British Museum blog

Amara West 2012: looking back on the season in the cemetery


Michaela Binder, Durham University

After seven weeks of excavation we can look back to a very successful season in the cemetery at Amara West. In total, the two field school members (Åshild Vagene and Mohamed Saad), Laurel Engbring, Milena Grybowska and I were able to excavate and document 11 graves.

Multiple burials in the eastern chamber of G314

Multiple burials in the eastern chamber of G314

All of them proved to be complex features with one or two burial chambers used for the interment of several individuals – up to 15 in the case of G314. But even though the general outline of the graves appears similar, they differ from each other considerably in terms of size, shape and orientation. The results of this season confirm our picture of a mixed culture combining elements of Nubian and Egyptian funerary customs.

Copper alloy mirror (F8448) found within G309

Copper alloy mirror (F8448) found within G309

G309, the newly discovered pyramid tomb, attests to the wealth of some individuals living at Amara West. The use of a pyramid superstructure, the decorated coffin and a copper alloy mirror, only discovered on the very last day of the season, show that the people buried in this grave chose to be buried surrounded by recognisably Pharaonic objects and architecture. However, this does not prove they were Egyptians – they could also have been acculturated Nubians, or descendants of intermarriage between Egyptians and Nubians.

The discovery of an Early or Middle Kerma tumulus, dug by Åshild and Mohamed, shows that the area of Amara West had already been occupied long before the establishment of the Egyptian town. Even though the site of settlement changed, the inhabitants of the Pharaonic settlement chose to use the same burial grounds, which would have been demarcated by the prominent Kerma tumuli back then just as they are today. Was the cemetery placed here, over a Kerma burial ground, to underline Egyptian domination of the area perhaps?

Excavation area – Due to the strong wind the graves had to be covered with tarpaulin for most of the season

Excavation area – Due to the strong wind the graves had to be covered with tarpaulin for most of the season

The preservation of organic remains allows for more refined insights into funerary customs during the New Kingdom and post-New Kingdom period. As an example, we can differentiate different types of funerary containers such as coffins, different mats, textiles and burial beds.

Abdu Yassin, Hassan Awad and Milena Grybowska excavating in G309

Abdu Yassin, Hassan Awad and Milena Grybowska excavating in G309

The coming months will see work on the large amount of drawings, notes and context sheets, while the human remains excavated this season are already on their way to London where I will again spend a few months studying them. This time I will be joined by Åshild and Mohamed for two weeks as part of the field school project.

Many thanks to the excavators, workmen and everyone else who helped make 2012 a very successful season.

Leave a comment or tweet using #amarawest

Find out more about the Amara West research project

Filed under: Amara West, Archaeology, Research

2 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. ritaroberts says:

    This excavation is extremely interesting.I will look forward to further news about the burials and archaeological finds. Thankyou for sharing. Good luck in London on your post excavation work.

    Like

  2. reindeer00 says:

    I have really enjoyed following the blog about this excavation. Good luck with the post ex. Thank you for your outreach.

    Like

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The next gallery in our #MuseumOfTheFuture series is Room 67: Korea. The Korea Foundation Gallery is currently closed for refurbishment and will reopen on 16 December 2014. You can find out more about the refurb at koreabritishmuseum.tumblr.com  The unique culture of Korea combines a strong sense of national identity with influences from other parts of the Far East. Korean religion, language, geography and everyday life were directly affected by the country’s geographic position, resulting in a rich mix of art and artefacts.
Objects on display in Room 67 date from prehistory to the present day and include ceramics, metalwork, sculpture, painting, screen-printed books and illuminated manuscripts.
A reconstruction of a traditional sarangbang, or scholar’s study, is also on display and was built by contemporary Korean craftsmen. This is Room 66, Ethiopia and Coptic Egypt. It's the next gallery space in our #MuseumOfTheFuture series.
By the 4th century AD, Christianity was flourishing in both Egypt and Ethiopia. Christian Egyptians became known as the Copts (from the Greek name for Egyptians) and the church maintained strong links with its Ethiopian counterparts. Since antiquity, Ethiopia had been a major trade route, linking Egypt and the Mediterranean with India and the Far East.
The resulting history of cultural exchange and religious diversity is illustrated through objects in Room 66, which reflect the faiths and identities which coexisted in Egypt and Ethiopia. Objects from towns, monasteries and settlements range from decorated textiles and architectural elements to sculpture and ceramics. It's time for our next #MuseumOfTheFuture gallery. This is Room 65, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Sudan, Egypt and Nubia. Ancient Nubia, the Nile Valley upstream of the First Cataract, now straddles the border between Egypt and Sudan. Rich and vibrant cultures developed in this region at the same time as Pharaonic Egypt. Among them was the earliest sub-Saharan urban culture in Africa, which was based at Kerma.
These cultures traded extensively with Egypt and for two brief periods Nubian kingdoms dominated their northern neighbour.
The objects on display in Room 65 illustrate these indigenous pagan, Christian and Islamic cultures and the interaction between Nubia and Egypt. This is our next gallery space in the #MuseumOfTheFuture series. It's Room 64, the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Gallery of Early Egypt. Rapid advances in the technology and social organisation of Egypt during the 5th millennium BC produced a material culture of increasing sophistication. Further innovations followed in about 3100 BC when the separate Predynastic peoples of Upper and Lower Egypt were united under a single ruler. The resulting increase in wealth and strong central control led to dramatic achievements in architecture, writing and fine goods, culminating in the building of the Great Pyramids of Giza in around 2600 BC.
Objects on display in Room 64 illustrate the cultural, technological and political development of early civilisation in Egypt throughout this period. In this picture you can see Gebelein Man, a mummy who was naturally preserved in the desert sands, and who used to have the unofficial nickname of Ginger (although the Museum doesn't use this name). In the background you can see an interactive virtual autopsy of the mummy which was installed in the newly refurbished gallery last year. It's Toulouse-Lautrec's 150th birthday! Here's his poster for a Parisian cabaret 
#history #art #artist #Paris Although this gilded cartonnage mask of a mummy conveys vitality and alertness, the features are more bland and idealised than those of other masks. The eyes, ears, nose, mouth and chin are highly stylised and not fully integrated into the face. The collar, the wig and the necklace with an ankh (‘life’) pendant, are attributes showing that the deceased has entered the afterlife and been assimilated with the gods. A winged scarab beetle on the top and images of gods on the back also emphasise the funerary character of the mask.

The use of gold was connected to the belief that the sun god Re, with whom the mummy hoped to be united, had flesh of pure gold. The back of the wig is decorated in many colours, with a row of deities, a ba and falcon with outstretched wings and seven short columns of near-unintelligible hieroglyphs.

See this cartonnage mask in our exhibition #8mummies – now extended until 19 April 2015.
#MummyMonday #mummies
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