwork season

Time flies by, especially in the field. We have been really busy since our arrival at Ginis on Thursday. Apart from logistics and last constructions in the new digging house, we prepared the start of fieldwork at the New Kingdom site of GiE 001. I am delighted that new team members have arrived at Ginis: This season, the LMU DiverseNile team is strengthened by two employees of Novetus (Vienna). Maximilian Bergner and Fabian Spitaler are both experienced field archaeologists and responsible for the excavation work and field documentation in this 2022 season.

On Saturday, we opened a large new trench and started excavations with a team of local workmen. We placed the trench based on the results from the magnetometer survey in 2018/2019 and of course the local topography.

Start of work at Trench 3 on Saturday.

On our second day, we are currently still removing surface layers of sand and soft mud levels – the area used to be a favourite resting place for one of the sheep herds of Ginis (and the animals still have plenty opportunities just a bit further to the east and fortunately quickly adapted to this change in their daily routine). This is evident by many droppings and darkened spots on the surface.

Most of the trench is covered by loose sand below the uppermost surface (photo: I. Comsa).
Imaged based documentation of the individual stratigraphical units in the new trench.

Nevertheless, already in the uppermost layers we are finding plenty of New Kingdom pottery. I processed the first baskets from these layers this afternoon. Interestingly, some contexts produced more Nubian style pottery than Egyptian style pottery – maybe this is just accidental, but the occurrence of Black-Topped Kerma style wares as well as impressed and incised decorated Nubian wares and basketry impressed cooking pots are intriguing. As documented earlier, I am also stunned by the fact that both 18th Dynasty and Ramesside pottery is present, suggesting a long period of use of this settlement.

Work will continue tomorrow and we will try to keep you posted – internet connection is very unstable at our digging house in Ginis, but the connection in the town of Abri allows me to upload small data like this blog post.

Back in Sudan, ready to start fieldwork in Ginis

After some really busy and intense weeks, I finally made it back to Sudan. Iulia and I arrived yesterday night. Everything is sorted and we are ready to leave Khartoum to the north tomorrow morning with our friend and colleague Huda as our NCAM inspector – to start our first proper excavation season for the ERC DiverseNile project.

This spring season is super exciting: we will excavate several New Kingdom sites at Ginis East, hopefully also on the West bank. Other than in our test excavations in 2020, we will open large areas and conduct our excavation work with the help of local workmen. Starting on Saturday with site GiE 001, we will test once more the results of the magnetometry from 2018/2019.

Fig. 1: results of magnetometry of GiE 001 2018/2019 and its sourroundings (M. Scheiblecker).

This season is also exciting because we will live for the first time in the new digging house in Ginis East. Construction work started in January and has been finished just in time, allowing us to settle down in our new home away from home during these weeks in northern Sudan. I am very much looking forward to this!

Excavations are scheduled for 4 weeks, with an extra week for processing and/or survey, depending on our results. Of course I will keep you updated – hoping that internet connection will allow to do so.

Surveying between Attab and Ferka: the 2021/2022 season

We have returned safely from Sudan and our short preparation season of the Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project (MUAFS) in its research concession between Attab and Ferka from Dec. 29 to January 9 was very successful.

Huda, our driver Saif and I getting ready to leave for another day of surveying the area (photo: C. Geiger).

Huda and I conducted a foot survey in areas of Attab East, Attab West, Ginis East, Ginis West and Ferka West. The focus was on the identification of sites already recorded by Vila. We were able to document a total of 79 sites, comprising 21 new MUAFS sites. The sites range in date from Palaeolithic times to the Medieval and Ottoman eras. The types of sites are mostly camp sites, habitations, and tombs/cemeteries, but also include rock art and stone wadi walls.

Surveyed area of the 2021/2022 season (map: C. Geiger).

Whenever possible, we collected diagnostic pottery and lithics from the sites for dating purposes. I was able to document most of them by photography and also managed to draw 35 Kerma and New Kingdom sherds. Most interesting are some newly documented New Kingdom sites, attesting to both a use in the 18th Dynasty and a Ramesside presence in the periphery of Amara West.

One example of a newly documented site, unfortunatly recently plundered (photo: J. Budka).

