Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2015: why work with our archaeological project?

Tomomi Fushiya, archaeologist

Excavators - local workmen and archaeologists from 8 countries, near the end of the 2015 season

Excavators – local workmen and archaeologists from 8 countries, near the end of the 2015 season

Our season has now ended … but why do our workmen decide to join the archaeological project, working for weeks on end with very early morning starts?

Obviously, this seasonal work is an important source of income, particularly as much of the season takes place before the fuul-bean harvest, just now getting under way. Many of the men – and our workers on site are all men – move from one casual job to the next throughout the year, for example in shops, the local petrol station, mending generators and other equipment, or ferrying people between Ernetta island and the Nile. Others are university students between terms (including an archaeology student this season!), or have responsibilities that do not take up the full working day – we can count policemen and nurses amongst those who dig with us.

But earning cash is not the only reason they come to work with us. Many workmen express a connection between Ernetta island and the archaeological site, for the site is in vicinity of the island and they know many people who have worked at the site over the last century.

Ernetta Island has been providing workmen for the excavations at Amara West since the early 20th century. Some workmen have grandfathers, father or relatives who worked with earlier archaeological missions such as the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) or the Sudanese Antiquities Service, and Andre Vila in the early 1970s. In interviews with our workmen, some explained they had heard about work at the archaeological site through former workmen, and that these stories were a part of the motivation to work with our project.

Salah Ibrahim Saleh at Amara West, February 2015

Salah Ibrahim Saleh at Amara West, February 2015

Others have an interest in archaeology and the history of Nubia. Salah Ibrahim took holidays from his usual job to work with our archaelogical mission. ‘I was very intrested to know about digging and the pictures (hieroglyphics) from the childhood.’ He is from Salim, a village distant from Amara West which also provided workmen for the EES excavations. His father and uncle told him about excavations, and he visited Amara West last year. ‘It was just an open space and the site was not clear to me because (then) I knew nothing about the history (of Amara West)’.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2015, anthropology, archaeology, community engagement, Modern Amara, New Kingdom, settlement

Amara West 2015: end of excavations in the pyramid tombs

Michaela Binder, bioarchaeologist

Six weeks of work disappearing under sand again. Nayel Mohamed (foreground), Rami Mohamed and Abu el-Mali backfilling tomb G322.

Six weeks of work disappearing under sand again. Nayel Mohamed (foreground), Rami Mohamed and Abu el-Mali backfilling tomb G322.

Excavations in the pyramid tombs G320 and G321 have come to an end: though the shafts revealed many surprises – a door lintel of Viceroy Hekanakht, strange frontal depictions of mummiform figures on relief blocks, and shabtis of the Deputy of Kush Paser – the rock-cut chambers off them had been looted, and suffered from the collapse of the schist bedrock. So our last week of work is not the usual hectic rush to record skeletons and architecture, but rather the final recording and backfilling of the tomb monuments. Even though it always feels somewhat awkward seeing the work of 6 weeks disappearing under vast amounts of sand within just a few days, backfilling and covering of the tombs will protect the mudbrick superstructures from the heavy northern winds – which have been blowing strong all week! It would be a shame to see those monuments disappear after they survived for more than 3000 years.

Town team gone and the excavators' office was quickly turned into an impromptu bone lab. Sofie and Michelle sorting the large amount of disarticulated human remains from tomb G320.

Town team gone and the excavators’ office was quickly turned into an impromptu bone lab. Sofie and Michelle sorting the large amount of disarticulated human remains from tomb G320.

With no work left to do on site, Michelle and Sofie focused on establishing a preliminary inventory of the human remains recovered from the spoil left behind by looters on the surface around G320. Up until now, the minimum number of individuals of which at least some elements were removed from the grave is 17 adults and 21 sub-adults. However, whether all of them come from within the burial chambers – or rather represent later burials placed in the shaft or elsewhere – will never be known. The high number of young infants could have also been buried in small pits in and around the chapel, similar to those excavated by Mohamed Saad in pyramid tomb G322.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, anthropology, archaeology, funerary, New Kingdom

Amara West 2015: new impressions

Marie Vandenbeusch (Project Curator, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan, British Museum)

Approximately 240 seal impressions were found during the 2015 season – an unexpected haul, that exceeds the total of what has been discovered since the beginning of this project in 2008. The study of these new seal impressions has just begun. Each has been registered, allowing preliminary considerations, especially on the spread of the distribution and frequency of the individual seals. Some were very commonly used, others are attested only once.

