Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2017: ivory and bone objects

Manuela Lehmann, Project Curator, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan

After the funerary beds, I moved onto objects made of ivory and bone. These can be roughly divided into two groups: those that had been used as tools and those that can be considered items for personal and cosmetic use: combs, hair and cloth pins, beads, knobs, and vessels. Many of them would also have been used as inlays in wooden furniture, the wood itself lost to decay, leaving behind the harder inlays of bone and ivory. These pieces are often relatively small and are therefore difficult to understand without seeing the furniture.

Bone tools

Bone tools

The bone tools are mainly of pointed shape, probably used as awls. Sometimes part of the unworked bone end was used as a handle, in other cases the points had a small shaft attached to a handle that is no longer preserved, presumably in a different material. A cluster of five pointed tools was found within one room in the rearmost part of house E13.3-S. As no other unworked bone material was found here, we might think that the work for which the points were used took place in this room rather than the production of the tools themselves. Or had the tools been dumped here? This room was also notable for the number of objects we recovered.

In addition, a lot of smaller pieces of pre-cut blocks of bone and ivory were most likely intended to be shaped further into different objects. Usually these raw pieces show cut marks on several sides of them: often the sawing started from two opposite sides until the thin remaining middle part was then broken off.

Another interesting accumulation of bone and ivory finds can be attested for three adjacent rooms in the storage complex E13.14, including unworked bone material. This suggests that there existed some sort of production area of bone objects in these rooms, or at least nearby. In a later phase, when this building was overbuilt with house E13.6, a similar range of material survives. Many of the objects show traces of burning suggesting that they might have been hardened in fire, before being processed further into objects. They are often polished to a shiny surface.

As for the personal items of daily life, these are found in both town and cemetery, providing interesting insights into the related spheres of life and death.

Convex disc-shaped bone and ivory fittings

Convex disc-shaped bone and ivory fittings

A very high number of flat, almost disc-shaped, objects with a convex upper side remain puzzling! There is much variation in the size of these objects, which range from about 4cm to under 1cm. Some are more convex, while others are flatter and are with or without one or two indentations or perforations. We have them in various stages of working: from raw cut, to finished, to extremely finely polished. A number of these objects were probably knobs for boxes or beads while others might have been fittings or inlays of furniture.

Bone and ivory gaming pieces and inlays

Bone and ivory gaming pieces and inlays

Easier to interpret are pieces of gaming boards and gaming figures. The gaming board parts, also inlays, consist of flat plaques of bone cut into square or rectangular pieces that were then smoothed and often polished. Some of them are slightly convex on the surface due to the natural shape of the bone. While two such inlays were found in the tombs, four of them were found in different houses in the town.

Bone and ivory fragments with worked and drilled surfaces

Bone and ivory fragments with worked and drilled surfaces

The inlays are again not easy to understand as we are missing the actual objects. In general most of these objects are very flat and sometimes have incised patterns: horizontal parallel lines, flower or petal motifs. Here the study of furniture like wooden boxes, chests or other wooden objects might lead to further insights into the material of Amara West used by the inhabitants, along with examples from better preserved tombs in Nubia and Egypt.

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

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Filed under: Amara West 2017, funerary, Nubian, Nubian traditions, objects, tools

Amara West 2017: sleeping beauties

Manuela Lehmann, Project Curator, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan

Wood to sift through...

Wood to sift through…

I started with wooden objects this season. Though organic material is generally poorly preserved at Amara West, we have an astonishing amount of wooden remains collected over the years. Almost all of this comes from tombs excavated in the two cemeteries: very little survives from the town.

Much of the material had to be conserved in situ while the excavation was ongoing, as the wood is very damaged due to termites, and being crushed by the collapse of the burial chamber roofs. The tiny wood remains were collected in bags, and we can now spread it out and sift through for distinctive carved decoration or diagnostic shapes that tell us about the original objects

Joining components from an ancient angareeb bed

Joining components from an ancient angareeb bed

The most interesting objects are the remains of the funerary beds. They seemed to have been very similar to the wooden angareeb beds that are still in use in Sudan today. The frame of the bed consisted of beams around which the stringing of the bed was tightly wrapped: many such pieces have survived and seem to be quite consistent in width and thickness. A few fragments of the actual fibres of the middle part of the bed are preserved as well.

The bed legs comprised three parts: the base itself, at least one middle part and an upper part into which the beams of the frame were inserted into recesses. So far fragments of a smaller and a larger size of terminals have been identified. There also seem to have been sets with cuboid components in combination with cylindrical elements

All of these are decorated in very similar patterns, mostly with horizontal incised lines that run parallel to each other around the components. A few objects show more elaborate patterns such as elongated vertical rectangular fields or zig-zag-lines in the style of the Egyptian hieroglyphic waterline.