One particularly striking site, a cluster of cleft tombs at Ginis East, has never been documented before but was unfortunately lately plundered. And this is not an isolated example! Recent plundering, modern gold working, new electricity lines and damaged caused by car tracks, roads and new buildings are unfortunately very frequent, have increased since 2020 and stress how urgently we need to document this rich area in the Middle Nile.

The surveying campaign carried out by Cajetan resulted in the setup of new benchmarks using a GPS Antenna and a totalstation in Attab East, Ginis East and Ginis West. We will use these benchmarks as basis for future measurements during our planned excavations. Drone aerial photography was successfully conducted in Ginis East, Ginis West and Ferka West.

All in all, I am very grateful to the support of our Sudanese friends and colleagues – without them our work at site would not have been possible in these very difficult times of political changes. We collected a large amount of new data and will now be very busy processing these here in Munich – and of course we will keep you updated.

New publication: marginal identities in colonial Nubia in focus

My paper ‘Alternatives to colonization and marginal identities in New Kingdom colonial Nubia (1550–1070 BCE)’, co-authored with Julia Budka, is now published in World Archaeology. This results from initial comparative research on the role of ‘peripheral’ cemeteries in New Kingdom Nubia, combined with results from my PhD on material culture from colonial cemeteries.

The paper is now online but will appear in a special issue edited by Alfredo Gonzalez-Ruibal on ‘The Archaeology of Marginal Spaces’. Our contribution focuses not only on the alternative roles performed by material culture (the focus of my PhD), but mostly on how these alternative roles helped shaping marginal realities that contextually challenged mainstream social norms (i.e. the Egyptian colonization of Nubia in the New Kingdom).
It was a great opportunity to combine evidence that I explored in my thesis with evidence that I’m now looking at for DiverseNile. I believe this combination can still produce more interesting results and I hope you will also find these discussions interesting. As always, I’m always up for exchanging and discussing ideas!

The ‚hidden hands‘ who sustained New Kingdom colonial Nubia: progress report of Work Package 2

Sudan’s revolution is well underway. Millions of Sudanese took off to the streets of Khartoum and other locations across the country to demand freedom of choice. This is most inspiring for us as human beings living in the present, but also as scholars writing about the Nubian past.

I have so far directed my attention to understanding the general logics of what was happening in contexts outside mainstream colonial sites to try to identify how colonial peripheries in New Kingdom Nubia became centres of human experience that produced alternatives to colonial social relations.

In the New Kingdom colonial period, a wave of Egyptian-style objects flooded Nubia and determined on which grounds various social negotiations would take place—i.e. based on people’s adoption and use of foreign objects in local contexts. On the one hand, this means that if you managed to consume Egyptian-style shabtis or jewellery, you’d probably have a good chance of negotiating an ambivalent sense of identity in-between ‚Egypt‘ and ‚Nubia‘. However, if you didn’t manage to possess such objects, your previous life would probably have changed little anyway, at least from an archaeological point of view—after all, we need the stuff to be able to reconstruct human experience anyway…

So, I have been interested in the experiences of those who could not really negotiate in colonized Nubia; those who couldn’t really find effective ways of making inputs to culture, despite their immense inputs to society: though we don’t know who were those people living and dying outside of mainstream colonial sites, there’s a huge chance we’re actually talking about farmers and other labourers who were the ‚hidden hand‘ that supported colonial economy. (Julien Cooper’s recent suggestion that desert dwellers were the ‚hidden hand‘ of the Egyptian gold enterprise in the Nubian deserts, Cooper 2021, is so interesting that it deserves to be expanded to seek other ‚hidden hands‘ that remained invisible in our narratives so far.)

I’m currently teaching a course on postcolonial and decolonial approaches to the archaeology of the Nile valley. This also greatly inspires my research and the way I look for interesting things in the archaeological record to „hear“ the voices of those who remained silenced by major constraints to action in antiquity. So far, what I find most interesting is people’s sense of collectivism. In social and geographical peripheries—here I’m referring to non-elites working for colonial elites at temple-towns and farmers and other workers living/dying in the outskirts of these major sites—individual inputs to culture are rare as consumption was limited and scarcity was rampant. However, when there’s scarcity, there’s also wisdom—Brazilian geographer Milton Santos would agree (Santos 2001).

