Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2016: the cemetery… from the Mesolithic to pyramids

Michaela Binder, Austrian Archaeological Institute

Pyramid tombs G321 (left) and G320 (right) in Cemetery D of Amara West

Pyramid tombs G321 (left) and G320 (right) in Cemetery D of Amara West

After eight seasons of excavations in the cemeteries of Amara West, we were done. As is usual in archaeology, those weeks in January and February 2016 were full of surprises, some pleasant and some not so much.

But let’s start from the beginning. Sticking to our plan set out at the start of the season, Sofie, Michelle and Mohamed Saad returned to the elite cemetery D to finish the excavation of three large pyramid tombs (G320, G321 and G322), which we had already excavated (superstructures and shafts) in 2015. Expectations were very high, having already discovered shabtis of Paser, Deputy of Kush, in tomb G320.

A somewhat challenging work environment under the protective tables in the burial chambers

A somewhat challenging work environment under the protective tables in the burial chambers

Equipped with new safety installations to protect excavators in the funerary chambers carved into the friable schist bedrock, the aim for 2016 was to finally explore the content of those subterranean rooms. In G321, a tomb provided with a large 8x8m pyramid, the substructure proved to be heavily looted but nevertheless offered important insights into funerary culture at Amara West. Dating to the 20th Dynasty – based on the assemblage of vessels – its owners opted for an interesting mix of Egyptian (tomb architecture, Egyptian style pottery, scarabs) as well as local Nubian (funerary beds) elements in funerary ritual. This conforms well to observations already made in other parts of the cemetery, as well as in the town, and reveals that this trend was followed even amongst the most elite.

Unfortunately, no artefacts revealing the identity of the tomb owner were recovered. Nevertheless, based on the dimensions and location of the tomb it is safe to assume that the tomb’s owner would have been one of the most high-ranking officials at Amara West. The strong Nubian influence in the funerary equipment may further indicate that he was indeed local.

Despite its small, unassuming entrance, tomb G322 turned out to be the most rewarding of the three tombs. Even though it had also been looted in antiquity, four burials and the base of a wooden coffin decorated with painted plaster were recovered intact form the first of the three burial chambers. This chamber also held an assemblage of over 20 complete vessels, including some a Canaanite amphora imported from the Levant. All these vessels indicate that the tomb was constructed in the early 19th Dynasty, early in the history of the town Amara West. Most importantly however, the northern burial chamber held part of shabti with the name of Ibay. Who he was and what his function at Amara West was remains yet unclear but based on size, location and wealth of his tomb he would have certainly been high up in the provincial administration of Kush (Upper Nubia).

The tomb that had yielded shabtis of Paser, G320, unfortunately frustrated us. The ceiling of the substructure, located 7, below the surface, was fully collapsed. The large boulders in the entrance and cracks in the still intact rock above the chambers proved too large an obstacle and acted as a reminder of the dangers of the unstable schist bedrock. Consequently, excavation was impossible.

Burial mounds of G250 in Cemetery C with settlement of Amara West in the background

Burial mounds of G250 in Cemetery C with settlement of Amara West in the background

On the plus side, the early end of excavation in G320 gave us time to excavate two tombs, G250 and G251, in an unexplored area of Cemetery C. Located on the escarpment east of the cemetery were two isolated and small burial mounds, conforming in size and architecture to other examples in Cemeteries C and D. However, in contrast to the tombs in Cemetery C, both had rock-cut substructures. In the case of G250, it consisted of a sizable rectangular shaft similar to our post-New Kingdom niche burials, even though a niche itself was missing. Nevertheless, the location, size and rock-cut nature signify a special position of the person buried in tomb at some point during the 10th-9th centuries BC.

The second tomb – G251 – turned out to somewhat different. The pottery is fascinating – it includes “Khartoum Variant” (Mesolithic; 6000-4500 BC) sherds, but also forms that might be of C-Group, Pre-Kerma or Kerma (3000-1600 BC). Clearly a burial that long pre-dates the Ramesside occupation at Amara West, further research is needed to clarify at what date the tomb was constructed, and if some of the pottery (the Mesolithic) was recycled from nearby occupation sites.

