Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2015 (week 1): painted bone, a house revealed and … ovens


Neal Spencer, Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan

A long seven-day excavation week has just drawn to a close at Amara West, characterised by strong winds and very chilly temperatures. The first week of a field season is really about getting a feel for the work, even after 6 years at the same site: both the team of specialists and our local workmen feature a mixture of veterans (no matter their age) and new arrivals.

The pace of work differs across Amara West, depending on the archaeological remains, but also their position on the site, which effects how much wind and airborne sand we have to deal with – both during excavation, and when returning the day after a windy night to find rooms filled with sand.

Excavating in house D12.8

Excavating in house D12.8

Within a few days, we started to understand more about house D12.8, through the excavations of Matt Williams and Agnieszka Trambowicz. It is now clear that the rooms to the west, which I had designated part of another house, represent an extension to the original house. Matt has exposed much of the rear suite of rooms: a typical almost-square space with mastaba-bench on the rear wall, flanked by side rooms (one obliterated by a big pit), with a wide room before it. The square room yielded the jar with the animal depiction. Out front, Agnieszka has encountered a series of later walls and blockings within a large space (courtyard?), and is just starting to dig a room full of ash, containing at least two ovens.

An enigmatic feature in house D11.1. Note the well-preserved surface, but also the gap, not big enougt to walk through.

An enigmatic feature in house D11.1. Note the well-preserved surface, but also the gap, not big enougt to walk through.

To the southwest, the large house D11.1 seemed fairly typical in plan, from what was visible on the surface. What surprised us here was encountering installations, rather than rubble and wind-blown sand, so close to the surface in each rooms, without the usual layers of windblown sand. This is proving challenging as the wind scours any surface we expose. At the front (south) of the building, Sarah Hitchens has exposed ashy surfaces (more ovens on the way?!) with the room behind hosting a strange curving feature, with a nice surface inside and around it, against one wall.

Manuela lifting the painted bone object

Manuela lifting the painted bone object

Manuela Lehmann has been excavating the back of the house – again with a square room accompanied by two side rooms. There’s absolutely no sign of a mastaba here, but that absence was made up for by our most unusual object of the season so far. A piece of bone, presumed to be animal, decorated on the upper surface with a series of fine red lines. Thanks to some long-distance advice from British Museum conservator Philip Kevin, we managed to consolidate this incredibly fragile piece in situ, and lift the object whole. It now sits in the expedition house awaiting cleaning by another British Museum conservator, Maickel van Bellegem, who joins us in February. Only then can we start to document and study the object properly, and thereafter try and understand it.

A small oven set in the corner of an alley outside house D12.12

There’s much more going on in the western suburb. David Fallon is working through rubble layers in a building (D12.12) south of the house he excavated last year, while revealing a small oven set up in an alleyway between the two houses. Mat Dalton is back in house D12.7, where the small suite of two rooms with ovens has turned out to contain yet more, earlier, ovens. Again we are able to track small changes and refurbishments made in individual houses.

Fouad Ali Gindi, one of our veteran workers (and oven specialist) in house D12.7

Fouad Ali Gindi, one of our veteran workers (and oven specialist), in house D12.7

Back inside the walled town, we are seeking to finish excavations in neighbourhood E13. We’re not excavating houses here, but rather an area given over to ovens and/or kilns, perhaps a courtyard.

A sequence of kilns or ovens in a courtyard inside the walled town

A sequence of kilns or ovens in a courtyard inside the walled town

Tom Lyons has been busy excavating, recording and dismantling one sequence of ovens, while Johannes Auenmüller finished the week revealing a nice layer of architecture. In both areas we hope to reach the earliest occupation phase at Amara West, to better understand what was deemed necessary in the foundation of a new pharaonic administrative centre in Upper Nubia.

Early phase architecture within area E13

Early phase architecture within area E13

Back in the expedition house, we’re focusing on documenting objects from earlier seasons – there’s always a backlog – but new artefacts are beginning to come in. But perhaps the most thrilling part of the first week has been the enthusiasm for the Arabic edition of the Amara West book, which we are distributing to local communities, starting with our workmen and neighbours.

Early evening reading the Amara West book on the mastaba outside an Ernetta island house

Early evening reading the Amara West book on the mastaba outside an Ernetta island house

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

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, archaeology, conservation, New Kingdom, objects, settlement

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