Amara West project blog

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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.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow : @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: Egypt Exploration Society, New Kingdom, objects, settlement, tools

An introduction to Amara West: podcasts (Arabic)


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

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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 (week 6): a familiar character appears

Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan), and Michaela Binder (bioarchaeologist)

Aerial view of tomb G321, with pyramid, chapel and forecourt

Aerial view of tomb G321, with pyramid, chapel and forecourt

The wind howled this week, yet important and exciting new evidence continued to emerge from town and cemetery. Up on the desert escarpment, Mohamed Saad discovered our first intact burial of the season, just beside pyramid chapel G322. In a shallow pit, adjacent to the north wall of the pyramid, a child of only 1-2 years was buried. Directly underneath, a second infant was placed on a layer of large schist stones. Based on the size of the long bones and development of tooth crowns, the earlier child was likely born prematurely. Whether these burials are contemporary with the New Kingdom pyramid tomb is unknown, as neither was accompanied by grave goods. However, subsidiary burials around – or within – Egyptian funerary monuments, are found elsewhere, for example at Tombos.

Mohamed Saad documenting our first intact burial.

Mohamed Saad documenting our first intact burial.

We have just commenced excavation of the shaft of G322, but perhaps more exciting is a spread of pottery in the courtyard of the chapel. What will this tell us about funerary rituals at this tomb?

A short distance to the east, Michelle and her team are now over 6m deep in the shaft. More sandstone blocks continue to be revealed, some decorated. Most exciting, however, was the discovery of fragments from faience shabtis, found discarded in the shaft, left behind by (ancient?) looters.

Faience shabtis for the Deputy Paser

Faience shabtis for the Deputy Paser

A surface find in the first days had given us the name of an individual whose name ended in –ser. Four of the new shabtis complete the picture: it is ‘the Deputy, Paser’. A fifth shabti may have belonged to his wife. We cannot be sure this is where Paser was buried, but it now seems very likely. The most prominent Egyptian official in Upper Nubia under Ramses III, he is likely to have sought a grandiose tomb overlooking the town in which he held office. The pyramid would likely have been visible from the town, and to those approaching from the desert. A doorjamb, which seems to bear his name, was found dumped in the tomb to the east (G321). More evidence is needed to confirm whether this was his tomb.

Red pigment preserved on the legs of a horse pulling the chariot of Ramses II. West Gate, Amara West.

Red pigment preserved on the legs of a horse pulling the chariot of Ramses II. West Gate, Amara West.

Moving down into the town, we finished the data-capture for 3D modelling of the West Gate, a formal monument that proclaimed Egypt’s power over Nubia – which individuals like Paser were charged with administering. Alongside the discovery of four new inscriptions not recorded by the Egypt Exploration Society, we have been documenting remnants of colour that will help reconstruct the original appearance of this entrance into the town – the red flesh of the horses, the yellow fittings for the chariot, or the black skin of the vanquished Nubian prisoners.

Abdel-Razeq digging ancient rubbish pits beneath house D12.9

Abdel-Razeq digging ancient rubbish pits beneath house D12.9

Out in the western suburb, the completion of recording in several houses has provided us with a chance to go deeper. In three places, we are now digging under floor layers, into the thick rubbish deposits on which the suburb was built. Not all are happy about this: it means a mass of ceramics will have to be processed and studied.

Seal-impression with name of Ramses II, designated ‘beloved of Thoth’

Seal-impression with name of Ramses II, designated ‘beloved of Thoth’

In two of the sondages, dozens of seal impressions came to light – with royal names, depictions of gods and other texts, which will need careful study. The rubbish – its charcoal, phytoliths, animal bone and objects – will tell us much about life at ancient Amara West. These are the remnants of what people used, made and consumed, and then purposefully discarded.

