International Kurru Archaeological Project — Fieldwork Friday #3

Life in the Field, North Sudan

Street scene in Kurru, Sudan.
The main street in Kurru in the early morning hours before work. Waleed’s shop, where we buy snacks and supplies but most importantly bottled water, is on the left less than 100 meters from our front door, and the barber shop, painted green, is right across the street!

14 December 2018

By Gregory Tucker

The past week has been incredibly busy as we try to prepare the site for the final days of data collection before I leave for Khartoum next Thursday. In next week’s post I will share some of the initial results of all of our hard work here, but this week I will focus on what my life is like in Sudan outside of work.

The International Kurru Archaeological Project stays in the village of El Kurru, near the ancient site, and we are kindly hosted by Sadiq Mohamed Saleh and his family. This month I have been staying in Kurru rather than closer to Jebel Barkal, as it is only a 15–20 minute car ride to the site. It is also where all of my friends from past field seasons live, and where I feel welcomed as a part of the community.

two stucco walls, one painted pink
The front entrance to Sadeq’s house, before (top, 2017) and after (below, 2018) its new paint job!
sparse interior with small bed
My bed (taken the first week of the project — I assure you it is nowhere near this tidy anymore) with equipment charging and my personal effects in the corner.

Part of the feeling of community comes from the fact that our meals are all communal. We share large dishes and eat with our hands, and the meals are always accompanied by bread. The main course is often fuul, a dish made of mashed beans with cheese or sardines or tomatoes or just about anything added to spice it up. We also often eat chicken, liver, a fish paste called fasikh, salad, and much more, and on special days we have fried fish! Last week, while staying the night in Karima, I even had pizza here for the first time, which I can highly recommend to the rest of the team coming next month!

dishes of food
Left: A typical fattur, with fuul, fasikh, tamia, eggs, and a few vegetables, to be shared between four to six people. Right: A special fish lunch.
pizza
Pizza making in progress (left), and our delicious dinner (right).

In past seasons after work I have played soccer with my friends here, in the shadow of the Kurru pyramids, but this year I have had to rest my legs and often opt to either watch the others play in the sunset or cool my feet in the Nile, which is only a five-minute walk from Sadiq’s.

boys playing soccer on a dirt field
The guys playing soccer at Kurru. The pyramid is just behind me as I take this photo.
bare feet in a river
Cooling my feet in the Nile.

In past seasons we have even gone to see the Kurru soccer team play a few official matches, including big games against local rivals in the stadium at Karima. I’m in the field a bit earlier this year so the soccer season hasn’t started yet, but the first match is on Tuesday in Karima, and  I’m looking forward to cheering on my friends from the stands after work!

soccer field with stands
A view from the stands at a soccer match in Karima (2017).

This year I’ve felt even more closely connected with life in the village, attending a few wedding celebrations and just last night an engagement party for Salah Mohamed, one of the guys who works with me at Jebel Barkal. We danced for hours (myself only sparingly) to traditional tambour music, and it seemed as if the whole village came to celebrate with Salah!

In addition to all these larger events, I spend many of my evenings with friends talking under the stars or watching Champions League or EPL soccer while drinking tea, which is ubiquitous here. This season I’ve even picked up a new game to play, Ludo, which is kind of like Trouble and brings out an intensely competitive nature among us! It might be worth checking out the next time you’re looking for an easy game to play with a few friends!

I have less than a week left for in the field, and it is going to go by far too quickly. Check back here next week for a final #fieldworkfriday update from Sudan for 2018!

International Kurru Archaeological Project — Fieldwork Friday #2

Magnetic Gradiometry at Jebel Barkal

Man walking in desert with scientific equipment, pyramids in background
Collecting magnetic data on our first day of survey at Jebel Barkal. Photo by Abdelbaki Salahadin Mohamend.

7 December 2018

By Gregory Tucker

This week for #fieldworkfriday I would like to share with you a bit of where I am and what I’m doing in the field. This month I’ve come to Sudan’s Northern State, to the site of Jebel Barkal, near the Fourth Cataract of the Nile, to conduct a geophysical survey in two distinct areas of the site.

Map of Sudan.
Map of Sudan showing the location of Jebel Barkal.

Jebel Barkal is a small mountain not far from the Nile that was considered by the Egyptians and later the Kushites to be the home of the god Amun. Various temples, palaces, and pyramids were constructed at the site from the Egyptian New Kingdom (about 1500 BCE) to the end of the empire of Kush (about 300 CE), and these have been the targets of extensive excavation in modern times. Jebel Barkal and the nearby sites of El Kurru, Sanam, and Zuma are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

photo of wall of Egyptian temple.
This image, which I took just yesterday, shows the amazing conservation work of the Italian-Sudanese team at the Mut Temple at Jebel Barkal. The image on the left has been cleaned and clearly shows Taharqa, while the image on the neighboring wall on the right is still covered in soot.
White vans at base of mountain.
It’s tourism season in Sudan, as evidenced by the many vehicles bringing tourists to visit the site every day. Seeing this many together is rare, however, even this time of year!

Geophysical survey is one of the most efficient ways to explore a large landscape like that of Jebel Barkal in search of specific features that will help us understand how people lived in the past. The results of this month of survey will help our projects better understand and interpret the built environment of the site, shedding light on how the community at Jebel Barkal lived and how it relates to other sites and their architectural traditions from the region.