A magical place: one of the many great sunrises over the Nile at Amara West

A magical place: one of the many great sunrises over the Nile at Amara West

Here ends our excavation project in the cemeteries of Amara West: analysis, interpretation and publication lies ahead. It is very sad for me to say good bye to this magical place for now, but they say “who once drank from the Nile will always come back”.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. More images on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

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Filed under: Amara West 2016, anthropology, archaeology, funerary, Kite Aerial Photography #KAP, New Kingdom, Nubian, Nubian traditions, objects, Uncategorized

Places and stories: Ernetta Island

Tomomi Fushiya, University of Leiden

Ali Mohamed Jalall  discussing the history of Ernetta with Mohamed Salah

Ali Mohamed Jalall discussing the history of Ernetta with Mohamed Salah

During last year’s interviews with the local excavation workers, who mostly live on the island of Ernetta where our expedition house is located, fragmented histories of their island emerged. There is no written record of the history of Ernetta, but oral histories are very informative.

One of the aims of this season’s community work is to collect these oral histories relating to the island, and to establish whether these shared histories can be associated with specific places on Ernetta, and/or ancient remains known to archaeologists. The work involved both formal interviews with a prepared questionnaire, and walking around to talk to villagers more informally.

Ernetta island, with Amara West to the east (downstream). Image: Google Earth.

Ernetta island, with Amara West to the east (downstream). Image: Google Earth.

The island of Ernetta is located near the modern town of Abri, about 4km in length and 1km in width. The name of the island, Ernetta, derives from two Nubian words meaning ‘rapid’ or ‘strong water’ (er) and ‘island’ (arti), according to the residents of the island.

This small island was previously referred to as Arnati by Frederic Cailliaud who travelled in the region in February 1820. A team directed by Andre Vila (CNRS, France) surveyed and identified five Christian Period sites in the 1970s: probably those remembered by a local resident who recalled foreigners collecting pottery sherds in hundreds of shawals (textile sacks).

Tomb of Khalil Ayyub with palm leaves. The white structure in the background is the minbar

Tomb of Khalil Ayyub with palm leaves. The white structure in the background is the minbar

Most people on the island do not know of any of the sites noted by Vila, except perhaps for one suggested by an Ernetta resident. However, they do speak of old cemeteries on top of which modern buildings and houses are built today, another ‘old structure’ where the moulid (the birthday celebration of the Prophet Mohamed) took place in the past but was destroyed some years ago, a building called Khalil Diffi, and a tomb of Khalil Ayyub.

The story of Ernetta’s history starts with the family of Khalil Ayyub who moved to the island from Syria many years ago, said to be the ‘first’ family of the island. The tomb of Khalil Ayyub, now a low mound with traces of a rectangular-shaped mudbrick structure visible on the surface, is surrounded by date palm trees. Today, a few branches of date palms are placed on top of the mound, a practice we also see at modern cemeteries in the region.

A place for the Salat al Eid, kore sala is located by the tomb of Khalil Ayyub.

A place for the Salat al Eid, kore sala is located by the tomb of Khalil Ayyub.

Around 20m from the tomb a white-stepped structure stands: a minbar on which Imam gives sermons during prayers. In front of this structure is a place where all villagers on the island come together to pray in the mornings of the Eid (Islamic festival) – Salat al Eid – twice a year. This place is called kore sala in the local language.

Why did they choose this place for the kore sala? One villager explains that it could be because there is enough space for all villagers to pray – but there are several other much larger spaces in the island. Is it because their ancestor’s tomb is located there? No one has a clear answer to these questions, but old men do know that the tomb of Khalil Ayyub, whose family is remembered as the first on the island, is located there.

These reflections on the history of Ernetta Island are only possible with the enthusiasm, diligent work and tireless support of Ali Mohamed Jalall – a long-time resident of Ernetta who also helps with ceramic processing at Amara West.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. More images on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2016, anthropology, community engagement, Modern Amara, Nubian, Uncategorized

An introduction to Amara West: podcasts (Arabic)


تمومي فوشيا (جامعة ليدن) ونيل سبنسر (مدير قسم مصر القديمة والسودان, المتحف البريطاني

IMG_9994

الصورة: بعض مدرسين أحدى المدارس المحلية بجزيرة ارنتي يقرأون المعلومات المسجلة على اللوحات في منطقة الإستقبال الخاصة بمدينة عمارة غرب

أصبح موقع المدينة القديمة عمارة غرب حاليا عبارة عن مساحة عظيمة مغطاة بأطنان متراكمة من الرمال التي تمتد على طوال الضفة المهجورة من نهر النيل. تم الكشف عن انماط الحياة التي كانت سائدة من قبل داخل تلك المدينة خلال السنوات القليلة الماضية: كيف كانت تبدو منازلهم, ماذا كانوا يأكلون, ما نوع الأمراض المستوطنة التي عانى قاطنو المدينة منها, الطقوس الدينية المنتشرة حينذاك, حتى الألوان المستعملة في طلاء المنازل وكيفية تحضيرها. ولكن يبقى التساؤل محل نقاش: كيف يمكن نقل تلك المعلومات الجديدة للمجتمعات الحالية التي تقطن المنطقة؟

بجانب عدة محاضرات تم القائها , وتوزيع الكتاب المترجم الي العربية مجانا والذي يلخص الأبحاث والنتائج التي تمت في موقع حفريات المدينة: قمنا ايضا بإنشاء عدة ملصقات كبيرة مزودة بعدة صور توضيحية لزائري المدينة القديمة.

