Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2015 (week 5): the practical, the unusual and the desert beyond

Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan, British Museum) & Michaela Binder (bioarchaeologist)

Now the time seems to be slipping through our fingers like the loose windblown sand that shrouds the ancient buildings at Amara West, but with less than two weeks to go (in the town). We are now working across a range of very different spaces – some built for living, others for making things (and thus producing a lot of rubbish) and of course the monumentswhere the dead were commemorated and buried. And this week we moved beyond, into the desert….

Sequence of attempts to keep the sand out of house D12.8

Sequence of attempts to keep the sand out of house D12.8

Agnieszka Trambowicz has now provided some clarity as to what was happening in house D12.8. It looks increasingly like the house had a northern front door – thus far a uniquely bad idea in this windswept neighbourhood. The inhabitants soon started to try and lessen the impact of the sand, with a series of blocking walls erected outside the front door, before the door was finally sealed up and a new western entrance to the house created. Yet beneath all these phases lies a nice mudbrick pavement – we have yet to understand whether this is another outside court, or even paving in a public space between houses.

Ovens along the corridor around house D11.1

Ovens along the corridor around house D11.1

We try not to mention ovens too often, despite their ubiquity on site. Yet the end of the week saw several familiar circles of ash and ceramic emerge from the dusty brown deposits that choke the corridor surrounding house D11.1, in a row along one wall. This house is unique in having a precinct wall surrounding the house, and it now looks as is this was a place for food processing and cooking. It may seem sensible to put such activities outside the house, given the smoke and rubbish created. If unroofed, it could have been a space that filled with dust and sand very quickly – is that why most houses placed ovens inside?

Copper alloy bracelet emerging from the dirt in house D11.1

Copper alloy bracelet emerging from the dirt in house D11.1

Over in one of the side rooms, a nice copper alloy bracelet was revealed. Like a number of other objects – especially dozens of crumbly seal impressions – this will need the attention of our conservator, Maickel van Bellegem, who has just arrived from the British Museum. It also serves as a reminder of how these brick buildings, and their inhabitants, would have lived amongst brightly coloured objects but also materials (wood, textiles) which rarely survive here.

Kite photograph over northern part of walled town

Kite photograph over northern part of walled town

Over in the walled town, Johannes Auenmüller has excavated a trench that embodies the concept of Groundhog Day. Each day sees us photograph a new floor, made of hard Nile silt, running up to a narrow doorway. Frankly, they all look almost identical. We’re at 7 floors and counting now – what kind of building needed this careful and repeated refurbishment? Yet on the other side of the wall, Tom is digging through layers of industrial waste that may be related to metal production. These two spaces are very distinct, and perhaps had more defined purposes than the houses we have excavated, where many of the rooms probably acted as places for eating, sleeping, making things, housing animals …

Michelle Gamble faces recording the stonework recovered from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320

Michelle Gamble faces recording the stonework recovered from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320

Up in cemetery D, progress continued in the shafts of both pyramid tombs (we are not at the bottom after 5.6m in G320!), with stone architecture remaining the surprising focus of discovery. After the door jambs and lintel from the shaft of G321, the second tomb G320 started yielding an even higher amount of sandstone blocks. In contrast to G321, the majority of these blocks, again deriving from door frames, are undecorated. Yet two lintels bear traces of carved decoration, one showing a kneeling woman in the characteristic pose of a mourner.

Sandstone lintel from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320, with frontal depiction of a figure with wig and beard.

Sandstone lintel from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320, with frontal depiction of a figure with wig and beard.

The second lintel, which can be reconstructed from a series of fragments, bears a frontal representation, rare in pharaonic art. Depicting a face with wig and beard, with no accompanying inscriptions, the figure dominates the lintel. What does this represent, and where was it set up? In the shaft or as part of the above-ground cult chapel? Or has this lintel been brought from somewhere else?

After a few hours of surface excavation, the pyramid base of tomb G322 is already visible

After a few hours of surface excavation, the pyramid base of tomb G322 is already visible

In G321, Sofie started removing the upper layers of sandy fill from the entrance area of the central burial chamber: so far, there is only windblown sand. From next week, we are joined by NCAM inspector and bioarchaeologist Mohamed Saad, supported by the Institute for Bioarchaeology. Mohamed will excavate tomb G322, and initial surface cleaning has already revealed another T-shaped chapel combined with a pyramid base of almost similar width (4.50m). For the first time here, the tomb further features a small walled forecourt: as ever at Amara West, no two graves are alike.

This week saw the Amara West project extend out into the desert, to look at sites in the hinterland of the town and cemetery. Last year’s brief survey revealed the presence of two early 18th dynasty sites along a Nile channel some 2km north of the townsite. Anna Stevens will, next week, oversee another short season, concentrating on another site along this river channel.

Mohamed Abdelwahab walking grids of geophysical survey (fluxgate magnetometry) at site 2-R-65, in the desert north of Amara West

Mohamed Abdelwahab walking grids of geophysical survey (fluxgate magnetometry) at site 2-R-65, in the desert north of Amara West

To help us target our excavations, and to better understand the form and extent of these sites, a geophysical survey was completed this week, by Mohamed Abdelwahab Mohamed Ali, Musaab Hussein Eltoum Elkabbashi and Amar Adam Ali Ibrahim, colleagues from the Faculty of Earth Sciences and Mining of the University of Dongola (at Wadi Halfa). The survey and excavation in the desert will hopefully shed more light on what was happening in this area before the town of Amara West was created in the reign of Seti I.

Shadia lecturing at the Ernetta community club

Shadia lecturing at the Ernetta community club

The highlight of last week, however, was a lecture at the Ernetta Community Club. Over 200 people – on an island with only 180 occupied houses – turned up for a talk by Shadia Abdu Rabo and Neal Spencer, to talk about the exploration of Amara West, past and present. It’s amazing to think that despite Wallis Budge, James Henry Breasted and the Egypt Exploration Society working here between 1906 and 1950, this was probably the first time anyone in the area had seen old excavation photos, or learnt about what was found. Set beneath a warm starry sky, with a break prompted by the evening call to prayer (from the mosque next door), it was a memorable evening. Tomomi Fushiya finished off the evening by asking what the people of Ernetta wanted in terms of ongoing engagement – perhaps including talks and guided visits to the site.

Haris Mohamed, one of our workmen, has a first look at the information panels in the Amara West visitor orientation area

Haris Mohamed, one of our workmen, has a first look at the information panels in the Amara West visitor orientation area

Maickel brought more than conservation materials with him this week – he was also laden down with our Arabic-English information panels. We’ve just unpacked them, and hope to install them in the visitor orientation area next week.

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, Egypt Exploration Society, funerary, Kite Aerial Photography #KAP, Modern Amara, New Kingdom, objects, settlement

One Response

  1. BL says:

    Great pictures. Keep us posted on those shafts!

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