Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: buried with pots

Loretta recording a pottery vessel from G244 in the work roomLoretta Kilroe, University of Oxford

Every vessel tells a story, and when we get a group of vessels or sherds in a relatively closed context – like a grave – the story becomes particularly interesting.

Loretta recording a pottery vessel from G244 in the work room

Loretta recording a pottery vessel from G244 in the
work room

While Alice Springuel is working on the settlement pottery with Anna Garnett, I’m studying pottery from cemetery C. There’s much less pottery than from the town, and everything comes back to the house, where my detective work starts.

Currently this season, two large tombs are proving very exciting. G243 is a two-chambered tomb being excavated by Barbara Chauvet, while G244 is the large tumulus with five subterranean chambers being worked on by Michaela Binder and Mohammed Said.

These have produced an array of ceramics which already, at this early stage, prompt questions about those interred in the graves, and the life they experienced at Amara West.

Four ‘beer jars’ and a red-rimmed plate have been found in the eastern chamber of G243 – both fairly typical grave goods across the period in which this cemetery was used (twelfth-eighth century BC).

Shallow bowl with sloppy red paint around rim (C9053), from G243

Shallow bowl with sloppy red paint around rim (C9053), from G243

The styles of these vessels however, particularly the poorly-cut beer jar bases and the messy red paint applied to the rim of the plate, suggest these pots accompanied a burial after the end of the New Kingdom – when pharaonic Egypt no longer ruled Upper Nubia.

‘Beer-jar’ (C9162) reconstructed by Loretta, from G244

‘Beer-jar’ (C9162) reconstructed by Loretta, from G244

Little evidence of this era has been found in the town, but the continued use of the cemetery suggests occupation continued at Amara West (or nearby). Those people retained the same pottery-making techniques as earlier inhabitants living here under Egyptian rule.

The multi-chambered tumulus (G244), of which only part of one chamber has been excavated, was heavily looted. Tomb-robbers are generally uninterested in ceramic vessels, so these remain, though often smashed to pieces.

I’ve been able to reconstruct several vessels: two ‘beer jars’, 11 plates, two funnel-necked jars and parts of two smaller jars. The styles of these vessels indicate a late New Kingdom date – but this interpretation might change as more of the tomb is excavated.

This dating came as a surprise, since tumuli are seen as a typically Nubian form of burial, expressing a Nubian rather than Egyptian cultural identity in death; something not frequent in this area until after the Egyptian withdrawal. In other New Kingdom graves at Amara West, post-New Kingdom and Napatan material is often found in chambers, but we don’t have any later material from G244 … yet.

I’m currently drawing the reconstructed vessels, to enable further research back in London and Oxford. All the vessels, apart from a few eroded sherds, are Egyptian in style, though probably made locally. Did those buried here, seemingly late in the period of Egyptian control, consciously choose a Nubian monument, but adhere to the practise of placing Egyptian-style pottery in the graves?

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Amara West 2013: interesting discoveries as new ‘house’ is explored

Necklace as it emerged from the deposits in E13.16Sarah Doherty, Egyptologist and archaeologist, Cardiff University

North of the room busy with ovens being excavated by Shadia Abdu Rabo, this last week has seen me work in a puzzling new area – also with lots of ovens! – behind house E13.5. Why this move to a new building? Shadia’s area of ovens featured an additional room with an entrance to the north, into the new building, which we christened E13.16.

View over excavations in building E13.16

View over excavations in building E13.16

After a day of shovelling out windblown sand, the nicely preserved clay floor of the first room was revealed, with a circular hearth (60 cm diameter) still containing ash and charcoal. I was thrilled to find a nice piece of Marl D amphora handle within the hearth, consistent with a late Ramesside date for these buildings.

Workman Hafif Mohamed revealing an ancient hearth

Workman Hafif Mohamed revealing an ancient hearth

The workmen moved next door, where a more uneven floor was uncovered, scattered with sand, ash, pottery sherds, charcoal and animal bone. At the east end of the room, perhaps inevitably, three large bread ovens emerged from the rubble. However, these are located right next to a blocked doorway, so they might not have been an original feature of the room. This is an important reminder that the layout of such buildings could change relatively quickly.

Necklace F6925 as it emerged from the deposits in E13.16

Necklace F6925 as it emerged from the deposits in E13.16

Above these ovens, several interesting finds were discovered: a polished greywacke dish, a copper alloy chisel and an ostracon with three lines of hieratic text, which awaits translation. The most aesthetically pleasing object was a necklace made of faience beads, still lying as originally strung (though the string had not survived).

Detail of necklace F6925, with gold and carnelian beads in the centre

Detail of necklace F6925, with gold and carnelian beads in the centre

The centre piece of the necklace was two small red carnelian beads flanking a beaten gold bead. After Neal Spencer photographed the necklace in situ, I used the remainder of the day to brush, remove and restring the beads, to preserve the arrangement of the necklace.

Metal blade F6919 found in E13.16

Metal blade F6919 found in E13.16

As this new building is one of the northernmost in the town, it has suffered badly from wind erosion: we can see multiple phases in the slope near the town wall. My task over this week is to try to untangle, and then document, the various layers.

There seems to be a vast number of ovens in this area beneath the floors of building E13.16, with lots of ash deposits, and charcoal pits. Do we have a bakery or brewery underneath building E13.16?

Watch this (rather ashy) space!

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