Tomomi Fushiya (archaeologist) and Neal Spencer (British Museum)
One day before the last excavation day this season, on March 23, the construction of a new orientation centre and police post was completed. The modest building is designed to fulfill three aims. Firstly, to provide a post for policemen responsible for guarding the site. Secondly, to provide sheltered working space for the archaeological team during the seasons. Thirdly – and we hope this aspect will have the most impact – provide some space to present information about the site to visitors. This is part of our collaboration with the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museum of Sudan (NCAM), through the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project, to improve site management and visitor information at Amara West.
Erected upon the archaeologically sterile base of an ancient river channel – in only 16 days – the completion of the building means the first and second aim are achieved, complemented by the site protection fences erected earlier in the season. Constructing a modern building at Amara West presented several challenges. At some sites, modern buildings can be erected in a style inspired by those on the ancient site, but that is not possible here. The strong northern wind would erode a mudbrick building rather quickly – the wind also prompted us to orientate the building south, with views of the town but also shelter! We also wished to keep maintenance requirements (e.g. painting, replastering, repairs) to a minimum, to ensure the sustainability of the building.
In collaboration with Shadia Abdu Rabo, archaeologists on our team but also NCAM inspector and Sudan National Museum curator, we consulted with local villagers and builders familiar with the local context and environment about the design. While Amara West was founded as an ancient Egyptian town, it is clear that Nubian culture was present – in the cemetery, but also through ceramics and architecture found in the settlement. Rather than build an Egyptianising structure, we opted for a design that combined clean modern lines with echoes of present-day traditional Nubian architecture. This is achieved through including arched entrances to what is known locally as a verandah: a deep space which offers shade and shelter, but also encourages cooling breezes.
This last space is where we will, next year, install information panels, to outline the historical context of the town, its main features, and the results of ongoing research. We know there is an appetite for this: the news of the ancient cancer case from Amara West was being discussed in Abri, after a radio report. There are questions we are still considering: should the panels be in English, Arabic and Nubian? Most of the nearby communities speak a mixture of Arabic and Nubian, while English would be the best language for the small number of international tourists who pass by each year.
This verandah area is designed with mastaba-benches along each wall – again, a feature of local houses – and enough space to accommodate school groups. A series of discussions with local communities – women on Ernetta island, the Abri tourist resthouse owner, and a Nubian heritage society in in an Abri café (posters on the walls proclaiming the grandeur of ancient Nubia) – will help inform the choice of subjects presented on the walls. The Nubian heritage group we spoke to in a café were particularly interested in discussing how to encourage people to visit the site: posters, leaflets or presentations in schools and cafés.
We hope these modest steps will help both local and international visitors learn about living at ancient Amara West.
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