Stone tools found in house D11.2

Stone tools found in house D11.2

In the final days of excavating house D11.2, Anna uncovered a cache of stone tools, tucked behind a specially modelled door buttress. Why were these tools being tucked out of sight? It is rare that the archaeologist encounters such a deliberate placing of objects by those who used an ancient house.

House D12.12 from our photography kite

House D12.12 from our photography kite

House D12.12, under excavation by David Fallon, has thrown up a feature so far unique at Amara West. This house featured a large main room with mastaba -bench (later divided in two), small ‘back rooms’ leading off it, and an entrance corridor with at least two ovens. The northeastern room was fitted with a staircase.

Staircase room in house D12.12, with platform

Staircase room in house D12.12, with platform

The intriguing feature is a small brick structure erected in front of the staircase. Carefully plastered, is this a form of low platform, perhaps similar to the lit clos known from contemporary Deir el-Medina? We can only speculate, as no painted decoration or cult objects have been found.

The E13.17 area team pause/pose for a photograph

The E13.17 area team pause/pose for a photograph

Archaeological fieldwork is characterised by massive accumulations of data, in both hard copy and digital form. Over recent years, we’ve seen our workers become increasingly part of the same global phenomenon. What’s App messages are exchanged between those in different parts of the other site, while selfies and group pictures are a regular occurrence during breaks in the excavating.

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, archaeology, Egypt Exploration Society, Kite Aerial Photography #KAP, New Kingdom, objects, pottery, settlement

Amara West 2015 (week 5): the practical, the unusual and the desert beyond

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

Now the time seems to be slipping through our fingers like the loose windblown sand that shrouds the ancient buildings at Amara West, but with less than two weeks to go (in the town). We are now working across a range of very different spaces – some built for living, others for making things (and thus producing a lot of rubbish) and of course the monumentswhere the dead were commemorated and buried. And this week we moved beyond, into the desert….

Sequence of attempts to keep the sand out of house D12.8

Sequence of attempts to keep the sand out of house D12.8

Agnieszka Trambowicz has now provided some clarity as to what was happening in house D12.8. It looks increasingly like the house had a northern front door – thus far a uniquely bad idea in this windswept neighbourhood. The inhabitants soon started to try and lessen the impact of the sand, with a series of blocking walls erected outside the front door, before the door was finally sealed up and a new western entrance to the house created. Yet beneath all these phases lies a nice mudbrick pavement – we have yet to understand whether this is another outside court, or even paving in a public space between houses.

Ovens along the corridor around house D11.1

Ovens along the corridor around house D11.1

We try not to mention ovens too often, despite their ubiquity on site. Yet the end of the week saw several familiar circles of ash and ceramic emerge from the dusty brown deposits that choke the corridor surrounding house D11.1, in a row along one wall. This house is unique in having a precinct wall surrounding the house, and it now looks as is this was a place for food processing and cooking. It may seem sensible to put such activities outside the house, given the smoke and rubbish created. If unroofed, it could have been a space that filled with dust and sand very quickly – is that why most houses placed ovens inside?

Copper alloy bracelet emerging from the dirt in house D11.1

Copper alloy bracelet emerging from the dirt in house D11.1

Over in one of the side rooms, a nice copper alloy bracelet was revealed. Like a number of other objects – especially dozens of crumbly seal impressions – this will need the attention of our conservator, Maickel van Bellegem, who has just arrived from the British Museum. It also serves as a reminder of how these brick buildings, and their inhabitants, would have lived amongst brightly coloured objects but also materials (wood, textiles) which rarely survive here.