Seal impression F14247 from rubbish deposits beneath house D12.9

Seal impression F14247 from rubbish deposits beneath house D12.9. Drawing by Marie Vandenbeusch

One specific seal has been used at least ten times. Its pattern is particularly easy to recognize as it consists of two rows of tiny animals: hippos, crocodiles, bulls and a sphinx are part of this ancient menagerie. With one exception, they were all found in a rubbish deposit beneath house D12.9 in the western suburb.

These impressions have been dumped after use to seal a box, papyrus or vessel. The study of the links between these impressions, their provenance – and the scarabs found in the town or the cemetery – will with no doubt throw new light on the control of ancient goods at Amara West.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, archaeology, New Kingdom, objects

Amara West 2015: into the desert – a new perspective on cultural interaction?


Anna Stevens (Amara West Project Curator, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum)

Whilst the town excavators may have left, it remained a busy dig house on Ernetta Island this week. The cemetery team has been back and forth to site finishing up some final recording, whilst the finds and ceramics specialists remain busy at the house. For myself, and archaeologists Tomomi Fushiya and David Fallon, the week has been spent out in the desert about a kilometre north of Amara West, where we have been continuing a project to investigate several small occupation sites first noted by French archaeologist André Villa in the 1970s.

Excavation gets underway in 2015. Note the trees in the background which mark the line of the ancient palaeochannel

Excavation gets underway in 2015. Note the trees in the background which mark the line of the ancient palaeochannel

The landscape out here is very peaceful: an occasional car drives by on the distant highway, but you are more likely to see a camel caravan passing by on the way to Egypt. Our work focuses upon a string of small rocky outcrops scattered with archaeological debris that fall either side of an ancient dried-up river channel, probably already largely dry during the occupation of Amara West, from 1300 BC onwards.

Last year we investigated two sites (2-R-18 and 2-R-65) on the southern side of the palaeochannel. Both showed very clear hallmarks of Egyptian settlements: wheelmade pottery, faience jewellery and hieroglyphic inscriptions. But there were also occasional items of Nubian material culture, the most obvious being pieces of handmade pottery. The two populations were clearly interacting here in some way. Ceramicist Anna Garnett helped pinpoint an occupation date of around the early to mid Eighteenth Dynasty, so several generations before Amara West was established, and at a time when the palaeochannel was probably still intermittently flowing. Quite what the Egyptians were doing out here is not yet clear, but we can guess that they were coming from the 18th Dynasty town at Sai. Might they have been patrolling the desert hinterland, or prospecting for minerals?

Anna Stevens planning at desert site 2-R-19

Anna Stevens planning at desert site 2-R-19

This year, with the aim of adding more data to the puzzle, we relocated to a prominent mound (site 2-R-19/19A) on the north side of the palaeochannel, where Villa had noted a concentration of local handmade pottery and the remains of stone and mud-brick buildings. The location seems ideal for something like a watchpost: the mound offers an excellent view of the surrounding landscape.

We opened three small trenches on and around the mound, and whilst little in the way of architecture was encountered we soon confirmed Villa’s idea that this was an indigenous site. Local handmade sherds—some quite fine, with burnished and incised decoration—dominate the ceramic assemblage.

Anna Garnett records potsherds from 2-R-19. Note the paler coloured sherds, which are examples of Egyptian marl vessels.

Anna Garnett records potsherds from 2-R-19. Note the paler coloured sherds, which are examples of Egyptian marl vessels.

