Saturday, June 08, 2013

Update from Amarna: Human bone study at Amarna and other topics

The latest email news update from Barry Kemp and Anna Stevens:

2013 physical anthropology study period

Following a break of two weeks at the end of the spring excavation season (for the cemetery part see the Amarna Facebook page, the house and expedition opened again, on May 18th, for the start of the 2013 physical anthropology study period, that is due to end on June 13th. Led by Prof Jerry Rose, assisted by Dr Gretchen Dabbs, the 15-person group travelled by chartered bus to Amarna and quickly got to work. Facing them this time is twice as many bones as in the past. Since the 2012 study period, two full field seasons of excavation at the South Tombs Cemetery have taken place. The result is whole or partial skeletons of 141 individuals, who take the full total of individuals since excavation began in 2006 to 401.

The bones are stored, by individual, in large plastic crates and skull boxes, labelled as to circumstances of finding (date, location, etc). They still retain, however, a coating of sand that needs to be carefully brushed off over fine-mesh sieves. In order to hasten this, four of the regular cemetery workmen (led by Walid Mohammed Omar) are doing this necessary job.  As the individuals emerge from their 'dry-cleaning' episode, they are laid out in full anatomical order on the tables in the workrooms. They are then recorded according to a full bioanthropological protocol. Beyond this, several specific research projects are under way, some of them assisted by the expedition's on-site x-ray facility.

A few photographs can be seen at:

In some cases, the hair remains on the skulls, sometimes as a full head of hair. Often, however, ancient robbery has separated skull and hair, and the latter is found loose in the sand. When taken together, the eight seasons of excavation have provided a large collection. For a second time, the team was joined by Jolanda Bos from The Netherlands. Jolanda is an archaeologist and heritage consultant who has studied hair plaiting and beadwork amongst African societies. She began this time by improving the means of storing skulls with hair that will keep them stable, creating for each a paper bonnet that still allows the anthropologists access to the jaw and front of the skull for cranial measurements and dental research.

Her Amarna findings are exciting. "The amount of complete hairstyles dating to such a limited and specific period is unique, especially in combination with the preservation conditions and the ethnic complexity of the group." A wide variety of types of hair, ranging from very curly black hair, to middle brown straight hair were present amongst the skulls, showing the ethnic diversity of the Amarna sample. No wigs were found, the preference being for hair extensions for which abundant evidence is present. The extensions were either braided or tied into the hair of the individual. It became clear that on almost all skulls which were analyzed, fat was used to model the hairstyles. On all skulls very fine pieces of textile were found covering the hair. Whether or not this was only done for burial or whether it was the general practice in daily life as well remains unclear. The textile found on the top of the head retained traces where fat cones had been placed, but textile was also present on the back and side of the head.
The remains of possible fat cones were discovered on most of the skulls examined.

At least three cases were identified of sidelocks on the skulls of children, the ages being four and a half, eight and a half and nine and a half. On the back and the side of some of the skulls, botanical remains were found. They seem to have been bound with string to the back of the head of the individual; sometimes they were found in relation with a strip of textile. Possibly these are the remains of floral garlands draped around the head of the deceased.

Bones, hair and much, much more is stored in the expedition storerooms, or magazines, situated beside the expedition house. This time the keys and responsibility are entrusted to Inspector Edward Rushdi, who otherwise helps to look after the central regional magazines at El-Ashmunein.

Enhancing and enlarging storage is a constant need. We have just added two new sets of steel storage racking, manufactured by two brothers who have a wrought-iron business in Mallawi across the river. One of the sets was paid for by a donation from the Sussex Ancient Egypt Society.

New publication

The Egypt Exploration Society has recently published a further Amarna monograph, one arising from research on Amarna's other major archaeological period, that of the early Christian communities who established themselves in the rock tombs and on desert sites. The details are:

Jane Faiers, Late Roman Glassware and Pottery from Amarna and Related Studies. With contributions by Gillian Pyke and Wendy Smith. One Hundred and Second Excavation Memoir. London, EES 2013. 267 pages and many illustrations. It includes detailed information on the distribution of glass and pottery from the excavations carried out at the Kom el-Nana monastery.

Forthcoming tours

1) Between Saturday, October 5th and Saturday, October 19th Barry Kemp will accompany a tour from Aswan through Middle Egypt to Cairo. Two full days will be spent at Amarna. The tour, entitled 'Cities of the Nile', will be run by Ancient World Tours, a long-time supporter of the Amarna expedition.
A further, similar tour is planned for October 2014. Consult: and tel. +44 844 357 9494

2) Between Monday, December 9th and Sunday, December 22nd the Thames Valley Ancient Egypt Society plans to run a Study Tour to Lower Egypt, including the Faiyum, Alexandria and the Delta, taking in a number of rarely visited sites. The trip will be led by Barry Kemp and Dr Rawia Ismail. A donation will be made to the Amarna Trust. Attached are an itinerary, booking form and information sheet. See also

Major conservation grant

We are delighted to report that the Amarna expedition has been awarded a major grant for the conservation of the decorated wooden coffins from the South Tombs Cemetery. The grant comes from USAID, as administered by the American Research Center's Antiquities Endowment Fund. This stage of the conservation programme will commence at Amarna during 2014.

That the Amarna expedition is able to run lengthy seasons of fieldwork, conservation and research also owes a great deal to the continuing support of members of the public. Thank you!

Barry Kemp/Anna Stevens

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