Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: plans for excavation in the cemetery

Bioarchaeologists Dyan Semple and Carina Summerfield-Hill excavating the chamber tomb G201 in 2011Michaela Binder, Durham University

For this, our latest excavation season at Amara West in Sudan, the team excavating in the cemeteries will return to the northeastern necropolis, Cemetery C. I’ll be joined by French and Sudanese bioarchaeologists, including participants in the second season of the Amara West Bioarchaeology Field School, which aims to train Sudanese archaeologists in bioarchaeological field and laboratory methods.

View over Cemetery C in the early morning with the town in the background

View over Cemetery C in the early morning with the town in the background

This season will be my last opportunity to gather new data in support of the part of the project I’m working on, exploring health and diet in ancient Nubia through climate and political change – and the last newly-excavated data that can be included in my PhD.

Many questions remain to be answered.

Previous work in Cemetery C was carried out in 2009 and 2011, with 32 graves excavated to date. This cemetery is of particular importance because it provides insights into the ‘Dark Ages’ of Nubian history: the period between the end of the New Kingdom and the beginning of the Napatan (tenth – ninth century BC). Until very recently, most of Nubia had been thought to be abandoned during this period.

Tomb G237, radiocarbon-dated to the 10th/9th century BC, a niche burial typical of the last centuries of use of Cemetery C

Tomb G237, radiocarbon-dated to the 10th/9th century BC, a niche burial typical of the last centuries of use of Cemetery C

In Cemetery C at Amara West, however, the majority of tombs date to this time, as confirmed through direct C14 dating of human remains. Thus, the results from this cemetery are now changing our perception of Nubian history and cultural trends during the early first millennium BC – but there’s still much to be investigated.

Bioarchaeologists Dyan Semple and Carina Summerfield-Hill excavating the chamber tomb G201 in 2011

Bioarchaeologists Dyan Semple and Carina
Summerfield-Hill excavating the chamber
tomb G201 in 2011

Initially, we will focus on excavating another chamber tomb, perhaps similar to G201 and G234, excavated in 2011. These graves were used for the burial of several generations and appear to be in use both during the New Kingdom period and afterwards. Thus, excavating another one will assist in getting a better understanding of cultural trends and developments taking place. Moreover, they will also provide a significant number of skeletons to be used in trying to understand living conditions at Amara West.

In addition, we hope to investigate more tombs in an area with unusually large niche burials, provided with tumulus superstructures. Three of those were already excavated in 2011.

These tombs are particularly intriguing as they may represent high status burials – how they relate to the remainder of the niche tombs (in terms of grave goods and funerary features) will be interesting, but also if differences can be observed in the human remains.

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Counting down to season six at Amara West

The project house under moonlightNeal Spencer, Keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum

In a few days time, I’ll be in a taxi, probably stuck in traffic, inching towards the confluence of the two Niles, and the offices of the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums (Sudan). The signing of our excavation permit will mark the start of our sixth fieldwork season at the ancient Egyptian town of Amara West, after months of planning and preparation.

The project house under moonlight, soon to be bustling with archaeologists and filled with artefacts to document and research.

The project house under moonlight, soon to be bustling with archaeologists and filled with artefacts to document and research.

What awaits? We’ll again be concentrating on the ‘neighbourhood’ of houses in the northwest of the town. There’s one late Ramesside house left to investigate (E13.5), though as we found last year, the earlier remains beneath might throw up some surprises.

View of house E13.6 at end of last season, with E13.5 to right, awaiting excavation

View of house E13.6 at the end of last season, with E13.5 to right, awaiting excavation

Surface traces suggest the house features a staircase, for access to the roof or upper storey, and a central reception room with a brick mastaba (bench) against the back wall. Our work here is providing a detailed insight into how one area of the town developed over 200 years, with episodes of neighbourhood renovation amidst the more frequent changes evident in individual houses – sometimes little more than the ancient equivalent of ‘moving the furniture around’.

Magnetometry survey of Amara West town

Magnetometry survey of Amara West town, with villa D12.5 outlined in red. Survey data: British Museum/British School in Rome.

We’re also returning to the western suburb, to excavate a villa (D12.5), which our magnetometry survey indicates as being around 400 square metres in area. Why build outside the walled town? A desire for more space, light and air may have been a motive, as we know the old town had become increasingly cramped and claustrophobic.

As ever, our team will be documenting objects and ceramics and taking archaeological samples for analysis back in the laboratories of the British Museum and universities collaborating on the project, including high resolution sampling of occupation surfaces by Mat Dalton.

Further research will be undertaken on the landscape and river channels, and our team will be back in cemetery C, led by Michaela Binder, including the second season of our Amara West Bioarchaeology Field School for Sudanese archaeologists.

We’ll be posting regularly from the site, and follow me @NealSpencer_BM on Twitter for updates.

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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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