Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2014: house E13.16 and beneath

Excavating house E13.16 at Amara West

Johannes Auenmüller (Freie Universität, Berlin) and Thomas Lyons (archaeologist)

Glimpses of day-to-day life in late Ramesside Nubia might be best accessed within a small house in a close-knit and busy quarter of Amara West. After a wonderful first day in Khartoum and a 720km minibus ride to Abri we have been working on site – apart from Fridays (!) – for more than two weeks now. Archaeology is providing us with access to (some of) the small secrets of domestic and industrial household space – on a daily basis!

Orthographic photograph of area E13, with house E13.16 highlighted. Underlying image: Susie Green.

Orthographic photograph of area E13, with house E13.16 highlighted. Underlying image: Susie Green.

This season’s work in area E13 is centred on two small adjacent houses, E13.5 and E13.16. We have been assigned E13.16, close to the large perimeter wall and relatively late in the current understanding of architectural phases. The building has suffered badly from erosion and incoming windblown sand, and is not as well preserved as other parts of area E13. Today it retains its interior deposits and artefacts, but only 2-3 courses of brickwork remain from the original architecture. Our current work aims to determine precisely which features and deposits we are excavating belong to the life of house E13.16, and which ones underlie it, forming part of an as yet undefined part of ancient Amara West.

Johannes considering the task ahead; house E13.5 lies behind

Johannes considering the task ahead; house E13.5 lies behind

Thus far we have excavated floor surfaces, hearths, ovens and grinding emplacements – all features regularly encountered in houses at Amara West – and are beginning to uncover traces of earlier activity, predating construction of the house. One of our main questions for this season is whether this area at the margins of the walled town was always residential, or had it been a shared or open space away from the principal living areas? What activities occurred here, around a series of large ovens or kilns, or in connection with the nearby storage magazines?

Tom recording the brick pavement in front room of house E13.16

Tom recording the brick pavement in the front room of house E13.16

Three rooms are preserved in house E13.16, though it may have extended further north. The floor of the first and biggest room was once covered with multiple layers of thick mud plaster. Underneath the floor, we revealed a carefully built mudbrick pavement – not a common feature in houses of this size at Amara West. After complete recording of this feature, a continuous sandy rubble layer appeared below, which seems to represent the layer on which our house unit was built.

Room 2 of house E13.16, with ovens, grinding emplacement and basin

Room 2 of house E13.16, with ovens, grinding emplacement and basin

A narrow doorway in the southwest of the entrance room, later blocked off when the house was modified, leads to room 2, our “kitchen”. Its layout can be considered typical for this kind of room: three ovens against the back wall, surrounded by substantial ash and refuse layers. In front of one oven, the inhabitants dug a pit, either to dump the refuse created by the oven, or to make charcoal for use in those ovens.

In the same room, a low bench nearby formed a platform to hold a grindstone, presumably used to grind cereal, with the resulting flour collected in the smooth plaster basin adjacent to it. Dozens of grindstones, mostly of quartzite, have been found in this area of Amara West.

We have now excavated through the floor of room 2, into layers that predate the construction and lifespan of our house. This level is characterised by areas of regularly laid out mud bricks, and others of rubble. Roofing beam impressions and burnt patches might suggest some of this rubble represents roof collapse.

Rubble and brickwork revealed underneath house E13.16

Rubble and brickwork revealed underneath house E13.16

Our work runs in parallel to that of our colleagues Anna Stevens and Mike Lewis, excavating house E13.5 next door. Their work mirrors ours in that they are too excavating beneath houses – these excavations will contribute towards understanding the changing uses of space and the different lifestyles of the occupants of 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 2014, archaeology, settlement

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