Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: into the first chamber of tomb G244

Removing spoil from G244, showing circular mound (tumulus)Michaela Binder, Durham University

After two weeks of excavating in the multi-chamber tomb G244 we’re deeply entangled in the first room of the western suite of burial chambers.

Removing spoil from G244, showing circular mound (tumulus)

Removing spoil from G244, showing circular mound (tumulus)

The suspicion of thorough looting was unfortunately confirmed as we started excavating: the first half of the chamber was filled with a thick deposit of debris, consisting of disarticulated human bones, wooden coffin parts, pot sherds but also a few small objects, including a faience scarab and a decorated faience plaque.

Faience scarab F9290

Faience scarab F9290

The back of the chamber has, fortunately, been less affected by the disturbance. So far we’ve documented five adults, two in wooden coffins which were decorated with plaster both on the inside and outside.

Traces of paint hint at the original decoration, particularly a fragment with striped decoration: part of a coffin wig? We’re now awaiting the arrival of British Museum conservator Philip Kevin who will consolidate some fragments before we remove them, as with last year’s coffin mask.

While the general preservation is somewhat disappointing, the amount of pottery we’ve already recovered represents a significant assemblage. In the shaft and parts of this first chamber, we have around 25 complete vessels so far, mostly plates. Four more large, well preserved pots, amongst them a lovely marl clay jar, were recovered today from the back of the chamber. The growing number of vessels continues to support the initial notion that the tomb dates to the late New Kingdom period, with evidence of later occupation so far absent from inside the tomb.

Loretta Kilroe lifting the first jar from the back of the first western chamber

Loretta Kilroe lifting the first jar from the back of the first western chamber

Elsewhere in the cemetery, Barbara Chauvet is still busy in the eastern burial chamber of G243. This grave is of particular importance because it contains the largest assemblage of intact, well preserved individuals, found in a grave at Amara West.

Two of the intact skeletons in the eastern burial chamber of G243

Two of the intact skeletons in the eastern burial chamber of G243

Back in the lab, these will provide an important addition to the dataset for studying health and living conditions at Amara West.

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Amara West 2013: a five-chambered tomb discovered

The “Howard Carter moment”: First peak into the chamber(s) of Grave 244Michaela Binder, physical anthropologist, Durham University

Many people have asked me whether what we do can “really be fun?” Digging in the dirt, being outside all day in temperatures from freezing to boiling (and sometimes in a sandstorm), living for months at a time without mains electricity or water.

The “Howard Carter moment”: First peak into the chamber(s) of Grave 244

The “Howard Carter moment”: First peak into the
chamber(s) of Grave 244

When it’s close to 40°C and biting nimiti-flies are swarming around me, I ask the same question.

But when you start removing sand from the top of a grave shaft and a small opening appears on one side …a second on the other side …and after another 50 cms the hole is wide enough to stick your head and a torch in …you see a large chamber …your eyes adjust and see the door to another chamber beyond …and a door to a third chamber…

Then I’m reminded that this can be the best occupation in the world with its unpredictable moments of immense excitement.

The discovery of our latest (and by far the largest) tomb happened three days ago at Amara West.

We’re now digging deeper into the shaft, and after two metres of sand, there’s no end in sight. In the meantime, the picture has become clearer.

As the shaft gets deeper, excavation gets more difficult and any soil has to be lifted out in buckets

As the shaft gets deeper, excavation gets more difficult
and any soil has to be lifted out in buckets

The tomb features not just two chambers – one on either side – as with all previous chamber tombs we’ve found at Amara West – but five! The western suite consists of a central room with chambers to the west and northern side; the eastern suite is smaller with just one additional chamber.

We’ve now hit a thick deposit of debris from both chambers – evidence of heavy looting. The finds coming up from this deposit hint at the wealth of funerary artefacts once placed here. Besides large pottery vessels we found beads, fragments of faience, large pieces of white plaster (some painted) once part of decorated coffins, and large wooden elements of funerary furniture, among them the base of a headrest.

Though almost exclusively Egyptian in terms of the range of grave goods and architecture – so far – the large burial mound (tumulus) marking the surface is one of the hallmarks of Nubian funerary culture, before during and after Egyptian control of the region.

Inside the western central chamber with entrances to two more chambers. The windblown sand was blown in later, after looting.

Inside the western central chamber with entrances to two more chambers. The windblown sand was blown in later, after looting.

Even more surprising, the pottery found thus far appears to date the tomb to the late New Kingdom, towards the end of pharaonic control of Nubia.

Superstructure of tomb G244

Superstructure of tomb G244

There’s a long way to go: we have not even begun excavating the five chambers yet.

Leave a comment or tweet using #amarawest

Follow @NealSpencer_BM on Twitter for updates

Find out more about the Amara West research project
Read posts from previous excavation seasons at Amara West

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