But it was an interesting surprise to find very occasional pieces of Egyptian vessels in the mix – largely in fine hard marl fabrics. Were the local populations in contact with Egyptian communities or were these vessels obtained from abandoned Egyptian sites in the vicinity? As yet, it is not clear where in time site 2-R-19/19A falls in relation to the 18th Dynasty sites on the other side of the palaeochannel, nor to Amara West itself.

One of our workmen from Ernetta Island, Fareed Mohammed, contrasts an Egyptian wheelmade sherd with a local handmade example.

One of our workmen from Ernetta Island, Fareed Mohammed, contrasts an Egyptian wheelmade sherd with a local handmade example.

But further study of the ceramic assemblage, supplemented by radiocarbon dating of charcoal samples, should help to clarify this. In any case, we seem to have here a hint of the other side of cultural interaction – and look forward to teasing out what we can from this small assemblage of the story of local contact with Egyptian populations.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, archaeology, hinterland, New Kingdom, Nubian, Nubian traditions

Amara West 2015: in the dig house ‘lab’


Maickel von Bellegem (Department of Conservation & Scientific Research, British Museum)

Two weeks have passed since my arrival in Sudan. Various materials were awaiting conservation assessment, after excavation: remains of papyrus and a piece of worked bone with traces of paint. The bone had been consolidated in situ and block lifted by Manuela Lehmann. This is how fragile materials are usually dealt with to allow more detailed and time consuming work to be done in a studio set up. A similar approach was taken to the excavation of a bead necklace found embedded in the clay floor of house D11.1 – the second one found in this house (the first was painstakingly excavated bead-by-bead by Manuela).

Conservation workroom with Maickel assessing a dish of Egyptian blue found in the cemetery, using a microscope for which the local blacksmith fabricated a stand (from a steel bedframe!).

Conservation workroom with Maickel assessing a dish of Egyptian blue found in the cemetery, using a microscope for which the local blacksmith fabricated a stand (from a steel bedframe!).

The block of mud floor as lifted during excavation of the central room of house D11.1

The block of mud floor as lifted during excavation of the central room of house D11.1

A chunk of the floor was lifted from site and back in the conservation workroom at the house I used solvents to soften the clay and scrape it away using a scalpel. This allowed the row of beads to be exposed so we know the sequence in which they were originally strung. The blue beads in particular were very fragmentary and would not withstand restringing so we decided to leave them all in the soil block.

Bead necklace F16006 exposed and consolidated in the soil it was found in, following conservation.

Bead necklace F16006 exposed and consolidated in the soil it was found in, following conservation.

The red beads – probably carnelian – are accompanied by white faience and blue. The blue might be faience, frit or glass. The sections of the soil block have been secured onto a plastic sheet (a re-used plastic food container – sustainable conservation!) so can be handled without risking damage to the beads. Other materials that so far have received conservation treatment are a number of copper alloy objects, bone and ivory, wood remains and also faience shabti-figures.

Detail of beads on necklace F16006

Detail of beads on necklace F16006

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, conservation, objects, settlement

Amara West 2015 (week 6): a familiar character appears

Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan), and Michaela Binder (bioarchaeologist)

Aerial view of tomb G321, with pyramid, chapel and forecourt

Aerial view of tomb G321, with pyramid, chapel and forecourt

The wind howled this week, yet important and exciting new evidence continued to emerge from town and cemetery. Up on the desert escarpment, Mohamed Saad discovered our first intact burial of the season, just beside pyramid chapel G322. In a shallow pit, adjacent to the north wall of the pyramid, a child of only 1-2 years was buried. Directly underneath, a second infant was placed on a layer of large schist stones. Based on the size of the long bones and development of tooth crowns, the earlier child was likely born prematurely. Whether these burials are contemporary with the New Kingdom pyramid tomb is unknown, as neither was accompanied by grave goods. However, subsidiary burials around – or within – Egyptian funerary monuments, are found elsewhere, for example at Tombos.

Mohamed Saad documenting our first intact burial.

Mohamed Saad documenting our first intact burial.

