Thursday, March 26, 2015

Excavating a Pyramid (film clip)

(guest post by Jack Cheng, our draftsman, artist, and my friend and colleague for almost 20 years!)

In excavating the pyramid at El Kurru, we calculated that about 100 tons of fill had been deposited in just the last room (similar amounts were removed from the first two rooms in last season). Some of the fill would have been washed in from the desert, and some of it would have been rock collapse from the roof of the chamber. 


Digging it out was difficult, and so was removing the dirt from 8 meters below ground to the surface. The workmen organized themselves to move the dirt as efficiently as possible, as you can see in this video:

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Our team

We’ve had a great team this season…
(Left to right, sort of: Geoff Emberling, Martin Makinson, Rikke Therkildsen (she's in the back), Nacho Forcadell, Jack Cheng (also in the back), Luis Martín Díaz, Kate Rose, Sebastian Anstis (in the back--he's not really that tall), Carrie Roberts, Suzanne Davis, Martin Uildriks, Sarah Duffy, Naomi Miller, Jacke Phillips, and Mahmoud Suliman (he's not really that grouchy)

It’s nice to be able to highlight some of their work.

One of our projects, directed by my colleague Rachael Dann at the University of Copenhagen, has focused on documenting the painted tombs of the 25th Dynasty at El Kurru. Sarah Duffy has done amazingly detailed photographic documentation in the tombs, both last season and this year. Here she is in the tomb of Tanutamani (photo by Jack Cheng):



She is photographing in part to made 3-dimensional models of the tombs themselves. You can see more of her work at El Kurru here: http://sarahmduffy.uk/2014/06/21/sudan/. Some of her other work doing cutting-edge photographic documentation and modelling of archaeological sites is also on her website: sarahmduffy.uk.

End-of-Season: The pyramid burial chamber

Between the hectic work at the end of the season and the terrible internet connection, I wasn’t able to post about our final results for the season. So in the next few days, I’ll write about where things stand and our plans for next season.

Our most dramatic result was in the burial chamber of the pyramid. After two years of work, and about 250 tons of sand removed by hand, we came down on a big granite slab, about 10 feet (3.3 meters) long that was aligned between the door and the “stele niche” in the back of the burial chamber. 

Granite slab when first cleaned (Jaffar Madani of El Kurru village at left)

Would this be the inscribed stele that would finally give us the name of the king who built the pyramid?

Well, we cleaned off the stone and it was pretty roughly finished. So we thought maybe on the other face…so we looked underneath, but the space was too confined for us to see.


Me and Mahmoud Suliman Bashir, my Sudanese friend and colleague
 (and the project's Inspector from the Department of Antiquities)
trying to see under the stele
So we got all our strongest guys and turned it so it was vertical. 



And that face was unfinished too! Here's what I thought about that:



When we excavated the rest of the room, the granite slab turned out to be resting right on an unfinished sandstone "coffin bench" that was originally intended to support the coffin of the king. But the rest of the room was completely empty, showing that the pyramid burial chamber was NEVER USED! 

Granite slab on top of the coffin bench, with the beginnings of the "stele niche" at the back wall
We had more indications that the pyramid was also unfinished above ground. Next post!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The face of a pyramid

We have decided to remove the fallen rubble from the north face of the pyramid to see if there might be further indications of how and when it was built and how it may have been connected to the pyramid of one of the most important kings buried at El Kurru—Piye (also called Piankhy)—whose pyramid burial is immediately to the north.

This work will also transform the appearance of the pyramid and of the site. The pyramid was built of stone blocks around a rubble core. Right now, it’s mostly the rubble core that’s visible—the upper stone blocks were taken for re-use elsewhere in medieval times, and the rubble simply spilled out over the pyramid stones.


We are excited to see how this will develop in the remainder of the season.




Pyramid niche



It continues to be an amazing experience to excavate a pyramid. I went into the innermost burial chamber that we are excavating after the workmen had left for the day, and really experienced what it means to be as quiet as the tomb.

Based on other pyramids of this date in Nubia, we expect to find two features in the inner burial chamber: a coffin bench and a stele niche.

Kings and queens of Kush adopted many aspects of Egyptian burial practice, including burial in coffins. But they retained their traditional idea of being buried on a bed, so around the stone benches in their pyramid burials are usually four holes that would have supported bed legs. Other Nubian royal burials have sometimes contained fragments of the coffin itself that were left after looters smashed them.

The stele niche is a small alcove at the back of the room in which an inscribed stone would usually name the king or queen and inscribe funerary spells. And we have just found the stele niche! Empty, unfortunately…but there remain several possibilities—the stele could have fallen onto the floor, for example. We will know more soon!


Work at the City Wall

I'm back in Karima and can make a few more blog posts...


We continue to expand our knowledge of the massive city wall that separates the palm groves along the Nile from the modern village. We are still looking for evidence that it is earlier than the Christian period, but we haven’t found it yet—so it must have been built around 700 AD. We hope that exposing its entire length may give us further hints about the location of the town of the Napatan period when the royal burials were built. And the city wall itself is really impressive, not just in its massive stone construction, but in its collapse—here is a particularly large section that shows collapse both in stone and in “red bricks”. The upper part of the wall—or a later reuse of the wall—must have been built of red bricks.



The settlement along the wall is also slowly coming into view. Last year we excavated part of a house with preserved ceramic vessels still on the floors. This year, we expanded the area of excavation and found a Christian cemetery with burials neatly laid out in rows.

We are in the process of excavating these, and will then be able to see more of the house below.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Surprise in the temple

We have continued excavating the underground rooms of the mortuary temple—there were two spaces remaining to clear. One was a small, square, featureless storeroom that contained nothing (like the rest of the temple!). The other appeared to be a corridor connecting two rooms with columns on either side. We knew only about the doorways on either side, and we had bets with the workmen about whether there would be additional rooms or whether the two doorways would just be connected by a straight corridor.

Osman Hussein excavating the underground corridor in the temple
As it turned out, none of us was right—the rooms are connected by a corridor with a “dogleg”. You can just see the corner in the photo. Not a room, not a straight corridor. And like just about everything else about this temple, we have no parallels, and no idea why it was built as it is.

We have been digging in beautiful weather. Some days have been at our limit of comfort during the day—upper 90s in the afternoons—but it has always cooled off at night, so the mornings and evenings have been refreshing. Here is a photo that captures the beauty of the setting—sunrise over the Nile.

Sunrise over the Nile. Photo Sebastian Anstis.