Amara West is an ongoing excavation done through the British Museum in Sudan that has been taking place since 2008. It is located in Upper Nubia, and dates from 1500 to 1070 BCE. The site is under examination in order to understand what domestic life was like for the people living there, as well as build a more nuanced interpretation of Egyptian-Nubian interactions. More explicit goals regarding daily life including discovering where the inhabitants came from, what food they cooked and ate, their health, and any craft specialization that took place at the site.
Amara West is located near the administrative town of Kush, a site that is extremely important in understanding the relationship between the Nubians and the Egyptians. The town itself was built during the reign of Sety I, the second pharaoh of the 19th dynasty who began his rule in 1290 BCE. This is evidenced by the appearance of Sety I’s cartouche in the mud-bricks that make up the houses. The town was well planned, laid out in rectangles, and are densely packed. The only easily identifiable structure was the governor’s house, which was set aside for the administrative head who would have been the liaison to the ruling pharaoh in Egypt. These deputies were often Nubian born, but raised from a young age in Egyptian royal courts, and were fiercely loyal to the pharaoh. The site also includes a number of granaries, chapels, food processing buildings, as well as some unknown circular buildings. In Egypt, this was a period of major revitalization and renewal following the rebellion against the Hyksos conquerors. Control in Nubia was important in order to show the renewed strength of the Egyptian nation, as well as gain control over the gold and exotics trade routes that came from the South (Bard 2008).
In addition to the excavation of the settlement, there are two contemporaneous cemeteries also under examination. The graves found at Cemetery C were highly disturbed, however two intact graves were found during this past week. They were recovered in stone cut niches, and appear to have been graves that were used multiple times, as there were piles of older period individuals piled next to the more formal grave. The grave is fairly small, suggesting it was for younger individuals, and the individual was originally buried in a wood coffin. An interesting artifact found with the body is reminiscent of the household god Bes, but the face is more African in influence (Binder 2011).
At cemetery D, an important elite burial was thoroughly examined and serves as a good contrast to the C cemetery. The tomb consists of a small pyramid structure as well as a rectangular funerary chapel. Within a deep shaft in the pyramid were two separate round burial chambers: one contained a man and a woman, and the other included five individuals whose bones were highly disturbed and commingled. The artifacts found with the bodies, and the burial manner of mummification, wooden coffins and shabtis points to at least the two undisturbed remains representing elite during the 19th dynasty during Rameses II’s reign.
The excavation has a blog on the British Museum website and does give updates on the current status of the work being done. It will be interesting to see how the cemetery excavations continue. There are a number of things that are going to be potentially revealing about this dig. First, by doing a combination excavation of the domestic settlement as well as the cemeteries, information on the daily life of the people, as well as the individuals themselves can be fruitfully combined. By combining these two lines of contemporaneous data we can actually put the individuals back into their daily lives and have a better interpretation of what it meant to live there. Second, the differences in the two cemeteries, as well as the differences between the different household sizes, will enrich our understanding of social stratification in this settlement. The interactions between Nubia and Egypt are complex, and at sites like this that are an amalgamation, it is important to understand how these overlapping identities and roles affected the past. Finally, the dig is fairly open about their findings, and are publishing online. The British Museum also has a history of working with institutions that will be open about the findings and welcome study of the collections. The museum and the archaeologists do a great job of describing what is known, what is not, and what they are looking to discover- it portrays archaeology in a very good light.
As someone who is extremely interested in this type of blending cultural encounter, I am looking most forward to learning about the two cemeteries and uncovering the patterns of mortuary style as well as the deviations. Egyptian rule over Nubia means that the burials are highly Egyptian influenced, so it is important to see if a strictly Nubian identity is portrayed in any of these burials. As more information becomes available, I hope that a comparison of Amara West against a strictly Egyptian and strictly Nubian cemetery in a similar period will be possible. I think we could learn a great deal by comparing the changes in cemeteries during this period to see how ideology, social status, gender roles, and other cultural variables were changed. So archaeologists in the Sudan… keep digging and keep blogging, we look forward to hearing more!
Bard, Kathryn. 2008. Introduction to the Archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Blackwell Publishing.
British Museum. 2011. Electronic Document. http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/research_projects/featured_project_amara_west/
Binder, Michael. 2011. British Museum. Electronic Document. http://blog.britishmuseum.org/2011/01/24/progress-in-the-cemeteries/