Week 5 of our 2023 field season just flew by, especially because of several very disturbing incidents.
On the positive side, we managed to close excavations at site AtW 001, postponed further exploration of Vila site 2-S-54 to next year and made good progress in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003.
AtW 001 will require much post-excavation work – we documented several still standing mud brick walls, there were clearly several phases of building and use. Chloe Ward who did an excellent job this season has already arrived back in Munich and is busy finalizing the stratigraphy and feature description as well as other details from her desk back home.
Most importantly, we managed to reach the same ashy layer on the alluvial surface like in 2022. It is now also clear that apart from a slight natural slope, most of the mound-like appearance of site AtW 001 is actually composed of settlement debris and especially mud brick debris in several layers.
Excavations at Vila site 2-S-54 came to an unexpected stop – the material culture of the mud brick and stone building is really intriguing and currently being studied by Giulia D’Ercole and myself. Giulia arrived this week and already prepared all the samples from site 2-S-54 we will export for iNAA analysis in order to investigate the provenience of Nile clay wares (see earlier posts by Giulia on this subject, e.g. https://www.sudansurvey.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/index.php/2020/12/22/where-are-you-from-a-diverse-material-perspective-on-this-common-tricky-question/). Of course, a substantial part of our 2023 samples will come from site AtW 001, but here I am still busy reconstructing the large number of complete vessels. More than 10.000 sherds need to be checked for matching pieces and this clearly takes a while.
Finally, much progress was made in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, where work in Trench 3 was concluded (and yielded a total of 14 new Classic Kerma burial pits, closely resembling our results from 2022) and excavation in Trench 4 is still ongoing. All tombs have been looted in antiquity, most probably in Medieval times, but there are still substantial remains of material culture, especially pottery, beads and remains of wooden funerary beds.
One of the most remarkable finds of this season is a small ivory bracelet from Tomb 33 in Trench 3. It was clearly used for a long time, was broken at a certain point, and then repaired by means of repairing holes – this is how we found it deposited in the burial pit. An intriguing object in many respects!
Jose M.A. Gomez, Huda Magzoub, Sofia Patrevita and our team of local workmen got new reinforcement this week: two students from Al-Neelain University in Khartoum have joint us. Tasabeh Obaid Hassan and Mohamed Abdeldaim Khairi Ibrahim have been already extremely helpful at the excavation in the Kerma cemetery and for example very quickly learned to measure targets and outlines of stratigraphic units with the totalstation.
I am very grateful to all team members and looking much forward to the results of week 6!
Week 4 of our 2023 field season has just ended – time passes very quickly and there are three more weeks to go!
Much progress was made this week – especially because we are currently working both on the west bank in Attab, at site AtW 001, and in the Kerma cemetery GiE 003 on the east bank.
Chloe Ward, Mohamed Soubho and I managed to come close to an end at the intriguing settlement site AtW 001. We cleaned further substantial mud brick debris and revealed faint traces of mud brick walls – clearly datable to the 18th Dynasty.
Unfortunately, we also had an incident of looting at the site this week – one complete pottery dish was pulled out from its location and an intact zir vessel was partly ripped apart. We reported this event to the tourism police and hope it will not happen again! Thankfully the vessels were left on site, obviously the looters were looking for gold or hidden treasures and did not like the ceramics which hold such great significance for us archaeologists.
The zir vessel still poses several questions – it seems to have been still in situ in a kind of silo or room, but this needs to be checked early next week. The same holds true for confirming the stratigraphic connection of our lowest ashy layer exposed in 2023 with the one excavated in 2022 in Trench 1.
All in all, AtW 001 yielded a large number of mud bricks, mostly as mud brick collapse but fortunately also as some in situ walls as well as considerable amounts of stone tools, ceramics, clay weights and various animal bones. Sheep/goat and donkey seem to be the dominant species, but some fish bones already attest to more complexity of the animal remains.
Contemporaneously to our work in AtW 001, Kate Rose, assisted by Samer Ali, was busy in taking drone aerial photos (a big challenge in this windy weather) and especially measurements with the Trimble Catalyst antenna. She focused on dry-stone walls in Attab and Ginis – some of which are clearly Kerma in date, others presumably of New Kingdom origin and some probably as late as Napatan.
At the Kerma cemetery GiE 003, three new trenches were set up and the work supervised by Jose M.A. Gomez and Huda Magzoub focused on Trench 3 were a number of rectangular Classic Kerma burial pits with trenches for funerary beds were exposed. Our gang of local workmen is well familiar with this type of tombs from last season. There were already some interesting finds like one steatite scarab and one ivory bracelet, and more are to come! Especially intriguing is the abundant evidence for looting – maybe it will be possible to confirm my hypothesis from 2022 that most of the plundering happened in Medieval times.
Much progress was made for all work packages of the ERC DiverseNile project this week – the diversity of settlements (WP 1), cemeteries (WP 2), the material culture (WP 3) and the landscape of the Attab to Ferka region (WP 4). We have already plenty of data for post-excavation processing back home in Munich and thankfully we still have three more weeks here in the beautiful landscape of Attab and Ginis!
Our week 2 of the 2023 season has just ended – having been an intense week with several challenges. First, our totalstation suddenly did not work like it should and we needed to send it to Khartoum – it will be fixed, but of course this meant a stop for excavations at AtW 001. On the positive side, two of our DiverseNile team members joined us this week – Jose and Kate have arrived and are now supporting us in multiple ways. Kate had to fix technical issues with our drone and the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna, but is now all set and started her work focusing on documenting the landscape.
