British Museum blog

Amara West 2012: street life in the ancient town


Mat Dalton, archaeologist

Two weeks into excavations in the street (E13.12) outside house E13.4 at Amara West have helped answer some questions raised during last year’s season, confirmed our thoughts about major building phases in this part of the town, and provided some tantalising new clues as to how life in this neighbourhood changed over time.

The six workmen in my team and I have so far removed around 60cm of deposits from the street, which we have exposed along a 14 metre stretch.

View west down street, with door into house E13.4, and pit through street deposits

View west down street, with door into house E13.4, and pit through street deposits

In some ways we are lucky to have a huge, late pit slicing through the street; this cut gives us a preview of the deposits we will remove, including their thickness and probable formation processes. This side-on view is particularly informative, showing us the street is composed of hundreds (if not thousands) of laminated wind-deposited lenses (very thin layers) of silt and sand.

These deposits built up over time as sand and silt eroded from houses over the street, people dumped sweepings from their houses outdoors, and sand blew in with the strong north-westerly winds from the Sahara desert.

 


 

The street deposits are packed with small potsherds, eroded by foot traffic and exposure to the elements. There are also the likely remnants of animal manure and waste from craft production, including small scattered spreads of red and white pigment around the door into house E13.4. The street functioned as something of an informal, small-scale rubbish dump.

Upright schist stone (right) protecting outside corner of house E13.4

Upright schist stone (right) protecting outside corner of house E13.4

On three wall corners within the street we have found evidence that large upstanding stones were put in place to stop street traffic from damaging the vulnerable mudbrick walls. On one corner in particular, the smooth and rounded damage seems to match up well with the shape and height of a donkey; it doesn’t take much to imagine the narrow streets of Amara West bustling with human and animal traffic.

Sandstone doorway from street into house E13.4 (walls of house E13.7 visible beneath)

Sandstone doorway from street into house E13.4 (walls of house E13.7 visible beneath)

Underneath the softer, silty street deposits we have encountered a thick flat layer of hard building rubble, apparently dumped into the street at the same time as house E13.7 was levelled and filled with a very similar material to allow construction of later house E13.4. This new house required several new doorways from the resurfaced street. As this major re-arrangement of the neighbourhood occurred not only in one house, but also in adjacent public spaces (like the street), we must wonder what could have prompted such a major rebuilding exercise that would have clearly affected many people’s everyday lives.

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Here's another great photo from our instagramer event, a #tired_portrait in the Great Court by @zoecaldwell.
Check out #emptyBM to see all their amazing photos! 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
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