Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2014: winding down in (or under) house E13.5

 Planning at Amara West

Anna Stevens, Amara West Project Curator, British Museum

Area E13, with house E13.5, and area excavated by Anna (in red), indicated

Area E13, with house E13.5, and area excavated by Anna (in red), indicated

After six weeks of busy excavations in the walled town, the work is now coming to an end in the front part of house E13.5. The aim here was to dig beneath the floors of E13.5, which was built late in the occupation of Amara West, around 1200BC, to see what could be recovered of earlier occupation in this part of the town. One specific goal was to check whether the large linear storage magazines that are such a prominent feature of areas excavated to the west of E13.5 continue here. The magazines date to ‘Phase IB’, early in the occupation of the walled town, later being converted into what seem to be domestic structures (broadly Phase II) and later again into houses that were contemporary with E13.5 (Phases III/IV).

Important clues? The deposits (seen here in section) accumulated over time can hint at changes in the use of space.

Important clues? The deposits (seen here in section) accumulated over time can hint at changes in the use of space.

The deposits under E13.5 continued to a depth of around 1.5 m: dense layers of brick rubble, finer windblown deposits, traces of fireplaces, and even possible tree pits, all interspersed with the remains of overlapping walls and surfaces. With the excavation finished, it is now time to plan the deposits and architecture as they appear in section in the sides of the trench, and to ponder the sequence of human activity here.

Glimpses of phase I architecture, at base of excavation

Glimpses of phase I architecture, at base of excavation

The story is not quite what we have come to expect from the walled town. For one, there is no sign of the thick magazine walls of Phase I. Instead, Phase I is represented by a fairly broad expanse of plaster floor and a couple of walls joining at right angles. We have too little of this Phase I building to reconstruct its plan, but we know that it had walls painted partly in yellow. Coloured wall decoration is quite well known from later houses, but we’ve not had any from Phase I before, and certainly not from the magazines.

Curving walls (10313, 10307) of phase II, beneath house E13.5. Wall 5389 to far right.

Curving walls (10313, 10307) of phase II, beneath house E13.5. Wall 5389 to far right.

After some time, this building was deliberately demolished, and the land subdivided to serve a group of smaller structures, only represented by a couple of fairly thin walls. Later still, he land was again repurposed and a substantial brick wall [5389] built through its southern part, perhaps relating to a building outside the excavation area to the south. This formed the southern boundary of ongoing Phase II occupation within the study area. After some time, a further building, most likely a house, was constructed against wall [5389], and quickly thereafter the householders seem to have added an external courtyard, containing it within the distinct curved wall [10307] exposed early in the excavations. Their neighbours to the north may have copied this idea some time later, building a similar curved boundary wall [10313] that could likewise have bordered an external courtyard. External space of this kind is very unusual within the walled town. In the areas excavated to the west, the houses were packed tightly together, lending the sense that outside areas may have been restricted to rooftops. The reason might rest in what lies below: to the west, the householders were more confined in their building activities by the thick walls of the earlier magazines, whereas under 13.5 the leveling of the Phase I building left the occupants with a clean slate upon which to build.

The excavations have thus offered up an important little case study in how the appearance of the walled town — and the domestic experiences of its inhabitants — may have varied at any single time, and how the footprint of earlier occupation (and its architecture and rubbish) continued to inform the experiences of later generations.

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

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One Response

  1. Veronique Levy says:

    When you look at the town, you don’t see clear entrances to houses, places for windows, it looks like a collage of rooms… it is very strange.

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