Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

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

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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

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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 2016: smiles and excitement – a visit from Amara East primary school

Tomomi Fushiya (Leiden University)

At the end of the visit: group photo in front of the visitors centre

At the end of the visit: group photo of grades 5 and 6 from Amara East primary school, in front of the visitors centre at Amara West

On a cold windy morning, two boatloads of children arrived at the riverbank and ran up the sand dunes to meet archaeologists and local workers at Amara West. This is the first organised trip from local schools to visit the excavation site: 33 students (grades 5 and 6) with 4 teachers from Amara East primary school.

A local worker, Rami, explaining the tools of the excavator

A local worker, Rami, explaining the excavation tools

After they met our team members working on site, the visit began in the ancient town – entering through the remains of the West Gate. Walking by the houses with the group of students and teachers, Mohamed Saad, our inspector and bioarchaeologist from NCAM, talked about how we study ancient life within the ruined houses, studying pottery sherds, bones and so on. Two of our long-term local workers, Hassan Nuri Allah al-Deen and Rami Mohamed Abdel Khalil, both from Ernetta Island, showed and explained how we use the tools – trowels, brushes, scales, and finds bags – that archaeologists and workers use to excavate and document the ancient remains.

Students and teachers from Amara East primary school walking up towards the cemetery

Students and teachers from Amara East primary school walking up towards the cemetery

Across the dried up ancient Nile channel which the ancient residents of Amara West once crossed to bury the dead, the students learned from Michaela Binder (Austrian Archaeological Institute) about the different types of tombs in the cemetery, and how people were buried.

School teachers who have read the Amara West book before the visit also joined the guided tour, linking what the pupils learnt at school with what they were seeing at the site. During the visit, a new leaflet for school children about the site and archaeology was distributed. These had been designed in consultation with local school teachers last year.

Drawings made by Amara East primary school pupils after the visit

Drawings made by Amara East primary school pupils after the visit

The visit ended after a drawing session in our visitors’ orientation area, in which the students illustrated what they had seen and learnt during the visit.
We hope to continue to work with the local schools to raise awareness of their local history, the history of Sudan and archaeology – and maybe even encourage more local children to study archaeology in the future!

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, community engagement, Modern Amara

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: books by boat, cart and car


Tomomi Fushiya, archaeologist

Amara West Arabic edition

Towards the end of last year, we published Amara West: Living in Egyptian Nubia, made possible through the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project. Published in English and Arabic editions, the Arabic one printed with the communities living in and around Amara West in mind.

Abd el-Razeq, veteran excavator at Amara West.

Abd el-Razeq, veteran excavator at Amara West.

Over the last weeks, we have been distributing the book amongst our workmen. Abdelraziq, who has worked with our mission from the first season in 2008, commented “the book is very useful and I benefit from it so much. If from the first or second season they publish(ed) a book and gave it to the workers and to the community here, all of the community would be informed and know about the (local) history… I worked here from 6 years ago but I knew nothing about why they collect bones and pottery… … I know (now) they put them together and test bones to understand diseases, their date ….’.

Tomomi delivering books to Abri secondary school

Tomomi delivering books to Abri secondary school

We also gave the books to villagers around our dig house, to the local school library and teachers in Ernetta and Abri. In the school curriculum, the major archaeological sites such as Kerma, Jebel Barkal and Meroe are studied. This foregrounds a national, rather than local, history, despite the presence of such famous sites (to archaeologists!) as Sai, Sedeinga and Amara West.

Reading the book en route from Amara West to Ernetta

Reading the book en route from Amara West to Ernetta

The book – distributed by hand, boat, donkey cart and pick-up truck – has been well received so far, and represents our small contribution to communicating archaeological knowledge to the local communities who do not have easy access to museums or libaries.

Women reading the book on the mastaba outside their house on Ernetta island

Women reading the book on the mastaba outside their house on Ernetta island

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, community engagement, Modern Amara

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 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

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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.

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, Modern Amara, Nubian traditions