Amara West project blog

Icon

Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2017: a different kind of season

Neal Spencer, Keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan

A silent, deserted, Amara West seen from the river-side dunes

A silent, deserted, Amara West seen from the river-side dunes

After 9 seasons of daily pre-dawn Nile commutes, the clatter of excavation tools scraping against pottery sherds and the climatic extremes of the site – chilly mornings, howling winds, plagues of nimiti-flies and hot, dry afternoons – this is going to be very different.

Our excavation house will be the setting for the whole team. Where once the house was brimming with up to 30 specialists, and deluged daily with pottery, finds, sample bags, skeletons – alongside drawings, digital images and other documentation – it is now a spacious oasis of calm, with only seven of us here to start this study season, alongside our cook Ali Dal.

The dig house on Ernetta island

The dig house on Ernetta island

With over 10,000 objects, and many many more pottery sherds, this is our opportunity to lay out similar types of objects, or arrange them in groups depending on which room, house or neighbourhood of the town they were found in. We then consider what needs drawing or photographing. Most crucially we have the time to think about the artefacts, pore over them, and try to understand how they were made, how they functioned, and how some were modified or re-used. Later will come library time, to research parallels, and eventually the writing up. But now is the time to compare objects, turn them over, hold them in a different light, try joining fragments.

The dusty mud fragments in these wooden trays are the only remnants of a colourful niche – probably a shrine – in house E13.7

The dusty mud fragments in these wooden trays are the only remnants of a colourful niche – probably a shrine – in house E13.7

I’ve been working on a series of painted and moulded mud fragments that I think came from a household shrine in house E13.7, while elsewhere in the same room Manuela Lehmann has been examining fragments of the funerary beds (angareeb) found in the cemetery, as Nora Shalaby studies the flint blades and tools.

In the adjacent courtyard, the salon – the old house’s reception room – is home to Valentina Gasperini analysing pottery, Elisabeth Sawerthal drawing a range of finds, and Shadia Abdu Rabo. Shadia is combing through the jewellery excavated since 2009. Meanwhile, Elina Rodriguez – familiar with another era of Amara West excavations – is deep in the cool and dark finds storeroom, resolving numbering problems and registering artefacts from last year.

Manuela sifting through a box of coffin fragments to select fragments to draw – those which offer clues to the original decoration

Manuela sifting through a box of coffin fragments to select pieces for drawing – those which offer clues to the original decoration

Even without excavations, there’ll still be discoveries and insights, and we’ll post some of our findings in the coming weeks. That is all subject to our internet connection, which is much worse now than in 2009, despite an array of dongles and smartphones that confidently proclaim “3G”.

Meanwhile, we’ll wonder if the traditional four meals a day – including an archaeologists “second breakfast” at 11am – really is a good idea for this studious yet sedentary season.

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 2017, archaeology, ceramics, funerary, New Kingdom, objects, pottery

Amara West 2016: beneath pyramid G322

Mohamed Saad, National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums (Sudan)

Mohamed excavating in the first burial chamber of G322

Mohamed excavating in the first burial chamber of G322

Our expectations before starting excavation in the pyramid tomb G322 in cemetery D were very high. It features a superstructure comprising an offering court, a funerary chapel above the shaft and a pyramid, all made from mud bricks. A gate made of sand sone once provided access to the interior of a chapel of 5.1×4.5m. The substructure is cut into schist bedrock, with a shaft covered by large schist stones, one of which still lay across the the east side. The entrance to the three burial chambers is located 3.3m below the surface, on the western side.

Burials as found in the first chamber

Burials as found in the first chamber

This year, we were finally able to enter the burial chambers, protected by metal shoring to protect us from stone fragments falling from the ceiling of the chamber. The first chamber was robbed but most of individuals were still in situ. The most recent burial, Sk322-7, was a child placed on a layer of sand directly behind the entrance. It was wrapped in a coffin made from doum-palm wood. Associated with the body we found traces of textile and some blue beads near the child’s right arm. Underneath Sk322-7, I exposed an adult individual next to the fully preserved bottom of an anthropoid wooden coffin covered with painted plaster. Maickel, our conservator, consolidated the whole piece and is now trying to expose the remaining decorating. Some ivory beads were also found around the skeleton.

