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‘).

References:

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.

From the field in Egypt to the digital classroom

Just one week ago, I closed the very successful 2021 season of the LMU Ankh-Hor project and finished my last tasks of the pottery study for the South Asasif Conservation Project. It has been 5 amazing and intriguing weeks in Luxor, and it was great to be back in the field, especially because it was the first time since the covid-19 crisis.

This week, the winter term at LMU has started and I am also busy preparing a short field trip to Sudan in November. In respect of teaching, I will continue to combine aspects of my current research in Egypt and Sudan with classes for both undergraduates and graduates. There are two personal highlights in my classes this winter term – one seminar focuses on the First Cataract area where I have been working since 1997 and here in particular on the role of the region as link between the Lower and Middle Nile. We will discuss cultural contacts over 5 millennia and complex two-ways of interactions which is very much in line with both my previous AcrossBorders project and the current DiverseNile project.

The second highlight is a seminar I will be co-teaching with Rennan Lemos. Under the title “Egyptian History: Colonial Narratives on Ancient Egypt” we will explore particular topics in the archaeology of colonialism in northeast Africa, with a special focus on Egypt and Nubia. Among others, we will discuss case studies like the question of power of colonial centres during the New Kingdom and the formation of „peripheries“ in colonised Nubia. Particular attention will be paid to the role of objects and material culture and how these shaped colonial interactions; but we will also discuss how the remnants of colonial discourses characterised earlier scholarship about ancient Egypt and Sudan.

The archaeological study of colonialism in the ancient past is a very broad field and for Egypt and Sudan, a large number of various objects and images can be discussed – both regarding their context in antiquity and their interpretation by modern scholars.

Both Rennan and me are very much looking forward to this seminar which will offer the students fresh insights from our ongoing research about cultural diversity in the Middle Nile and will provide us, without doubt, with much food for thought. We believe that the new method of contact space biography I introduced for DiverseNile will reveal an alternative narrative regarding colonial Nubia, stressing the importance of social practices, communities, and the subsistence strategies of marginal regions in Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology. Discussing these points with a group of students will undoubtedly be an enrichment.

Although it is still partly difficult to adapt from the splendid atmosphere of the Theban Westbank and from a dig schedule to Munich and Vienna and the daily routine in the office/home-office, this winter and our teaching term promise much input for all of us! Looking much forward to the feedback from our participants.

A View from Sai Island

Tomorrow, the second lecture of our DiverseNile Seminar will take place. This time, it will be me presenting and I will talk about “Cultural Diversity in Urban ‚Contact Spaces‘ in New Kingdom Nubia: A View from Sai Island”.

Sai Island is one of the prime case studies to investigate settlement patterns in New Kingdom Nubia. In tomorrow’s presentation, I will focus on state-built foundations like Sai as colonial urban sites and their hinterland. I will explain why I introduced the concept of ‘contact space biography’ for the DiverseNile project and outline this approach.

A view from Sai Island: here towards Gebel Abri.

The starting point for my new research in the Attab to Ferka region were several open questions deriving from my work on Sai between 2011-2018 – tomorrow, I will address some of them, stressing why a view from a colonial temple town is crucial to understand cultural dynamics in rural and peripheral regions of the Middle Nile.

The location of Sai Island in the Middle Nile.

Since time is limited, I will select some examples to address cultural diversity in New Kingdom Nubia: the use of the so-called fire dogs and the question of cooking pots as well as foodways in general. For the latter, I would like to introduce the ‘food system’ concept as presented by Kelly Reed in a brand-new article which provides much food for thought. Reed argues that with such an approach, archaeologists are required to consider „all the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population“ (Reed 2021, 57). This does seem particularly fitting for the DiverseNile project and our aims.  I also very much like her attempt to apply system theory and social-network analyses to highlight the multiple links between society, environment and food. Within our contact space of the Attab to Ferka region, we also want to identify the specific stakeholders (actors such as families, individuals and official institutions as well as the ‚goverment‘, thus the Egyptian state) of this ancient Bronze Age ‘food system’ and thus presumably showing complex connections between the urban sites of Sai and Amara West and their hinterland with rural sites like villages at Ginis and Kosha. New information on food supply and distribution systems will be highly relevant to reconstruct contact space biographies in our project. Last, but definitly not least, the peripheral settlements in our research concession were always an integral part of the ‘food system’ of Sai and contributed to the dynamics we can trace in this state-built foundation (cf. Sulas and Pikirayi 2020, 80).