نحن نعرف ان سكان عبري وجزيرة ارنتي عادة ما يزورون الموقع, بشكل خاص خلال مواسم الأعياد على سبيل المثال. ولذلك تم إنشاء منطقة مظللة للحماية من الشمس والرياحعند منطقة إستقبال الزائرين, والتي يمكن فيها للزائرين ان ينالوا قسطا من الراحة وينعموا بقراءة – سواء باللغة العربية او الأنجليزية – نتائج الحفريات وتاريخ إكتشاف المدينة الاثارية. كما نخطط ايضا لإستضافة زيارات مدرسية في هذا المكان خلال مواسم الحفريات القادمة.

قام أحد زملائنا السودانين بإقتراح ان نقوم بعمل نماذج صوتية مسجلة لما هو مكتوب على اللوحات, حيث ان الهواتف الذكية اصبحت شائعة الأن , ويمكن إستعمالها بسهولة لتبادل المعلومات والأفلام المصورة والموسيقى.فقد أخبرنا ان هناك مجموعة من المثقفين النوبيين يقومون بتصوير النماذج القديمة من البيوت النوبية القديمة والسواقي بإستخدام الهاتف الجوال وعادة ما يقوموا بتبادل مثل تلك الصور التي تسجل مثل تلك النماذج الأصيلة من التراث المعماري والفني الخاص بالنوبة القديمة عن طريق تطبيقات حديثة تتيحها لهم الهواتف الذكية. ولذلك قمنا بعمل عدة نماذج صوتية للوحات – باللغة الأنجليزية والعربية – والتي يمكن إستعمالها من قبل أي شخص يقوم بزيارة الموقع الأثاري او حتى اي شخص مهتم بتاريخ مدينة عمارة غرب.

يمكن تنزيل هذه الأفلام القصيرة والتي تبلغ مدتها حوالي دقيقتين او ثلاثة لكل لوحة بسهولة وبدرجة جودة مرتفعة (للحواسب او التابلت) او بجودة منحفضة والتي تناسب اكثر المناطق التي لا يتوفر فيها الأنترنت السريع.

1) المدينة الفرعونية بالنوبة
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

2) تخطيط المدينة
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

3) الحياة في المدينة القديمة
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

4) الثقافة النوبية في مدينة عمارة غرب
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

5) الصحة والمأكل
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

6) التجهيزات الخاصة بعالم ما بعد الوفاة
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

7) من مدينة قديمة الى موقع أثاري
جودة عاليةمنخفضة

ازال هناك الكثير امامنا لنقوم به. تعتبر اللغة النوبية هي اللغة التي يتحدث بها سكان ارنتي وعبري , غير انهم يتحدثون العربية بطلاقة أيضا, حيث تعتبر اللغة النوبية لغة التعامل الشفاهي, وقليل من السكان من يستطيع ان يكتبها ويقرأها, سواء بحروف عربية او بحروف نوبية قديمة, ولذك نحن نأمل قريبا ان نقوم بعمل تسجيل صوتي باللغة النوبية بالتعاون مع صاحب “المقهى الثقافي” في مدينة عبري , الأستاذ فكري حسن طه.

تم عمل هذه التسجيلات الصوتية من خلال الدعم المادي المتاح من المشروع القطري السوداني الأثاري.

Filed under: anthropology, archaeology, ceramics, community engagement, conservation, Egypt Exploration Society, Modern Amara, New Kingdom, Nubian, objects, pottery, settlement

Amara West 2015: why work with our archaeological project?

Tomomi Fushiya, archaeologist

Excavators - local workmen and archaeologists from 8 countries, near the end of the 2015 season

Excavators – local workmen and archaeologists from 8 countries, near the end of the 2015 season

Our season has now ended … but why do our workmen decide to join the archaeological project, working for weeks on end with very early morning starts?

