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Investigating life in an Egyptian town

Amara West 2013: a kaleidoscope of life and death in Egyptian Kush

Aerial view of neighbourhood E13, with town wall to rightNeal Spencer, British Museum

Fifty-six days after flying out to Khartoum, I landed this morning at a grey, icy, Heathrow. The temperature gradient – perhaps a difference of 35°C – is but one reminder that our sixth season of fieldwork at Amara West is now complete. Many of the team are still in the dig house today, completing documentation and closing up our house ahead of the next season. I spent yesterday finishing paperwork in Khartoum, while also working with curators Shadia Abdu Rabo and Ikhlas Abdel-Latif to accession our newly-discovered objects into the collection of the Sudan National Museum.

Kite view of neighbourhood E13, with town wall to right

Kite view of neighbourhood E13, with town wall to right

Yet as with all archaeological projects, the end of the season really marks the beginning of the next, and most time-consuming, phase: digitisation, post-excavation work and, trying to make sense of it all. It’s a little overwhelming to consider the kaleidoscope of work undertaken by a team of 20 specialists from nine countries (from Australia to Sudan) over the last weeks. Many thanks to everyone, and also all those in Abri, Ernetta island and Khartoum who made the season possible – amidst sandstorms, plagues of biting flies, chilly mornings, electrical blackouts, dawn boat journeys on the Nile, crocodile sightings and fantastic breakfasts with the workmen….

The town

Within the walls of the ancient town, we continued work in neighbourhood E13. Sarah Doherty and Shadia Abdu Rabo revealed the full plan of E13.5, a medium-sized dwelling at the east end of the block. The inhabitants had fitted out each room with sandstone doorways, many built using re-used blocks from an earlier building, one naming an ‘overseer of the granaries, Horhotep’, presumably one of the high-ranking officials who lived at Amara West. Unlike other houses in the block, the bread ovens, charcoal pits and cereal grinding emplacements were housed in an annex outside the house itself, excavated by Shadia. Despite plans to investigate the phase beneath, we were instead tempted north of the house, where Sarah revealed parts of another house (?) and an area with large ovens or kilns – with tantalising evidence hinting at faience production.

Shadia excavating ovens associated with house E13.5

Shadia excavating ovens associated with house E13.5

Mat Dalton completed the excavation of the communal area E13.13, which provided food processing, and charcoal making, facilities, for the inhabitants of houses E13.3-N and E13.3-S. Returning to the ‘white house’ E13.7, Mat revealed the striking schist and sandstone floor of one of the large storage rooms that characterised the area before it became a block of houses. Mat also spent time taking block samples of floor layers and occupation deposits from the excavated houses: these will be studied as thin sections under high-magnification, revealing ancient activities invisible to the naked eye.

Right in the heart of the neighbourhood – a room rather difficult to find! – Anna Stevens grappled with a small space that provides important evidence for many building phases, how the magazines with vaulted roofs were converted for use as houses. The ancient inhabitants were clearly unhappy with the idea of living in long corridor-like spaces, and went to considerable lengths to change the proportions created by the existing architecture.

The town site beside the Nile, with our tents in foreground

The town site beside the Nile, with our tents in foreground

We managed to empty all previously excavated rooms in the neighbourhood so that Susie Green could capture untold gigabytes of digital images. These will be used to create a 3D model using the concept of ‘Structure from Motion’ – all with the challenge of photographing everything before the sun’s rays created shadows. The stunning kite photographs will not only embellish this visualisation, but also provided us with a new perspective of the site and its landscape.

Outside of the town walls, Rizwan Safir and Vera Michel persevered through layers of wall collapse and roofing remains – further hampered by deep sandpits left behind when the ancient brick walls were mined out. As the season ended, we had gained further insights into the different type of house sought by those who moved beyond the town walls; there may have been more space, but the new households had to cope with more exposure to the elements.

A flying visit from Alexandra Winkels, conservation scientist, allowed her to collect wall plaster samples which will be compared to sites from across Egypt, including Tell el-Amarna.

Cemetery C

The highlight of our third season in cemetery C, led by Michaela Binder, was the discovery of the largest tomb yet found at Amara West: G244. Beneath a low mound (tumulus), the vertical shaft led to two burial chambers, one to the east, one to the west. What was not expected were the three other chambers.