We have just commenced excavation of the shaft of G322, but perhaps more exciting is a spread of pottery in the courtyard of the chapel. What will this tell us about funerary rituals at this tomb?

A short distance to the east, Michelle and her team are now over 6m deep in the shaft. More sandstone blocks continue to be revealed, some decorated. Most exciting, however, was the discovery of fragments from faience shabtis, found discarded in the shaft, left behind by (ancient?) looters.

Faience shabtis for the Deputy Paser

Faience shabtis for the Deputy Paser

A surface find in the first days had given us the name of an individual whose name ended in –ser. Four of the new shabtis complete the picture: it is ‘the Deputy, Paser’. A fifth shabti may have belonged to his wife. We cannot be sure this is where Paser was buried, but it now seems very likely. The most prominent Egyptian official in Upper Nubia under Ramses III, he is likely to have sought a grandiose tomb overlooking the town in which he held office. The pyramid would likely have been visible from the town, and to those approaching from the desert. A doorjamb, which seems to bear his name, was found dumped in the tomb to the east (G321). More evidence is needed to confirm whether this was his tomb.

Red pigment preserved on the legs of a horse pulling the chariot of Ramses II. West Gate, Amara West.

Red pigment preserved on the legs of a horse pulling the chariot of Ramses II. West Gate, Amara West.

Moving down into the town, we finished the data-capture for 3D modelling of the West Gate, a formal monument that proclaimed Egypt’s power over Nubia – which individuals like Paser were charged with administering. Alongside the discovery of four new inscriptions not recorded by the Egypt Exploration Society, we have been documenting remnants of colour that will help reconstruct the original appearance of this entrance into the town – the red flesh of the horses, the yellow fittings for the chariot, or the black skin of the vanquished Nubian prisoners.

Abdel-Razeq digging ancient rubbish pits beneath house D12.9

Abdel-Razeq digging ancient rubbish pits beneath house D12.9

Out in the western suburb, the completion of recording in several houses has provided us with a chance to go deeper. In three places, we are now digging under floor layers, into the thick rubbish deposits on which the suburb was built. Not all are happy about this: it means a mass of ceramics will have to be processed and studied.

Seal-impression with name of Ramses II, designated ‘beloved of Thoth’

Seal-impression with name of Ramses II, designated ‘beloved of Thoth’

In two of the sondages, dozens of seal impressions came to light – with royal names, depictions of gods and other texts, which will need careful study. The rubbish – its charcoal, phytoliths, animal bone and objects – will tell us much about life at ancient Amara West. These are the remnants of what people used, made and consumed, and then purposefully discarded.

Stone tools found in house D11.2

Stone tools found in house D11.2

In the final days of excavating house D11.2, Anna uncovered a cache of stone tools, tucked behind a specially modelled door buttress. Why were these tools being tucked out of sight? It is rare that the archaeologist encounters such a deliberate placing of objects by those who used an ancient house.

House D12.12 from our photography kite

House D12.12 from our photography kite

House D12.12, under excavation by David Fallon, has thrown up a feature so far unique at Amara West. This house featured a large main room with mastaba -bench (later divided in two), small ‘back rooms’ leading off it, and an entrance corridor with at least two ovens. The northeastern room was fitted with a staircase.

Staircase room in house D12.12, with platform

Staircase room in house D12.12, with platform

The intriguing feature is a small brick structure erected in front of the staircase. Carefully plastered, is this a form of low platform, perhaps similar to the lit clos known from contemporary Deir el-Medina? We can only speculate, as no painted decoration or cult objects have been found.

The E13.17 area team pause/pose for a photograph

The E13.17 area team pause/pose for a photograph

Archaeological fieldwork is characterised by massive accumulations of data, in both hard copy and digital form. Over recent years, we’ve seen our workers become increasingly part of the same global phenomenon. What’s App messages are exchanged between those in different parts of the other site, while selfies and group pictures are a regular occurrence during breaks in the excavating.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2015, archaeology, Egypt Exploration Society, Kite Aerial Photography #KAP, New Kingdom, objects, pottery, settlement

Amara West 2015: who let the dog(s) out?