Ceramic vessels found in the first chamber

Ceramic vessels found in the first chamber

A second intact adult individual was found at the western side of the chamber. A small scarab, made from ivory, was found by his arm. Moreover, the first chamber held a large number of beautiful, intact vessels, which would have once held food offerings. I recovered seven plates, a big jar, two beer jars and a very nice imported bottle. Some of them clearly date to the 19th dynasty, placing the tomb in the early phase of occupation of Amara West.

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

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

Filed under: Amara West 2016, archaeology, ceramics, funerary, New Kingdom, Nubian

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 2016: a villa and its surroundings

Manuela Lehmann (Project Curator, British Museum)

Panorama looking up towards the ancient town

Panorama looking up towards the ancient town

The focus of work this season lies in the cemetery area: the town is almost entirely deserted. Well, not entirely: one small group of daring archaeologists withstands the bitter cold and strong winds to investigate … a series of small walls.

Today we were six people in the town area, the highest number so far this season. Alongside Tomomi Fushiya and Ariadna Balbastre drawing plans of a suburban house (D11.4), three of our workmen – Ahmed Medani, Hassan Nouri and Fouad Ali Gindi – are helping me seek further insights into details of life in this late New Kingdom town.

This small team is focusing on several areas. To the south of the large house D11.1, already excavated last season, we are now focusing on cleaning a large area – courtyard? – in front of the house, as the site slopes down towards the Nile. This has proved difficult, as very strong winds have been blowing sand back into the excavated areas.

The wind howls across the lower part of Amara West town

The wind howls across the lower part of Amara West town

In the northern part of the courtyard more garden plots have emerged. Many of these rectangular structures, made of mud ridges and likely to designed to contain vegetables or other plants, have been found. This year, for the first time, we discovered small pits within them and one of them contained the stalk of a smaller tree or bush. Botanical analysis should be able to tell us what sort of plant was growing here.

Apart from the garden plots, the remains of seven ovens and ash pits around the courtyard have been excavated one by one: all displaying varying shades of white to grey to black and red. The remains of a bread mould – and the typical cylindrical ceramic construction – indicate the function of at least some as bread ovens, though some of the ash pits may have been simple hearths, or pits associated with producing charcoal.

Ovens in the courtyard in front of house D11.4

Ovens in the courtyard in front of house D11.4

Slightly to the southeast of villa, D11.1 two small mud brick walls were cleared. Parts of them were covered by our own spoil heaps from last year (luck of the archaeologist) and windblown sand, so the workmen had to dig through a metre of pure sand and sieved excavation deposits. These walls are distinctive, as they run at an acute angle towards each other and have little bastions projecting into the space between them. By cleaning the bricks we found a complete rim and handle of an imported pilgrim flask, sending our pottery specialists into rapture!

Fighting the spoilheap: removing sand to seek the ends of brick walls

Fighting the spoilheap: removing sand to seek the ends of brick walls

The two walls are only half a brick wide in size but were at least three rows high, probably once higher as mortar for the next course is preserved on top. So far, no further structures are associated with these walls which makes it difficult to determine their function. It is quite likely that they were used to define space that was used as further garden areas or for keeping lifestock. These are important possibilities as we consider how parts of the ancient island was used beyond the houses, temple and official buildings.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. For more images, visit instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

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

Filed under: Amara West 2016, archaeology, ceramics, New Kingdom, settlement

Amara West 2016: well protected, cemetery excavations now in full swing

Michaela Binder, bioarchaeologist (Austrian Archaeological Institute)

One of our new pulleys being used to lift material from the tomb shaft by the workmen

One of our new pulleys being used to lift material from the tomb shaft by the workmen

Three weeks of excavation in Cemetery D and a lot has happened. The first ten days were busy with removing backfill and installing protective structures inside the tombs to ensure the safety of the excavators. These comprise special construction-grade netting lining the sides of the tomb shafts to prevent rocks from breaking off the sides, and solid steel tables inside the chambers to protect us should any stones become detached from the ceiling.