Philip and Michaela at work in Grave 244

Philip and Michaela at work in Grave 244

Patience was needed as the first chamber was meticulously excavated, with remains of painted coffins and a fine ceramic assemblage, being studied by Loretta Kilroe. More work is needed here, but the tomb seems to be late Ramesside in date.

Just to the north, Barbara Chauvet spent most of her season in the eastern chamber of a post-New Kingdom niche grave (G243), where another complicated array of superimposed bodies needed disentangling. Mohamed Saad, archaeologist at the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, and participant in the Institute of Bioarchaeology Amara West Field School, excavated the smaller western chamber, as well as a number of niche burials in the southeast of the cemetery.

Faience situla found in Grave 244 (Sudan National Museum SNM 34615).

Faience situla found in Grave 244 (Sudan
National Museum SNM 34615).

Back in the house …

Our expedition house was home to all the necessary tasks of excavation paperwork, processing archaeological samples and of course organising and storing the finds and masses of ceramics. Marie Vandenbeusch documented all the finds from town and tombs, from epigraphic recording of the inscribed blocks in E13.5, matching scarabs with ancient clay impressions, to wondering what to make of enigmatic pieces of worked clay. Alongside rediscovering wonderful wooden objects from our 2009 excavations, with Michaela, Marie also found time to continue work on the roofing fragments from houses – with Vera providing a particularly steady supply from villa D12.5.

The masses of sherds from the town were processed on site by Alice Springuel and Anna Garnett. After an early season handover from Marie Millet (now directing the Louvre excavations at el-Muweis), Anna is studying our town ceramics, particularly the dating and whether certain types of vessel are associated with particular rooms or spaces. Amidst many pottery drawings, Alice managed archaeological illustrations of key artefacts – from scarabs to fertility figurines.

The first weekend saw us host a small workshop on ceramics in New Kingdom Nubia, though discussions ranged well beyond pottery, with colleagues from Kerma, Sai, Sesebi and Tombos.

Copper alloy cobra fitting (F5693), after conservation

Copper alloy cobra fitting (F5693), after conservation

Philip Kevin, British Museum conservator, joined us for the last three weeks, and proved invaluable in recovering remains of headrests and painted coffins from the cemetery, coaxing out hidden inscriptions in the town, and revealing the exquisite decoration on copper alloy cobras (perhaps statue fittings) found by Shadia in the 2012 season.

Last, but not least…

Mark and Jamie pondering ancient Nile histories, in a deep trench

Mark and Jamie pondering ancient Nile histories, in a deep trench

Jamie Woodward and Mark Macklin returned for a third season to investigate the river systems in and around Amara West. Easily outpacing all other team-members in terms of logistical demands, we nonetheless managed two deep trenches which provide fantastic slices through the history of the Nile river in this region. One trench ran across the edge of the ancient island and into the channel bed, north of the temple, the other in the ‘Neolithic Nile’ 2km into the desert. We have the C14 dates already, and await the OSL dates, but a very exciting story is emerging … watch this space.

Returning to the Museum

Unlike nineteenth and early twentieth century excavations conducted by many museums, excavations in Egypt and Sudan no longer lead to the acquisition of objects for collections in other countries. So why does the British Museum still undertake archaeological projects? New techniques – including those outlined above – mean we gain insights into the ancient past, and its people, that were not possible in previous excavations. None of the objects in the British Museum, or indeed any collection, can be fully interpreted without understanding the particular time, place, culture and indeed natural environment experienced and created by those who made the objects. Amara West provides an opportunity to better understand life in Nubia during the late second millennium BC, in a region where the climate was deteriorating. It was an area under the control of the mighty Ramesside state, ruled from the royal residence city of Per-Ramses, far away near the Mediterranean.

An important pharaonic town in a long-occupied land, the inhabitants of Amara West lived in an age of international diplomacy, cosmopolitan taste and competing superpowers. We are building up a picture of how people lived, and treated their dead, at this town, but also the nature of the Egyptian entanglement with local, Nubian, cultures, and the responses to considerable ecological changes. A story very relevant to the present.