This sums up my research in this first year as a DiverseNile postdoc. I have been focusing on finding interesting features in the archaeological record of excavated/surveyed sites in the peripheries of colonized Nubia while waiting to be back in Sudan to celebrate the achievements of local people past and present. I have discussed these topics in more detail in three forthcoming publications, which should be available very soon:

Lemos, R. (forthcoming). Heart scarabs and other heart-related objects in New Kingdom Nubia. Sudan & Nubia 25.

Lemos, R. (forthcoming). Can we decolonise the ancient past? Bridging postcolonial and decolonial theory in Sudanese and Nubian archaeology. Cambridge Archaeological Journal.

Lemos, R. and J. Budka. (forthcoming). Alternatives to colonization and marginal identities in New Kingdom colonial Nubia (1550–1070 BCE). World Archaeology (themed issue on ‚The archaeology of marginal places and identities‘).


Cooper, J. (2021). Between the Nile and the Red Sea: Medjay Desert Polities in the Third to First Millennium BCE. Old World: Journal of Ancient Africa and Eurasia 1 (1): 1–22. https://doi.org/10.1163/26670755-01010001

Santos, M. 2001. Por uma outra globalização: do pensamento único à consciência universal. 6th ed. Rio de Janeiro: Record.

New approaches in the past – new approaches in the present

As my colleague and ‘scientific counterpart’ Rennan Lemos, responsible together with our PI for Work Package 2 (The Variability of Funerary Monuments), pointed out so perfectly in his blog entry On the footsteps of Vila and the archaeology of monumental surveys in northern Sudan, a number of different factors determine how we have to approach our engagement with the past today. Not only do we archaeologists have to keep in mind our own social or cultural conditioning, our own socialisation, which is always an on-going process, but we also have to take into account the zeitgeist of our predecessors, and thus the working methods influenced by it, when we include their previous results.

In this regard, the method that Vila and his team applied for their Archaeological Survey in the 1970ies, which also covered the MUAFS concession area from Attab to Ferka, is equally relevant for settlement sites and thus for Work Package 1 (The Variability of Domestic Architecture).

Although Vila and his team also followed up on earlier surveys in Sudan, they deliberately chose an approach that was kind of new for their time. Their main aim was to give an idea and thus evidence of the cultural legacy, to raise awareness of the archaeological value of the explored regions. Linked to that was the explicit wish to pave the way for further fieldwork in the future.

Concerning the settlements, in slight contrast to the cemeteries, where clearing or minor excavations were carried out more frequently, the major rule was that survey work must avoid disturbing the original condition of the archaeological sites. Instead of using invasive methods that would have resulted in significant destruction, (in most cases) work was limited to indicating the existence of the sites, documenting their visible remains and giving a current status report on them. The documentation system chosen by Vila and his team was based on a strict, predetermined catalogue of guidelines (Vila 1975, Volume I). Exemplarily mentioned shall be the given information about the localisation, the extent of the sites or the geographical features, and – in this point naturally somewhat more subjective – the classification of the respective archaeological value. The latter dictated quite decisively, f. ex. the extent of sampling, which was also subjected to strict rules. Another positive aspect to be highlighted is a topic usually rather neglected: The consistent application of the terms chosen for their survey (f. ex. vestiges for removable witnesses, like sherds or stone implements; remains for any kind of fixed structure) as well as the explanation of chosen terms like settlement, camp site, occupation site etc., and not least the description of the problems they were confronted with when creating their system.

Although Vila and his team likeable (and very well understandable for any field archaeologist) admitted their own hardships in this approach, having to leave to other people what they discovered, it is especially this transparency that makes it particularly helpful for us subsequent scholars to comprehend the information they gained, documented and what they understood by it.

This systematics, which at that time was still applied in the field via punched cards created according to the guidelines and not unlike an analogue database (Fig. 1), enables the old survey results to be easily transferred to a now digital Database (FileMaker Pro), the ERC DiverseNile Database for ‘Kerma’ and ‘New Kingdom’ sites, I designed for Work Package 1 (see also the Petrographic Database my colleague Giulia D’Ercole designed for Work Package 3).

Figure 1. Selective card used for documentation in the 1970ies (Vila 1975: 19, Fig. 2).