Matt Williams, archaeologist

The paw-print, just inside the front door.

The paw-print, just inside the front door.

We found a pair of dog paw-prints this week in house D12.9, somewhat surprising given the relative lack of dog bones in the animal bone assemblage. The house is one of the later dwellings in the suburb: small and squeezed into a space between the older buildings in the burgeoning suburbs.

House D12.9, with three small rooms

House D12.9, with three small rooms

Strangely, the initial floor surface was constructed below street level, predictably leading to water run-off and dirt flowing down into the room from the street outside. During the early life of the house it must have been a constant job to keep the doorway clear of this debris. Later residents installed a higher doorstep and raised the floor considerably.

At some point the room seems to have gone out of use, maybe the building was abandoned for a period. During this time, mud accumulated around the doorway, spreading into the room and partially covering a nearby hearth and a ceramic bowl lying on the floor.

Figure of a dog with fish in mouth (ivory, bronze). Late 18th dynasty, c. 1350 BC. Egypt. British Museum EA 13596

Figure of a dog with fish in mouth (ivory, bronze). Late 18th dynasty, c. 1350 BC. Egypt. British Museum EA 13596

Perhaps a scavenging dog managed to get into the house, looking for leftover scraps or somewhere to escape the elements? On the way out (with a string of sausages in its mouth?) it left its prints in the wet mud by the door… bad dog!

A dog in Nubia, on Tuesday (thank you AcrossBorders!).

A dog in Nubia, on Tuesday (thank you AcrossBorders!).

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, archaeology, New Kingdom, settlement

Amara West 2015: recycling in the New Kingdom town

Anna Garnett, Assistant Project Curator (Amara West), British Museum

Piles of sherds, awaiting sorting

Every day on site, thousands of pottery sherds are excavated from within the ancient houses at Amara West. These sherds are sorted into piles of diagnostic and non-diagnostic shapes and fabrics, but the eyes of the pottery sorting team are also finely tuned to identify ‘pottery finds’ within these huge piles – those pieces of broken vessels which were subsequently recycled for different functions. By studying such objects, we contribute to understanding the past histories of the different spaces at Amara West.

Sherd re-used as shovel

We also find ancient hand shovels or scrapers: sherds which fit nicely into the hand with one or more eroded edges. This season, several ‘shovels’ (for example that above) have been identified on the surface around the pyramids in Cemetery D – perhaps evidence of an ancient attempt at tomb robbery?

Pot-mark: rear part of a crocodile

Painted text on sherds (ostraca) and carved pictorial markings (pot marks) are always a welcome surprise for the sorting team: this season we have already discovered a small menagerie of pot marks including a gazelle-type animal and the rear end of a crocodile (above) … of which we hope to find the front end in the coming weeks!.

Sherds with pigment

Pottery sherds, when broken, also provided a durable and easily accessible material which could be used in industrial practices. Small flashes of colour within the generally homogenous brownish pile of pottery catch the eye, including red, yellow, white, black and blue, which prove that they were reused as colour palettes – used for painting rooms, objects or even pottery. This season, many pottery ‘palettes’ from house D12.8 preserve powdery pigments, helping us to paint a picture of how colourful the town must have appeared to the ancient occupants of Amara West.

And, of course, there are the counters

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, archaeology, New Kingdom, objects, pottery, settlement, tools

Amara West 2015: books by boat, cart and car


Tomomi Fushiya, archaeologist

Amara West Arabic edition

Towards the end of last year, we published Amara West: Living in Egyptian Nubia, made possible through the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project. Published in English and Arabic editions, the Arabic one printed with the communities living in and around Amara West in mind.

Abd el-Razeq, veteran excavator at Amara West.

Abd el-Razeq, veteran excavator at Amara West.

