Amara West project blog

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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: burial of a lady

Illustration of the upper part of a painted wooden coffinMarie Vandenbeusch, Egyptologist, Geneva University

Regular readers of the blog will be familiar with the range of graves we encounter, with varying architecture, burial assemblages and even the number of individuals buried in each chamber. The gender and wealth of the individual must have been important factors in how an individual was buried, but perhaps also whether they saw themselves as Egyptian or Nubian. The study of objects associated with individual burials goes on long after the season ends, and often into the next season.

Plan of tomb G309, with position of coffin in western chamber

Plan of tomb G309, with position of coffin in western chamber

Grave 309, excavated at the end of last season, featured two chambers set off a shaft. In the western chamber, amongst other skeletons and objects, a funerary assemblage directly linked to one specific individual came to light.

Copper alloy mirror (F8448) and carnelian rings (F8443-8448) found with the burial in G309

Copper alloy mirror (F8448) and
carnelian rings (F8443-8448) found
with the burial in G309

The skeleton belongs to a young lady, probably between 20 and 30 years old, according to the physical anthropologist Michaela Binder, who also excavated the grave.

Her remains were found in a very poor condition, as the ceiling of the chamber had collapsed on the burial. It is thus very difficult to gain an understanding about her health and the reasons for her death – as none of her bones was completely preserved. But the objects placed around her, for her use in the afterlife, lay close to the body.

A copper alloy mirror was found by her feet – discovered on the last day of excavation. She was probably wearing a pair of earrings or hair-rings, as two finely carved carnelian rings were found on each side of her head. These seemingly feminine grave goods accompanied the finely-decorated coffin.

Painstaking consolidation of the coffin by British Museum conservator Philip Kevin allowed its removal, and an illustration by Claire Thorne.

Pottery beer jars were also found in the chamber, though we cannot be sure they accompanied her burial. A large amount of faience beads suggest a necklace was placed with one of the burials.

Upper part of painted wooden coffin F8110. Drawing: Claire Thorne.

Upper part of painted wooden coffin F8110. Drawing: Claire Thorne.

Unfortunately, we do not know her name, or details of her life. But the objects suggest a person of some wealth, and presumably an inhabitant of one of the larger houses at Amara West. Was she Egyptian, as the grave goods suggest? Or someone of Nubian origin, who co-opted elements of an Egyptian style in death?

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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.

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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