Kite photograph over northern part of walled town

Kite photograph over northern part of walled town

Over in the walled town, Johannes Auenmüller has excavated a trench that embodies the concept of Groundhog Day. Each day sees us photograph a new floor, made of hard Nile silt, running up to a narrow doorway. Frankly, they all look almost identical. We’re at 7 floors and counting now – what kind of building needed this careful and repeated refurbishment? Yet on the other side of the wall, Tom is digging through layers of industrial waste that may be related to metal production. These two spaces are very distinct, and perhaps had more defined purposes than the houses we have excavated, where many of the rooms probably acted as places for eating, sleeping, making things, housing animals …

Michelle Gamble faces recording the stonework recovered from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320

Michelle Gamble faces recording the stonework recovered from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320

Up in cemetery D, progress continued in the shafts of both pyramid tombs (we are not at the bottom after 5.6m in G320!), with stone architecture remaining the surprising focus of discovery. After the door jambs and lintel from the shaft of G321, the second tomb G320 started yielding an even higher amount of sandstone blocks. In contrast to G321, the majority of these blocks, again deriving from door frames, are undecorated. Yet two lintels bear traces of carved decoration, one showing a kneeling woman in the characteristic pose of a mourner.

Sandstone lintel from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320, with frontal depiction of a figure with wig and beard.

Sandstone lintel from the shaft of pyramid tomb G320, with frontal depiction of a figure with wig and beard.

The second lintel, which can be reconstructed from a series of fragments, bears a frontal representation, rare in pharaonic art. Depicting a face with wig and beard, with no accompanying inscriptions, the figure dominates the lintel. What does this represent, and where was it set up? In the shaft or as part of the above-ground cult chapel? Or has this lintel been brought from somewhere else?

After a few hours of surface excavation, the pyramid base of tomb G322 is already visible

After a few hours of surface excavation, the pyramid base of tomb G322 is already visible

In G321, Sofie started removing the upper layers of sandy fill from the entrance area of the central burial chamber: so far, there is only windblown sand. From next week, we are joined by NCAM inspector and bioarchaeologist Mohamed Saad, supported by the Institute for Bioarchaeology. Mohamed will excavate tomb G322, and initial surface cleaning has already revealed another T-shaped chapel combined with a pyramid base of almost similar width (4.50m). For the first time here, the tomb further features a small walled forecourt: as ever at Amara West, no two graves are alike.

This week saw the Amara West project extend out into the desert, to look at sites in the hinterland of the town and cemetery. Last year’s brief survey revealed the presence of two early 18th dynasty sites along a Nile channel some 2km north of the townsite. Anna Stevens will, next week, oversee another short season, concentrating on another site along this river channel.

Mohamed Abdelwahab walking grids of geophysical survey (fluxgate magnetometry) at site 2-R-65, in the desert north of Amara West

Mohamed Abdelwahab walking grids of geophysical survey (fluxgate magnetometry) at site 2-R-65, in the desert north of Amara West

To help us target our excavations, and to better understand the form and extent of these sites, a geophysical survey was completed this week, by Mohamed Abdelwahab Mohamed Ali, Musaab Hussein Eltoum Elkabbashi and Amar Adam Ali Ibrahim, colleagues from the Faculty of Earth Sciences and Mining of the University of Dongola (at Wadi Halfa). The survey and excavation in the desert will hopefully shed more light on what was happening in this area before the town of Amara West was created in the reign of Seti I.

Shadia lecturing at the Ernetta community club

Shadia lecturing at the Ernetta community club

The highlight of last week, however, was a lecture at the Ernetta Community Club. Over 200 people – on an island with only 180 occupied houses – turned up for a talk by Shadia Abdu Rabo and Neal Spencer, to talk about the exploration of Amara West, past and present. It’s amazing to think that despite Wallis Budge, James Henry Breasted and the Egypt Exploration Society working here between 1906 and 1950, this was probably the first time anyone in the area had seen old excavation photos, or learnt about what was found. Set beneath a warm starry sky, with a break prompted by the evening call to prayer (from the mosque next door), it was a memorable evening. Tomomi Fushiya finished off the evening by asking what the people of Ernetta wanted in terms of ongoing engagement – perhaps including talks and guided visits to the site.