Over the last weeks, we have been distributing the book amongst our workmen. Abdelraziq, who has worked with our mission from the first season in 2008, commented “the book is very useful and I benefit from it so much. If from the first or second season they publish(ed) a book and gave it to the workers and to the community here, all of the community would be informed and know about the (local) history… I worked here from 6 years ago but I knew nothing about why they collect bones and pottery… … I know (now) they put them together and test bones to understand diseases, their date ….’.

Tomomi delivering books to Abri secondary school

Tomomi delivering books to Abri secondary school

We also gave the books to villagers around our dig house, to the local school library and teachers in Ernetta and Abri. In the school curriculum, the major archaeological sites such as Kerma, Jebel Barkal and Meroe are studied. This foregrounds a national, rather than local, history, despite the presence of such famous sites (to archaeologists!) as Sai, Sedeinga and Amara West.

Reading the book en route from Amara West to Ernetta

Reading the book en route from Amara West to Ernetta

The book – distributed by hand, boat, donkey cart and pick-up truck – has been well received so far, and represents our small contribution to communicating archaeological knowledge to the local communities who do not have easy access to museums or libaries.

Women reading the book on the mastaba outside their house on Ernetta island

Women reading the book on the mastaba outside their house on Ernetta island

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2015, community engagement, Modern Amara

Amara West 2015 (week 5): the practical, the unusual and the desert beyond

Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan, British Museum) & Michaela Binder (bioarchaeologist)

Now the time seems to be slipping through our fingers like the loose windblown sand that shrouds the ancient buildings at Amara West, but with less than two weeks to go (in the town). We are now working across a range of very different spaces – some built for living, others for making things (and thus producing a lot of rubbish) and of course the monumentswhere the dead were commemorated and buried. And this week we moved beyond, into the desert….

Sequence of attempts to keep the sand out of house D12.8

Sequence of attempts to keep the sand out of house D12.8

Agnieszka Trambowicz has now provided some clarity as to what was happening in house D12.8. It looks increasingly like the house had a northern front door – thus far a uniquely bad idea in this windswept neighbourhood. The inhabitants soon started to try and lessen the impact of the sand, with a series of blocking walls erected outside the front door, before the door was finally sealed up and a new western entrance to the house created. Yet beneath all these phases lies a nice mudbrick pavement – we have yet to understand whether this is another outside court, or even paving in a public space between houses.

Ovens along the corridor around house D11.1

Ovens along the corridor around house D11.1

We try not to mention ovens too often, despite their ubiquity on site. Yet the end of the week saw several familiar circles of ash and ceramic emerge from the dusty brown deposits that choke the corridor surrounding house D11.1, in a row along one wall. This house is unique in having a precinct wall surrounding the house, and it now looks as is this was a place for food processing and cooking. It may seem sensible to put such activities outside the house, given the smoke and rubbish created. If unroofed, it could have been a space that filled with dust and sand very quickly – is that why most houses placed ovens inside?

Copper alloy bracelet emerging from the dirt in house D11.1

Copper alloy bracelet emerging from the dirt in house D11.1

Over in one of the side rooms, a nice copper alloy bracelet was revealed. Like a number of other objects – especially dozens of crumbly seal impressions – this will need the attention of our conservator, Maickel van Bellegem, who has just arrived from the British Museum. It also serves as a reminder of how these brick buildings, and their inhabitants, would have lived amongst brightly coloured objects but also materials (wood, textiles) which rarely survive here.

Kite photograph over northern part of walled town

Kite photograph over northern part of walled town

Over in the walled town, Johannes Auenmüller has excavated a trench that embodies the concept of Groundhog Day. Each day sees us photograph a new floor, made of hard Nile silt, running up to a narrow doorway. Frankly, they all look almost identical. We’re at 7 floors and counting now – what kind of building needed this careful and repeated refurbishment? Yet on the other side of the wall, Tom is digging through layers of industrial waste that may be related to metal production. These two spaces are very distinct, and perhaps had more defined purposes than the houses we have excavated, where many of the rooms probably acted as places for eating, sleeping, making things, housing animals …

Michelle Gamble faces recording the stonework recovered from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320

Michelle Gamble faces recording the stonework recovered from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320

Up in cemetery D, progress continued in the shafts of both pyramid tombs (we are not at the bottom after 5.6m in G320!), with stone architecture remaining the surprising focus of discovery. After the door jambs and lintel from the shaft of G321, the second tomb G320 started yielding an even higher amount of sandstone blocks. In contrast to G321, the majority of these blocks, again deriving from door frames, are undecorated. Yet two lintels bear traces of carved decoration, one showing a kneeling woman in the characteristic pose of a mourner.

