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!

Assessing functional aspects of GiE 001: Preliminary data from the finds

The last two days were really nice – hot and sunny. Today, the weather has changed again, a very strong wind made work difficult today and the temperatures are again a bit cooler.

Since work in the field with such a wind was not possible after lunch, I spent this afternoon playing with some statistics for the two test trenches in GiE 001 where we are currently working.

Of course, any interpretation based on two test trenches only must remain very tentative, but I believe there are already some interesting facts and possible glues for understanding the function of the site. The domestic character of GIE 001 was already noted by Vila and we confirmed its dating to the New Kingdom with a strong Kerma presence in 2019. What new data derives now from our test trenches?

Let’s look at the pottery – the surface material was mixed in both trenches, comprising Kerma, Egyptian New Kingdom, Napatan and Christian wares. Many of the sherds are very eroded (wind-worn).

Trench 1 only yielded a total of 328 sherds, of which 13 are diagnostic pieces (4%). 271 pieces from all sherds (83%) can be dated to the Kerma/New Kingdom period.

This pattern is repeated in Trench 2 were a larger quantity of pottery was found. As of today, a total of 3709 sherds were collected, 177 of which are diagnostic pieces (5%). In this trench, 3203 sherds belong to the Kerma/New Kingdom horizon (86% and thus the clear majority).

Especially relevant was today’s muddy layer in a deep level which yielded only 13 small pottery sherds, but of which all are New Kingdom in date, 6 wheel-made of the Egyptian tradition, 7 handmade Nubian wares.

Some stone artefacts from Trench 2 in GiE 001.

The second most frequent category of finds after pottery are stone tools and lithics. These were quite numerous, especially in Trench 2, where for example 102 pieces were collected from the surface layer. The stone artefacts are mostly flakes and here predominately quartz flakes; very frequent are also fragments from sandstone grindstones and handmills. A few chert flakes and some pounders and hammer stones were also noted.

All in all, the stone artefacts seem to attest first of all quartz working and grinding of materials. This fits perfectly to the topographical situation of the site – just south of GiE 001, there is a large quartz vein visible on the surface. And this might very well be connected with ancient gold working like it is well attested in the general region of Upper Nubia and especially around the main centres of the New Kingdom empire like Sai, Sesebi and Amara West.

Overview of quartz vein just south of site GiE 001.

In the 1970s, Vila documented a gold working site at Kosha East (the neighbouring village of Ginis) where New Kingdom and Napatan ceramics on the surface next to a quartz vein resemble the evidence from GiE 001.

Excavation and processing of data at GiE 001 must of course continue, but for now, this New Kingdom ocupation site seems associated with gold exploitation in the periphery of Sai Island. Exciting first glimpses into the use of the Bronze and Iron Age landscapes in the MUAFS concession!

Summary of week 3 at Ginis East

Our third week of the 2020 just ended and was very successful. We concentrated during the week on site GiE 001. Recorded by Vila as site 2-T-36B in the 1970s, this domestic site at Ginis East can be assigned to the Egyptian New Kingdom, showing also an intriguing Kerma presence according to the surface finds as well as Napatan ceramics. Magnetometry was conducted by MUAFS in 2019.

In the 2020 season, two trenches were laid out above promising anomalies in the magnetometry in the northeastern part of the site, just south of the modern car track. Trench 1 (6 x 4 m) yielded, apart from surface finds which were mixed and dated from the Kerma Period, the New Kingdom, the Napatan Period and Christian times, some Kerma Classique sherds from lower levels. However, no structures were found and the magnetometry seems to show natural features, especially more sandy areas which contrast to clay layers.

Trench 2 (10 x 4 m) is the area where we found plenty of evidence for marog digging. The pottery was abundant and is again a mix of predominantly New Kingdom material with Kerma, Napatan and Christian wares. Work in Trench 2 is not yet finished and will continue in the upcoming week.

All in all, remains in GiE 001 are clearly not as we were hoping according to the magnetometry, but it is still a very interesting site to study, especially within the context of the question of Egyptian presence during the New Kingdom in the area of Attab/Ginis/Kosha, thus in the periphery of Amara West and Sai Island.

Documenting marog digging pits at Ginis East

This week passed by very fast, the weekend is already approaching. Since half of the team left by now, we are working in a very small group these days. Huda, Jessica and me were busy at Ginis East, site GiE 001, where the surface is covered with primarily New Kingdom material.

Today, we made much progress in Trench 2 – first of all, we are currently excavating marog pits. Marog corresponds to sebbakh digging in Egypt and refers to recent pits excavated in the soil/mud bricks to use the clay as fertilizer in the fields.

The largest of these pits in Trench 2 is 2.40 m in diameter and 75 cm deep. It was filled with fine sand and the traces of the tools the marog diggers used are clearly visible on the sloping edges. We documented everything in 3D according to our standard procedure.

We have already much experience with these pits from Sai Island where they are also common in the New Kingdom town area. The material within the pits is usually very mixed – and this also holds true for GIE 001. Five baskets of pottery were collected from Trench 2 so far and although the majority is clearly New Kindom, including Ramesside material, there are also Napatan pottery and Christian ceramics. And of course some recent material like date seeds were also found in the filling of the pit.

Work will continue tomorrow, and since we have finished all the sandy fillings of the marog pits, we will now carry on with the muddy remains.