This new database contains on one hand all the available documentation published by Vila concerning the settlement sites, whereas the then state of research is contrasted in a clear and critical separation with the new data gained from our own studies, which includes f. ex. not only new sites, new maps, new photographs but also a revised dating for several dates given by Vila. As strongly intertwined topics it also includes basic information on cemeteries.

This easy to handle database, which I will give you here a short overview of, can be flexibly modified and adapted to the on-going work process (Fig. 2): Structured in three parts, the database first provides a short general information about the site, f. ex. its Name and location, the AMS-No (alphanumeric classification regarding the 1, 250 000 map sheets of the Sudan Survey Department, a method firstly implemented by W.Y. Adams 1961, further elaborated by F.W. Hinkel and used by Vila), or new Way Points (taken by the MUAFS team). Important entries are of course the site’s Dating given by Vila, which has been updated if necessary (Site Date new). The second, more detailed part includes the elaborated Site description by Vila together with already published photos, drawings or sketches, again updated and compared with new results collected in our last seasons (f. ex. Observation/New Excavations). The third section serves to cover specific data relevant for the settlements within Work Package 1, such as f. ex. Superstructure or Building Techniques, as well as entries like Shape or Material.

Figure 2. Layout of the ERC DiverseNile Database for ‘Kerma’ and ‘New Kingdom’ sites (detail).

An equally beneficial option within FileMaker is the integration of other databases I made, the ERC DiverseNile Object Database (Fig. 3) and the MUAFS All Finds Database, which contain the data of all the new finds we so far recorded and are accessible through an easy command.

Figure 3. Layout of the ERC DiverseNile Object Database.

Altogether these databases are an extremely helpful and time-saving working tool to sort and select relevant data at a glance (or a click), revealing not only the wide variability of sites in our concession area but also the cultural diversity of the archaeological remains in the Attab to Ferka region, including at the moment 53 recorded sites relevant for Work Package 1.

Being able to expand and optimise these databases during the work process, they also reflect at one glance the development of past and present research: This holds f. ex. true for the attribution of sites indicated by Vila as either ‘Kerma’ or ‘Egyptian New Kingdom’, defining them then still as more rigid cultural units, than we do today. Numerous data from revisited sites and newly added ones show a much closer interconnection of cultures in this region – thus supporting our new approach to move away from these strict categories and going a step further, with our PI introducing the preliminary term Bronze Age Nubia as a starting point (Fig. 4). Provided with newer methods in archaeology and fresh promising data we are looking forward to further shedding light on this flourishing and dynamic region in the periphery of Sai and Amara West.

Figure 4. New distribution of ‘Bronze Age’ sites according to the results of the MUAFS 2018/2019 season (Budka 2019: Map 7).


Adams, W. Y. and Verwers C. J. 1961. ‘Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia’. Kush 9, 7–43.

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. Sudan & Nubia 23, 13–26.

Hinkel, F.W. 1977. The Archaeological Map of the Sudan. A Guide to its Use and Explanation of its Principles. Berlin.

Vila. A. 1975. La prospection archéologique de la vallée du Nil au sud de la Cataracte de Dal. Vol. 1. Paris.

A Remarkable New Kingdom Tomb at Ginis West

Most of the available burial evidence in New Kingdom Nubia come from large cemeteries associated with temple-towns. Evidence from the hinterland of colonial towns or ‘peripheral’ areas such as the Batn al-Hajar are usually discontinuous and pose various challenges to interpretation (figure 1). Edwards recently raised discussion on the role of isolated tombs in such areas. According to him, mortuary evidence from such locations, in contrast with evidence from formal cemeteries, “should not narrow our perspectives, to the exclusion from our narratives of the vast majority of the population who were buried otherwise” (Edwards 2020: 396).

Figure 1: different physiographic zones along the Middle Nile. Wikimedia Commons.

