Thursday, October 22, 2015

Egypt Centre, Swansea

Thursday, 22 October 201

Amarna, looking at flints, playing with dogs!

I know loads of you will disagree but I find the whole business of the royal family at Amarna, who succeeded whom, etc., a bit dull. I'm not really interested in who Smenkhkare was, or Nefertiti. What I do find interesting is the fact that this site is really good to study New Kingdom Egypt more generally. It has a relatively short chronology, so not so much intrusion from earlier or later periods than on many other sites. Also it's a big site with several different social/technological areas so it gives some idea on how ancient Egyptian society and technological changes worked. And, of course, lots of settlement type artefacts as opposed to purely funerary ones.

What's this leading too? I am interested in lithics, so have felt very privileged to be allowed to study the lithics at Amarna. In 2009 I looked at the material from Panehsy's Great Aten Temple House (associated with cattle butchery). There is a brief report here (see page 7). Then, a couple of weeks ago I went to look at material from other areas of Amarna. Many, many thanks to the Middle Egypt inspectorate of the Ministry of Antiquities, especially Inspector Marwa Ahmed Osman, and also to the Amarna Project directed by Barry Kemp

I arrived in Cairo at the end of September. A small team of us traveled from Cairo to the Amarna dig house. For those of you who are used to digging in the UK, the dig house at Amarna is very civilised with showers and proper rooms with beds (no camping in a field). We even had fans to keep us cool. And, it also looks very pretty. Here it is. There is a police HQ right outside to keep us all safe and a couple of lookout towers.

On the 1st of October the magazines were opened under the watchful eye of the Inspector. How this was done was a bit like an ancient Egyptian ritual. The brick blocking to the magazine was knocked down with hammer and chisel, etc. Then the lead seal on the door was checked by the Inspector Marwa Ahmed Osman. Here she is checking the seal to make sure it wasn't broken. Yes, a lady Inspector (well I liked that).

The artefacts we were all working on were taken into the dig house. Chris Stimpson from Oxford was making a study of bird bones. Gretchen Dabbs from the Southern Illionois University was looking at human bones from the North Cemetery. And, William Schaffer, from the same University, was looking at teeth and how very small variations in them could be used to study ancestry. All much more exciting, in my opinion, than the identity of Smenkhkare. 

And here is my work station. The flies were more annoying than the heat! I have yet to write up a proper report so wont tell you about that in detail now. However, it can be said that as one would expect in a late Bronze Age culture, the lithics were largely expedient tools. That is, most weren't deliberately made to a particular shape. Rather, they consisted of flakes and blades which would be selected and used as and when needed. This would be a very efficient way to use the material. A freshly knapped flint flake would be much sharper than a metal knife. There were one or two, what one might call 'formal' tools, mainly sickles and round scrapers. Several different types of flint was used.

And back to life in the dig house. We were fed and the site generally looked after by the Amarna Project's Egyptian team. The cook is excellent! 4 cats help keep the rodent population down. Here is one eating a hoopoe bird (a snake was eaten the day before). Bit sad about the bird as there had previously been two hoopoes.

Outside the dig house, on the way to the toilet block, we would often encounter the dogs. Most of the dogs around Amarna are semi-feral and bark and growl. They have grown used to people throwing stones at them. However, two dogs were really, really friendly. I really wish I could have 'rescued' them and brought them home. They were mother and daughter. The daughter wanted to play and would cling onto your clothes when you went back to the dig house. Here they are. The photograph was taken in the morning. The mother is on the left.