British Museum blog

Amara West 2012: excavating a burial

Milena Grzybowska, physical anthropologist

Once documentation of the chapel and pyramid of grave G309 was complete, we started excavation of the substructure. As expected, a shaft leads to two burial chambers carved into schist bedrock, all arranged on an east-west axis.

Milena excavating at the base of the shaft in G309

Milena excavating at the base of the shaft in G309

However, some details of construction were unusual for this cemetery: a schist slab was used as a door jamb for the western chamber, and the shaft was partly lined with mudbrick and then plastered.

Near the base of the 2.5 metre deep shaft, an intact burial was found. This skeleton of a 15-20 year-old female was found in a prone position (lying on her front), extended with her arms placed along her sides. This suggests the body was tightly wrapped in a shroud – or possibly mummified.

The woman was found on a mat, probably of reed, which will be confirmed by botanical analysis. Blue, red and white beads were found around her neck, while both of her hands were adorned with bracelets of faience beads.

A scarab, found in her left hand, is carved with a depiction of two baboons greeting the sun – symbolised by an obelisk.

Establishing the sex of an individual is often problematic in osteology, but the skeleton of a foetus, found still within the pelvic area of the mother, left no doubts. According to a preliminary skeletal analysis, the baby reached the 28th week of its intrauterine life and did not exhibit any skeletal abnormalities.

Burial of a woman at the base of the shaft in G309

Burial of a woman at the base of the shaft in G309

The reason of death for both individuals might never be established. The foetus was found in a position not suggestive of a child-birth death, and ff the mother succumbed to some other pregnancy-related complications it might not leave evidence on the skeleton. A thorough analysis of potential pathological conditions identifiable in the mother’s remains might, however, shed some light on this matter in the future. For example, on the basis of healed porosity of the cranium and orbits, we might suspect that the mother had suffered and recovered from anaemia during her life.

Find out more about the Amara West research project

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You can now discover thousands of British Museum objects in partnership with @googleartproject at We’ve asked staff members to highlight their favourites and explain what makes them special. Chris Spring, Curator of Africa Collections, describes why he finds the ‘Throne of weapons’ so powerful. ‘This war memorial celebrates the ordinary people of Mozambique, many of them unarmed, who stood up to a culture of violence. It represents both a human tragedy and a human triumph. The Throne's essential humanity is suggested right away by its anthropomorphic qualities - it has arms, legs, a back and most importantly a face - actually two faces. My first reaction was that these faces are crying in pain, though they could also be seen as smiling faces finally freed from conflict. These anthropomorphic qualities also link it immediately to the arts of Africa, in which non-figurative objects such as chairs, stools, weapons, pots etc are seen as - and described as - human beings. The Throne has toured the world, taking its message of peace to schools, churches, shopping centres and even prisons – and of course, to museums and galleries.’ #MuseumOfTheWorld We’re celebrating our partnership with @googleartproject, and have asked curators to tell us about their favourite objects. Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings, explains why he chose this chalk drawing by Michelangelo. ‘One of the things I love about drawings is the way they sometimes allow a glimpse into the private, behind the scenes world of an artist, one unseen in finished works in paint or stone. An example of that is a red chalk drawing by Michelangelo of grotesque heads in red chalk that reveal that the Florentine Renaissance artist had a lively, if caustic, sense of humour. The three heads were probably drawn to amuse but at the same instruct his pupils, as the three studies show how slight changes can radically alter the reading of an image with the character and mood of each figure (paranoid anxiety; vacuous joy; and depressive gloom) signalled by the position and erectness of their donkey-like ears.  I wish my ears were as expressive.’ Discover many more incredible works of art in the Google Cultural Institute at

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J H Foley (1818–1874), Caractacus. Marble, 1856–1859. On loan from Guildhall Art Gallery/Mansion House, City of London. Some more #Movember inspiration! Here’s the Museum’s security team from 1902 photographed on the front steps. They include officers from the Metropolitan Police, and the London Fire Brigade (identified by their flat caps). We’re celebrating #Movember with Museum moustaches great and small. Here’s a #Movember fact: Peter the Great of Russia introduced a beard tax in 1698 and this token was given as proof of payment!

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