Obviously, this seasonal work is an important source of income, particularly as much of the season takes place before the fuul-bean harvest, just now getting under way. Many of the men – and our workers on site are all men – move from one casual job to the next throughout the year, for example in shops, the local petrol station, mending generators and other equipment, or ferrying people between Ernetta island and the Nile. Others are university students between terms (including an archaeology student this season!), or have responsibilities that do not take up the full working day – we can count policemen and nurses amongst those who dig with us.

But earning cash is not the only reason they come to work with us. Many workmen express a connection between Ernetta island and the archaeological site, for the site is in vicinity of the island and they know many people who have worked at the site over the last century.

Ernetta Island has been providing workmen for the excavations at Amara West since the early 20th century. Some workmen have grandfathers, father or relatives who worked with earlier archaeological missions such as the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) or the Sudanese Antiquities Service, and Andre Vila in the early 1970s. In interviews with our workmen, some explained they had heard about work at the archaeological site through former workmen, and that these stories were a part of the motivation to work with our project.

Salah Ibrahim Saleh at Amara West, February 2015

Salah Ibrahim Saleh at Amara West, February 2015

Others have an interest in archaeology and the history of Nubia. Salah Ibrahim took holidays from his usual job to work with our archaelogical mission. ‘I was very intrested to know about digging and the pictures (hieroglyphics) from the childhood.’ He is from Salim, a village distant from Amara West which also provided workmen for the EES excavations. His father and uncle told him about excavations, and he visited Amara West last year. ‘It was just an open space and the site was not clear to me because (then) I knew nothing about the history (of Amara West)’.

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

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2015, anthropology, archaeology, community engagement, Modern Amara, New Kingdom, settlement

Amara West 2015: end of excavations in the pyramid tombs

Michaela Binder, bioarchaeologist

Six weeks of work disappearing under sand again. Nayel Mohamed (foreground), Rami Mohamed and Abu el-Mali backfilling tomb G322.

Six weeks of work disappearing under sand again. Nayel Mohamed (foreground), Rami Mohamed and Abu el-Mali backfilling tomb G322.

Excavations in the pyramid tombs G320 and G321 have come to an end: though the shafts revealed many surprises – a door lintel of Viceroy Hekanakht, strange frontal depictions of mummiform figures on relief blocks, and shabtis of the Deputy of Kush Paser – the rock-cut chambers off them had been looted, and suffered from the collapse of the schist bedrock. So our last week of work is not the usual hectic rush to record skeletons and architecture, but rather the final recording and backfilling of the tomb monuments. Even though it always feels somewhat awkward seeing the work of 6 weeks disappearing under vast amounts of sand within just a few days, backfilling and covering of the tombs will protect the mudbrick superstructures from the heavy northern winds – which have been blowing strong all week! It would be a shame to see those monuments disappear after they survived for more than 3000 years.

Town team gone and the excavators' office was quickly turned into an impromptu bone lab. Sofie and Michelle sorting the large amount of disarticulated human remains from tomb G320.

Town team gone and the excavators’ office was quickly turned into an impromptu bone lab. Sofie and Michelle sorting the large amount of disarticulated human remains from tomb G320.

With no work left to do on site, Michelle and Sofie focused on establishing a preliminary inventory of the human remains recovered from the spoil left behind by looters on the surface around G320. Up until now, the minimum number of individuals of which at least some elements were removed from the grave is 17 adults and 21 sub-adults. However, whether all of them come from within the burial chambers – or rather represent later burials placed in the shaft or elsewhere – will never be known. The high number of young infants could have also been buried in small pits in and around the chapel, similar to those excavated by Mohamed Saad in pyramid tomb G322.

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

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2015, anthropology, archaeology, funerary, New Kingdom

Amara West 2015, week 2: pyramid(s), garden plots, old fish and farming


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

Each breakfast is accompanied by a threat that samak qadim (‘ancient fish’) will be amongst the dishes brought to site by our workers, from houses across Ernetta. Referring to tarkin, the local speciality of preserved fish worked into a paste and then mixed with the wheat pancakes (gurassa), it is a delicacy that is, at best, an acquired taste.

The corridor around house D11.1

The corridor around house D11.1

Amara West countered with its own samak qadim, during our second week of excavations, in the shape of an intact dried out spiny fish, sitting in an ancient deposit just outside house D11.2. While identification of species will await analyses by a specialist, Manuela Lehmann’s excavations in this space are interesting for many other reasons. This is the only house that is set within a walled compound, creating an L-shaped perimeter around the house proper. For what purpose? Privacy, increased protection from the sand, or simply a place to locate messy, dirty activities?

