Specifically, we aimed to first perform Raman spectroscopy towards carbon-bearing pottery and yields insights on the application of this technique for estimating maximum firing temperatures of Late Bronze Age vessels from Upper Nubia, comparing two site-specific data sets of samples, from the 18th Dynasty (1550–1290 BCE) at Sai Island and Dukki Gel (Kerma).
In testing Raman spectroscopy, our principal aims were to search for differences in producing technique and firing temperatures between the Nubian- and Egyptian-style samples; between the samples from Sai Island and those from Dukki Gel; and eventually among the different ceramic wares and types.
Now, as it is often the case, one idea leads to another and while some of the archaeological questions posed in the initial objectives of the work have not yet been fully answered, new exciting questions have arisen during the research and led us to further expand our Raman project into a new spin-off project focused on the investigation of the effects of oxidative weathering in relation to site-specific depositional environment and time.
Generally speaking, oxidative weathering is known to cause significant alteration modifications of the ceramic body after deposition resulting in distorting Raman spectra and potentially leading to an overestimation of the firing temperatures (Deldicque et al., 2023). Although all archaeological ceramics experienced oxidative weathering, our case study showed that the weathering effect was possibly more intense on the Dukki Gel than on the Sai Island samples hence to affect maximum firing conditions.
In the coming months, together with Fabian Dellefant, we will particularly focus on this aspect of our research and perform Raman Spectroscopy on new samples, including ceramic sherds that have undergone extremely intensive oxidative weathering and experimental replica which were never exposed to any depositional and post-depositional processes.
Stay tuned to know more about the development of our work!
Deldicque, D., Rouzaud, J., Vandevelde, S., Medina-Alcaide, M.A., Ferrier, C., Perrenoud, C., Pozzi, J., Cabanis, M., 2023. Effects of oxidative weathering on Raman spectra of charcoal and bone chars: consequences in archaeology and paleothermometry. Comptes Rendus. Geoscience 355, 1–22. https://doi.org/ 10.5802/crgeos.186.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.
The so-called „vorlesungsfreie“ (lecture-free) summer time is now over – the winter term at LMU will start on Monday. Next week is also the next DiverseNile Seminar – this time it will be given by our own Giulia D’Ercole, who has just returned from her maternity leave.
Giulia will speak about some core tasks of our work package 3, material culture and cultural diversity in the Attab to Ferka region. Under the title „Material meanings, technology and cultural choices: Pottery production in Bronze Age Nubia“ she will outline a number of theoretical and methodological aspects of her study of ceramics produced in the Middle Nile, including Nubian-style, Egyptian-style and also so-called hybrid vessels. Case studies from Sai Island but also from the new MUAFS concession will be presented.
I am very happy that Giulia is back in office and very much looking foward to her lecture on Oct. 18 – anyone interested in Bronze Age technology and/or pottery shouldn’t miss it!
As anounced earlier, our DiverseNile Seminar Series 2022 will focus on material culture and society in Bronze Age Nubia and respective perspectives from landscape and resource management. I am delighted that the final programme is now available and includes a great line-up of international speakers:
I am very grateful to all speakers and especially to Rennan Lemos for organising this exciting online seminar. Registration is open and possible via email. If you registered already last year, we will just send you the 2022 Zoom link hoping that you will join us again! See you at our kick-off on January 25!
Good things come to those who wait – this holds especially true in the times of the corona pandemic. I am more than delighted and very grateful to all who made it possible despite of the crisis that finally, after a very long wait since March, I can now welcome Rennan Lemos from Brazil as a new team member for the ERC DiverseNile project! Welcome to Munich, dear Rennan!
Rennan was the successful candidate in a call for applications earlier this year – we had very strong candidates from all over the world, but he convinced us in the end, especially because of his PhD thesis which fits perfectly to the objectives of DiverseNile.
Early in 2020, Rennan has handed in his thesis, entitled Foreign Objects in Local Contexts: Mortuary Objectscapes in Late Colonial Nubia, under the supervision of Dr Kate Spence at the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge.
He is a trained specialist in Egyptian and Nubian material culture, with extensive experience excavating, handling, documenting and publishing ancient objects. In his career, he has focused on the study of elite and non-elite mortuary contexts in Egypt and Sudan, usually associated with theoretical perspectives in favour of social complexity and cultural diversity.
Rennan’s PhD thesis deals with the problem of the spread of Egyptian-style material culture in mortuary contexts in New Kingdom Nubia. His work offers a more complex perspective on the role of foreign objects in mortuary contexts in Nubia beyond previous homogenising approaches based on the concept of Egyptianisation, but it also presents a critique to approaches excessively focused on cultural contacts, such as cultural entanglement. His interpretation of material from various cemeteries in Sudan is conducted in the light of state-of-the-art theoretical discussions in Material Culture Studies, Postcolonial Theory and Sudanese Archaeology.
All of this and especially his deep knowledge of mortuary material culture and contexts in Nubia made Rennan the perfect choice for us: He is now the responsible person for Work Package 2 (The Variability of Funerary Monuments in the Region from Attab to Ferka), aiming to illustrate the cultural diversity on the religious level by disentangling burial grounds from previous cultural categorisations and showing acceptance, appropriation or ignorance of various cultural influences in the funerary sphere.
Looking much forward to this new collaboration with our fresh team member!
October has passed really fast, with increasing attention given to the covid-19 crisis. The latter will of course continue in the next weeks…
The DiverseNile project has got some reinforcement in the person of Giulia D’Ercole. Building upon her expertise gained in the framework of the AcrossBorders project, she will be focusing within our Work Package 3 (material culture) on various assessments and analyses of ceramics from the MUAFS concession. A special focus will be on the question of ‘peripheral’ Kerma pottery production including a comparison with the one at the capital, at Kerma city.
Also in other respects, October was very busy – and somehow sentimental, full of memories – nice ones fortunately! Earlier this month, one of the most remarkable present-day Austrian Egyptologists celebrated a round-numbered birthday – my PhD supervisor Manfred Bietak is well-known for his research and publication activities on Egyptian archeology and especially on cultural contacts during the Middle Bronze Age in the eastern Mediterranean. Very remarkable, but little-known is also his field work in Nubia early in his career – as a member of the excavations by the Austrian National Committee of the UNESCO Campaign for the Rescue of the Nubian Antiquities in the Sayala district, he excavated between 1961-1965 various cemeteries of Nubian groups (especially so-called C-Group and Pan-Grave, but also later tombs potentially associated with Blemmyes), as well as relics of the Medieval period. This early experience left a deep impression and all of his students know stories by Manfred being told at excavations and excursions starting with “once upon in Nubia, …”. I consider myself fortunate to be among these students and am simply grateful for such an inspiring teacher!
To celebrate Manfred’s birthday but also his achievements for the study of Late Period Egypt, I organized the first online Study Day of the Ankh-Hor project. This day was a real success and the lectures are by now available online via LMU cast. Finally, a podcast has been released where I immerse myself in my memories – talking about the critical moment in my career when it was unclear whether I can stay in academia or not.
If you want to know what an egg and my dog’s interest in this egg has to do with that – then you will have to listen to the podcast 😉!
Bietak, M. and Jungwirth, J. Die österreichischen Grabungen in Ägyptisch-Nubien im Herbst 1965, in: Ann. Naturhistorisches Museum 69, 1966, 463-470.