British Museum blog

Amara West 2012: street life in the ancient town


Mat Dalton, archaeologist

Two weeks into excavations in the street (E13.12) outside house E13.4 at Amara West have helped answer some questions raised during last year’s season, confirmed our thoughts about major building phases in this part of the town, and provided some tantalising new clues as to how life in this neighbourhood changed over time.

The six workmen in my team and I have so far removed around 60cm of deposits from the street, which we have exposed along a 14 metre stretch.

View west down street, with door into house E13.4, and pit through street deposits

View west down street, with door into house E13.4, and pit through street deposits

In some ways we are lucky to have a huge, late pit slicing through the street; this cut gives us a preview of the deposits we will remove, including their thickness and probable formation processes. This side-on view is particularly informative, showing us the street is composed of hundreds (if not thousands) of laminated wind-deposited lenses (very thin layers) of silt and sand.

These deposits built up over time as sand and silt eroded from houses over the street, people dumped sweepings from their houses outdoors, and sand blew in with the strong north-westerly winds from the Sahara desert.

 


 

The street deposits are packed with small potsherds, eroded by foot traffic and exposure to the elements. There are also the likely remnants of animal manure and waste from craft production, including small scattered spreads of red and white pigment around the door into house E13.4. The street functioned as something of an informal, small-scale rubbish dump.

Upright schist stone (right) protecting outside corner of house E13.4

Upright schist stone (right) protecting outside corner of house E13.4

On three wall corners within the street we have found evidence that large upstanding stones were put in place to stop street traffic from damaging the vulnerable mudbrick walls. On one corner in particular, the smooth and rounded damage seems to match up well with the shape and height of a donkey; it doesn’t take much to imagine the narrow streets of Amara West bustling with human and animal traffic.

Sandstone doorway from street into house E13.4 (walls of house E13.7 visible beneath)

Sandstone doorway from street into house E13.4 (walls of house E13.7 visible beneath)

Underneath the softer, silty street deposits we have encountered a thick flat layer of hard building rubble, apparently dumped into the street at the same time as house E13.7 was levelled and filled with a very similar material to allow construction of later house E13.4. This new house required several new doorways from the resurfaced street. As this major re-arrangement of the neighbourhood occurred not only in one house, but also in adjacent public spaces (like the street), we must wonder what could have prompted such a major rebuilding exercise that would have clearly affected many people’s everyday lives.

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Esther Mahlangu (b. 1935), detail of BMW Art Car 12, 1991. © Esther Mahlangu. Photo © BMW Group Archives.
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Find out more about our #SouthAfricanArt exhibition by clicking on the link in our bio.

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#rockart #SouthAfrica #painting
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