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Amara West 2013: structure from motion in a pharaonic town

Digital elevation model of villa D12.5Susie Green, UCL

This Sunday I photographed the last of the rooms in neighbourhood E13, in the dawn light before the sun rose. In fact we cheated a little that morning: Sarah Doherty and eight of our site workers held a large sheet of tarpaulin, against the strong wind, to keep the sun off the walls for an extra 15 minutes.

Susie photographing a room with some help in removing sunlight

Susie photographing a room with some help in removing sunlight

I have been at Amara West for just over two weeks. My task here is to create a pointcloud and ultimately a 3D model of the houses in E13 using a process called ‘Structure from Motion’. This technique uses a computer programme to find matching points in multiple images of the same subject. These can be triangulated to find the position of the camera and the points in 3D space and from this create an accurate representation of the subject built up from millions of points. The results are similar to those obtained by laser scanning, but without the need for expensive and unwieldy equipment.

One end of the mastaba in house E13.7, built over by later architecture

One end of the mastaba in house E13.7, built over by later architecture

I have been working my way through the town room by room. In order to get the best results, each room must be photographed in diffuse light as the harsh shadows of the sun obscure the details in the mud brick. This usually means I have to work very fast in the half hour before the sun rises. On the day of the big sandstorm, I could work all morning, as the airborne sand softened the sun’s rays. Saturday granted us an hour of cloudy sky: the first cloud I have seen in two weeks.

One end of the mastaba in house E13.7, built over by later architecture

One end of the mastaba in house E13.7, built over by later architecture

Most of my processing will be done back in London, but I have carried out some tests here to make sure everything is working properly. One of these is to bring together the two halves of the low bench (mastaba) in house E13.7 and virtually remove the later wall that cuts it in half. This allows us to see the mastaba and gain a sense of its size and proportions – it is unusually long for a mastaba in a pharaonic house.

Digital elevation model of villa D12.5, with reconstruction of kite camera positions (Produced in Meshlab)

Digital elevation model of villa D12.5, with reconstruction of kite camera positions (Produced in Meshlab)

The ‘Structure from Motion’ process also allows aerial photographs to be used for detailed models of the ground elevation: a large number of photographs can be linked together as a mosaic to create a very high resolution map of the ground, such as with villa D12.5 being excavated outside the walls.

For this reason I have also brought my kite and camera rig to Amara West and I have taken thousands of aerial pictures of the town and surrounding area. I hope to be able to contribute to the understanding of the area and how it related to the Nile when Amara West was inhabited.

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Amara West 2013: looking at ancient houses through the present

A house in Ernetta with liasa mud plasteringMat Dalton, University of Cambridge

Is it possible to find out more about the distant past by looking at the way people live in the present? If so, how do you do this without potentially instilling the evidence we excavate with modern meanings – unfamiliar to the people who have left material for us to find?

I have recently started my PhD research in the Charles McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology at the University of Cambridge, where I am applying high resolution geoarchaeological analyses to both mud plaster and informal ‘trampled earth’ floor deposits at ancient Amara West, mainly from within household contexts. I am interested in how the many different types of floors that we encounter at the site may reflect the uses or activities that a room was intended to perform, how these may have changed or remained the same over time, and how floors may have been used to intentionally shape the meaning and ambiance of particular spaces.

A house in Ernetta with liasa mud plastering.

A house in Ernetta with liasa mud plastering.

As a part of my PhD research I have been conducting a small amount of ethno-archaeological research on the vibrant living Nubian traditions of building and plastering in mud – still a part of everyday life in many households in our area. This research should help us understand the interaction between these technologies and the ancient inhabitants of Amara West.

More traditional and newer technologies often sit side by side in the houses we have visited, as in the case of this satellite television dish and now seldom used wheat-grinding emplacement.

More traditional and newer technologies often sit
side by side in the houses we have visited, as in the
case of this satellite television dish and
now seldom used wheat-grinding emplacement.

The economic, historical and cultural context of Nubian people living in northern Sudan today is of course very different from that of the ancient inhabitants of Amara West. Nevertheless, there are also similarities, especially in terms of local environment, access to almost identical raw materials (clay, plants etc.), and the use of apparently similar technologies to build, renovate and shape the houses in which they live.

