British Museum blog

Amara West 2012: questions and challenges in house E13.7


Mat Dalton, archaeologist

This season at Amara West, a team of workmen from Ernetta Island and myself will set out to answer some of the intriguing questions raised by last years’ excavations of the unusual house E13.7.

View of white-painted walls in house E13.7, with walls of later E13.4 above

View of white-painted walls in house E13.7, with walls of later E13.4 above

While most houses so far excavated at Amara are axial – that is, a series of rooms laid out in a row with only one or two entrances to each – E13.7 is radial. The house, a neighbour to the palatial Residence of the Deputy of Kush (the most important position in the Egyptian administration of Upper Nubia), has a large central room (E13.7.3) and no less than five separate doorways leading from it, not to mention a black and white painted wall decoration motif that is so far unique at the site.

View of the main room (E13.7.3) with column base at the centre

View of the main room (E13.7.3) with column base at the centre

Where do these doorways lead? How large was the complete house, and what kind of activities took place within it? Why was it so completely demolished and built over by much smaller houses?

Trying to answer these questions will be quite an undertaking; a lot of later overlying buildings and deposits will have to be examined first. In the south a new ‘street’ – the size of a narrow lane to those of us freshly arrived from London – was even built over the top of the house after it was demolished. An extra challenge (well known to my colleagues Shadia Abdu Rabo and Charlie Vallance from the 2011 excavation season) is caused by the pits dug in more recent times to extract material from the old walls to make new mudbricks.

Plan of house E13.7 at the end of the 2011 season

Plan of house E13.7 at the end of the 2011 season

Mudbrick walls are perfect trench supports, keeping sand out of our excavation areas. With these mined away in the south of our excavation area, we have had to engage in a running battle with the endless loose sand threatening to overwhelm the trench. Sandbag walls engineered yesterday by workman Gazafi Mohammed Ahmed are currently keeping the sand at bay.

Sandbag engineering at Amara West

Sandbag engineering at Amara West

Similar structures (though usually built of mudbrick or recycled stone) are also found in the doorways of ancient houses, where they would have stopped windblown sand and rising street dirt from creeping inside. A helpful reminder of how the problems faced by Amara West’s ancient inhabitants and its modern excavators are sometimes not so very different…

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Filed under: Amara West, Archaeology

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  1. Rebecca says:

    Great photography! I hope you don’t get buried in sand.

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