For more, please zoom in tomorrow at 1pm, late registrations are of course  still welcome!

References:

Reed, K. 2021. Food systems in archaeology. Examining production and consumption in the past. Archaeological Dialogues, 28(1), 51-75. doi:10.1017/S1380203821000088

Sulas, Federica and Pikirayi, Innocent 2020. From Centre-Periphery Models to Textured Urban Landscapes: Comparative Perspectives from Sub-Saharan Africa, Journal of Urban Archaeology 1, 67–83 https://www.brepolsonline.net/doi/epdf/10.1484/J.JUA.5.120910

Investigating the variability of domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region (MUAFS concession area)

After the recent blog posts by my colleagues Rennan Lemos and Giulia D’Ercole presenting their tasks within Work Package 2 and Work Package 3 I am not only happy to introduce Work Package 1: The variability of domestic architecture in the Attab to Ferka region I am – together with our PI Julia Budka – responsible for, but also to write my first blog entry as a member of the ERC Consolidator Grant project DiverseNile. This especially, since I already could join the previous ERC Starting Grant project AcrossBorders of Julia Budka for its last year at the end of 2017, leaving Berlin and moving to Munich, which – as a Tyrolean – felt a bit like coming home.

My first contact with Sudan, which I immediately fell in love with, while working in Hamadab/Meroe and Musawwarat es-Sufra, was very long ago in 2003. But also my first visit to the region between the Second and Third Cataract – and here specifically to Sai Island with its impressive New Kingdom town – dates some years back to 2012.

At Sai Island, especially by the AcrossBorders project or at the neighbouring town Amara West (Spencer et al. 2017), the research of the recent years concerning the manifold relations between the Egyptians and the Nubians in the Middle Nile already moved towards a more differentiated approach with implementing the concept of ‘cultural entanglement’ (see van Pelt 2013 with references). The focus of work at sites like Sai and Amara being administrative centres in New Kingdom Nubia was necessarily set on the official and elite sphere.

The DiverseNile project investigating the Attab to Ferka region now goes a step further aiming to throw light on the peripheries still very much standing in the shadows of the powerful urban sites. Shifting the focus towards the hinterland not only broadens our horizon filling the still significant voids of research in this region of the Nile valley but very much promises to give a new and deeper insight in the cultural diversity of people living in the hinterland of towns, their interactions and possible more autonomous living situations – as these aspects become archaeologically more visible aside official power throughout the rich cultural history of Nubia.

In this regard WP 1 aims to contribute to a better understanding of the occupants of the Attab to Ferka region, their cultural identities and interactions, their social structures or complexity through investigating the diverse settlement sites, their variability and development and thus their spatial and temporal frame. Concerning the latter our focus lies on Bronze Age Nubia, a term introduced by our PI reflecting the need to have a more differentiated look at the so far used categories ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ during the Kerma and the Egyptian Second Intermediate and New Kingdom Periods in Nubia and thus an era with multiple upheavals. This need became also clear studying the previously classifications attributed to the diverse archaeological remains in this part of the Middle Nile valley.

In this respect the region of our interest was previously and firstly surveyed by the Sudan Antiquities Service together with the French Archaeological Research Unit in the 1970ies directed by A. Vila and resulting in several Volumes. These works serve as very important input for our research, as Vila and his team impressively discovered and documented 219 sites from Palaeolithic to Medieval times. Among these, sites qualified by Vila as Kerma and New Kingdom remains were represented both at around 7% on the right and with a larger number at 12.4% resp. 16.9% on the left riverbanks, the latter consisting predominantly of settlement sites.

Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region identified by the MUAFS project (status: 2020)

Among all of the sites listed by Vila a total of 138 sites could be successfully re-identified during our two MUAFS seasons in 2018/2019 and at the beginning of this year, shortly before Covid-19 became the new reality (for further details see the online reports as well as Budka 2019). As an fascinating example for an Egyptian New Kingdom domestic site comprising evidence for Kerma presence too, GiE 001 (Vila’s site NF-36-M/2-T-36B), can be emphasized here, where a test excavation was started in 2020, which we will hopefully further pursue next year.

Distribution of New Kingdom, Pre-Napatan and Napatan sites in the MUAFS concession (status: 2020)

Although Covid-19 has restricted us to office work, it has not limited us to carry out our research or staying in contact with our Sudanese colleagues and friends. Re-planning rather is giving us the possibility not only to evaluate the already gained data and information but also to engage with the topic in depth. In this regard I am currently not only further screening sites of our interest indicated by Vila, analysing his approach and state of documentation, but also their distribution within our concession area. Concerning the latter the examination of similar situations of periphery within frontier zones like for example the Third Cataract (Edwards 2012) and a deeper study of other rural Kerma villages like Gism el-Arba (Gratien 2003) yields a very fruitful input for our questionings in many ways. As I dealt a lot with Kushite sacral architecture in the last years doing my PhD, I am especially happy to explore architectural remains aside of the official sphere telling a lot of different and lesser known stories. In this regard – as my next blog entry will address Kerma types of domestic architecture and building techniques – keep reading here in our space!

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. Sudan & Nubia 23, 13–26.

Edwards, D. N. 2012. ‘The Third-Second Millennia BC. Kerma and New Kingdom Settlements’, in A. Osman and D. N. Edwards (eds), Archaeology of a Nubian frontier. Survey on the Nile Third Cataract, Sudan. Leicester, 59–87.

Gratien, B., S. Marchi, O. Thuriot, and J.-M. Willot 2003. ‘Gism el- Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil’. Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29–43.

Spencer, N., Stevens, A. and Binder, M. 2017. Introduction: History and historiography of a colonial entanglement, and the shaping of new archaeologies for Nubia in the New Kingdom, 1‒61, 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.

Van Pelt, W.P. 2013. Revising Egypto-Nubian Relations in New Kingdom Lower Nubia: From Egyptianization to Cultural Entanglement. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 23.3, 523‒550.

An update: Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region

The last weeks were busy, among other tasks with completing data for our GIS project in order to create new maps based on our survey results. As I have shown in my OREA e-lecture, Cajetan has created site distribution maps according to periods – simply fantastic to work with!

Since the ERC project DiverseNile will focus on Bronze Age remains, the sites currently labelled as ‘Kerma’ are of much interest. The present map also includes some unclear sites where a proper dating and/or association with the Kerma culture remains to be checked.

Kerma sites in the Attab to Ferka region identifed by the MUAFS project (status: 2020)

Brigitte Gratien, one of the leading experts on the Kerma culture, recently pointed out the general problems related to Kerma remains outside of the heartland of the Kerma kingdom at the Third Cataract:

As everybody knows, writing about Kerma north of the Third Cataract is not so easy. Most of the excavations were done a long time ago and the results come mostly from the Nile valley. Where are the borders of the Kerma state or kingdom? What are the stages in the expansion of Kerma to the north, and what was the nature of the links and relationship with the other Nubian cultures and with Egypt?’(Gratien 2014, 95)

The Attab to Ferka region and renewed excavations at Kerma sites in the area have much potential to address these questions and problems which will be of first priority for the DiverseNile project. In general, very little rural settlements have been investigated up to now in northern Sudan, creating a lack of means to contextualise the central sites like Kerma or Sai Island. Sai is regarded, due to the strong Kerma presence on the island prior to the New Kingdom and especially the very large cemetery with huge tumuli, as northern stronghold of the Kerma kingdom. But how does this presumed function of the island relate to the periphery of Sai? What do we know about Kerma dwellings in the area?

