Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: faience production in the town?

Area E13.17 with a large kiln or ovenSarah Doherty, Egyptologist and archaeologist, Cardiff University

After trying to untangle an area with a lot of ovens and charcoal pits, which we have designated E13.16, I moved further towards the thick northern wall of the town. Wind erosion has removed the northern part of E13.16, revealing an earlier phase of architecture.

Area E13.17 with large kiln or oven to left

Area E13.17 with large kiln or oven to left

This new building, christened E13.17, featured what we have called the ‘mother oven’: the largest seen yet at Amara West. A 105 cm ring of fired clay, surrounded by a line of mud bricks, two smaller ovens sit beside it, surrounded by pits filled with charcoal.

Fragments of pottery crucibles, with copper alloy deposits on interior

Fragments of pottery crucibles, with
copper alloy deposits on interior

As we removed windblown sand from inside the oven, the interior walls were blue-tinged. Close to the ovens, in a pit almost solidly packed with ash, pieces of melted copper alloy, crucibles encrusted with copper slag, and lots of fused and crushed faience beads started to appear.

In other nearby pits, I encountered pottery sherds thick with fly ash (a by-product of burning fuel in the kiln), some with lime frit adhering. Ceramic dishes with red-painted rims – a popular piece of tableware at Amara West – were found covered with a black glaze-like deposit on the inside.

Clay mould, perhaps for a faience inlay?

Clay mould, perhaps for a faience inlay?

And finally, two days ago, we found a clay mould, for a roughly triangular object (or depending which archaeologist you ask, a bird, white crown, or a cow’s head… take your pick!). In any case, this might be for making a small inlay to decorate a larger object.

Could this hint at a faience production site here at Amara West?

Faience, a popular luxury product in ancient Egypt, was used to make scarabs, amulets, inlays, vessels and shabtis, along with many other object types. It was made by mixing copper/ cobalt, soda, water, lime and silica; drying the mixtures and then finally firing it.

The glassy surface can be formed in various ways, including efflorescence. Faience comes in various colours, most typical are a light blue and a turqouise blue.

Faience? The case against:

  1. The oven, apart from its large size, looks remarkably similar to the other bread ovens.
  2. The oven has no “glassy mudbricks” as one might note on a kiln fired at high temperatures.
  3. So far only one mould for making faience inlays in has been found, and one would perhaps expect many more, as at Amarna site O.45.1.
  4. We find relatively little faience on site!

Faience? The case for:

  1. The oven is much larger than any other in the area, and is arguably not domestic.
  2. Faience is normally fired at 750 °C, so unlike pottery kilns, does not need to reach very high temperatures – e.g. 900 °C for some types of ceramic.
  3. We have many pieces of copper and a glassy deposit sticking to pots, perhaps used to hold small objects placed in the kiln.

What do you think? Convinced?

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Find out more about the Amara West research project
Read posts from previous excavation seasons at Amara West

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One Response

  1. monicaR says:

    Yes, this makes red-eared reading.
    Looking at the mould, could it be for glass, which is fired with the tempertures as discribed.
    As faience, glass was usedabundantly for decoration and inlays.

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