Ginis West is located north of Amara West, on the way to the Batn al-Hajar. In our concession area, evidence for formal cemeteries associated with established settlements is scarce, although continuing research and excavations will likely shed more light on this topic. In the New Kingdom, the whole area between Amara West and Lower Nubia, comprising the north Abri-Delgo Reach and the Batn el-Hajar represents a gap in our knowledge of New Kingdom Nubia. Revisiting the evidence produced by various surveys in these areas is crucial for us to develop new comparative research, especially evidence produced by the Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia (ASSN, Edwards 2020), the Finnish Expedition to Sudanese Nubia (Donner 1998) and other projects working in the Batn el-Hajar; and, particularly for us working in the Attab-Ferka stretch of the Nile, Vila’s survey south of Dal cataract (Vila 1975-79).

In the Batn el-Hajar, the ASSN uncovered not only simple pit graves, characteristic of non-elite burial grounds, but also a few elaborate tombs. Those can be compared to tombs at main cemeteries throughout the Nile Valley, at least in terms of substructures (Edwards 2020; see Spence 2019). At Ginis West, Vila’s team excavated a remarkable New Kingdom tomb (site 3-P-50). Based on a first look at the material culture retrieved inside, I would say it was used especially in the later part of the New Kingdom. The tomb was cut at the intersection between the alluvial plain and bedrock, and a few supporting slabs were used to reinforce the four subterranean chambers, accessible through a descending passage (figure 2).

Figure 2: plan and section of tomb 3-P-50 at Ginis West (Villa 1977: 146).

The tomb was heavily looted, with scattered bones found in the descending passage and chamber three. The tomb likely housed the burials of various contemporaneous individuals, as well as later burials. No superstructure has been detected, although Binder pointed out to later New Kingdom tombs combining Egyptian-style substructures with tumuli superstructures at Amara West, Ginis and Sesebi (Binder 2014: 45).

The material culture from tomb 3-P-50 suggest cultural affinities with both Egypt and Nubia. On the Egyptian side, there are figurative scarabs, pendants representing deities and animals, including a rare crocodile pendant, an equally rare wooden headrest, and two late 19th Dynasty shabtis of Isis, lady of the house (figure 3). Various types of beads were also excavated, including long beads and spacers, which are characteristic of elite cemeteries and monumental tombs in New Kingdom Nubia (Lemos 2020). However, various earrings made of shell and carnelian were also found (figure 4), which represent affinities with local styles, which were later exported to Egypt (Lemos 2020). The combination of Egyptian-style objects with stone/ivory/shell earrings and bangles is especially strong at Soleb (Schiff Giorgini 1971).

Figure 3: Egyptian-style objects retrieved inside tomb 3-P-50 (Vila 1977: 151).
Figure 4: Nubian-style earrings retrieved inside tomb 3-P-50 (Vila 1977: 151).

Tomb 3-P-50 did not belong to a formal cemetery as its material culture alone would suggest. Vila only identified two later (likely Christian) tombs in the vicinity of the site. What is a relatively elaborate tomb containing a large quantity of restricted items typical of large New Kingdom colonial cemeteries doing at Ginis West? There is still so much for us to understand about ‘peripheral’ zones in New Kingdom Nubia. Tombs like 3-P-50 at Ginis West and a few examples from the Batn el-Hajar allow us to think that, at least for some people, what we characterise as ‘peripheries’ were actually the centre of life and death experiences of colonisation in New Kingdom Nubia. My research for DiverseNile will hopefully shed light onto shifting conceptions and experiences of ‘centres’ and ‘peripheries’, which will allow us to rewrite historical narratives of Nubia in the New Kingdom based on local experiences instead of Egyptian ways of classifying history.


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.

Donner, G. 1998. The Finnish Nubia Expedition to Sudanese Nubia, 1964–65. Helsinki: Vammalan Kirjapaino Oy.

Edwards, D. ed. 2020. The Archaeological Survey of Sudanese Nubia, 1963-69. Oxford: Archaeopress.

Lemos, R. 2020. Foreign Objects in Local Contexts: Mortuary Objectscapes in Late Colonial Nubia. Unpublished PhD thesis, University of Cambridge.

Schiff Giorgini, M. 1971. Soleb II: Les Nécropoles. Firenze: Sansone.

Spence, K. 2019. New Kingdom Tombs in Lower and Upper Nubia. In Handbook of Ancient Nubia, ed. D. Raue, 541–566. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Vila. A. 1975-79. La prospection archéologique de la vallée du Nil au sud de la Cataracte de Dal. Vols 1-11. Paris: CNRS.