Shadia Abdu Rabo and I have been visiting homes and conducting informal interviews with the inhabitants of Ernetta island (where we also live), and in other nearby towns and villages. It has been especially informative talking to women, who are usually responsible for the liasa (mud plaster) renovation of their house floors and walls, notably using a distinctive hand-applied application of fan-shaped patterning that is common in the Abri area. Our conversations have already given me much to think about, with interesting themes of temporality, changes in technology and perhaps even the expression of identity starting to emerge.

One example is concrete, a technological latecomer to the area and an increasingly popular choice for floor construction, particularly due to its longevity and the ease of keeping these surfaces clean.

Amani Ibrahim replaces the liasa on the bench-like mastaba outside her family’s house.

Amani Ibrahim replaces the liasa on the bench-like mastaba outside her family’s house.

Most women we interviewed stated that liasa needs replacing at least once a year – a very time and labour intensive activity. Many people we have talked to have opted to keep liasa in some areas of their house, generally the large central courtyard that is a feature of most Nubian houses. Some have mentioned money as the reason for continuing to use mud plaster – concrete is expensive – while others have cited the desire to keep a ‘traditional’ feel to their home.

A detail of the deeply grooved new liasa recently completed by Manal Abu Bakir

A detail of the deeply grooved new liasa recently
completed by Manal Abu Bakir

Another recurrent theme is that of individual creativity and technological innovation. Yesterday Shadia and I spoke with a neighbour, Manal Abu Bakir, who had finished re-plastering her courtyard and kitchen with unusually deeply-grooved liasa the day before. These deep grooves, she said, help to keep the floor in good condition for longer.

Manal also shared her recipe with us, finessed through trial and error since she first started laying floor and wall plaster, often with her sister Saïda, at around the age of 14. Two jerrakana (buckets) of river clay are mixed with two of cow or donkey manure and eight of turab, the grey windblown sand found around the island. Other women we have spoken to use very different recipes; another Ernetta resident, Amani Ibrahim, uses a mixture of equal parts of all three ingredients.

These varying mixtures would be clearly visible through geoarchaeological analysis. Will a similarly wide range of plaster compositions be apparent in samples from different houses in Amara West, where we cannot interview the inhabitants? Will it perhaps be possible to recognise individual choices and preferences within ancient sequences of overlaying plaster, or was the mud plaster technology in use at our site far more uniform?

Over the coming seasons and back in the laboratory in Cambridge I intend to test and check the new ideas and possible interpretations raised by this research against the very well-preserved data from the ancient town. As my research progresses, it will also be very important to consider the rich textual record available for Pharaonic Egypt, which will help to ensure that relevant insights gained from this small study of the present can be accurately applied to the past.

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Amara West 2013: update from E13.16 – a strange and intriguing room…

Sarah Doherty working in room E13.16.2Sarah Doherty, Egyptologist and archaeologist, Cardiff University

A brief update on a rather strange room, which has yielded interesting finds, and into which I’ve been delving deeper this week.

Sarah Doherty and workman Miki Ali Hassan working in room E13.16.2

Sarah Doherty and workman Miki Ali Hassan working in room E13.16.2

A more solid clay floor has been revealed, together with a rectangular brick structure, probably used to support quern-stones for grinding.

Ovens, grinding emplacements and a mystery wall

Ovens, grinding emplacements and a mystery wall

Three ovens along the back wall, and a shallow pit full of ash and charcoal complete the picture: perhaps cereal processing, charcoal production and cooking all took place here?

In the last few days, a low brick wall has revealed itself – in the shape of a “?”. I thought initially that it was a low plastered basin attached to the grinding emplacement, but it seems to continue as far as the ovens.

What is going on?

Answers on the back of a postcard, or digital equivalent, please…

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Amara West 2013: spoiling for sand

Barrow limitations: schist pathway to allow wheelbarrows laden with sand to be movedNeal Spencer, British Museum

The archaeology of Amara West town is spectacular: few other sites in the Nile Valley preserve houses of the late New Kingdom (1300-1100 BC), standing to nearly two metres in height.