Sofie drawing a skeleton under one of the steel protection tables installed in the chambers

Sofie drawing a skeleton under one of the steel protection tables installed in the chambers

This set-up has allow Sofie, Michelle, Mohamed and myself to move further into the first burial chambers of the pyramid tombs G321 and G322 over the past two weeks. The latter, excavated by Mohamed, has provided the most interesting results so far. The first intact burial of a child (4-5 years old at death) already appeared a short distance behind the entrance, high above the chamber floor on a thick layer of sand. This indicates that it was placed into the chamber long after the main phase of use during the New Kingdom. Underneath the sand, Mohamed has already uncovered two more burials. The upper parts of both had already been disturbed in Antiquity, perhaps to take whatever jewellery once adorned the body. However, a small scarab, placed in the hand as often found in ancient Egyptian funerary ritual, escaped looting.

A small scarab depicting a hippopotamous

A small scarab depicting a hippopotamous

Another interesting feature in this chamber is an assemblage of three dishes in front of the entrance of the western back-chamber. These would have once held food offerings for the deceased. Consistent with the pottery found on the surface around the tomb last year, they appear to date to the 19th Dynasty.

Three plates, perhaps once holding food offerings, outside the door to the western burial chamber of tomb G322

Three plates, perhaps once holding food offerings, outside the door to the western burial chamber of tomb G322

The central chamber in G321 has posed few more difficulties so far. In the centre of the chamber several large chunks of ceiling had collapsed from the ceiling at some point over the last 3000 years. Thus, everything recovered by Sofie and Michelle has been heavily fragmented. Their discoveries so far include one intact body and a large jar which – once reconstructed – may give us a better idea about the dating of the tomb. A ceramic sherd bears parts of a hieratic inscription: with some luck, more fragments will turn up in the tomb over the next weeks.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. For more images, visit instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

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

Filed under: Amara West 2016, archaeology, ceramics, funerary

Amara West 2016: Commodity and trade – imported pottery at Amara West

Anna Garnett (Project Curator, British Museum) and Valentina Gasperini (Honorary Research Fellow, University of Liverpool)

When sorting through the many thousands of sherds from Amara West, it is relatively common to find flashes of light – imported pottery – amongst the generally homogenous mix of brown Nile clay sherds. While found in much smaller numbers than their Nile counterparts, such imported sherds are identifiably from regions including the Levant, Cyprus, the Greek mainland and the Egyptian oases.

View over Dakhleh Oasis. Creative Commons License © Argenberg. www.argenberg.com/album

View over Dakhleh Oasis. Creative Commons License © Argenberg. http://www.argenberg.com/album

Judging from the archaeological remains from the walled town and the extramural suburb, the residents of Amara West had access to a range of ‘foreign’ storage vessels, including large amphorae, pilgrim flasks and Mycenaean stirrup vessels. These vessels are likely to have contained precious imported commodities such as perfumed oils and balsams for cosmetic use, but as inherently beautiful objects it is entirely possible that their owners also reused the vessels in different ways after the contents had been consumed long ago, perhaps even before the pots arrived at Amara West.

Amphora toe C4764, made in the Dakhleh Oasis, found in industrial area E13.17.

Amphora toe C4764, made in the Dakhleh Oasis, found in industrial area E13.17.

Among the imported materials, an amphora base, most probably manufactured in Dakhleh Oasis and traded though Egypt to Amara West, has been identified from the walled town (C4764). During the New Kingdom, especially in the 18th Dynasty, the Western Desert oases gained prominence as part of the developing Egyptian economy. In particular, a flourishing production of local oasis wine, said to be of very high quality, led to the export of wine amphorae to major New Kingdom Egyptian sites including Qantir, Gurob, Amarna and Thebes.

Characterised by slightly oblique walls, a bottom-modelled base and a distinctive pre-firing pot mark at the attachment between the wall and base, this example finds good parallels among New Kingdom amphorae produced in Dakhleh oasis, not only in terms of shape but also of fabric. This amphora base could therefore be an intriguing hint at the import and consumption of wine from Dakhleh Oasis at Amara West in the late second millennium BC.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. For more images, visit instagram.com/nealspencer_bm

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

Filed under: Amara West 2016, archaeology, ceramics

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

@NealSpencer_BM

@britishmuseum