Amara West project blog


Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2016: a series of small walls and a “garden island”?

Manuela Lehmann, Amara West Project Curator, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum

Stone walls with associated mud bricks

Stone walls with associated mud bricks

According to comedian Eddie Izzard, archaeologists only ever find a series of small walls. Confirming these prejudices, a series of small walls kept us busy in the second half of the excavation season in the town at Amara West.

In contrast to the mud brick walls of the houses, however, these walls were built from undressed schist stones of various size, running roughly parallel along the western edge of the western suburb. A fifth wall curves around the southern edge of the site.

Excavating these walls, we hoped to answer one fundamental question: for what purpose were they built?

It soon became clear that they consisted not only of loose schist stones but were intermingled with mud mortar and mud bricks. While one wall featured no mud bricks at all, another was associated with a layer of small sandstone chips, while a third one was only made of stones in a very short stretch and the remainder was built from mud bricks. The curving wall was formed from different segments, within which waste of stone working and other rubbish could be found.

Kite photo of the stone rows

Kite photo of the stone rows

Their position within the settlement – rather than their varied construction – seems most significant. The easternmost stone row follows the limit of the western suburb, defining its western edge. West of that limit, the surface slopes down into a shallow depression in which little pottery is found on the surface and our magnetometry survey is devoid of obvious features.

West of this depression, another wall – mostly built with mud bricks – sits on higher ground, and borders an area of mud ridges forming small square compartments, a familiar form of garden plots known from Theban Tomb depictions, and found in excavations at other sites such as Tell el-Amarna.

Remains of square mud ridges interpreted as garden plots, beside a stone and mud brick wall

Remains of square mud ridges interpreted as garden plots, beside a stone and mud brick wall

Further research is needed to better understand these areas, but a working hypothesis is that an area of cultivation – including garden plots – sat on higher ground across from the western suburb. We designated this ‘Garden Island’ during the season. In between was a low-lying area, that may have occasionally been partially inundated – whether annually or less frequently. The archaeological deposits featured pottery with brown-green accretions, and rounded, eroded sherds – phenomena consistent with an area occasionally affected by water. This area would have offered inhabitants further potential for (seasonal?) cultivation.

Again a series of small walls proved to turn into interesting results….

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

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