Haris Mohamed, one of our workmen, has a first look at the information panels in the Amara West visitor orientation area

Haris Mohamed, one of our workmen, has a first look at the information panels in the Amara West visitor orientation area

Maickel brought more than conservation materials with him this week – he was also laden down with our Arabic-English information panels. We’ve just unpacked them, and hope to install them in the visitor orientation area next week.

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, archaeology, Egypt Exploration Society, funerary, Kite Aerial Photography #KAP, Modern Amara, New Kingdom, objects, settlement

Amara West 2015 (week 4): a Deputy of Kush, monumental architecture and industry


Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan), Michaela Binder (bioarchaeologist)

Burnt date seeds from the corridor outside house D11.1

Burnt date seeds from the corridor outside house D11.1

Careful excavations continue across the houses in the extramural area west of the town. Our understanding of individual houses can take some time to crystallise. House D12.12, being excavated by David Fallon, is finally beginning to look like a house, as we can now see a broad room with mastaba and a hearth, later divided in two.

The large room at the heart of house D12.12, with mastaba overbuilt by later wall.

The large room at the heart of house D12.12, with mastaba overbuilt by later wall.

We hope that the next two weeks will reveal how this house related to D12.6 to the north, as they seem to be provided with complemtary sets of facilities. Were two houses created out of one? In contrast, some houses become more complex as we dig them. Anna Stevens is working on house D11.2 – seemingly a small 3-roomed house squeezed into a space left between two large buildings. The back room now seems to have been built over the remains of an earlier building, emphasising that no matter how late this suburb was built, different parts of the neighbourhood had distinct, sometimes complex, histories.

Basins and emplacements (?) inserted into the middle of the cross-hall in house D11.1

Basins and emplacements (?) inserted into the middle of the cross-hall in house D11.1

We’re still not able to see the main floor of the long cross-room in house D11.1, as Sarah Hitchens keeps finding architecture built over it – in odd places, at odd angles. We’re currently considering a series of basins and possible grinding emplacements, built right in the middle of the room – was the house partly abandoned or collapsed when these were built?

Back in the walled town, Tom Lyons has reached an area of dense indiustrial rubbish – ash, fragments of slag and much burnt material, but also small pieces of stone.

Tom Lyons positioning a scale in industrial area (E13.17) ahead of photography.

Tom Lyons positioning a scale in industrial area (E13.17) ahead of photography.

We’re not sure what was taking place here yet – metal or faience production, or something entirely different? Alongside crucibles, we’re also finding narrow cylindrical objects, burnt, but closed at one end, some with slag inside. The area sits alongside that where we excavated a small pottery kiln in an earlier season, so clearly had an extended history as a production area, perhaps not associated with a specific house.

Tom Lyons with fired object used in industrial production

Tom Lyons with fired object used in industrial production

Prompted by the success of Kate Fulcher’s modified camera in identifying Egyptian blue pigment, we have, over the last 10 days, cleared the West Gate of the walled town.

Detail of decoration on the West Gate: Merenptah, son of Ramses II (and future king) leading a Nubian captive.

Detail of decoration on the West Gate: Merenptah, son of Ramses II (and future king) leading a Nubian captive.

This sandstone gateway was discovered by the Egypt Exploration Society excavators in the 1938-9 season, revealing reliefs of Ramses II, including a scene of victory over Nubians. Initial tests with the camera indicate Egyptian blue is preserved in some of the depictions and hieroglyphs, while areas of red and yellow pigment also survive.

Looking over the West Gate and out to the western suburb (with workmen), founded on a higher level.

Looking over the West Gate and out to the western suburb (with workmen), founded on a higher level.

We intend to undertake a full architectural recording of the monument, including additional inscriptions, to better understood how it was built, modified and used. It needs to be reburied before the end of the season to protect it for future generations. Other than the imposing monumentality of the gateway – over 6m long, over 3m wide, and once standing over 4m tall – it is striking how the ground level of the house outside are set high above it, partly set on rubbish dumps.

