Amara West, Sudan
The project at Amara West in Sudan, directed by Dr Neal Spencer of the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at The British Museum, is investigating the overall New Kingdom settlement and its associated cemeteries but also applying more specific scientific techniques to investigate the ethnicity and aspects of daily life of the inhabitants.
Amara West dates back to the thirteenth-twelfth centuries BC, and was the seat of Egyptian administration of upper Nubia (Kush) from the reign of Seti I (1306-1290 BC). For other New Kingdom settlements see Sai Island and Sesebi.
The site now lies on the west bank of the Nile between the Second and Third Cataracts. Studies of the ancient topography indicate that the garrison town was located on an alluvial island in the Nile, the second channel, lying to the north of the settlement, has since dried up. The local cemeteries were situated on the opposite bank of the Nile overlooking the secondary channel.
Several seasons of excavations were conducted by the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) between 1939 and 1950 and these focussed on the townscape revealing a sandstone-built temple dating from the reign of Ramses II (1279-1213 BC) and various domestic and civic buildings. The EES campaigns had identified the location of at least two burial areas, one located on the top of the desert escarpment to the northwest of the settlement (Cemetery D) and one on the lower lying slopes of a wadi, north east of the town (Cemetery C).
January 2008 and 2010
The culmination of two seasons of magnetometry at Amara West has produced stunning results and has clearly demonstrated the potential for geophysical survey to answer the large scale research questions; the extents and nature of the urban and funerary landscapes; but also, to reveal the details within the wider context.
The magnetometer results provide a very distinct plan of the ancient town, framed within an enclosure wall measuring about 100x100m, with buttresses against its external face, and external towers at each corner. North of the town, the south bank of the now dried up river-channel is clearly visible, with data “silence” in the channel itself. There is evidently a platform or quay associated with the temple that extends beyond the town walls, towards the ancient course of the Nile.
The magnetometer survey had the most striking impact on the understanding of the urban layout in the area to the west of the walled town. In addition to a clearly defined villa complex a series of at least five large structures are visible, spreading out from the western wall, and apparently not enclosed within an additional wall: a suburb.
The survey in both the cemeteries have highlighted the distribution of graves in each area. In Cemetery C the clear pattern and high density of graves can be seen flanking the wadi edge. The strong anomalies are caused by the presence of wind blown sand filling the graves and producing a sharp contrast with natural bedrock into which the graves are cut. The graves are oriented roughly east west and are spread over an area of about 250m. In Cemetery D the graves are different and some seem to have enclosures.
Critical to the success of the interpretation of the magnetometer survey results, have been the simultaneous excavations by The British Museum. These compliment the two-dimensional survey results with a closely dated vertical stratigraphy. Most notably, in 2008, the magnetometer survey had revealed a structure within the northwest quadrant of the town that was oblique to the overall alignment of the urban layout. We had interpreted this deviation of orientation as representing a later construction. The excavation of this building however, proved this reading of the results to be incorrect, and the structure was unequivocally contemporaneous with the build of the rest of the town.
The Amara West project is directed by Dr Neal Spencer. The project has been generously supported by the Leverhulme Trust, British Academy and the Fondation Michela Schiff Giorgini. The project as a whole is only possible with the generous support of the National Corporation of Antiquities & Museums (Sudan) in particular Hassan Hussein Idris (Director General), and Salah Mohamed Ahmed (Director of Fieldwork).
For more information on the British Museum excavations of Amara West click here.
PETT, L. 2009. Amara West, Sudan. Geophysical Survey Report. Unpublished report.
SPENCER, N. 2009. Cemeteries and a late Ramesside suburb at Amara West. Sudan & Nubia 13: 47-61.
SPENCER, N. 2010. Nubian architecture in an Egyptian town? Building E12.11 at Amara West. Sudan & Nubia 14: 15-24.
SPENCER, N. and HAY, S. 2012. Amara West: Remote sensing at a pharonic town in northern Sudan. In Papers of the Laurence Seminar, Cambridge 2010. In Press.