Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2014: A difficult start in the cemeteries

robbed chamber tomb at Amara West

Michaela Binder, Durham University

After 10 months waiting, on Wednesday morning we finally time returned to the cemeteries at Amara West. Unfortunately, an unpleasant surprise awaited us.

One of the looted chamber tombs with broken pottery on the surface.

One of the looted chamber tombs with broken pottery on the surface.

Upon our first walk through Cemetery C, it became clear someone had dug up and destroyed two large chamber tombs and a smaller niche burial to the north, all previously undocumented. Despite being of much smaller scale than in other countries, looting of archaeological sites is increasingly becoming a problem in Sudan. The large number of people searching for gold in the quartz deposits in the deserts are one source of disturbance to ancient sites – we encountered an individual with a metal detector walking over the town mound just two hours after we arrived on site. The looting of these tombs is more likely by those looking for antiquities, though the graves usually contain objects of little monetary value: broken pottery, fragments of wood, and of course skeletal remains. We can only hope that such disturbances will remain rare.

Scattered human bones on the shaft of one of the looted tombs

Scattered human bones in the shaft of one of the looted tombs

As a consequence, my plans to return to Cemetery D have been thwarted for now. Murtada Bushara (our inspector and archaeologist) and I are working to document what’s left inside the looted tombs, recovering as much evidence as possible. In the first one, comprising a rectangular shaft and at least one large burial chamber to the west, we have encountered the well preserved remains of three individuals – clearly of no interest to the looters. Pottery from the surface suggests the tomb dates to the late New Kingdom. Over the next few days it remains to be seen how thorough the looting was – is any of the archaeology left intact?

The backfilled entrance to G244 awaiting re-opening after ten months waiting

The backfilled entrance to G244 awaiting re-opening after ten months

Elsewhere in Cemetery C, the workmen started removing windblown sand from the shaft of the big multi-chamber tomb (G244): we had filled the tomb to protect the chambers from looting. After less than two days they’ve reached the bottom of the shaft and excavation can begin on Friday. Sofie Schiodt will supervise excavation of the two chambers on the western side, adjacent to the central chamber explored in 2013, which contained the beautiful faience situla already on display in the National Museum in Khartoum. At the same time, Barbara Chauvet will start working on the two subterranean chambers on the eastern side. Can these other chambers be as interesting as that excavated last year?

Workmen Hassan Nuri and Sabri Abd el-Aziz getting to the bottom of G244

Workmen Hassan Nuri and Sabri Abd el-Aziz getting to the bottom of G244

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

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