Amara West project blog


Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: what a difference a day makes

Revealing an inscriptionPhilip Kevin, conservator, British Museum

On Tuesday of this week, after a number of days consolidating and uncovering painted plaster from several coffins within burial chamber G244 with various degrees of success, Michaela Binder revealed the top and part of the base of a wooden headrest. There has been poor wood preservation in this chamber due to hyperactive termites and wood rot, and possible flooding. The survival of the top and part of the base in what appeared to be a reasonable state of preservation was received with excitement, but the underside of the base was badly tunneled by termites. It was very weak and required slow step-by-step excavation and consolidation.

Philip revealing the faience situla in Grave 244

Philip revealing the faience situla in Grave 244

When removing the soil and wind-blown sand next to the base a white curved surface appeared and soon after the first black decorative lines were visible, including lotus leaf and palm branch motifs. The shape, colour and surface texture indicated this was a decorated situla, a round-bottomed vessel, lying horizontally in the soil and sand. It appeared complete but with a number of old (dark) cracks along its length.

Philip back in the ‘laboratory’ of our dig house, reconstructing the situla

Philip back in the ‘laboratory’ of our dig house,
reconstructing the situla

On lifting it, the cracks opened up and two fragments collapsed into the vessel. The whole object was unstable and any delay in reconstructing the vessel would risk further damage to the edges of the breaks. After consolidating the edges with a polymer in a solvent, to give the weak break edges and surrounding material additional strength, more consolidant was applied to the top of the cracks and allowed to run and settle along its length naturally.

The vessel was reconstructed “dry” (without adhesive) to find the correct location and order of reconstruction, then with the position determined the vessel was adhered. One triangular section 4×4 cm (widest points) remains missing – an old break, and it is still hoped that we will find this fragment near the chamber floor level.

The next day I was “out on the town” working within room E13.5.3 excavated by Sarah. There were a number of inscribed stone pieces – lintels and jambs – which had been plastered over and reused as door jambs.

Philip ‘on the town’, revealing the inscription re-used in house E13.5

Philip ‘on the town’, revealing the inscription
re-used in house E13.5

The inscription on one lintel was visible only at the bottom, with the first few hieroglyphs positioned upside down. The remainder of the inscription (“the interesting bit”….no pressure!) lay under a thick course of whitish plaster. Using a sharp pointed tool and working in from the edge of the plaster it was possible to cleave small pieces from the surface – direct pressure to shear between plaster and stone is likely to pull some surface of the stone away.

After a couple of hours the inscription could be read: ‘An offering that the king gives, to Amun-Ra, lord of the thrones of the two lands’.

Lets see what tomorrow brings.

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Amara West 2013: an ancient monument discovered in a modern house

Sandstone lintel found in the house on Ernetta islandMarie Vandenbeusch, Egyptologist

Most objects recorded during an excavation are found on site. When they come to light, they are patiently recorded in order to help provide as much information about the building or area from which they were recovered.

Sometimes, however, ancient objects show up in rather different circumstances. At the end of last season, after most of the team had left for home, Marie Millet and Shadia Abdu Rabo stayed to continue studying pottery. One day, they were told that a large inscribed stone had been discovered.

Sandstone lintel (F987) found in the house on Ernetta island.

Sandstone lintel (F987) found in the house on Ernetta island.

While demolishing the corner of an old house on Ernetta island, location of our dig house, the family came across a large sandstone lintel. Only half-preserved, it was carved with a column of hieroglyphs, originally located in the centre of the piece. Part of the names of Ramesses II can be read including “Ramses, beloved by Amun”. The lintel was originally brightly coloured: remains of yellow pigment are still visible on the surface, particularly within the hieroglyphs. This yellow would have contrasted with the white plaster that covered the lintel, still visible in places.

Mudbrick walls in a house on Ernetta island

Mudbrick walls in the house: the lintel was revealed during demolition of the old walls

Above stone and plaster, evidence of the modern use of the lintel is visible: a layer of mud. According to the owners of the house, the lintel acted as a shelf, built into the mudbrick wall. Covered by mud, they may not have noticed its existence until the demolition: its presence forgotten family knowledge.

Though we cannot be sure that it is from Amara West, it is very likely, and most probably from a doorway in the town, whether of a temple or a house.

According to the owners of the house, and through recording of the family tree (by Marie Millet and Shadia Abdu Rabo), it seems that the lintel was put in place around 1910-1920, which is before the Egypt Exploration Society started work at Amara West, in 1938. We tend to forget that ancient sites are often experienced and explored long before the arrival of archaeologists.

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