Michaela Binder, physical anthropologist, Durham University
Many people have asked me whether what we do can “really be fun?” Digging in the dirt, being outside all day in temperatures from freezing to boiling (and sometimes in a sandstorm), living for months at a time without mains electricity or water.
When it’s close to 40°C and biting nimiti-flies are swarming around me, I ask the same question.
But when you start removing sand from the top of a grave shaft and a small opening appears on one side …a second on the other side …and after another 50 cms the hole is wide enough to stick your head and a torch in …you see a large chamber …your eyes adjust and see the door to another chamber beyond …and a door to a third chamber…
Then I’m reminded that this can be the best occupation in the world with its unpredictable moments of immense excitement.
The discovery of our latest (and by far the largest) tomb happened three days ago at Amara West.
We’re now digging deeper into the shaft, and after two metres of sand, there’s no end in sight. In the meantime, the picture has become clearer.
The tomb features not just two chambers – one on either side – as with all previous chamber tombs we’ve found at Amara West – but five! The western suite consists of a central room with chambers to the west and northern side; the eastern suite is smaller with just one additional chamber.
We’ve now hit a thick deposit of debris from both chambers – evidence of heavy looting. The finds coming up from this deposit hint at the wealth of funerary artefacts once placed here. Besides large pottery vessels we found beads, fragments of faience, large pieces of white plaster (some painted) once part of decorated coffins, and large wooden elements of funerary furniture, among them the base of a headrest.
Though almost exclusively Egyptian in terms of the range of grave goods and architecture – so far – the large burial mound (tumulus) marking the surface is one of the hallmarks of Nubian funerary culture, before during and after Egyptian control of the region.
Even more surprising, the pottery found thus far appears to date the tomb to the late New Kingdom, towards the end of pharaonic control of Nubia.
There’s a long way to go: we have not even begun excavating the five chambers yet.
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