Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2014: A typical suburban house (or not?)

House D12.7 at Amara West
Mat Dalton, University of Cambridge

A team of workmen from Ernetta Island and I have started excavation of a large and previously unexplored house (D12.7), located in the suburb just outside of the town’s thick perimeter wall and West Gate, not far from the large villa (D12.5) excavated by Rizwan Ahmed and Vera Michel in 2013. The house is directly adjacent to house D12.6, currently under excavation by David Fallon.

Mat standing in house D12.7, after clearance of surface sand

Mat standing in house D12.7, after clearance of surface sand

Within the walled town of Amara West, the form of many houses has been shaped or in some cases even dictated by both the limited amount of available space and the complex layers of older buildings located beneath and beside them. In the settlement’s western suburbs, many buildings (including D12.7) appear to have instead been built on open ground, which may give us the opportunity to see how some of the town’s inhabitants decided to lay out and configure their houses in an area where restricted space and pre-existing architecture were not such a pressing issue.

Kite photograph with House D12.7 under excavation. North to right.

Kite photograph with House D12.7 under excavation. North to right.

As is so often the case at the site, a quick brushing away of surface sand has already revealed the preserved tops of D12.7’s walls, giving us a convenient overview of the house’s layout before we even start to excavate. From this vantage point, we can already see that the house has at least eight rooms. In the front of the house, there is a single entrance from the street into a porch and entrance chamber, divided by a thin semi-circular wall, possibly built to keep sand from entering the house. From here, there is a doorway into the middle section of the house, which contains a long (and possibly subdivided) transverse hall.

A doorway at the end of this hall leads into the rear part of the house, which contains a large square space with a mud brick mastaba -seating platform, flanked by two almost identically-sized long and narrow rooms. These three main suites of rooms would appear to fit well with the tripartite model of access and privacy proposed for New Kingdom houses, based particularly upon the many domestic buildings uncovered at the late 18th Dynasty city of Tell el-Amarna in Middle Egypt. Less easily explained by this model, however, is a pair of rooms that contain at least three bread ovens, built against the western wall of the house at some later stage in its history. Why did these installations, which were apparently not regarded as an integral part of the house’s original foundation, eventually become a necessity for its residents?

One of the back rooms (southeastern) after removal of windblown sand and rubble

One of the back rooms (southeastern) after removal of windblown sand and rubble

Over the next few weeks we will be exploring this and other questions by excavating and recording the deposits, surfaces and features inside the house, as well as the artefacts contained within and upon them. Walls and rooms form only one part of how a house is lived in, and experienced by, its inhabitants. Equally important are the way in which residents structure and organize domestic space through the placement of furniture and personal possessions, the adornment and decoration of walls and floors, and of course the uses that they put specific rooms to.

As well as supervising excavations in D12.7, I will also be taking samples of mud plaster floors and walls from within the building for sediment thin section micromorphological analysis, in order to learn more about the way in which residents modified and used specific areas of the house, as well as how these uses may have changed over time. This micro-scale evidence, when considered in relation to the architecture and artefactual assemblage of the building, should help us to explain how a house, that may have been laid out on open ground to reflect a particular way of living or ideal, has been inhabited and perhaps adapted and changed over time, to suit its residents’ changing needs.

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

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