Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2014: another season begins in the ancient town

Revealing a new house

Neal Spencer, Keeper, Ancient Egypt & Sudan, British Museum

As January turned to February, the excavations in cemetery C and our first investigations of hinterland sites around Amara West came to and end. The daily commute now needs two boats from our dig house on Ernetta island to the site, to accommodate all the archaeologists and workmen.

Orthographic image  (from kite photography) of area E13, at end of 2013 season. Photo: Susie Green

Orthographic image (from kite photography) of area E13, at end of 2013 season. Photo: Susie Green

Area E13, a small neighbourhood of houses built into and over storage magazines, seems very familiar. Mat Dalton, Anna Stevens, Tom Lyons and I have been working here for some years – giving us a detailed knowledge of rooms, doorways and ancient ovens. Some of the knowledge is more pertinent to archaeology than ancient life – for example which walls offer shortcuts across this complex of nearly forty rooms.

Yet we are constantly reminded of the limitations to our understanding. We have tried to build a biography of this neighbourhood – reconstructing the different phases of each house, from construction to occupation, modifications and eventual destruction or abandonment. But assigning houses, rooms and walls to phases is inevitably an exercise in simplifying a rather complex picture, as we reduce people’s homes, experiences and choices to a designation such as ‘phase IIB’. But these are the frameworks which provide us with some encouragement amidst each season’s avalanche of data. We then return the next season, to test and check our theories, and make sure they are consistent with new evidence that emerges.

Mat and Barbara Chauvet are revisiting spaces we have partly excavated before. In the street (or alley) along the west side of the neighbourhood (E13.11), Barbara is removing a sequence of fine silt deposits, with the aim of linking the stratigraphy of our excavations with those of the Egypt Exploration Society in the 1940s. We also hope to find further evidence of the levelled first phase of buildings at Amara West: it has become clear that the town plan was radically altered early in the history of the settlement. Mat has spent this week squeezed into a maze of walls, seeking to work out their chronological sequence: somewhat predictably, some assumptions – about what was built first, or which walls belong to the distinctive magazines – held for several years will have to be discarded.

Walls everywhere: a test of phasing

Walls everywhere: a test of phasing

Across on the eastern edge of the neighbourhood, Anna Stevens has begun removing the floors in house E13.5, as we seek to reveal the earlier phase architecture beneath – perhaps more magazines? Immediately to the North, Tom Lyons and Johannes Auenmüller are peeling back the floors of house E13.16, and will soon expose the phase below. Severe erosion at the northern edge of the town has revealed parts of a complex of kilns and/or ovens. Did this area continue further to the south? Was it an open area, or set within a building? We must remember other limitations. For example, we are only looking at the ground floor of these buildings. What happened above, at the top of the stairs that is present in almost every house?

Johannes recording floors in room 2 of building E13.16

Johannes recording floors in room 2 of building E13.16

Outside the town walls, Ronan Mooney is clearing sand from the back of villa D12.5, and thus far we are encountering badly pitted walls. Along the western edge of the villa, David Fallon has spent a few days brushing the surface, revealing an array of mudbrick walls. Paolo del Vesco has just arrived and started planning this newly revealed area of extramural settlement. This area promises to be fascinating, with houses both large and small: what choices did the inhabitants make when they moved outside the town wall, onto previously unoccupied ground?

House D12.6 emerging from the sand

House D12.6 emerging from the sand

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, New Kingdom, settlement

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