Fragile remnants of small garden plots

Fragile remnants of small garden plots

Excavations are ongoing, but patches of ash, a plastered basin, and some dividing walls suggest this might have been a busy space, probably not roofed. On the western side, very damaged remains of garden plots have started to appear – hinting at what lay beyond the town walls before the suburb was created. The southern part of the house continues to be excavated by Sarah Hitchens: we are now largely past the last structures inserted into the rooms, and revealing earlier floors.

The Big Pit, with architectural fragments at the base

The Big Pit, with architectural fragments at the base

Over in house D12.8, Matt Williams oversaw the emptying of the Big Pit. While not a favourite task for our workmen – who move between areas depending on the requirements of work each day – the pit has proved immensely instructive. While obliterating the southeastern room of the house, it clearly illustrated the sequence of house building in this corner of the suburb – D12.7, then D12.8, then D12.9 – as this neighbourhood became more densely occupied.

The room with column base at the front of house D12.8

The room with column base at the front of house D12.8

Out the front of house D12.8, Agnieszka Trambowicz revealed a large space with a stone column base at its centre. An unusually ostentatious entrance area for a house, as most dwellings here had simple open and/or unroofed spaces, often with food processing facilities.

Painted architecture from house D12.8 (F14039)

Painted architecture from house D12.8 (F14039)

A doorjamb from rubble further back in the house hints at the bursts of colour that once lifted the brown mud colour that predominates today. The arrival of Kate Fulcher is already prodcucing exciting results on colour – more on that soon! On the other side of the pit, Matt has been investigating a small 3 (or 4?) roomed house tucked off an alleyway, set against the western wall of villa D12.5. Dense layers of roof collapse in the middle room are still being investigated.

Earlier this week we posted images of Anna Stevens excavating the three-room house D11.2, built against the north wall of D11.1. A modest house, it is currently reminiscent of an archaeology textbook: roofing collapse in the first room, clean wind-blown sand in the second room (where ancient pots look like they were knocked off their stands just yesterday) and a surface of dirt and trampled sherds in the backroom. The coming weeks will hopefully hint at why the back room, in such a small house, was blocked up and plastered shut.

D12.12: a room with brick rubble - and stacked bricks

D12.12: a room with brick rubble – and stacked bricks

In the southeast part of the suburb, David Fallon is overseeing excavation of a building that continues to perplex us: a room without access from the others, another with bricks neatly stacked, and a dense concentration of dung-like material in one corner.

Mat Dalton, studying floors revealed by a pit (house D12.8)

Mat Dalton, studying floors revealed by a pit (house D12.8)

Amongst all these excavations, floors are revealed on an almost daily basis, in different rooms. Where there’s a floor, Mat Dalton is not far behind, recording in minute detail aspects of the surfaces before they are eroded or wind-scoured, and then taking samples for thin section laboratory analysis, which can reveal replastering episodes, different construction techniques and sometimes the presence of plants or waste matter.

Area E13.17 in the walled town: ash, more ash and kilns

Area E13.17 in the walled town: ash, more ash and kilns

Johannes Auenmüller and Tom Lyons continue peeling back layers of ancient activity in area E13. Referring to their area as the ‘city centre’ (distinct from our suburban archaeologists!) – the nature of the architecture, and especially the continual refurbishment of spaces with extremely hard mud floors, suggests these were structures other than houses. In the western part, Tom has worked through thick deposits of ash surrounding ovens, and is turning up slag suggestive of industrial activity. The most exciting find of the week was a small clay lump bearing a stamp seal-impression. Above a depiction of pharaoh subjugating a Nubian were the cartouches of Ramses III, consistent with our working hypotheses for the dating of this phase of architecture.

Base from a faience shabti, with name of a man ending '-ser' (F8465)

Base from a faience shabti, with name of a man ending ‘-ser’ (F8465)

The first week of cemetery excavations produced a flurry of excitement. Two substantial funerary structures were partly exposed, larger than any others found at Amara West so far. Michelle Gamble is working in tomb G320, a somewhat difficult undertaking, as the walls of the superstructure are heavily deflated, reduced to only traces of bricks. In addition, several robber cuts indicate heavy looting. Nevertheless, the dimensions of the structure, and its location, hint at the burial of someone of importance. The base of a faience shabti was recovered from the disturbed spoil around the destroyed tomb, bearing a name ending ‘-ser’. Given a Deputy of Kush named Pa-ser is known from inscriptions in the town, some Egyptological speculation as to who was buried here has been inevitable here in the dig house!

