Wednesday, May 25, 2011

News from Amarna, May 2011

The latest news from Amarna from Barry Kemp:

I see that my last report was dated 26th February, and was written with the optimism that flows from a crisis just passed.

Within a few days of arrival at the expedition house, seemingly with all obstacles cleared, it emerged that liaison between the regional police and the antiquities administration was no longer working as it had in the past.

The local police had supplied their usual contingent to man the little police post that is attached to the house, and I have continued to live here until now without objections. But at a more senior level, the police had decided that they would have one thing less to worry about if they did not have foreign expeditions in their province. Amarna has remained throughout as rurally peaceful as ever, but in the towns and cities demonstrations against various aspects of government have sporadically continued and created a sense of unease, heightened by rumours of banditry blamed on escaped prisoners, though no extra hindrances have been placed in the path of tourist groups.

So for two and a half months I have visited or telephoned the police weekly. To begin with, a few members of the expedition arrived in Cairo and it seemed possible that the fieldwork was on hold only temporarily. But as that hope faded, we were forced to accept that no outdoor work would be possible this side of the summer.

Eventually, near the end of April, the police conceded that the last group due to come, the anthropologists from the University of Arkansas, could be allowed to stay at the house and work on the human remains we have stored in the magazine at the house. Despite this agreement, police caution made even this seem uncertain until the last moment. The first group arrived three days ago, and the magazine has been opened, and work has begun. Since a further excavation at the South Tombs Cemetery has not yet taken place, the purpose of the study is to go over certain areas of the recording done in the past to ensure consistency, and, with the benefits of hindsight, to review aspects where recording leads to evaluations, particularly in respect of aging the individuals and the related topic of the rate of childhood skeletal development. A review of the craniometrics - the precise scheme of skull measurements that is another way of defining a population - is also planned.

Looking beyond the summer, the hope is to use the autumn as a time to carry out the postponed fieldwork. This should cover both the repairs at the North Palace and excavation at the South Tombs Cemetery. The autumn is also the promised time for elections to Egypt's new parliament that will lead to the formation of a new government, and beyond that looms the election for president. These, for Egypt, are uncharted waters. It may require a further period of patient discussion with the regional police to get a full expedition going again.

I hope that keeping the house open for this length of time has helped to maintain our credibility as a regular part of local life. It has also enabled the house staff - all local people - to be employed, if at a slightly reduced level. It is a pleasure to be able to report that, at the outset of the upheavals, when the house had to be closed for nearly a month, one well-wisher donated a sum of money specifically to cover the wages of the house staff for that period.

Two and a half quiet months at Amarna have not been without benefit, mainly in providing time for writing.

I brought to the expedition house copies of the archive records of the original North Palace excavations of 1923 and 1924. Over many years, from time to time, myself and others have turned our hands to bringing together a full report on the palace, a project originally disrupted by the early death of the main excavator, F.G. Newton, near the beginning of the second season (he died from Encephalitis lethargica in Asyut hospital on Christmas Day 1924).

Amongst the records are small-scale copies of inscribed and decorated fragments of limestone made at the time by members of the expedition who were then working and living at the northern expedition house. They number around 600. Many are fragments of conventional designs, but some showed traces of alterations in places where the name of the 'owner' of the palace was written. The alterations are a further example of a phenomenon documented from other parts of Amarna that has been much discussed, that bears on the status of female members of Akhenaten's family, namely, his eldest daughter Meretaten, a secondary wife named Kiya, and Nefertiti herself. Are we looking at the rise and fall of one of them in an outbreak of harem politics?

Because the erasures and recuttings were done on soft limestone surfaces, it is tricky to discern what the original signs were. The man who made most of the copies in 1924, C.R. Duncan Greenlees, worked carefully but without the benefit of studies of parallel material. This would not matter if the stonework were still available. Hardly any of it was photographed and, apart from a small number of pieces that were sent to museums, it is not extant. Its most likely fate was to be buried beside the northern expedition house at the end of the 1924 season. It might seem that the next logical step is to look for the place of burial. The northern house stands, however, on part of the ancient site. Any disturbance to the ground immediately becomes another excavation, and this is not something to be undertaken lightly. So far geophysics has failed to point to a likely location. We will probably be left, therefore, with a study in which the exercise of judgement on archival sources plays a crucial part.

How far can we trust Greenlees' copies? This is the norm for historians when interpreting documents from the past. Here, as is not infrequently the case, archaeology overlaps with research on historical archives. Having made a preliminary assessment of the evidence, I am not persuaded that a simple sequence, in which one woman's name replaced another, reflecting their respective positions at court, is necessarily the correct explanation, but there is some way to go before this material will be ready for publication.

Over the same period, the Assistant Director, Dr Anna Stevens, has remained in Cairo, preparing the final publication of excavations and survey at the Stone Village, carried out between 2005 and 2008. At the same time, and with the assistance of Tim Kashmiri, a computer database specialist, she has developed an improved database design for the many thousands of objects that have been registered by the expedition since it began excavations in 1979.

The closing date for the work at Amarna is set for June 12th. We have obviously lost some money in air fares and expenses in Cairo for the first small group who came, but not disastrously so. The costs of keeping the house open are mostly covered from elsewhere. The donated funds for the North Palace remain untouched.

In the meantime, we have, through the Justgiving site, set up another appeal. See:

This is to help us move forward with one of the many publications of fieldwork, in this instance the painted wall plaster from an early Christian church that had been constructed over the remains of one of Akhenaten's buildings at Amarna, the place called Kom el-Nana.

Thanks to all for continuing support and encouragement.

Barry Kemp, 21st May 2011.

The work at Amarna is supported directly by two institutions: in the UK by the Amarna Trust, and in the USA by the Amarna Research Foundation. In both cases, donations are tax deductible.

Amarna Trust:

Donations can be made directly to the treasurer:
Dr Alison L. Gascoigne
Lecturer in Medieval Archaeology
University of Southampton
Avenue Campus
SO17 1BF
+44 (0)2380 599636

or to the Trust's bank account:

Bank: Nat West
Address: High Wycombe branch, 33 High Street, High Wycombe, Bucks,
HP11 2AJ
Account name: The Amarna Trust
Account number: 15626229
Branch sort code: 60-11-01
IBAN: GB66 NWBK 6011 0115 6262 29

or by electronic transfer through Paypal or Justgiving, available on the website (where a Gift Aid form is downloadable)

The Trust sends out a free newsletter twice a year, Horizon, to anyone who sends me a postal address. It is also available as a downloadable pdf file from our two web sites.

Amarna Research Foundation

The Amarna Research Foundation, Inc. is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization incorporated under the laws of the State of Colorado. It has been approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a charitable organization, and contributions to the Foundation are tax exempt.

The Foundation receives donations and runs a membership list. See where a membership form can be downloaded.

The Foundation publishes a regular newsletter, The Akhetaten Sun, available to members.

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