Room (E13.14.3) at the end of 2012 season, before it filled up with sand: architecture upon architecture

Room (E13.14.3) at the end of 2012 season, before it
filled up with sand: architecture upon architecture

One can walk along ancient alleys, up staircases, through doorways (the wooden doors have long ago been feasted upon by termites) and into rooms used for preparing food.

The area (E13) we’ve been digging since 2009 is particularly fascinating, as it changed from an area with buildings dedicated to large-scale storage, to a neighbourhood of up to seven contemporary houses. Within each house, we can track the small changes made within each household – blocking off doorways, laying new floors, changing the arrangement of installations in a room, and even changing the function of a space.

All very fascinating, but now creating a considerable logistical headache. We do not dismantle the last architectural phase, unless safety concerns demand it, preferring to dig within the space inside rooms into earlier layers beneath. This has left some excavations in the centre of the neighbourhood rather deep, and a long way from any spoil heap – the mounds of debris, sieved of artefacts, that archaeologists create when digging.

Barrow limitations: schist pathway to allow wheelbarrows laden with sand to be moved

Barrow limitations: schist pathway to allow wheelbarrows laden with sand to be moved

Our desire to gain an in-depth understanding of the neighbourhood prompts us to empty all the houses and rooms of windblown sand every year. The windblown sand is both friend and foe. It is our ally as it backfills many rooms after we leave, saving us the hassle (and expense). Equally helpful is the scouring of surfaces and walls as its fills up: new walls, architectural relationships and even objects have come to light when we return each January.

But it is also our enemy: on days when it is too windy to keep features clean, or even to work at all. And this last 10 days, as we seek to empty every one of the deep rooms in the middle of our neighbourhood, I have been seeking to learn what works best.

Approach 1: shovel from room to room, towards waiting barrows. New excavations to the right hamper access.

Approach 1: shovel from room to room, towards waiting barrows. New excavations to the right hamper access.

A chain-of-bucket-throwing-men? A constant flow of bucket-carrying men? Or simply shovelling sand from one room, over the walls into the next, and so on until they reach waiting wheelbarrows?

Approach 2: chain of full buckets from E13.14.3 along left line of men yesterday, returning empty along the right line

Approach 2: chain of full buckets from E13.14.3 along left line of men yesterday, returning empty along the right line

The task is dispiriting for us and the workmen – we counted a high of 26 buckets of spoil removed every two minutes at one point; I dare say the average is considerably less.

Our next task is to clean the floors and walls in these rooms, and hopefully allow Susie Green from UCL to start photographing for our three-dimensional modelling of the ancient buildings…

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Amara West 2013: E13.13, the story of a room

Digging deep: workmen in E13.13Mat Dalton, University of Cambridge

This week marked the completion of excavation in room E13.13 (better known to us as ‘the oven court’), a task three years in the making. But why has this relatively small 3.2 x four metre space occupied so much of our time on site?

A clue lies in the amount of paperwork generated: 135 archaeological features (contexts) at the final count! This includes 11 bread ovens, seven grain grinding emplacements and at least 20 main ‘firepits’ – more on these later – within a one metre thick occupation deposit. This density of features can be explained by the perpetually rising level of E13.13’s soft dirt floor, most likely as a result of sediment blowing into the (probably un-roofed) room from the town and desert. This must have required the levelling and replacement of features engulfed by mounting sediments, which has created a rich stratigraphic sequence of features.

A surface phase of E13.13 showing three ovens, two grinding emplacements with mud plaster basins, and two firepits.

A surface phase of E13.13 showing three ovens, two grinding emplacements with mud plaster basins, and two firepits.

For most of its use-life the oven court seems to have provided food preparation and cooking facilities for first one (E13.3) and then two adjacent houses, E13.3-N and E13.3-S. The room’s history is closely linked to these two houses.

At first neither house had any internal baking or grinding facilities and the court saw more intensive use, generally with at least three ovens and two grinding emplacements operational at any one time. Preparing flour and baking bread were probably daily activities at Amara West, and it is not hard to imagine this semi-public space as a hub of social interaction between the two houses’ residents. Later, each house installed separate internal ovens and grinding emplacements and the court was walled off, then reopened and used for a little longer, before finally being sealed for good and apparently becoming the neighbourhood rubbish dump.