In addition, there are a few preserved remains that may be parts of the footboards of such beds, similar to those known from tombs in Kerma. But the famous inlays that were found there have not been found in the Amara West examples.

Manuela working with the wood fragments, seeking joins

Manuela working with the wood fragments, seeking joins

The study of the material has so far lead to the joining together of many more fragments enabling us in the end to determine a minimum number of beds used in the tombs.

Due to the carving elements of the legs the thinnest diameter among the elements is often only 2cm per leg which would likely not have been strong enough to carry an adult person. It therefore seems like some of the beds might have been produced only for the burial itself. One circular element of a wooden bed leg was found in the town as well, suggesting the use of the same designs for the beds of the living.

Modern angareeb bed leg

Modern angareeb bed leg

Interestingly, the modern angareeb beds still show many similarities with the ancient versions in terms of decoration, as today incised lines are also often used and the legs mostly end in cuboid parts above which cylindrical components of decoration can be found

Parallels from other ancient cemeteries suggests head-rests and the body of the deceased would have been placed on the beds. Some examples of head-rests can be found amongst the wood from the burials at Amara West: the examples studied so far consist of three parts that were assembled. The base is usually rectangular and quite long and flat with a smaller middle part that tapers into a raised oval shape with a recess. Here the middle part would have combined the base with the top part that had the rounded concave surface that supported the head. Often the bases are decorated like the beds with the pattern of incised parallel lines. In this way the bed and head-rest were built as sets, matching in style. Sometimes more elaborated versions can be found with finer line decoration.

A flat wooden element, perhaps from a coffin

A flat wooden element, perhaps from a coffin

The body of the deceased was quite often placed into coffins or wrapping that was then put onto the bed. Yet it is not easy to identify which of the surviving wooden fragments belonged to the coffin and which to the bed. The coffin fragments often do not have much of their original plaster and paint preserved, with only a few fragments still bearing traces of vivid colours like red, yellow, Egyptian blue or black. Often perforations for dowels and tenons give indications about the techniques used in the woodwork.

Substantial amounts of wooden branches were found that still have their bark on them and therefore were not worked, or at least very little. They are too long to have been used as a dowel and their diameter is too thick. Maybe some of the bodies were wrapped in some sort of matting that was produced with branches and twigs as is sometimes still used in the Sudan for burials of infants.

Even with their fragmentary and often badly preserved state, it is clear that there is a lot to be learned from the study of wooden remains. I am looking forward to more exciting discoveries as I sift through all the material and piece together more fragments!

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, conservation, funerary, New Kingdom, Nubian, Nubian traditions, objects

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: 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

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

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:

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

Amara West 2016: conservation challenges

Maickel van Bellegem, conservator, British Museum

In a subterranean chamber beneath tomb G322, Maickel consolidating a section of coffin

In a subterranean chamber beneath tomb G322, Maickel consolidating a section of coffin remains.

Having left London on 23 January – with a brief stop at Kawa to assess future conservation requirements – I am now in the full swing of the work here at Amara West. Last week we successfully lifted a section of coffin remains from one of the underground burial chambers beneath pyramid tomb G322.

The largest we have found at Amara West so far, measuring about 45 by 90cm, it probably formed part of the side or base of the wooden coffin. The wood and painted plaster was unfortunately in a poor state of preservation: all we could see was brown and white powder stains.

We decided to consolidate in situ using a diluted adhesive in case any remains of painted decoration had survived. If lifted in a block we can try to turn it over and expose the underside. The consolidant will in the first instance also stick to sand and whatever else is underneath together. So a good deal more work will follow to remove that: there is no guarantee for a painted surface, it may all have deteriorated into powder already… yet this is the only way to find out. Some smaller sections from the area extending towards the head had already shown that the coffin was decorated.

Painted plaster surface from coffin remains recovered from tomb G322

Painted plaster surface from coffin remains recovered from tomb G322.

In the meantime other fragile finds have been gathering on my desk at the workroom: worked wood, worked ivory/bone, bitumen and textile remains, a metal pin…

A number of fragile finds are awaiting assessment and treatment.

A number of fragile finds are awaiting assessment and treatment.

Last but not least a copper alloy mirror with remnants of textiles adhering to it was discovered by Mohamed Saad earlier this week. This, and other objects, will each get their dose of attention in the next few weeks.

Copper alloy mirror from G322, with textile adhering to it (F8768)

Copper alloy mirror from G322, with textile adhering to it (F8768)

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, conservation, funerary, New Kingdom

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: Into the tombs at last!