Sandstone lintel from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320, with frontal depiction of a figure with wig and beard.

Sandstone lintel from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320, with frontal depiction of a figure with wig and beard.

The second lintel, which can be reconstructed from a series of fragments, bears a frontal representation, rare in pharaonic art. Depicting a face with wig and beard, with no accompanying inscriptions, the figure dominates the lintel. What does this represent, and where was it set up? In the shaft or as part of the above-ground cult chapel? Or has this lintel been brought from somewhere else?

After a few hours of surface excavation, the pyramid base of tomb G322 is already visible

After a few hours of surface excavation, the pyramid base of tomb G322 is already visible

In G321, Sofie started removing the upper layers of sandy fill from the entrance area of the central burial chamber: so far, there is only windblown sand. From next week, we are joined by NCAM inspector and bioarchaeologist Mohamed Saad, supported by the Institute for Bioarchaeology. Mohamed will excavate tomb G322, and initial surface cleaning has already revealed another T-shaped chapel combined with a pyramid base of almost similar width (4.50m). For the first time here, the tomb further features a small walled forecourt: as ever at Amara West, no two graves are alike.

This week saw the Amara West project extend out into the desert, to look at sites in the hinterland of the town and cemetery. Last year’s brief survey revealed the presence of two early 18th dynasty sites along a Nile channel some 2km north of the townsite. Anna Stevens will, next week, oversee another short season, concentrating on another site along this river channel.

Mohamed Abdelwahab walking grids of geophysical survey (fluxgate magnetometry) at site 2-R-65, in the desert north of Amara West

Mohamed Abdelwahab walking grids of geophysical survey (fluxgate magnetometry) at site 2-R-65, in the desert north of Amara West

To help us target our excavations, and to better understand the form and extent of these sites, a geophysical survey was completed this week, by Mohamed Abdelwahab Mohamed Ali, Musaab Hussein Eltoum Elkabbashi and Amar Adam Ali Ibrahim, colleagues from the Faculty of Earth Sciences and Mining of the University of Dongola (at Wadi Halfa). The survey and excavation in the desert will hopefully shed more light on what was happening in this area before the town of Amara West was created in the reign of Seti I.

Shadia lecturing at the Ernetta community club

Shadia lecturing at the Ernetta community club

The highlight of last week, however, was a lecture at the Ernetta Community Club. Over 200 people – on an island with only 180 occupied houses – turned up for a talk by Shadia Abdu Rabo and Neal Spencer, to talk about the exploration of Amara West, past and present. It’s amazing to think that despite Wallis Budge, James Henry Breasted and the Egypt Exploration Society working here between 1906 and 1950, this was probably the first time anyone in the area had seen old excavation photos, or learnt about what was found. Set beneath a warm starry sky, with a break prompted by the evening call to prayer (from the mosque next door), it was a memorable evening. Tomomi Fushiya finished off the evening by asking what the people of Ernetta wanted in terms of ongoing engagement – perhaps including talks and guided visits to the site.

Haris Mohamed, one of our workmen, has a first look at the information panels in the Amara West visitor orientation area

Haris Mohamed, one of our workmen, has a first look at the information panels in the Amara West visitor orientation area

Maickel brought more than conservation materials with him this week – he was also laden down with our Arabic-English information panels. We’ve just unpacked them, and hope to install them in the visitor orientation area next week.

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, archaeology, Egypt Exploration Society, funerary, Kite Aerial Photography #KAP, Modern Amara, New Kingdom, objects, settlement

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