Taking a break from excavating down the shaft of tomb G320: Zahr Zuheir (left), Ahmed Ehab and Nayel Mohamed (on ladder)

Taking a break from excavating down the shaft of tomb G320: Zahr Zuheir (left), Ahmed Ehab and Nayel Mohamed (on ladder)

Beyond the palaeochannel, the cemetery team continued to push further into the depths of the two pyramid tombs. In G320, the workmen have reached a depth of 4.7m below the present surface, with no end yet in sight. Even though the top of a doorway leading to one or more burial chambers on the western side is already visible, a large amount of sand and rocks still hides what lies beyond from our view. The depth also leaves removal of the shaft fill, consisting of sand blown in by the wind over the past 3000 years, increasingly difficult and slow.

In G321, week 3 brought about quite some excitement. Having discovered the top of an entrance at the start of the week, we now know that a central chamber off the western side provides access to two more chambers, one to the west and one to the north. Though not filled until the ceiling, the chambers’ content is nevertheless buried under at least 1m of windblown sand. Whether we will be able to go inside the chambers at all, will depend on the stability of the rock-cut chambers.

The fragments of two sandstone doorjambs in the shaft of G321, with sandbags used to keep the fill of the chamber from entering the shaft.

The fragments of two sandstone doorjambs in the shaft of G321, with sandbags used to keep the fill of the chamber from entering the shaft.

The shaft of G321, the better preserved pyramid itself already yielded some very important finds. Discarded in the shaft, 4m below the surface, were fragments of two large sandstone doorjambs. Both bear finely carved hieroglyphic inscriptions and may once have stood at the entrance to the funerary chapel.

Abou Ad untying the ropes used to recovered the heavy blocks from a depth of 4 metres below surface.

Abou Ad untying the ropes used to recovered the heavy blocks from a depth of 4 metres below surface.

However, both jambs belong to the right side of a door, thus it remains unclear which – or even if – one of them actually belongs to the tomb.

Detail of inscription from doorjamb found in G321: the prenomen of Ramses II

Detail of inscription from doorjamb found in G321: the prenomen of Ramses II

While one of the jambs gives two of the royal names of Ramses II, another refers to a “Deputy of Kush” – the name is very badly eroded.

Detail of inscription from doorjamb found in G321: the title ‘Deputy of Kush’, followed by a badly eroded name.

Detail of inscription from doorjamb found in G321: the title ‘Deputy of Kush’, followed by a badly eroded name.

Was one of the Deputies buried here, or in the other tomb (a shabti was found earlier in the season)? Or are these doorjambs dragged from elsewhere, maybe even the town?

Removing spoil from the West Gate, at dawn

Removing spoil from the West Gate, at dawn

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, archaeology, conservation, Egypt Exploration Society, funerary, New Kingdom, settlement

Amara West 2015: views from the sky


Neal Spencer, Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan

After two days of frustrating stillness and heat, a mighty wind arose today: our kite, laden with camera, could finally lift off.

Amara West town
Kite photography provides a different perspective on the excavations. This shot, part of a flight where the camera was set at an oblique angle, places the current excavations in context, against the backdrop of the Nile (flowing from right to left) and Jebel Abri. The walled town can be seen to the left, but the excavation teams cluster around the western suburb to the right. A prominent feature of the ancient site are the mounds of excavated spoil, some dating to the 1930s and 1940s, resulting from Egypt Exploration Society excavations, others from our work since 2008.

West suburb kite view
Most of today’s airtime was used for near vertical photography, here over the heart of the western suburb, with house D12.8 to centre, clear of windblown sand. The long shadows of men at top left indicate this was an early morning flight: we could not wait for the sun to be higher, as the wind can become too strong for the kite. Bottom left is house D11.2, peppered with white sugar sacks. These are in place to protect delicate surfaces from being scoured by the wind, ahead of detailed sampling and recording. These will be removed for final kite photography.