Michaela Binder, bioarchaeologist, Austrian Archaeological Institute

Pyramid tomb G321 with the town of Amara West in the background

Pyramid tomb G321 with the town of Amara West in the background

After an excruciating wait of ten months we are back in the cemetery at Amara West, where we will finally be able to enter the burial chambers of the pyramid tombs we discovered last year.

The three large pyramid tombs are located in the New Kingdom elite cemetery of Amara West, on the desert escarpment overlooking the ancient town and (now dry) river channel. Over the course of eight weeks, the team consisting of bioarchaeologists Michelle Gamble, Sofie Schiodt, Mohamed Saad and myself documented the remains of each pyramid and chapel, and excavated the shafts carved into the schist bedrock up to 7m in deep. However the chambers – at least partly looted in ancient times – themselves were considered to be not stable enough to ensure secure work within the burial chambers. Therefore, we are returning this year supported by structural engineer Daniel Chulia who will construct pulleys and structural shoring to allow us to enter the burial chambers.

Success! Daniel with the first pulley in place

Success! Daniel with the first pulley in place

Based on the finds made in the shafts last year, expectations are high. The size and location of the tombs already indicate that their owners were important people. In tomb G320, inscribed faience shabtis name Paser, the Deputy of Kush known to have been resident at Amara West in the reign of Ramses III. The Deputy of Kush was the most senior pharaonic official in Upper Nubia during the New Kingdom.

This tomb is therefore likely to be his place of burial. A number of large inscribed sandstone blocks with enigmatic reliefs of Osiride figures, depicted frontally, were found in the shaft. Their function is yet unclear but perhaps with more elements to come from inside the tomb, this riddle can be solved as well.

For the other two tombs, the names of the owners are not yet known. However, as both feature pyramids of considerable size that exceeds all those known at Amara West so far we can assume that they were of no lesser status than the Deputy Paser.

What lies inside? Unexcavated burial chambers in G322

What lies inside? Unexcavated burial chambers in G322

Over the upcoming 8 weeks, the same team will continue the work we started in 2015. With pulleys and steel shoring, we will slowly excavate the chambers and hopefully reveal more about the identity of the tomb owners and the way they chose to be buried. This is also set to be the last of the cemetery seasons: have we saved the best for last?

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, funerary, New Kingdom

Amara West 2016: season 9 begins

Neal Spencer, Keeper of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum

Arrival at Amara West – walking up to the ancient town – for the first time since early March 2015

Arrival at Amara West – walking up to the ancient town – for the first time since early March 2015

After a first season of mapping and survey in early 2008, the fieldwork at Amara West has followed a certain rhythm: methodical excavation of houses and investigation of two cemeteries, alongside the painstaking study of ceramics and objects, and sampling for scientific dating or analyses. This season, our ninth, will be very different. Our sprawling dig house feels very different with 8 rather than 31 team members!

Excavations will focus on three major pyramid tombs in the cemetery. The superstructures were excavated and recorded last year, as were the deep shafts cut through the bedrock. After 10 anxious, long, months, we are back and ready to excavate the burial chambers, led by Michaela Binder. More on that soon.

Fouad Ali Gindi – a veteran excavator of houses at Amara West – commences cleaning of surfaces in house D11.1 in the western suburb

Fouad Ali Gindi – one of our veteran excavators of houses at Amara West – commences cleaning of surfaces in house D11.1 in the western suburb

The ancient town – typically a bustle of activity, with dozens of excavators and workmen, creating rising clouds of dust as the excavated material is sieved for bone, pottery and other objects – is very quiet. Manuela Lehmann will finish excavation of the front of house D11.1, focusing initially on a suite of rooms added to the front of the building, while I will be recording the architecture of additional houses in this extramural sprawl.

This reduction in excavation activity comes as good news to those back at the dig house. Anna Garnett – assisted by Valentina Gasperini – hopes to make inroads into the vast amounts of ceramics collected over the last seven seasons, to shed light on what the buildings and rooms were used for, aspects of ancient technology and also the presence (or absence) of Nubian and imported pottery in different parts of the site. That this can be done without daily arrivals of more ceramics is much appreciated!

There will be more schools and community outreach, coordinated by Tomomi Fushiya, and in February Johannes Auenmüller will join us to study metal objects from area E13.

Alongside regular updates on the blog, follow the season on Twitter: @NealSpencer_BM and #amarawest. More images from the season can be found on Instagram: nealspencer_bm

Filed under: Amara West 2016, archaeology, funerary, New Kingdom, settlement, survey

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