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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Egypt Centre Collection Blog

Monday, 26 August 2019

Missing Pieces: The Nubian Cemeteries at Armant

The blog post for this week is a guest entry by Dr Aaron de Souza, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at the Institute for Oriental and European Archaeology, Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna. 

Located just south of Luxor (ancient Thebes), the town of Armant is home to a myriad of sites spanning the breadth of Egyptian history. Perhaps the best-known sites are the catacombs for the sacred Buchis bulls (known as the Bucheum), a temple dedicated to the god Montu, and cemeteries and settlements dating to the Predynastic Period. Among all of these better-known locales is an often overlooked cemetery of the so-called Pan-Grave culture, a nomadic people who moved around the Nile Valley and deserts to the east of the Nile from the late Middle Kingdom until the early Eighteenth Dynasty (de Souza 2019). This small cemetery, Cemetery 1900, remains unpublished, but a draft manuscript prepared by Oliver Humphrys Myers (1903–1966) survives in the Lucy Gura Archive at the EES (fig. 1), and a small collection of ceramics from the site is now held by The Egypt Centre.

Fig. 1: Archive photograph of Pan-Grave pottery from Armant Cemetery 1900. The current location of these objects is unknown., Courtesy of the Egypt Exploration Society

This Pan-Grave pottery (fig. 2) was the main reason for my research trip to Swansea as part of my Marie Skłodowska-Curie Project, InBetween, which reviews our understanding of the so-called Middle Nubian culture groups.* The collection of Pan-Grave objects in the collection, although fragmentary, is essential to my long-term goal of reuniting the finds from Cemetery 1900 and ultimately to more fully understanding the Pan-Grave presence in Egypt. Even in its fragmentary state, the pottery in the Egypt Centre's collection was enough to tell me a few interesting and important things about the site (fig. 2). The Pan-Grave pottery is all very comparable with material I've studied during recent excavations at Hierakonpolis and at sites around Aswan, all of which dates to the late Middle Kingdom. This date is further supported by photographs of Egyptian pottery from Cemetery 1900 as well as descriptions of the graves themselves in Myers' unpublished manuscript. These characteristics would place the Armant Pan-Graves among the earliest known in the Nile Valley, not long after the people buried in them are first attested in the Nile Valley. It was also somewhat unusual—at least in my opinion!—that the assemblage included a number of sherds that I would classify as coarse, utilitarian wares. Usually called cooking pots, this type of pottery is usually associated with settlement sites and is not typically found in funerary contexts. The same phenomenon occurs at other early Pan-Grave sites, so maybe this is another marker of an early date.

Fig. 2: New monograph on the Pan-grave people

All of this being said, the other finds from Cemetery 1900 need to be (re-)located before I can make any firm observations… and herein lies the challenge! The finds from Armant have been scattered far and wide across the UK, a bit here, a bit there. So far I've located some of the faunal remains at the World Museum in Liverpool, including painted skulls and horns from cattle and goats that are as dramatic as they are enigmatic. In relation to those objects, I stumbled upon an envelope addressed to J. Wilfrid Jackson (1880–1978), an archaeologist and the former Keeper of Zoology at Manchester Museum, who excavated at Armant. Jackson is also the man who studied the same painted animal skulls that are now Liverpool (fig. 3), and I was able to identify them in his unpublished report on the remains from Cemetery 1900, which also now resides in the EES archives. The search continues, and there are tantalising clues everywhere, but for now I must work with the photos and notes that survive in the archives like ghosts of objects missing or lost.

Fig. 3: Aaron examining a painted cattle skull from Armant, now located at the World Museum, Liverpool.
(photo by Ashley Cooke)

But, on a happier note, after having looked through all of the material, I can tell you that the collection of finds from Armant held in the collection of The Egypt Centre is both impressive and extensive, and it is crying out for more attention! The scope of the collection is incredible—virtually a continuous sequence of pottery from the Predynastic to Islamic periods (with a few fragments of the eighteenth century European porcelain thrown in for good measure!), stone vessels, flint tools, jewellery, glass, statue fragments… it is a veritable microcosm of Egyptian history from the earliest days up to the recent past (figs. 4–5)! There is so much waiting to be studied anew, and I am extremely grateful to Ken and Carolyn for allowing me to access the material. I hope I'll be able to come back soon, but in the meantime, I would encourage anyone interested to come to Swansea to study the finds from Armant. There is quite literally something for everyone!

Fig. 4: Aaron drawing an A-Group sherd from the Egypt Centre collection. 

Fig. 5: A-group pottery from Armant cemetery 1600 in the Egypt Centre,

* The InBetween project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 796050.

Aaron's monograph on the Pan-grave people (fig. 2) has just been published and can be purchased direct from the publisher.

de Souza, A. M. (2017) 'The Pan-Grave Panned Out! New Digs at HK 47 and HK 21A'. Nekhen News 29: 18–21.
——— (2018) 'The "End" of an Era: A Review of the Phasing System for the Late C-Group and Pan-Grave Cultures'. In Nubian Archaeology in the XXIst Century: Proceedings of the Thirteenth International Conference for Nubian Studies, Neuchâtel, 1st–6th September 2014, ed. M. Honegger. Publications de la mission archéologique suisse à Kerma 1; Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 273. Leuven: Peeters. 233–244.
——— (2018) 'Paint it Black: Pan-Grave Black-topped and Egyptian Black-rimmed Pottery of the Late Second Intermediate Period and Early New Kingdom'. Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne 11: 75–90.
——— (2019) New Horizons: The Pan-Grave Ceramic Tradition in Context. Middle Kingdom Studies 9. London: Golden House Publications.
Mond, R. and O. H. Myers (1934) The Bucheum. Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society 41. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
——— (1937) Cemeteries of Armant I. Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society 42. London: Egypt Exploration Society.
——— (1940) Temples of Armant: A Preliminary Survey. Memoir of the Egypt Exploration Society 43. London: Egypt Exploration Society. 
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