Plan of neighbourhood E13, with oven court E13.13 to south of two small houses

Plan of neighbourhood E13, with oven court E13.13 to south of two small houses

Ovens and grinding emplacements are found in houses all over the site; a more novel feature of the oven court is the aforementioned firepits. These shallow depressions were cut into the room’s floor adjacent to walls, and were apparently used for burning wood to produce charcoal. This charcoal may have been destined for immediate use in adjacent bread ovens, but could have also been stockpiled or used elsewhere in the house. The firepits also seem to have served a second more expedient purpose: a convenient spot to dispose of ashy waste from the ovens.

The cyclical nature of wood burning and oven waste disposal has formed complex layers over time, leaving us with an archive of well-preserved carbonised plant remains. We have intensively sampled these deposits over the past three years of excavation to recover this material, and have also collected sediments from these and other contexts in the room to extract phytoliths, microscopic plant skeletons that can provide evidence for foodstuffs such as wheat and barley – long since rotted away. Study of these strands of evidence has already begun to tell us much about the kind of food people were eating and how they were preparing it, as well as what fuels they were burning. This data also gives us proxy evidence for the character of the natural environment around Amara West, and how its inhabitants utilised and affected it.

Digging deep: workmen in E13.13

Digging deep: workmen in E13.13

As we finished excavating the oven court over the past couple of days, an interesting surprise has emerged from beneath the room’s final occupation deposits. A very early structure, running parallel to the town’s enclosure wall, might be the corner of a large storage complex first exposed by the Egypt Exploration Society in 1947-48 (E.12.6). The shift in use from possible official storage to domestic usage in this area fits well into the larger-scale trend of Amara West’s evolution from planned administrative town to a form more organically modified to suit its inhabitants’ needs.

A small room like E13.13 that provides such a wide range of data on life in the ancient town doesn’t come along every day.

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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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Amara West 2013: excavating house E13.5

View over house E13.5, with front room to leftSarah Doherty, Cardiff University and Shadia Abdu Rabo, National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums

House E13.5 is located just north of the official residence of the Deputy of Kush (E13.2), excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society in 1947-50. It is the eastern-most visible in a run of four small dwellings facing onto a narrow alley. The walls had been planned by Mary Shepperson in 2010, showing five rooms, but excavation of these rooms only began this Saturday, under our supervision.

View over house E13.5, with front room to left

View over house E13.5, with front room to left

At the front of the house Shadia excavated windblown sand mixed with mudbrick rubble, which contained many fragments of mud bearing the impressions of the wood, grass and matting used to construct a roof over the space. The excavation can seem futile, as our 6-10 workmen remove windblown sand only to see the north wind bring in yet more of it!

AW_2013_shadia_544

Shadia recording brick rubble around the front door of house E13.5

The front door to the house had partly collapsed, with remnants of brickwork and stone doorjambs scattered nearby. The last floor in use within the room, probably just over 3,000 years old, was very well preserved: a smooth clay surface, with a circular hearth in the centre, and a pottery stand set into the ground to one side.

Detail of inscribed jamb, re-used as a threshold stone, bearing the name Horhotep

Detail of inscribed jamb, re-used as a threshold stone,
bearing the name Horhotep

Meanwhile, Sarah started the business of clearing the middle and rear of the house, including a room fitted with a low brick bench (mastaba). Remnants of three stone doors were revealed in this part of the house, and all three employed stonework recycled from an earlier building, perhaps also a house.

These include an inscribed doorjamb giving the titles of a man named Horhotep, and an inscribed door lintel; both were re-used as threshold stones. The builders of house E13.5 were clearly not particularly interested in the old inscriptions – in one doorway, two old inscribed doorjambs had been erected upside down. Perhaps these had then been plastered and painted, but any such decoration has been eroded away.

There is certainly a lot happening in this intriguing part of inner Amara West. After clearing the staircase room, we’ll soon be busy documenting the house (plans, drawings, photographs) before we remove the floors to reveal an earlier phase of occupation.

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