The MUAFS logo explained

The ERC DiverseNile project is embedded in the MUAFS project. In a recent post I explained the meaning of the new DiverseNile logo. The MUAFS logo was already created in 2018, but what exactly does it show?

We tried to illustrate the main aims of the project in the logo which is based on a rock art drawing in our concession (see Vila 1976, fig. 22).

Rock art motif at 3-L-24 after Vila 1976, fig. 22.

Within the MUAFS project, the area between Attab and Ferka will be investigated with a biography of a landscape approach and a long durée approach, considering all attested periods; the area is a natural and cultural border zone and therefore relevant for border studies.

We are very much interested in humans and cultural groups inhabiting and shaping the area. Objects and the material culture throughout the time is another of our research aims. Animals and other non-humans like plants will also be considered with priority. And finally, bringing these aspects together, we also focus on general activities and production within this area.

Although I was not aware of it when I chose the specific piece of rock art as the future MUAFS logo, the logo is also graphic evidence for the emergency affecting the project: Modern gold mining, construction works and building activities are endangering the cultural heritage of the area.

The rock art site 3-L-24 in Mograkka East comprising the picture of a herdsman we used for the MUAFS logo is presently buried below sand and debris from recent channel construction.

Present situation of the site 3-L-24: rock art including the MUAFS logo is buried below the debris of modern construction work and no longer accessible.

The area between Attab and Ferka has changed tremendously since the time of Vila – and this will also be illustrated and studied by both the MUAFS and the DiverseNile project in the next years.

Reference

Vila 1976 = Vila, A. 1976. La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise). Vol. 4. Paris.

Some news from the 2020 survey at Ferka East

Ferka is the district marking the northern end of MUAFS concession – the area is famous for monumental Post-Meroitic tumuli already excavated by Lawrence Kirwan and a large quantity of Medieval sites, including among other the small mud-brick church 3-G-9.

Documentation at the small church 3-G-9.

The elite tombs at Ferka, 3-G-1, are simply stunning – some of them have a height of more than 12m and clearly bear some resemblances to the famous tombs at Qustul and Ballana (see Kirwan 1939).

One of the monumental elite tumuli at Ferka East.

Rock art is another category that is well attested in Ferka East, most of which seems Medieval in date.

Example for rock art at Ferka East.

We documented most of Vila’s sites in the area in the last two days; some are still not found and seem to have gone due to modern house building, road construction work and gold digging.Thus, this compares to what we discovered in Ginis, Kosha and Mograkka. But as I have already noted in 2019, the site distribution in Ferka is very specific and is dominated by remains from late epochs, contrasting with other districts of the MUAFS concession.

Apart from the numerous sites dating to the 1st millennium AD, two large Kerma cemeteries, both located in the area of the large wadi, Wadi Sibée, are notable as earlier evidence. One of them comprises c. 20 tombs, the other one up to 40 tombs. We still found Kerma Classique ceramics associated with both cemeteries. This suggests a late date within the Kerma period fo these burial grounds. It is still an open question where contemporaneous camp sites or villages are located – the majority of domestic Kerma sites is situated in Ginis and Kosha, thus further upstream. These are important questions we will address within the framework of the ERC project DiverseNile which will soon be launched in Munich.

We will finish our 2020 survey in the next days, working a bit more in Mograkka and Kosha. Since Friday, we are fighting with very long power breaks and lacking phone connection and almost no internet access – no ideal parameters towards the end of a season, but we just need to stay patient. Electricity was at least working for a few hours over night, allowing recharging our equipment. So all set for another full day of archaeology tomorrow!

P.S.: and since this blog post did not go live yesterday as planned, it is actually already tomorrow and we will soon start another day!

Reference

Kirwan 1939 = Kirwan, L. P. 1939. The Oxford University Excavations at Firka. London.

Summary of the first MUAFS field season

From the Nile back to the Isar, from sun and sand back to clouds and snow, from desert walking back to desk work, emails, meetings and teaching – although our travel back from Attab via Khartoum via Istanbul to Munich took more than 30 hours, it feels like a very sudden transposition.

Landscape view of our concession area in northern Sudan.

Our first season of the MUAFS project was successfully closed and all of the principle goals were achieved thanks to the great support of NCAM and our inspector Huda Magzoub.

The principal goal of the first season was a new survey of the concession area, which was already recorded by Andrè Vila in the 1970s and published in his volumes 3-6. Altogether, 119 sites by Vila were re-identified and documented in the area between Attab East and Ferka East and Attab West and Mograkka West. For some of these sites, the dating can now be corrected, especially for Khartoum Variant and Abkan sites, Pre-Kerma sites, Kerma, New Kingdom and Napatan sites. Diagnostic stone tools and pottery fragments were collected from relevant sites. Other findspots of pottery and lithics that were previously not recorded by Vila, were documented as GPS waypoints and will be integrated in the new map of the area to be composed based on the results of our first season.

One particular focus was on the state of preservation of the sites nowadays – unfortunately, at almost all sites, we observed modern destruction and/or plundering. Especially drastic were destructions because of road building, the electricity posts and modern gold working areas (in particular at Mograkka West).

Major changes were observed compared to the state of preservation in times of Vila – one particularly illustrative example is Vila’s Kerma Period site 2-T-36B, partly overbuilt by modern houses and reduced because of the new electricity posts. Another example from the well-attested Christian period in our concession area is the church of Mograkka (2-L-2). While Vila documented it as single monument on a small hilltop, it is now embedded in newly built modern houses of the expanding village. The church new next-door neighbor is a modern mosque erected in the last years. Unfortunately, most of the Christian rock art, located by Vila in the immediate surroundings, are presently covered by modern debris from recent chanel works.

Detail of the well-preserved Church at Mograkka East with its new neighbour.

At other places, especially between Mograkka and Kosha, Neolithic and Post-Meroitic as well as Christian rock art was relocated by us. The most frequent motifs are cattle pictures and other animals like gazelles, hippos, ostriches and elephants.

Rock art site at Mograkka West.

The focus of our work in the first season was the east bank and here in particular the district of Ginis. We conducted aerial photography of large parts of the east bank, covering the area between Attab and Ginis by the drone kindly lent to us from the Department of Cultural and Ancient Studies of LMU Munich. These data will enable a digital elevation model and detailed orthophotos. A survey system with measuring points using the GPS Antenna was set up in this area as well, securing future work according to this coordination.

A geophysical survey of four sites from the Kerma period and the New Kingdom was realized by Marion Scheiblecker in Ginis East, using the Magnetometer of the type Ferex Foerster. New site labels were created for these find spots (GiE 001 for Vila 2-T-36B: Kerma and New Kingdom settlement, GiE 002 for Vila 2-T-13: New Kingdom cemetery, GiE 003 for Vila 2-T-39: Kerma cemetery and GiE 004 for Vila 2-T-5: Kerma settlement). The respective results are very promising and can serve as firm basis for a focused excavation of these important sites in the upcoming seasons.

In sum, the first season of the MUAFS project was very successful, providing new and partly unexpected results (like the strong presence of Napatan sites in the region), highlightening the rich potential of the concession area for detailed work from the Mesolithic period up to Christian times and allowing us to plan the next working steps. For now, we consider the Kerma and New Kingdom sites already investigated by magnetometry as of prime priority for further fieldwork.

We will be busy in the next week working on the collected data from our field season and setting up a strategy for the next years of work between Attab and Ferka. Of course we will keep you updated!