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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Edward Burne-Jones was born #onthisday in 1833. This watercolour from his ‘Flower Book’ is titled ‘White Garden’. This was a name for Atriplex hortensis, a small garden plant that has edible leaves. In this painting Burne-Jones has created an imaginary ‘white garden’, populated with lilies that are being picked by two white-clad angelic figures. Like other figures in his works, they appear dressed in classically inspired white robes, with their blonde hair tied back.
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