By Patricia Spencer. Published on Magazine Reviews, Egyptological 16th May 2012.
Our sincere thanks to Patricia Spencer (Egypt Exploration Society) for very kindly responding to a cry for help regarding the all-day colloquium “Recent Archaeological Fieldwork in Sudan,” held by the Sudan Archaeology Research Society at the British Museum (London, UK) on May 14th 2012. As I managed to miss it myself, I asked if anyone would be able to write it up for Egyptological and Dr Spencer was kind enough to do so (having also provided an excellent running commentary on her Twitter account throughout the day). Having read her write-up I do wish that I had been there!
The Sudan Archaeology Research Society deserves congratulation and support for organizing such events – the archaeology of the Sudan (including Nubia) is a growing field, but is still largely overshadowed by research into its more famous neighbour.
Speakers and topics were as follows:
- Vivian Davies – Introductory remarks
- Derek Welsby – Excavating an early Kerma cemetery in the Northern Dongola Reach
- Ruth Humphreys – A Kerma Culture? Observations on regional variation in Kerma funerary practice
- Jamie Woodward – New Records of Holocene Flooding in Northern Sudan
- Neil Munro – Aeolian dust and sand landforms in parts of the Sudan:
- origins and impacts on past and present land use
- Neal Spencer – The town at Amara West (2012): colour, dirt and urban space
- Michaela Binder – Cemetery D at Amara West – the 2012 field season
- Vincent Francigny – Preparing for the afterlife in the provinces of Meroe
- Cornelia Kleinitz – The Musawwarat Graffiti Project: shedding new light on the ancient graffiti of the Great Enclosure
- Mahmoud Suleiman – Excavations in the Meroitic cemetery at Berber
- Kate Spence – Fieldwork at Sesebi 2011-12
- Julie Anderson – Meroitic Building and Quarrying Techniques: a few observations
- Angelika Lohwasser – Wadi Abu Dom Itinerary – a survey project in the western Bayuda
Recent Archaeological Fieldwork in Sudan
Overview by Dr Patricia Spencer
The 2012 all-day colloquium of the Sudan Archaeological Research Society (http://www.sudarchrs.org.uk/) was held in the Stevenson Auditorium of the British Museum on Monday 14 May. This annual event concentrates on presenting up-to-the-minute reports of archaeological fieldwork, both that carried out by SARS itself and by other expeditions, British, Sudanese and from elsewhere, working in Sudan. The colloquium is always well-attended but this year the auditorium (which seats 142) seemed almost full, as numbers were boosted by colleagues in London for the meeting to be held at the Museum on the following day to discuss the additional Nile dams being built in Sudan. A summary of the proposed dams can be found at; http://tinyurl.com/cftedap and the appeal by the Sudanese Ministry for Antiquities with regard to the threatened archaeological sites is at: http://tinyurl.com/bnhluyf.
The proceedings were opened by Vivian Davies, and then Derek Welsby, of SARS and the British Museum, described the SARS fieldwork of the most recent season, when an early Kerma cemetery in the North Dongola Reach was excavated. He opened his talk with several views of the excavators battling with the strong dusty winds which had lasted for the whole eleven-week season and which meant that they had to erect small tents over individual burials to be able to clean the remains and photograph them. The team had excavated the whole cemetery which was not an elite one and contained no major burials but will provide valuable statistically valid information on the ages, sexes and pathology of the population of the area. Statistics featured in the following talk by Ruth Humphreys who had been a member of the team excavating the cemetery. Ruth is a PhD student in the Archaeology Dept at the University of Leicester and she discussed regional variations in Kerma funerary practice.
The next two talks looked at landscape formation when Jamie Woodward of Manchester University described ‘New Records of Holocene Flooding in North Sudan’ and Neil Munro of the Darfur Land Commission talked about ‘Aeolian dust and sand landforms in parts of the Sudan’. Both have worked with SARS teams and elsewhere in the region for many years and their work puts the archaeological sites into their natural contexts and shows the impact on settlements and cemeteries of natural phenomena. Neil Munro showed some photos of very impressive orange/brown dust-storms rolling in over modern buildings in Sudanese towns and also storms visible in satellite imagery, showing that they can often be traced back to one specific point of origin – mining activities, for example. Jamie Woodward’s talk concentrated on tracing the routes of ancient Nile channels and identifying areas where drifting sand and/or Nile floods, have overlain archaeological remains. His talk linked in with the next two, on Amara West, where there was an ancient Nile channel (long dried-up) to the north of the town, making it an island in antiquity.