G31 pyramid tomb, Amara West
We finished with a flight over the cemetery on the desert escarpment. This view shows the pyramid monument of tomb G321 (with western edge destroyed) and the chapel that faces east towards the rising sun. Through kite photography, photography on the ground, 3D visualisations and drawings in plan and elevation, the monument is currently being fully documented. Then, and only then, will the shaft leading down to the burial chamber (here full of windblown sand, to bottom right) be excavated.

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

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Filed under: Amara West 2015, archaeology, Egypt Exploration Society, funerary, Kite Aerial Photography #KAP, New Kingdom, settlement, survey

Amara West 2014: A Nubian perspective on excavating Amara West

Mohamed Sayed on Ernetta island

Shadia Abdu Rabo (curator, Sudan National Museum) and Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt & Sudan).

The same place, a different time. Now excavating in the ancient town, we had the opportunity to excavate more recent memories at Amara West, looking back over the last 60 years. Earlier this week, we sat down with Mohamed Sayed, who has lived in Ernetta – the island that hosts us each seaosn – all his life. Mohamed was born in 1939, one of only three surviving men on the island to have worked during the Egypt Exploration Society excavations at Amara West in the late 1940s.

Mohamed recounting memories of excavating Amara West in the 1940s

Mohamed recounting memories of excavating Amara West in the 1940s

As with many excavations, recorded memories are dominated by the excavators, usually through ensuing publications read only by interested scholars. In the case of Amara West, that lends a rather British view of the previous work. But Mohamed, through his memories, offers a different view of those excavations. At the age of 10, Mohamed joined the
Egypt Exploration Society excavations in the ancient town. Mohamed described to us how the family needed the wages offered. Under the direction of H.W. Fairman (1947-48) and then Peter Shinnie (1948-49, 1949-50), foremen (rayyis) were brought from Egypt, with workmen brought from towns and villages across Nubia, as far north as Wadi Halfa (170km from Amara West).

Peter Shinnie at Amara West in 1948-49. Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society

Peter Shinnie at Amara West in 1948-49. Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society

These men were accommodated in tents and wood-and-reed shelters near the ancient town. But those living locally, like Mohamed, stayed at home, and took a sailboat at 6am every morning, from the eastern (downstream) end of Ernetta. Mohamed recounted how high winds could delay the crossing – the British archaeologists traveled by rowboat over from Amara East. On some days, high winds stopped work altogether, but the men were still paid. Mohamed remembers details of the work – from carrying baskets of spoil, the narrow-gauge railway used to move spoil, and baksheesh payments for the discovery of objects. One of his fellow workers, pleased to have received payment for a scarab one day, found himself dismissed when he brought an object from elsewhere and claimed it had just been found. Mohamed recalls seeing inscribed stones, beads and amulets come out of the ground, and pottery not selected for study being discarded into the sand dunes and tamarisk trees by the Nile. Today, we worry about the nimiti-flies, but Mohamed claims they were much worse in 1940s. He emphasised to us that the salary represented a considerable income for his family.

The remainder of the year saw Mohamed help his family tends to fields on Ernetta. Marriage to Fatma in 1972 prompted Mohamed to reduce the number of excavation projects he worked on. Moving into a new house near his father’s, Mohamed has since focused on farm work. He still lives in that house today, with two of his daughters and a son; three other daughters and four sons have left Ernetta to live elsewhere in Sudan and in Saudi Arabia. Fatma passed away recently, but Mohamed’s second wife Aisha still lives nearby. There is still a family connection to Amara West – son Amjad worked in cemetery C in 2009, and one of the site policemen, Rami, is Mohamed’s nephew.

Mohamed in his fields, with house in the background

Mohamed in his fields, with house in the background

We frequently see Mohamed as we walk around the island, tending to fields of fuul-beans, barley, wheat, fenugreek and chick peas. Our conversations with him offer a brief glimpse of a different memory of excavating a New Kingdom town in Upper Nubia.

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

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Filed under: Amara West 2014, archaeology, Egypt Exploration Society, Nubian

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