Before we stopped at AtW 001, the results were really impressive. We found several circular or oval-shaped fire pits and excavated more of the mud brick debris on top of the mound in Trench 2. More animal bones and complete vessels showed up. One particularly nice context was an area adjacent to the solid mud brick debris, where one deep bowl, one beer jar, one small pot stand and a lower part of the beer jar were found smashed below mud bricks (Fig. 1). Interestingly, the mud brick debris comprised both red bricks and ordinary mud bricks. The current hypothesis is that the red bricks are simply burnt from a use close to a fire place or possibly kiln.
The stop of fieldwork had the advantage that I could invest much needed time for the pottery processing – we have not only large amounts of sherds, but especially a considerable number of complete or almost complete vessels. These all need to be first washed and then reconstructed. Jose kindly helps with the task of reconstruction (Fig. 2) and he also started drawing the first pieces from the uppermost layers.
Apart from pottery, we mostly have stone tools and re-used sherds and clay weights (including net weights) among the finds. Sofia is updating our find list and also describing the stone tools in our Filemaker database.
Until our totalstation is back from Khartoum, we will focus both on find processing and on drone aerial photography as well as taking measurements with the new Trimble Catalyst Antenna. In order to combine the latter also with some surface cleaning of Bronze Age structures, I chose an area in the district of Attab West in Foshu – this is a densely used area during Kerma times adjacent to the major paleochannel.
While Kate is taking drone photos, Chloe, Jose and I were cleaning the intriguing site 2-S-54, described by Vila as a New Kingdom house with mud bricks supported by schist stones, from wind blown sand (Fig. 3). This building, measuring 6.5 x 3.5m, is located on the south side of a rocky outcrop within the paleochannel on a quite steep slope.
The task of removing 80cm of windblown sand was extremely rewarding – we revealed in the interior of the building a dense mud brick debris layer as well as occupation deposits and several internal mud brick walls. We documented everything in 3D using photogrammetry (Fig. 4) and will continue excavating this domestic structure. The pottery found so far associates the use of this site with the early 18th Dynasty.
Thus, despite of all the technical challenges and modified working plans, we managed to get much work done in week 2. Hoping we will soon return to site AtW 001 with our workmen (and the totalstation), I am for now very much looking forward to investigating 2-S-54 in more detail.
Julia and I have just returned to (a very cold!) Germany, after a fantastic time in Cairo for the Living in the House: Researching the Domestic Life in Ancient Egypt and Sudan conference. The conference, organised by Fatma Keshk, was fascinating and stimulating, and it was also a great opportunity to catch up with many colleagues and friends.
The conference organised by the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (IFAO) and the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology in Cairo (PCMA), was held over four days between the two institutes and included a wide range of papers and international scholars. Despite, the significant amount of work and research that tackles settlement and domestic archaeology in Egypt and Sudan, it is rare to have an entire conference dedicated to the topic, and it was fantastic to have this conference held in Cairo. The papers covered a broad range of themes, topics, periods, and interdisciplinary approaches and has given us a lot to think about, particularly for Work Package 1 of the DiverseNile project.
The papers were very well organised into different themes, which allowed for discussion of particular topics and ideas in the time after each session. They included domestic material culture, settlement space and accessibility, the use of domestic spaces, cooking spaces and material culture, recent research on settlement excavations, architecture and building techniques, ethnoarchaeology, religion, and house property. Papers also drew on sensorial experiences and phenomenology to consider what it would have been like to actually live in these houses and settlements, focusing on the lived experience.
All of the papers have given us a lot to think about and consider in our own project, particularly in terms of the separation of domestic and work spaces which was brought up in a number of talks. Including in Mark Lehner’s excellent keynote on the second day, which raised an interesting discussion on the separation, or lack thereof, of public and private life. This drew on interdisciplinary approaches to the study of space and the layout of buildings from architectural and social studies.
The use or influence of interdisciplinary approaches to the study of domestic archaeology was a major theme throughout the conference, which is always fantastic to see in archaeological research. And again, gives us a lot to consider and think about! Such as the numerous ethnographic examples raised, both to provide comparisons and parallels to archaeological evidence, as well as to help us challenge assumptions and think about archaeological remains in different ways. This included Fatma Keshk’s paper on Egyptian houses, drawing on ethnography and ethnoarchaeology to give a better understanding of a number of aspects, including design, categories of houses, factors effecting use (both practical and social), as well as privacy patterns in domestic settings. Also drawing on contemporary examples, was Mennat-Allah El Dorry’s talk, which focused specifically on the kitchen and how it is identified in the archaeological record, based in many cases on modern western concepts of what constitutes a kitchen, rather than the more ephemeral and mobile nature of food preparation.
Challenges to existing assumptions about domestic archaeological interpretation were also raised in a number of other papers. Specifically, for Nubia and Sudan, this included Aaron de Souza’s paper which raised the difficulty of defining ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ sites based on architectural and material culture remains. As well, as the long-standing historical biases of Egyptology’s colonial legacies. All of which are of course highly relevant for the DiverseNile project. It was also fantastic to have Ulrike Nowotnick give a talk on the Meroitic town of Hamadab in Sudan, to consider what life would have been like in a densely occupied Meroitic town in the Middle Nile, as well as the spatial organisation of the houses and the walled town. Archaeology in Sudan has, like in Egypt, often focused on mortuary, religious, or monumental archaeological sites.
The question of the spatial organisation of settlements and domestic spaces was another recurring theme over the four days, often in terms of state or centrally organised spaces versus individual agency and choices. Particularly, in the case of remote sites with limited access to natural resources. This is again, something which we need to think about carefully in the DiverseNile project, with the temporary nature or seasonal use of many of the sites likely linked to industrial activities, such as gold processing.
It is of course impossible to talk here about all of the discussions, topics, and papers which took place during the conference, but all the talks were recorded and are available online through the IFAO’s YouTube page. We are both very grateful to the IFAO, the PCMA, and in particular to Fatma Keshk, for an excellent and very inspiring conference.