This brings us back to the MUAFS concession and to our newly established distribution of ‘Kerma’ sites. Camps, settlements and cemeteries of the Kerma culture were recorded at both riverbanks. Except for two large Kerma tumulus cemeteries associated with the Kerma classique period in Ferka East, 3-G-16 and 3-G-19, all of the sites are clustered in the southern districts of Attab, Ginis and Kosha, thus quite close to Sai Island.

Dry-stone architecture datable to the Brone Age at Attab West.

Of particular interest are 1) stone structures in the Attab West district associated with 18th Dynasty pottery but of unclear cultural attribution since also Nubian material culture was present (Budka 2019, 24‒25) and 2) various settlement sites in the district of Ginis East. The latter were partly investigated by our text excavations earlier this year.

It is still too early, but sites like GiE 001 and the ‘watchtowers’ in Attab West will hopefully allow a comparison of ‘provincial’ Kerma remains like Gism el-Arba (Gratien et al. 2003; 2008) and H25 near Kawa (Ross 2014) with the capital of the Kushite kingdom, Kerma itself (Bonnet 2014). At least some of the questions regarding Kerma north of the Third Cataract are likely to be answered in the next years.

References

Bonnet 2014 = Bonnet, C. 2014. La ville de Kerma: une capitale nubienne au sud de lʼEgypte. Paris.

Budka 2019 = Budka, J. 2019. ‘Towards Middle Nile Biographies: The Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey Project 2018/2019’, Sudan & Nubia 23, 13‒26.

Gratien 2014 = Gratien, B. 2014. ‘Kerma north of the Third Cataract’, in J. Anderson and D. Welsby (eds), The Fourth Cataract and Beyond. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 1. Leuven, 95‒101.

Gratien et al. 2003 = Gratien, B., Marchi, S., Thuriot, O. and J.-M. Willot 2003. ‘Gism el-Arba, habitat 2. Rapport préliminaire sur un centre de stockage Kerma au bord du Nil’, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 23, 29-43.

Gratien et al. 2008 = Gratien, B., Marchi, S., Sys, D. and R.-P. Dissaux 2008. ‘Gism el-Arba – Habitat 2, Campagne 2005–2006’, Kush 19 (2003-2008), 21-35.

Ross 2014 = Ross, T.I. 2014. ‘El-Eided Mohamadein (H25): A Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan settlement on the Alfreda Nile’, Sudan & Nubia 18, 58‒68.

Cultural diversity in the Middle Nile: New media coverage for DiverseNile

Despite of the recent developments because of the crisis due to the COVID-19 virus, my new ERC project, DiverseNile, will start on April 1st 2020 here at LMU Munich. I am very grateful to the wonderful support of the administrative staff both in Brussels and in Munich – it was quite a challenge, but now all is set to go!

More information on the project, my team and our intermediate goals will follow shortly – for now I would like to share a new dissemination article in which I tried to highlight the challenges and aims of DiverseNile (read it open access or download it here as PDF).

DiverseNile will be conducted within the framework of the MUAFS project – the Attab to Ferka region in Sudan is the perfect area for our new study.

Location of the MUAFS concession in relation to the Batn el-Haggar, Amara West and Sai Island.

I believe that in order to address the actual diversity of ancient groups in the Nile Valley a new approach focusing on the periphery and hinterland of the main centres is needed, considering both landscape and people in an integrative method. This is where DiverseNile will step in with our perfect case study between Attab and Ferka. The main objective of DiverseNile is to reconstruct Middle Nile landscape biographies beyond established cultural categories, enabling new insights into ancient dynamics of social spaces. Can’t wait to get started in April!