Sunday, January 15, 2012

Amarna: End-of-2011 report

Another excellent report from Professor Barry Kemp from Amarna, providing an end of season report:

The fieldwork at Amarna for 2011 finally ended on December 28th. At the larger of the two exposures, the Lower Site, the 5-m wide trench that had begun to cross the floor of the wadi was further extended to the far side.

Across the full length the top layer of sand and gravel was removed, to the depth where the outline of grave pits became visible. Time did not allow for the excavation of the graves themselves in this new extension; they were protected with cloth and backfilled. The exposure of the tops of the graves - in effect the delineation of the plan of the cemetery in this part - revealed an unexpected anomaly. For part of the distance across the wadi floor (a stretch of 15 m) the graves stopped, only to reappear in the most distant squares that were past the mid-point. In part, this might be due to the burials having been washed away during the flood/s that created the channel, but this is unlikely to account entirely for their absence. It may be that these squares span some kind of thoroughfare or access route through the cemetery.

The surface of the Wadi Mouth Site is more broken by erosion channels, making excavation and the identification of graves less straightforward.

Excavation was limited to a block of four new 5-m squares. These confirmed that, despite the more difficult terrain, the conditions of preservation are actually the best so far encountered anywhere at the cemetery.

Parts of at least 40 skeletons were recovered this season, 26 from the Lower Site and 14 from the Wadi Mouth Site. They range in age from infants to adults. With one or two possible exceptions, there were no multiple burials this year: all were interred singularly. An additional 14 likely grave pits were identified, all but two at the Lower Site, which await excavation in a future season.

In the last week of excavation, a second decorated coffin was discovered at the Wadi Mouth Site. As there were no conservators on staff at this time, it was decided to leave the coffin in place, covered with textile and sand, until it can be properly consolidated and lifted in a future season. Only the very upper part of the two ends have been exposed, but the coffin seems to be a simple rectangular box measuring around 1 x 0.2 m, with painted surfaces (linear black decoration has been observed on the small parts exposed). In keeping with the good preservation of human remains at the Wadi Mouth Site, the wood also seems to be in much better condition than other coffins encountered so far at the cemetery, which now number 20, including this year's discoveries.

Other finds were very few. They include two pieces of folded gold sheet found mixed in with the disturbed bone of Individual 232, but probably found elsewhere and dropped into this grave by the robbers; a copper-alloy ring found on the second toe of the right foot of Individual 230; a copper-alloy ring found on the fourth finger (the 'ring finger') of the left hand of Individual 229, the bezel inscribed with a probable image of Re-Horakhty.

The tally of small finds from the cemetery has been modest from the outset of the work. This is not only a result of ancient robbery since undisturbed graves often also contain no grave goods. Even so, the rarity of finds this year has been particularly marked, in that no worked stone grave markers (stelae or pyramidions) were found at all. We have, from the beginning, noted that the extent of the cemetery along the sides of the wadi is revealed by a fairly close scatter of rough stones, often grey in colour, which are the remains of piles or cairns of stones that marked the positions of individual burials. On the floor of the wadi they scarcely appear, and few were found in the trench on the wadi floor. The likely explanation is that, after the cemetery had been abandoned (and after the phase of grave robbing), a torrential flood swept down the wadi and carried away the top surface including the stones. In January of this year, three days of heavy rain fell at Amarna, and short-lived streams formed in some of the wadis, including the large one that leads to the royal tombs. The South Tombs Cemetery wadi, however, absorbed the rainfall entirely, and no pools formed. It must have been a deluge of extraordinary magnitude to have created a flowing torrent with sufficient force to sweep the wadi floor clear of stones.

We know, from initial surveys, that human bones are scattered across the desert plain for some considerable distance in front of the wadi mouth. The contour map (see attached file) has picked up a slight swelling of the desert surface here, that probably marks the presence of a slight outwash fan or delta formed from debris washed out from the wadi and now covered by wind-blown sand. Somewhere in this formation there is likely to lie, shallowly buried, the stones, worked as well as unworked, together with small artefacts. This is another direction in which to pursue future investigations.

It is a relief to have reached the end of the year with the greater part of the intended work now accomplished. A period of writing-up will now follow, with fieldwork scheduled to begin at the end of March. This will see the start of a new project: the reclaiming of the Great Aten Temple, no less, a part of the Central City threatened by neglect and also by encroachment from the adjacent modern village cemetery.

The first step will be to clean and expose what remains of the mud-brick enclosure wall at the front, which, according to the Pendlebury plan of 1932, includes a wide entrance flanked by pylons, currently invisible beneath old spoil heaps. Once exposed and recorded afresh, it should be consolidated with new bricks so that it becomes a clearly visible boundary to the site. The two accompanying maps summarize this part of the plan.

It is a substantial piece of work that will considerably stretch our resources, the largest element in the budget being the employment of local workers and craftsmen and the purchase of local materials. Once more I appeal to the generosity of our supporters to help us, and offer my thanks in advance.

Barry Kemp 7 January 2012.


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.

No comments: