Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

A group of flints from Amara West

Nora Shalaby, Freie Universität Berlin

Recently I studied some of the flint implements from Amara West currently in the British Museum, part of an assemblage of objects recently acquired from the 1930s and 1940s excavations of the Egypt Exploration Society. Most are without context, but they can still be an important source of information about lithic production at Amara West and tell us a little bit about the knappers involved.

Nora studying the Amara West flints in the British Museum basement

Nora studying the Amara West flints in the British Museum basement

The first thing that struck me was the wonderful colours of some of the implements, which range from reddish to yellowish hues, quite uncommon in lithic assemblages from Egypt where most of the raw material is caramel, beige and brown in color (one wonders if some of them are in fact burnt?). The remains of a dull and polished cortex on some of the implements suggests that washed-down pebbles were being picked up from wadis or other surrounding areas, rather than nodules being quarried. A survey around the site to locate potential raw material sources could help identify where exactly the inhabitants of Amara West were obtaining their flint from: were they venturing into places that were further away, hinting at a more organised production process, or were they picking up what they found near the town itself?

Selection of flints from Amara West, illustrating the range of colours

Selection of flints from Amara West, illustrating the range of colours

Among the worked tools were a number of regular blades, which is again not a common feature in Egypt during the New Kingdom, when less regular blades were being produced. This could point to possible differences in the technologies between Egypt and Nubia during this time. The most frequent tool type in the assemblage however are sickle blades, the broad and short types that are characteristic of New Kingdom assemblages, differing from the specialised long and narrow sickle blades of previous periods. Nonetheless, the technology of the Amara West sickle blades seems to be quite standardised: most were truncated at both short ends, and had retouch along the lateral edges.

Surprisingly none have remains of sickle gloss, typically found along the edge of a blade that has been repeatedly used in harvesting or cutting of plants. Could this suggest that they were unused, maybe originating from a workshop that had yet to distribute them? Use-wear analysis might provide further insights.

Finally, a few beautiful arrowheads stand out. Although flint arrowheads are rare in Old and Middle Kingdom assemblages in Egypt, they reappear in the New Kingdom, as documented in the Ramesside capital of Qantir in the northeastern Delta – contemporary with Amara West. Missing from this excavated and group are the cores, waste and debitage that would have revealed much more about the lithic technology and production process in and around the ancient town.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow : @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. More images on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Egypt Exploration Society, New Kingdom, objects, settlement, tools

Amara West 2016: the cemetery… from the Mesolithic to pyramids

Michaela Binder, Austrian Archaeological Institute

Pyramid tombs G321 (left) and G320 (right) in Cemetery D of Amara West

Pyramid tombs G321 (left) and G320 (right) in Cemetery D of Amara West

After eight seasons of excavations in the cemeteries of Amara West, we were done. As is usual in archaeology, those weeks in January and February 2016 were full of surprises, some pleasant and some not so much.

But let’s start from the beginning. Sticking to our plan set out at the start of the season, Sofie, Michelle and Mohamed Saad returned to the elite cemetery D to finish the excavation of three large pyramid tombs (G320, G321 and G322), which we had already excavated (superstructures and shafts) in 2015. Expectations were very high, having already discovered shabtis of Paser, Deputy of Kush, in tomb G320.

A somewhat challenging work environment under the protective tables in the burial chambers

A somewhat challenging work environment under the protective tables in the burial chambers

Equipped with new safety installations to protect excavators in the funerary chambers carved into the friable schist bedrock, the aim for 2016 was to finally explore the content of those subterranean rooms. In G321, a tomb provided with a large 8x8m pyramid, the substructure proved to be heavily looted but nevertheless offered important insights into funerary culture at Amara West. Dating to the 20th Dynasty – based on the assemblage of vessels – its owners opted for an interesting mix of Egyptian (tomb architecture, Egyptian style pottery, scarabs) as well as local Nubian (funerary beds) elements in funerary ritual. This conforms well to observations already made in other parts of the cemetery, as well as in the town, and reveals that this trend was followed even amongst the most elite.

Unfortunately, no artefacts revealing the identity of the tomb owner were recovered. Nevertheless, based on the dimensions and location of the tomb it is safe to assume that the tomb’s owner would have been one of the most high-ranking officials at Amara West. The strong Nubian influence in the funerary equipment may further indicate that he was indeed local.

Despite its small, unassuming entrance, tomb G322 turned out to be the most rewarding of the three tombs. Even though it had also been looted in antiquity, four burials and the base of a wooden coffin decorated with painted plaster were recovered intact form the first of the three burial chambers. This chamber also held an assemblage of over 20 complete vessels, including some a Canaanite amphora imported from the Levant. All these vessels indicate that the tomb was constructed in the early 19th Dynasty, early in the history of the town Amara West. Most importantly however, the northern burial chamber held part of shabti with the name of Ibay. Who he was and what his function at Amara West was remains yet unclear but based on size, location and wealth of his tomb he would have certainly been high up in the provincial administration of Kush (Upper Nubia).

The tomb that had yielded shabtis of Paser, G320, unfortunately frustrated us. The ceiling of the substructure, located 7, below the surface, was fully collapsed. The large boulders in the entrance and cracks in the still intact rock above the chambers proved too large an obstacle and acted as a reminder of the dangers of the unstable schist bedrock. Consequently, excavation was impossible.

Burial mounds of G250 in Cemetery C with settlement of Amara West in the background

Burial mounds of G250 in Cemetery C with settlement of Amara West in the background

On the plus side, the early end of excavation in G320 gave us time to excavate two tombs, G250 and G251, in an unexplored area of Cemetery C. Located on the escarpment east of the cemetery were two isolated and small burial mounds, conforming in size and architecture to other examples in Cemeteries C and D. However, in contrast to the tombs in Cemetery C, both had rock-cut substructures. In the case of G250, it consisted of a sizable rectangular shaft similar to our post-New Kingdom niche burials, even though a niche itself was missing. Nevertheless, the location, size and rock-cut nature signify a special position of the person buried in tomb at some point during the 10th-9th centuries BC.

The second tomb – G251 – turned out to somewhat different. The pottery is fascinating – it includes “Khartoum Variant” (Mesolithic; 6000-4500 BC) sherds, but also forms that might be of C-Group, Pre-Kerma or Kerma (3000-1600 BC). Clearly a burial that long pre-dates the Ramesside occupation at Amara West, further research is needed to clarify at what date the tomb was constructed, and if some of the pottery (the Mesolithic) was recycled from nearby occupation sites.

A magical place: one of the many great sunrises over the Nile at Amara West

A magical place: one of the many great sunrises over the Nile at Amara West

Here ends our excavation project in the cemeteries of Amara West: analysis, interpretation and publication lies ahead. It is very sad for me to say good bye to this magical place for now, but they say “who once drank from the Nile will always come back”.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. More images on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2016, anthropology, archaeology, funerary, Kite Aerial Photography #KAP, New Kingdom, Nubian, Nubian traditions, objects, Uncategorized

Places and stories: Ernetta Island

Tomomi Fushiya, University of Leiden

Ali Mohamed Jalall  discussing the history of Ernetta with Mohamed Salah

Ali Mohamed Jalall discussing the history of Ernetta with Mohamed Salah

During last year’s interviews with the local excavation workers, who mostly live on the island of Ernetta where our expedition house is located, fragmented histories of their island emerged. There is no written record of the history of Ernetta, but oral histories are very informative.

One of the aims of this season’s community work is to collect these oral histories relating to the island, and to establish whether these shared histories can be associated with specific places on Ernetta, and/or ancient remains known to archaeologists. The work involved both formal interviews with a prepared questionnaire, and walking around to talk to villagers more informally.

Ernetta island, with Amara West to the east (downstream). Image: Google Earth.

Ernetta island, with Amara West to the east (downstream). Image: Google Earth.

The island of Ernetta is located near the modern town of Abri, about 4km in length and 1km in width. The name of the island, Ernetta, derives from two Nubian words meaning ‘rapid’ or ‘strong water’ (er) and ‘island’ (arti), according to the residents of the island.

This small island was previously referred to as Arnati by Frederic Cailliaud who travelled in the region in February 1820. A team directed by Andre Vila (CNRS, France) surveyed and identified five Christian Period sites in the 1970s: probably those remembered by a local resident who recalled foreigners collecting pottery sherds in hundreds of shawals (textile sacks).

Tomb of Khalil Ayyub with palm leaves. The white structure in the background is the minbar

Tomb of Khalil Ayyub with palm leaves. The white structure in the background is the minbar

Most people on the island do not know of any of the sites noted by Vila, except perhaps for one suggested by an Ernetta resident. However, they do speak of old cemeteries on top of which modern buildings and houses are built today, another ‘old structure’ where the moulid (the birthday celebration of the Prophet Mohamed) took place in the past but was destroyed some years ago, a building called Khalil Diffi, and a tomb of Khalil Ayyub.

The story of Ernetta’s history starts with the family of Khalil Ayyub who moved to the island from Syria many years ago, said to be the ‘first’ family of the island. The tomb of Khalil Ayyub, now a low mound with traces of a rectangular-shaped mudbrick structure visible on the surface, is surrounded by date palm trees. Today, a few branches of date palms are placed on top of the mound, a practice we also see at modern cemeteries in the region.

A place for the Salat al Eid, kore sala is located by the tomb of Khalil Ayyub.

A place for the Salat al Eid, kore sala is located by the tomb of Khalil Ayyub.

Around 20m from the tomb a white-stepped structure stands: a minbar on which Imam gives sermons during prayers. In front of this structure is a place where all villagers on the island come together to pray in the mornings of the Eid (Islamic festival) – Salat al Eid – twice a year. This place is called kore sala in the local language.

Why did they choose this place for the kore sala? One villager explains that it could be because there is enough space for all villagers to pray – but there are several other much larger spaces in the island. Is it because their ancestor’s tomb is located there? No one has a clear answer to these questions, but old men do know that the tomb of Khalil Ayyub, whose family is remembered as the first on the island, is located there.

These reflections on the history of Ernetta Island are only possible with the enthusiasm, diligent work and tireless support of Ali Mohamed Jalall – a long-time resident of Ernetta who also helps with ceramic processing at Amara West.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. More images on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2016, anthropology, community engagement, Modern Amara, Nubian, Uncategorized

Amara West 2016: a series of small walls and a “garden island”?

Manuela Lehmann, Amara West Project Curator, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum

Stone walls with associated mud bricks

Stone walls with associated mud bricks

According to comedian Eddie Izzard, archaeologists only ever find a series of small walls. Confirming these prejudices, a series of small walls kept us busy in the second half of the excavation season in the town at Amara West.

In contrast to the mud brick walls of the houses, however, these walls were built from undressed schist stones of various size, running roughly parallel along the western edge of the western suburb. A fifth wall curves around the southern edge of the site.

Excavating these walls, we hoped to answer one fundamental question: for what purpose were they built?

It soon became clear that they consisted not only of loose schist stones but were intermingled with mud mortar and mud bricks. While one wall featured no mud bricks at all, another was associated with a layer of small sandstone chips, while a third one was only made of stones in a very short stretch and the remainder was built from mud bricks. The curving wall was formed from different segments, within which waste of stone working and other rubbish could be found.

Kite photo of the stone rows

Kite photo of the stone rows

Their position within the settlement – rather than their varied construction – seems most significant. The easternmost stone row follows the limit of the western suburb, defining its western edge. West of that limit, the surface slopes down into a shallow depression in which little pottery is found on the surface and our magnetometry survey is devoid of obvious features.

West of this depression, another wall – mostly built with mud bricks – sits on higher ground, and borders an area of mud ridges forming small square compartments, a familiar form of garden plots known from Theban Tomb depictions, and found in excavations at other sites such as Tell el-Amarna.

Remains of square mud ridges interpreted as garden plots, beside a stone and mud brick wall

Remains of square mud ridges interpreted as garden plots, beside a stone and mud brick wall

Further research is needed to better understand these areas, but a working hypothesis is that an area of cultivation – including garden plots – sat on higher ground across from the western suburb. We designated this ‘Garden Island’ during the season. In between was a low-lying area, that may have occasionally been partially inundated – whether annually or less frequently. The archaeological deposits featured pottery with brown-green accretions, and rounded, eroded sherds – phenomena consistent with an area occasionally affected by water. This area would have offered inhabitants further potential for (seasonal?) cultivation.

Again a series of small walls proved to turn into interesting results….

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. More images on Instagram.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2016

Amara West 2016: beneath pyramid G322

Mohamed Saad, National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums (Sudan)

Mohamed excavating in the first burial chamber of G322

Mohamed excavating in the first burial chamber of G322

Our expectations before starting excavation in the pyramid tomb G322 in cemetery D were very high. It features a superstructure comprising an offering court, a funerary chapel above the shaft and a pyramid, all made from mud bricks. A gate made of sand sone once provided access to the interior of a chapel of 5.1×4.5m. The substructure is cut into schist bedrock, with a shaft covered by large schist stones, one of which still lay across the the east side. The entrance to the three burial chambers is located 3.3m below the surface, on the western side.

Burials as found in the first chamber

Burials as found in the first chamber

This year, we were finally able to enter the burial chambers, protected by metal shoring to protect us from stone fragments falling from the ceiling of the chamber. The first chamber was robbed but most of individuals were still in situ. The most recent burial, Sk322-7, was a child placed on a layer of sand directly behind the entrance. It was wrapped in a coffin made from doum-palm wood. Associated with the body we found traces of textile and some blue beads near the child’s right arm. Underneath Sk322-7, I exposed an adult individual next to the fully preserved bottom of an anthropoid wooden coffin covered with painted plaster. Maickel, our conservator, consolidated the whole piece and is now trying to expose the remaining decorating. Some ivory beads were also found around the skeleton.

Ceramic vessels found in the first chamber

Ceramic vessels found in the first chamber

A second intact adult individual was found at the western side of the chamber. A small scarab, made from ivory, was found by his arm. Moreover, the first chamber held a large number of beautiful, intact vessels, which would have once held food offerings. I recovered seven plates, a big jar, two beer jars and a very nice imported bottle. Some of them clearly date to the 19th dynasty, placing the tomb in the early phase of occupation of Amara West.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. More images on instagram:

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2016, archaeology, ceramics, funerary, New Kingdom, Nubian

An introduction to Amara West: podcasts (Arabic)


تمومي فوشيا (جامعة ليدن) ونيل سبنسر (مدير قسم مصر القديمة والسودان, المتحف البريطاني

IMG_9994

الصورة: بعض مدرسين أحدى المدارس المحلية بجزيرة ارنتي يقرأون المعلومات المسجلة على اللوحات في منطقة الإستقبال الخاصة بمدينة عمارة غرب

أصبح موقع المدينة القديمة عمارة غرب حاليا عبارة عن مساحة عظيمة مغطاة بأطنان متراكمة من الرمال التي تمتد على طوال الضفة المهجورة من نهر النيل. تم الكشف عن انماط الحياة التي كانت سائدة من قبل داخل تلك المدينة خلال السنوات القليلة الماضية: كيف كانت تبدو منازلهم, ماذا كانوا يأكلون, ما نوع الأمراض المستوطنة التي عانى قاطنو المدينة منها, الطقوس الدينية المنتشرة حينذاك, حتى الألوان المستعملة في طلاء المنازل وكيفية تحضيرها. ولكن يبقى التساؤل محل نقاش: كيف يمكن نقل تلك المعلومات الجديدة للمجتمعات الحالية التي تقطن المنطقة؟

بجانب عدة محاضرات تم القائها , وتوزيع الكتاب المترجم الي العربية مجانا والذي يلخص الأبحاث والنتائج التي تمت في موقع حفريات المدينة: قمنا ايضا بإنشاء عدة ملصقات كبيرة مزودة بعدة صور توضيحية لزائري المدينة القديمة.

نحن نعرف ان سكان عبري وجزيرة ارنتي عادة ما يزورون الموقع, بشكل خاص خلال مواسم الأعياد على سبيل المثال. ولذلك تم إنشاء منطقة مظللة للحماية من الشمس والرياحعند منطقة إستقبال الزائرين, والتي يمكن فيها للزائرين ان ينالوا قسطا من الراحة وينعموا بقراءة – سواء باللغة العربية او الأنجليزية – نتائج الحفريات وتاريخ إكتشاف المدينة الاثارية. كما نخطط ايضا لإستضافة زيارات مدرسية في هذا المكان خلال مواسم الحفريات القادمة.

قام أحد زملائنا السودانين بإقتراح ان نقوم بعمل نماذج صوتية مسجلة لما هو مكتوب على اللوحات, حيث ان الهواتف الذكية اصبحت شائعة الأن , ويمكن إستعمالها بسهولة لتبادل المعلومات والأفلام المصورة والموسيقى.فقد أخبرنا ان هناك مجموعة من المثقفين النوبيين يقومون بتصوير النماذج القديمة من البيوت النوبية القديمة والسواقي بإستخدام الهاتف الجوال وعادة ما يقوموا بتبادل مثل تلك الصور التي تسجل مثل تلك النماذج الأصيلة من التراث المعماري والفني الخاص بالنوبة القديمة عن طريق تطبيقات حديثة تتيحها لهم الهواتف الذكية. ولذلك قمنا بعمل عدة نماذج صوتية للوحات – باللغة الأنجليزية والعربية – والتي يمكن إستعمالها من قبل أي شخص يقوم بزيارة الموقع الأثاري او حتى اي شخص مهتم بتاريخ مدينة عمارة غرب.

يمكن تنزيل هذه الأفلام القصيرة والتي تبلغ مدتها حوالي دقيقتين او ثلاثة لكل لوحة بسهولة وبدرجة جودة مرتفعة (للحواسب او التابلت) او بجودة منحفضة والتي تناسب اكثر المناطق التي لا يتوفر فيها الأنترنت السريع.

1) المدينة الفرعونية بالنوبة
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

2) تخطيط المدينة
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

3) الحياة في المدينة القديمة
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

4) الثقافة النوبية في مدينة عمارة غرب
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

5) الصحة والمأكل
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

6) التجهيزات الخاصة بعالم ما بعد الوفاة
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

7) من مدينة قديمة الى موقع أثاري
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

ازال هناك الكثير امامنا لنقوم به. تعتبر اللغة النوبية هي اللغة التي يتحدث بها سكان ارنتي وعبري , غير انهم يتحدثون العربية بطلاقة أيضا, حيث تعتبر اللغة النوبية لغة التعامل الشفاهي, وقليل من السكان من يستطيع ان يكتبها ويقرأها, سواء بحروف عربية او بحروف نوبية قديمة, ولذك نحن نأمل قريبا ان نقوم بعمل تسجيل صوتي باللغة النوبية بالتعاون مع صاحب “المقهى الثقافي” في مدينة عبري , الأستاذ فكري حسن طه.

تم عمل هذه التسجيلات الصوتية من خلال الدعم المادي المتاح من المشروع القطري السوداني الأثاري.

Filed under: anthropology, archaeology, ceramics, community engagement, conservation, Egypt Exploration Society, Modern Amara, New Kingdom, Nubian, objects, pottery, settlement

An introduction to Amara West: podcasts

Tomomi Fushiya (University of Leiden) and Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan, British Museum)

Book_ladies reading (1)

Ladies on Ernetta island reading the Arabic Amara West book

 

The ancient town of Amara West is now a windswept place hidden behind dunes along the left bank of the Nile. The last years have seen aspects of the ancient town brought to life through work on the ancient houses, what people ate, what diseases they suffered from, their religious beliefs and even how paint was prepared. But how is this new information conveyed to the local communities?

Alongside a series of lectures, and the distribution of a free Arabic book summarising research on Amara West, we have also installed illustrated panels in a visitor orientation area built beside the ancient town.

We know that people from Abri and Ernetta island occasionally visit the site, for example during the Eid festivals. The visitor orientation area offers a place sheltered from sun (and wind!), where visitors can rest and read – in Arabic or English – about some of the discoveries, and the history of exploration. It is also a space where we plan to host school visits in future seasons.

 

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School teacher from Ernetta reading information panels in Amara West visitor centre

One of our Sudanese colleagues suggested we make audio versions of the panels. Smartphones are increasingly common, and are used for sharing videos, What’s App messages or music. A few men keep images of saqiya (waterwheel) and old style Nubian houses on their phones. They exchange images of traditional objects and architecture in a ‘Nubian heritage’ group through an app.  We’ve now created podcast versions of the panels – in English or Arabic – which can be used by anyone visiting the site, or indeed anyone else interested in ancient Amara West!

These short films (between 2 and 3 minutes each) can be watched in high resolution (for desktop or tablets) or in a mobile version.

1) A pharaonic town in Nubia
Arabic (high qualitymobile) English (high qualitymobile)

2) A planned town
Arabic (high qualitymobile) English (high qualitymobile)

3) Life in the ancient town
Arabic (high qualitymobile) English (high qualitymobile)

4) Nubian culture in Amara West
Arabic (high qualitymobile) English (high qualitymobile)

5) Eating and health
Arabic (high qualitymobile) English (high qualitymobile)

6) Preparing for the afterlife
Arabic (high qualitymobile) English (high qualitymobile)

7) From ancient town to archaeological site
Arabic (high qualitymobile) English (high qualitymobile)

There’s more to do. The local language in Ernetta and Abri is Nubian, though nearly everyone speaks Arabic. Nubian is mainly a spoken language today. As few people write and read it, neither in Arabic characters nor Old Nubian characters, we hope to create a Nubian-language podcast soon, in collaboration with the owner of a ‘heritage café’ in Abri, Fekry Hassan Taha.

The podcasts were made possible through the support of the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Amara West 2016: conservation challenges

Maickel van Bellegem, conservator, British Museum

In a subterranean chamber beneath tomb G322, Maickel consolidating a section of coffin

In a subterranean chamber beneath tomb G322, Maickel consolidating a section of coffin remains.

Having left London on 23 January – with a brief stop at Kawa to assess future conservation requirements – I am now in the full swing of the work here at Amara West. Last week we successfully lifted a section of coffin remains from one of the underground burial chambers beneath pyramid tomb G322.

The largest we have found at Amara West so far, measuring about 45 by 90cm, it probably formed part of the side or base of the wooden coffin. The wood and painted plaster was unfortunately in a poor state of preservation: all we could see was brown and white powder stains.

We decided to consolidate in situ using a diluted adhesive in case any remains of painted decoration had survived. If lifted in a block we can try to turn it over and expose the underside. The consolidant will in the first instance also stick to sand and whatever else is underneath together. So a good deal more work will follow to remove that: there is no guarantee for a painted surface, it may all have deteriorated into powder already… yet this is the only way to find out. Some smaller sections from the area extending towards the head had already shown that the coffin was decorated.

Painted plaster surface from coffin remains recovered from tomb G322

Painted plaster surface from coffin remains recovered from tomb G322.

In the meantime other fragile finds have been gathering on my desk at the workroom: worked wood, worked ivory/bone, bitumen and textile remains, a metal pin…

A number of fragile finds are awaiting assessment and treatment.

A number of fragile finds are awaiting assessment and treatment.

Last but not least a copper alloy mirror with remnants of textiles adhering to it was discovered by Mohamed Saad earlier this week. This, and other objects, will each get their dose of attention in the next few weeks.

Copper alloy mirror from G322, with textile adhering to it (F8768)

Copper alloy mirror from G322, with textile adhering to it (F8768)

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. For more images, visit instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2016, archaeology, conservation, funerary, New Kingdom

Amara West 2016: a villa and its surroundings

Manuela Lehmann (Project Curator, British Museum)

Panorama looking up towards the ancient town

Panorama looking up towards the ancient town

The focus of work this season lies in the cemetery area: the town is almost entirely deserted. Well, not entirely: one small group of daring archaeologists withstands the bitter cold and strong winds to investigate … a series of small walls.

Today we were six people in the town area, the highest number so far this season. Alongside Tomomi Fushiya and Ariadna Balbastre drawing plans of a suburban house (D11.4), three of our workmen – Ahmed Medani, Hassan Nouri and Fouad Ali Gindi – are helping me seek further insights into details of life in this late New Kingdom town.

This small team is focusing on several areas. To the south of the large house D11.1, already excavated last season, we are now focusing on cleaning a large area – courtyard? – in front of the house, as the site slopes down towards the Nile. This has proved difficult, as very strong winds have been blowing sand back into the excavated areas.

