Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West: a (modern) Nubian perspective

Site tour

School group visiting Amara West, with Mohamed Saad from the National Corporation of Antiquities & Museums.

Tomomi Fushiya (Leiden University) and Neal Spencer (British Museum)

A key question underpinning much of the research undertaken at Amara West over the last decade has been: can we explore the pharaonic empire from a Nubian perspective? All of the surviving texts come from the pharaonic side, and so historians and Egyptologists have told a rather biased picture, foregrounding ideas of military and cultural dominance, and phenomena such as “Egyptianisation”. Archaeology has allowed us to explore the site from other perspectives, through looking at indigenous technological practices, alongside ritual and funerary evidence.

This aspect has been of particular interest to the people who live in the surrounding area. The best feedback about the books we have produced are around questions of Nubian identity, diet and health, not the history of great pharaohs and conquests. Yet it has never been far from our mind that we were engaging with the local communities through an imported, other, language: Arabic.

Nubian – specifically  (Sikoot) Nubiin – is the language most commonly spoken in the area today, though nearly everyone speaks and understands Arabic. Arabic words are liberally sprinkled through conversations in Nubian. However, Nubian is now almost entirely an oral language, so not appropriate for books or information panels. Arabic script is occasionally used in the local area to write Nubian, and there are groups of people who promote a revival of a Nubian writing system, using the Old Nubian script, itself based on Greek and Meroetic.

Digital provided us with the opportunity to engage local audiences in their own language, and present the archaeological site in a different format and language. Over 70% of the people in the villages have smartphones to access the internet, so we opted for a podcast. The distribution can reach beyond the local area, including to people who have permanently or temporarily migrated to other cities and countries.

The Amara West Nubian podcast presented here is a first in another way. It is a story, narrated by Fekri Hassan Taha, based on conversations with the archaeological team and his reading of the book we published. Fekri foregrounds what archaeology, the local history and Amara West mean for local Nubian people.

Fekri Hassan Taha

Fekri Hassan Taha, in Abri. Photograph: Tomomi Fushiya.

His story not only explores some of the major outcomes of the archaeological research at Amara West but also answers some questions and misunderstanding about ancient life that local people often have. For example, he emphasises the variety of food available for ancient residents, as it is often thought ancient people were poor without much food. He encourages local visits to the site, to learn more about their history and support archaeological investigations;

“This archaeological work is more important than oil discoveries and extraction, or the mining of gold. Because oil and gold will finish, but our history will not. We, the Nubians, have to visit the birbe (Amara West) to learn about ancient life. A visit can help us learn about the history of our country and the Nubian land, and how we contributed to human history. We will continue our contribution to the world of the future.”

Integrating a Nubian perspective with archaeological information is crucial for successful community-based archaeology in the region and we hope to encourage and support more engagement and learning about the past, in both Arabic and Nubian.

We would like to thank Abdel Nasser Sir Alkhatim for the translation and Ali Jelal for the assistance during editing. Maghzoub Hassan at the Nubian Guest House in Abri kindly provided a room for the recording. Background sounds were captured in and around Abri. Finally, thank you to Fekri, owner of a café in Abri market. Fekri did not want to be filmed for the podcast. The podcast was edited by Tomomi Fushiya. 

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Filed under: anthropology, archaeology, community engagement, Egypt Exploration Society, Modern Amara, Nubian, Nubian traditions

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