Amara West project blog


Investigating life in an Egyptian town

A group of flints from Amara West

Nora Shalaby, Freie Universität Berlin

Recently I studied some of the flint implements from Amara West currently in the British Museum, part of an assemblage of objects recently acquired from the 1930s and 1940s excavations of the Egypt Exploration Society. Most are without context, but they can still be an important source of information about lithic production at Amara West and tell us a little bit about the knappers involved.

Nora studying the Amara West flints in the British Museum basement

Nora studying the Amara West flints in the British Museum basement

The first thing that struck me was the wonderful colours of some of the implements, which range from reddish to yellowish hues, quite uncommon in lithic assemblages from Egypt where most of the raw material is caramel, beige and brown in color (one wonders if some of them are in fact burnt?). The remains of a dull and polished cortex on some of the implements suggests that washed-down pebbles were being picked up from wadis or other surrounding areas, rather than nodules being quarried. A survey around the site to locate potential raw material sources could help identify where exactly the inhabitants of Amara West were obtaining their flint from: were they venturing into places that were further away, hinting at a more organised production process, or were they picking up what they found near the town itself?

Selection of flints from Amara West, illustrating the range of colours

Selection of flints from Amara West, illustrating the range of colours

Among the worked tools were a number of regular blades, which is again not a common feature in Egypt during the New Kingdom, when less regular blades were being produced. This could point to possible differences in the technologies between Egypt and Nubia during this time. The most frequent tool type in the assemblage however are sickle blades, the broad and short types that are characteristic of New Kingdom assemblages, differing from the specialised long and narrow sickle blades of previous periods. Nonetheless, the technology of the Amara West sickle blades seems to be quite standardised: most were truncated at both short ends, and had retouch along the lateral edges.

Surprisingly none have remains of sickle gloss, typically found along the edge of a blade that has been repeatedly used in harvesting or cutting of plants. Could this suggest that they were unused, maybe originating from a workshop that had yet to distribute them? Use-wear analysis might provide further insights.

Finally, a few beautiful arrowheads stand out. Although flint arrowheads are rare in Old and Middle Kingdom assemblages in Egypt, they reappear in the New Kingdom, as documented in the Ramesside capital of Qantir in the northeastern Delta – contemporary with Amara West. Missing from this excavated and group are the cores, waste and debitage that would have revealed much more about the lithic technology and production process in and around the ancient town.

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Filed under: Egypt Exploration Society, New Kingdom, objects, settlement, tools

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