G321: pyramid and chapel in cemetery D

G321: pyramid and chapel in cemetery D

Immediately to the west, Michaela and Sofie Schiodt have already exposed the remarkably well preserved superstructure of G321, With a T-shaped funerary chapel and a large pyramid with a side length of 8m. It is the only one of its kind at Amara West, yet parallels similar structures at other New Kingdom Nubian sites such as Tombos, Soleb and Aniba. Over the next week we will start working on the interior of the chapel and excavate the shaft. A complete vessel deposited in the western corner suggests an intact chapel floor: offering potential for insights into the funerary rituals once performed here.

Philippa in the fields on the south side of Ernetta island

Philippa in the fields on the south side of Ernetta island

Alongside Tomomi’s work with the local community, Katherine Homewood and Philippa Ryan commenced work this week, to explore plant subsistence strategies in Ernetta and the surrounding area. The last few days have been taken up with meeting farmers, studying plants being grown on different types of land, such as that inundated by the river or the areas of higher, artificially irrigated, ground. Another stream of research is around the crops grown for market or for domestic consumption.

Back at the house, Hilary Stewart has completed registration of the 2014 finds, and is deeply ensconced in grindstones, quartz lumps (and the odd fertility figurine) from this season’s excavations. Alice Salvador is drawing pottery from tomb G244 and illustrating new finds, while Shadia Abdu Rabo is working on the small fired clay objects we think are associated with fishing. Meanwhile, Anna Garnett and Siobhann Shinn are usually to be found amongst sacks of pottery …

It became hot this week, with little wind. The swarms of nimiti-flies have not really arrived, but reports from our colleagues on other excavation projects upstream in Sai and Sedienga suggest trouble is imminent…

Ghazafi Mohamed, one of our veteran excavators, approves of progress in building D12.12

Ghazafi Mohamed, one of our veteran excavators, approves of progress in building D12.12

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

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: Amara West 2015, anthropology, archaeology, funerary, Modern Amara, New Kingdom, Nubian, objects, pottery, settlement

Amara West 2015: Stories, memories and archaeology


Tomomi Fushiya, archaeologist

For our excavations and research in Amara West, local community members’ support is essential. While we chat with workers throughout the working day, often share breakfast and commute by boat between the site and Ernetta island where most workmen are from and the mission house is located, we don’t often hear what they think about their work, the site: What stories they have heard about Amara West? Do they come to visit the site apart from their excavation work? What do they know about our work or archaeology? Are archaeological sites considered a part of Nubian heritage – even a pharaonic town, like Amara West?

This season we began interviews with our workmen, and other local community members in Ernetta island and Abri, to listen to and record their stories, memories and views on the history, archaeology and heritage of Nubia. Here, I would like to share some of their narratives of Amara West – locally called Abkenissa or Birbe – to see the place from their perspectives.

Mohamed Ali Gindi
‘The trip name was rihera ila abkanissa (a trip to Abkenissa)’, Mohamed Ali Gindi, one of our workmen from Ernetta island, recalls. He visited Amara West for the first time in 1967, as a part of a history class in primary school. ‘The teacher took all students and made a trip to Amara West from our school in Amara East. ‘We used an old boat and visited the site… when we reached the site the teacher described the site and told them Christian was there… A king or head of Christian was in this place.’ He smiled and said ‘that is why it’s called Abkenissa’ – kenissa means church. The site was thought to be Christian, its pharaonic history unknown. The education curriculum has changed since and no school trips come to Amara West or other local sites.

We thought local people rarely visit the site, other than to work nearby farms or tend sheep and goats. But workmen, especially the younger ones, say that people from Ernetta come to Abkenissa for festivities such as weddings, the Eid (Islamic festivals) and national holidays, often bringing a sheep or goat to sacrifice, or a simple picnic with tea and biscuits.

Mubashr
Mubashr Salah Mohamed, who likes to listen to old men talking about heritage, told me that Abkenissa was believed to have a healing power. ‘In the past, people came here and they covered themselves … in a warm sand … Some diseases are treated by this … putting on their arms, sometimes their bodies. Dig a hole in sand … to be better from rheumatism or for some other diseases…’

We are not sure where exactly they practised this on the site, but we know now from time to time local people have made a visit to Amara West. More stories will emerge as we continue conversations in Amara West and Ernetta.


*Mohamed and Mubashr agreed to have their thoughts published.

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, anthropology, Modern Amara, Nubian traditions