Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2014: royal names in the house?

Impressed cartouche from house D12.7

Chiara Salvador, University of Oxford

Alongside registering objects back at the expedition house, as finds registrar I visit the site at least once a week. This is to allow documentation of very large objects which are left on site, typically large grindstones and undecorated architectural elements. These days allow me to see the progress of excavations and better understand the contexts from which the objects come. The enthusiasm of each excavator for the area they are digging always makes for interesting tours!

Impression of matting, probably from a roof, found in house E12.6

Impression of matting, probably from a roof, found in house E12.6

I also spend part of my mornings on site looking at the mud fragments bearing impressions of roofing material, which Marie Vandenbeusch has been studying for some years. These (hundreds of) pieces of mud bear impressions of vegetation, wooden poles and woven mats that were used to construct the ceilings – and perhaps even the floors of second storeys – in many buildings and rooms at Amara West. This year, houses D12.6 (excavated by David Fallon) and D12.7 (Mat Dalton) are providing new patterns of matting, as well as evidence of substantial roofing.

To our great surprise, amongst these many roofing fragments, three very special pieces of mud have recently been uncovered from these two adjacent houses. All feature a flat surface with at least one (and in one case up to three) impressions of large oval stamps, each measuring approximately 10cm long by 4cm wide – much larger than the seal impressions often found at pharaonic sites, typically 1.5-3cm in length (the size of a small scarab).

Impression of cartouche on mud from house D12.7

Impression of cartouche on mud from house D12.7

Unfortunately, these impressions are quite eroded and often fragmentary, making them very difficult to read. The clearest example is of a feather-topped cartouche, framing the goddess of the cosmic order Maat (top half preserved), identifiable by the feather on her head. In front of her are traces of a sun disk, now eroded, underneath which is another sign that is unfortunately barely visible. This may be an ankh, the ancient Egyptian symbol of life, held in the goddess’ hands, or could also perhaps be a very eroded ‘User’ sceptre. These signs might have formed part of Hatshepsut’s royal name, Maat-[ka]-ra, or they might have been part of the name of Amenhotep III ([Neb]-maat-ra), of Seti I ([Men]-maat-ra) or perhaps of one of the Ramesside kings, whose names begin with [User]-Maat-Ra. Seti I seems a god candidate, given the town was founded in his reign.

Back of mud fragment bearing a cartouche impression, showing two flat surfaces. From house D12.7

Back of mud fragment bearing a cartouche impression, showing two flat surfaces. From house D12.7

These are not just texts, however, but objects or fittings from ancient houses. The backs have two sides; one flat and regular, the other is irregular and hand-modelled. This peculiar shape suggests that they were pressed against the corner of something – a large container or an architectural element such as a door jamb? The function of these objects remains unclear. They might have been large-scale seal impressions, used to seal the object or feature they were attached to, although we cannot exclude the possibility that they may have functioned as decorative architectural elements. Unfortunately, their original use context is not known, as they were all uncovered in layers of rubble, much of it likely to be from the house itself. A great number of smaller seal impressions was recovered from house D12.7, so the bureaucratic apparatus of the pharaonic state was definitely present here!

House D12.7, indicating back rooms which were partially filled with roofing rubble

House D12.7, indicating back rooms which were partially filled with roofing rubble

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

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One Response

  1. Dear Chiara, Neal & team, wonderful, great stuff – thanks for sharing and congratulations! Your stamp is indeed very similar to the one from Sai Island, but also a bit different; will post a picture of ours later today! Shape etc. is completly the same, so I think “sealing” something large architectural like a door is the most likely function of these intriguing objects… The Sai one is coming from one of the magazines in the southern part of the town – let’s continue sharing thoughts about these royal mud stamps!

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