British Museum blog

Looking back on the 2011 season in the cemeteries at Amara West

Michaela Binder, Durham University

After seven weeks in Sudan, we’ve just returned to England, and are looking back on a very successful season full of interesting new results. During the 41 days of excavation, Dyan Semple, Carina Summerfield-Hill and I were able to excavate 25 graves, 42 more or less complete skeletons and a large range of small finds and pottery.

Most importantly, in the chamber tomb G234 we found evidence that Cemetery C was already in use during the New Kingdom, much earlier than previously thought.

Tumulus graves G238 and G239

The last few days at Amara West were quite busy, as is usual in excavation projects like this. On one hand, all the fieldwork has to be finished.

My work at the end of the season focused on a slightly elevated area with several small shallow burial mounds (tumuli) made up of scattered schist stones and alluvial silt. In the three graves we excavated, the dead were also buried in side-niches at the bottom of a vertical shaft. However, the size and depth of the tombs (up to 1.8 metres) as well as the presence of the superstructures distinguish them from the other niche burials found further north in the cemetery.

Carved flowers on a fragment of a wooden pigment container

Even though the graves were also disturbed and looted, they still yielded ceramic vessel fragments and a few objects, among them pieces of an ivory plate and a wooden pigment container decorated with carvings of lotus flowers.

It is possible that the prominent location and size of these graves indicates that they were meant for the burial of individuals from a higher social class.

Packing skeletal material for travel

At the same time, everything back at the house had to be packed and stored away. The skeletons excavated during this season had to be wrapped and packed in crates, not always an easy task, in order to make sure they are safely transported back to England.

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US artist John Sloan was born #onthisday in 1871. 
John Sloan, painter, printmaker and teacher, first took up etching as a self-taught adolescent.  Moving to New York in 1904, he became part of a group of eight artists, better known as “The Ashcan School”, who focused on creating images of urban realism. Between 1891 and 1940 Sloan produced some 300 etchings. He was also one of the first chroniclers of the American scene and wrote about printmaking and the etching technique.
This etching comes from the series of 10 prints entitled 'New York City Life', recording the lives of the ordinary inhabitants in less affluent areas of Manhattan. The prints had a mixed reception at the time and a number were rejected from an exhibition of the American Watercolor Society as ‘vulgar’ and ‘indecent’. #August is named after the Roman emperor Augustus. Before 8 BC the Romans called it Sextilis! 
This head once formed part of a statue of the emperor Augustus (ruled 27 BC – AD 14). In 31 BC he defeated Mark Antony and Cleopatra at the battle of Actium and took possession of Egypt, which became a Roman province. The writer Strabo tells us that statues of Augustus were erected in Egyptian towns near the first cataract of the Nile at Aswan and that an invading Kushite army looted many of them in 25 BC.
Although Roman counter-attackers reclaimed many of the statues, they did not reach Meroë, where this head was buried beneath the steps of a native temple dedicated to Victory. It seems likely that the head, having been cut from its statue, was placed there deliberately so as to be permanently below the feet of its Meroitic captors.
The head of Augustus appears larger than life, with perfect proportions based upon Classical Greek notions of ideal human form. His calm distant gaze, emphasised with inset eyes of glass and stone, give him an air of quiet, assured strength. Coins and statues were the main media for propagating the image of the Roman emperor. This statue, like many others throughout the Empire, was made as a continuous reminder of the all-embracing power of Rome and its emperor. English sculptor Henry Moore was born #onthisday in 1898.
Drawing played a major role in Henry Moore's work throughout his career. He used it to generate and develop ideas for sculpture, and to create independent works in their own right.
During the 1930s the range and variety of his drawing expanded considerably, starting with the 'Transformation Drawings' in which he explored the metamorphosis of natural, organic shapes into human forms. At the end of the decade he began to focus on the relationship between internal and external forms, his first sculpture of this nature being 'Helmet' (Tate Collections) of 1939.
This drawing titled ‘Two Women: Drawing for sculpture combining wood and metal’ was based on a pencil study entitled ‘Ideas for Lead Sculpture’. It reflects his awareness of surrealism and psychoanalytical theory as well his abiding interest in ethnographic material and non-European sculpture; the particular reference in this context is to a malangan figure (malangan is a funeral ritual cycle) from New Ireland province in Papua New Guinea, which had attracted his interest in the British Museum. 
Henry Moore, Two Women: Drawing for sculpture combining wood and metal. England, 1939. Here's another fabulous view of the Great Court captured by @whatinasees at our instagramer event #regram #repost
Check out all of the photos at #emptyBM Vincent van Gogh died #onthisday in 1890. Here's a print of his only known etching. It depicts his doctor, Dr Paul Gachet, seated in the garden of his house.
#vanGogh #etching Beatrix Potter was born #onthisday in 1866. Here are some of her flopsy bunnies! 🐰
#BeatrixPotter
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