As part of a wider international project investigating the evolution of the Nile and its major tributaries over the last 30,000 years (funded by the Australian Research Council since 2008, and more recently by The Leverhulme Trust), we have been reconstructing past river environments, channel movements, and flooding in the desert Nile of Northern Sudan.
We are especially interested in the impact that environmental change has had on riverine societies over the last 7,000 years or so.
Our research has focussed on two sections of the Sudanese Nile and involves collaboration with two British Museum field projects. The first is centred on Dongola, between the fourth and third Nile cataracts, and the second at Amara West.
The primary aim of our work at Amara West is to establish the relationship between the settlement of the New Kingdom town (about 1290-1070 BC), which is located on a former island within the River Nile, and the river channels that surround it.
During a reconnaissance visit in 2009 we began to investigate the sedimentary record preserved in the now abandoned channel immediately to the north of the town.
Two key questions we are hoping to answer include:
- Was the channel flowing during the New Kingdom as suggested by the town layout?
- Did the drying up of the channel affect the viability of settlement at Amara West?
This year a four metre-deep pit, shored up with 82 sandbags, was dug into the sediments infilling the now dry channel, which revealed a detailed record of past Nile floods.
On the basis of preliminary dating of sediment samples collected in 2009, this sequence begins around 1100 BC, close to the end of Egyptian occupation of the area, and spans several centuries.
Additional samples have been collected in the last few days to provide more precise dating for the drying out of the channel. These will allow us to better understand the relationship between changing river environments and the archaeological record of Amara West.