Neal Spencer and Michaela Binder described the current British Museum excavations at Amara West (http://tinyurl.com/bl8ykxp), with Neal talking about the excavations in the town and Michaela those in Cemetery D. The town excavations in 2012 bordered on those of the Egypt Exploration Society in the late 1940s and one of their finds was a match-box left behind by the EES team! Successive building levels are being revealed with raised floors and blocked doorways as the use of buildings changed. The team have also found evidence of ancient painters at work, with sherds that were used as palettes and traces of painted decoration preserved on brick walls. In the cemetery Michaela’s work has confirmed, as originally suggested by the EES Field Director, H W Fairman, that the most important tombs were originally New Kingdom and were later re-used.
After a lunch break, the colloquium resumed with a summary by Vincent Francigny of French excavations at Sai and Sedeinga (www.sfdas.com/) and the evidence for different funerary practices during the Meroitic Period. He made an interesting comparison between the jewellery buried in Meroitic tombs in Sudan and that depicted on the Roman mummy portraits from the Fayum, showing that they both reflected the same cultural traditions, even though so far apart. Other similarities of motifs can also be discerned on Meroitic offering tables from Sudan and Roman Period ones from northern Egypt.
Cornelia Kleinitz of the Humboldt University, Berlin is Director of the Musawwarat Graffiti Project and she discussed the project’s study of the graffiti which they are recording exhaustively both by photography and epigraphically, cataloguing each block of Complex 300. The open access data set is available on the expedition’s website which is well worth browsing, although Cornelia stressed that it has yet to be updated with the latest results: http://musawwaratgraffiti.mpiwg-berlin.mpg.de/.
After a short ‘comfort break’ Mahmoud Suleiman of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) described the rescue excavation of a Meroitic cemetery at Berber, only located when the foundations were being dug for the construction of a plastics factory and demonstrating the need to identify and protect antiquities sites. He was followed by Kate Spence who talked about the University of Cambridge/Austrian Institute excavations at Sesebi, a town mainly associated with Akhenaten but which may have some earlier remains which the team are investigating where they can. Kate and her team had not originally intended to work in the temple, which was cleared by the EES in the 1930s, but, having noticed inaccuracies in the old plans, have now started to study and plan the temple in details, including the crypt – one of the few preserved in pharaonic temples.
Julie Anderson of the British Museum then talked about the work she co-directs with Salah el-Din Mohammed Ahmed of NCAM at Dangeil (http://tinyurl.com/ckgvhac) where the team are excavating and studying a brick Meroitic temple. Julie described the constructional techniques used and illustrated it with a short film of mud-brick making in Sudan today. The final talk was by Angelika Lohwasser (University of Münster) about the survey of the Wadi Abu Dom which runs across the Bayuda desert and was probably the main desert route from Meroe to Napata. The team are planning and investigating all archaeological remains in the Wadi, from camps and rock drawings to several major, but enigmatic, stone structures.
The colloquium was due to end at 5pm but, perhaps almost inevitably with such a full and varied programme of talks, overran until 6pm when participants adjourned to the Sudan, Egypt and Nubia Gallery at the Museum for a very welcome, and well-catered, wine reception. The colloquium was certainly a great success with all of the papers being interesting and well-presented which is not always the case at international conferences! The only possible criticism would be that the afternoon tried to pack in too many papers and meant we were sitting for almost four hours with only a short ‘comfort break’ (and no tea!). It says a lot, however, for the quality of the papers and the speakers that very few people left before the end and it would, indeed, have been hard to have known which talks to omit.
As a SARS member I paid only £10 for the whole day and the reception so it was amazingly good value, as is membership of SARS which is only £18 a year and includes receipt of the colour journal Sudan and Nubia: http://www.sudarchrs.org.uk/Membership.htm.
Egypt Exploration Society