The wind howls across the lower part of Amara West town

The wind howls across the lower part of Amara West town

In the northern part of the courtyard more garden plots have emerged. Many of these rectangular structures, made of mud ridges and likely to designed to contain vegetables or other plants, have been found. This year, for the first time, we discovered small pits within them and one of them contained the stalk of a smaller tree or bush. Botanical analysis should be able to tell us what sort of plant was growing here.

Apart from the garden plots, the remains of seven ovens and ash pits around the courtyard have been excavated one by one: all displaying varying shades of white to grey to black and red. The remains of a bread mould – and the typical cylindrical ceramic construction – indicate the function of at least some as bread ovens, though some of the ash pits may have been simple hearths, or pits associated with producing charcoal.

Ovens in the courtyard in front of house D11.4

Ovens in the courtyard in front of house D11.4

Slightly to the southeast of villa, D11.1 two small mud brick walls were cleared. Parts of them were covered by our own spoil heaps from last year (luck of the archaeologist) and windblown sand, so the workmen had to dig through a metre of pure sand and sieved excavation deposits. These walls are distinctive, as they run at an acute angle towards each other and have little bastions projecting into the space between them. By cleaning the bricks we found a complete rim and handle of an imported pilgrim flask, sending our pottery specialists into rapture!

Fighting the spoilheap: removing sand to seek the ends of brick walls

Fighting the spoilheap: removing sand to seek the ends of brick walls

The two walls are only half a brick wide in size but were at least three rows high, probably once higher as mortar for the next course is preserved on top. So far, no further structures are associated with these walls which makes it difficult to determine their function. It is quite likely that they were used to define space that was used as further garden areas or for keeping lifestock. These are important possibilities as we consider how parts of the ancient island was used beyond the houses, temple and official buildings.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. For more images, visit instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

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Filed under: Amara West 2016, archaeology, ceramics, New Kingdom, settlement

Amara West 2016: smiles and excitement – a visit from Amara East primary school

Tomomi Fushiya (Leiden University)

At the end of the visit: group photo in front of the visitors centre

At the end of the visit: group photo of grades 5 and 6 from Amara East primary school, in front of the visitors centre at Amara West

On a cold windy morning, two boatloads of children arrived at the riverbank and ran up the sand dunes to meet archaeologists and local workers at Amara West. This is the first organised trip from local schools to visit the excavation site: 33 students (grades 5 and 6) with 4 teachers from Amara East primary school.

A local worker, Rami, explaining the tools of the excavator

A local worker, Rami, explaining the excavation tools

After they met our team members working on site, the visit began in the ancient town – entering through the remains of the West Gate. Walking by the houses with the group of students and teachers, Mohamed Saad, our inspector and bioarchaeologist from NCAM, talked about how we study ancient life within the ruined houses, studying pottery sherds, bones and so on. Two of our long-term local workers, Hassan Nuri Allah al-Deen and Rami Mohamed Abdel Khalil, both from Ernetta Island, showed and explained how we use the tools – trowels, brushes, scales, and finds bags – that archaeologists and workers use to excavate and document the ancient remains.

Students and teachers from Amara East primary school walking up towards the cemetery

Students and teachers from Amara East primary school walking up towards the cemetery

Across the dried up ancient Nile channel which the ancient residents of Amara West once crossed to bury the dead, the students learned from Michaela Binder (Austrian Archaeological Institute) about the different types of tombs in the cemetery, and how people were buried.

School teachers who have read the Amara West book before the visit also joined the guided tour, linking what the pupils learnt at school with what they were seeing at the site. During the visit, a new leaflet for school children about the site and archaeology was distributed. These had been designed in consultation with local school teachers last year.

Drawings made by Amara East primary school pupils after the visit

Drawings made by Amara East primary school pupils after the visit

The visit ended after a drawing session in our visitors’ orientation area, in which the students illustrated what they had seen and learnt during the visit.
We hope to continue to work with the local schools to raise awareness of their local history, the history of Sudan and archaeology – and maybe even encourage more local children to study archaeology in the future!

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. For more images, visit instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

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Filed under: Amara West 2016, community engagement, Modern Amara

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