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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This is an exquisitely decorated purse lid from the Anglo-Saxon burial at #SuttonHoo, which was brought to the world's attention #onthisday in 1939. In this object the quality of craftsmanship can really be appreciated. The lid is only 19cm in length but it must have been incredibly valuable. The outstanding nature of the finds at Sutton Hoo points to this being the burial of a leading figure in East Anglia, possibly a king. The landowner Mrs Edith Petty donated the discovery to the British Museum in 1939.
#SuttonHoo #Gold #Archaeology #AngloSaxon Today we’re celebrating the unearthing of the beautiful Anglo-Saxon objects from #SuttonHoo, which were found #onthisday in 1939. Arguably the most iconic of all the objects, this helmet was an astonishingly rare find. Meticulous reconstruction has allowed us to see its full shape and some of the complexity of the fine detailing after it was damaged in the burial chamber. The gold areas of the helmet reveal a dragon or bird-like figure – the moustache forms the tail, the nose forms the body and the eyebrows form the wings, with a head just above. Another animal head can be seen facing down towards this.
#SuttonHoo #AngloSaxon #Gold #Helmet #Archaeology #onthisday in 1939, just before the outbreak of the Second World War, archaeologists discovered the treasures of #SuttonHoo. It was one of the most important historical discoveries of the 20th century, and contained a wealth of Anglo-Saxon objects which greatly enhanced the understanding of the early medieval period. One of the most significant things to be found was an undisturbed ship-burial, the excavation of which can be seen in this photo. The 27-metre-long impression the ship left in the earth is highly detailed and was painstakingly recorded. The centre of the ship contained a burial chamber housing some spectacular objects – we’ll be sharing some highlights today.
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Our #AfricanRockArt image project team have now completed cataloguing 19,000 rock art images from Northern, Eastern and Southern Africa, and will be completing work on sites from Southern African countries in the final phase of the project. Follow the link in our bio to find out more about our African #rockart image project and the incredible images being catalogued.
Photograph © TARA/David Coulson. Our #AfricanRockArt project team is cataloguing and uploading around 25,000 digital images of rock art from throughout the continent. Working with digital photographs has allowed the Museum to use new technologies to study, preserve, and enhance the rock art, while leaving it in situ.

As part of the cataloguing process, the project team document each photograph, identifying what is depicted. Sometimes images are faded or unclear. Using photo manipulation software, images can be run through a process that enhances the pigments. By focusing on different sets of colours, we can now see the layers that were previously hidden to the naked eye.

This painted panel, from Kondoa District in #Tanzania, shows the white outline of an elephant’s head at the right, along with some figures in red that it is possible to highlight with digital enhancement.

Tanzania contains some of the densest concentrations of rock art in East Africa, mainly paintings found in the Kondoa area and adjoining Lake Eyasi basin. The oldest of these paintings are attributed to hunter-gatherers and may be 10,000 years old.

Follow the link in our bio to learn more about the project and see stunning #rockart from Africa. This week we’re highlighting the work of our #AfricanRockArt image project. The project team are now in the third year of cataloguing, and have uploaded around 19,000 digital photographs of rock art from all over #Africa to the Museum’s collection online database.

This photograph shows an engraving of a large, almost life-sized elephant, found on the Messak Plateau in #Libya. This region is home to tens of thousands of depictions, and is best known for larger-than-life-size engravings of animals such as elephants, rhino and a now extinct species of buffalo. This work of rock art most likely comes from the Early Hunter Period and could be up to 12,000 years old.

Follow the link in our bio and explore 30,000 years of stunning rock art from Africa. © TARA/David Coulson.
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