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: (ancient) snakes in the town

Scarab (F9499) with name of Tuthmosis III flanked by cobrasMarie Vandenbeusch, Geneva University

Amara West team members have encountered a number of snakes over recent years – in the house and in the ancient buildings we are excavating – but they must have been a part of life for the ancient inhabitants too.

Detail of a hieratic ostracon (F7168) with depiction of a cobra

Detail of a hieratic ostracon (F7168) with depiction of a cobra

Snakes are prominent in pharaonic Egypt: in texts and representations, as gods and protective entities, or as dangerous and malevolent creatures.

Scarab (F9499) with name of Tuthmosis III flanked by cobras

Scarab (F9499) with name of
Tuthmosis III flanked by cobras

The Egypt Exploration Society excavators discovered snake skeletons in a small building outside the eastern town wall in the 1940s, some buried in pots. A report on the snake remains concluded they may have been pythons.

Our project has yet to find snake remains, but cobras are the most frequently represented animals depicted on the objects we find. Usually, these are symbols of protection or power.

 

Faience figurine of Pataikos with snake held to mouth (F9467)

Faience figurine of Pataikos with snake
held to mouth (F9467)

On one scarab found in Grave 201, a pair of cobras flank the name of King Tuthmosis III.

A cobra also protects the king, shown as a sphinx, on a finely-carved scarab found in house E13.8 in the town.

Cobras are not only found on scarabs: a hieratic ostracon found this year bears a large depiction of a cobra, while a small faience figurine of the god Pataikos also features a snake.

This small figurine of a god is dense with imagery, wearing a scarab on his head and a knife in each hand, and with a snake across his mouth: protective and repulsive at the same time.

The amulet might have been worn by its owner as protection against evil spirits.

 


 

Most intriguing is a thin cobra in copper alloy found in the back room of house E13.8.

Copper alloy object representing a cobra (F5693)

Copper alloy object representing a cobra (F5693)

An unusual artefact: was it part of a vessel handle? Or a fitting for a statue? Answers might be found after the season, when we have time to research publications and collections for parallels.

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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