This past week we finished up our work for the first project, on the south side of the mountain, where we were working in the desert landscape near the pyramids at the site.  We were invited to survey this area by Murtada Bushara Mohamed of Sudan’s National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM) as part of the Qatari Mission for the Pyramids of Sudan (QMPS) project. This project is focused on research, preservation, and presentation of the pyramids at Jebel Barkal, Kurru, Meroe, and Nuri and our contribution will help us better understand the landscape context of these monuments by identifying the location of other structures in this region of Jebel Barkal.

View of pyramids in desert.
The pyramids on the southern side of Jebel Barkal.

Tomorrow we will begin our work on the east side of the jebel, between the mountain and the Nile River, in an area we call the “East Mound.”  This project is an offshoot of Geoff Emberling’s research at El Kurru and the surrounding region, and during preliminary research conducted in 2016 we identified this mound as being a likely location for the settlement associated with the temples and palaces of the monumental core of the site.[1]  We were able to identify buried structures here during a very short period of survey that year, just a couple of days, so we have returned to survey the entire mound and the surrounding area to better define the extent of this settlement.

scientific equipment at base of rock outcrop in desert.
View toward Jebel Barkal from the “East Mound” as we begin to set up our equipment for the survey work in this area.

The type of prospection that I’m conducting can be done with many different instruments, each with its own unique method of collecting magnetic data. In the case of this project I am using a device that must be carried across the landscape and takes readings at consistent intervals.

The most efficient way to use this device is to set up a grid in the area that we wish to cover. Using a total station we establish a 30 x 30 m grid, and within that grid we lay down guidelines that are marked at every meter. Then, wearing the scientific device, I walk up and down along the guidelines, which are there to ensure that I walk straight and at a consistent pace.

By telling the instrument and the processing software the parameters of the survey, the data can be plotted quite quickly to create a map of the magnetic readings at the surface, giving us insight into what may lie buried below. With this particular machine we are limited only by how fast I can walk while maintaining a consistent pace and holding the machine relatively steady, which depends on the surface conditions — sand slows me down quite a lot! — and how well we have established the grid and the guidelines. Below is a short video that gives a first-person perspective of what walking one of these lines is like. (In a typical day I can walk approximately 540 lines!)

Of course, there is slightly more to it than just that, but the bulk of my time here is spent walking along these lines and listening to the machine chirp at me, 30 meters at a time.

I realize that I did not check the comments on my last post to see if there were any questions, but I will be better about that this week, so please comment with any questions you may have or email me at gstucker@umich.edu. I would love to hear from you! And please check in next week for another update from Sudan!

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[1] This research was undertaken thanks to a Waitt Grant from the National Geographic Society for my project: “Defining Settlement in the Nile Valley: Geophysical Prospection in the Region of Jebel Barkal, Ancient Napata.” For more about the results of this work, see Tucker and Emberling, “Settlement in the Heartland of Napatan Kush: Preliminary Results of Magnetic Gradiometry at El-Kurru, Sanam, and Jebel Barkal,” Sudan & Nubia 20 (2016): 16–22.

News from the Conservation Lab — On Research and Writing

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

One of the best parts of being a conservator, in my view, is the opportunity to do research. Here at the Kelsey, we do a lot of research in support of the conservation and care of the Museum’s collections as well as Kelsey-sponsored archaeological field projects. In our efforts, we accumulate a lot of books. Sure, plenty of information we use comes to us in PDF or other non-print format. Yet somehow, even in this digital age, books of all shapes, sizes, and subjects have taken up residence in our lab at a starling rate, to the point where things start to go missing among the piles. From time to time — often at the behest of a lending library or a fellow researcher — we let go of a few of them. A recent “return” pile made me laugh. The stack contained books on trade routes, conservation materials, geochemistry, Egyptian painting, and at least three other seemingly unrelated topics. The only thing these books had in common was the fact that they are bound blocks of text with chapters, references, and page numbers. They were otherwise complete strangers, hailing from disparate corners of the bibliographic universe.

pile of books
A conservator’s book pile.

Why so many books? One reason is that Suzanne and I have made a big push recently to publish some of the research we’re doing. This means checking sources, conducting literature reviews, and verifying information left and right. The research itself has been pretty wide-ranging, from computational imaging of ancient graffiti to chemical analysis of pigments on artifacts. This is where the diverse subject matter of the books in our lab starts to make sense. Conservators often find themselves needing to answer many different types of research questions. Sometimes these focus on figuring out how cultural materials were made and used. But more often than that, they’re about developing ways to characterize and slow artifact deterioration. Cultural heritage preservation is our primary goal, after all! Conservators have always been active in presenting their work at conferences, and an increasing number are publishing their practical experiences in books and journals. This means more peer review, and even more helpful references to fill our lab with. All good things, in my book!

Ugly Object of the Month — December 2018

By Caroline Roberts, Conservator

This month’s Ugly Object is, at first glance, pretty unrecognizable. Its outline suggests a bust format, and one can start to make out a head, the folds of robe, locks of shoulder-length hair, a beard and other facial features. While I personally couldn’t make heads or tails of who this figure is, a trained eye (namely, Kelsey director Terry Wilfong) can spot specific details that reveal that this somewhat diminished bust is in fact a deity —specifically, the Graeco-Egyptian god Serapis. Serapis was worshiped in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt and elsewhere in the Roman empire as a cult deity. Like most gods, Serapis wore many hats: he was seen as an oracle, a consort to Isis, a hybridization of the bull deity Apis and Osiris, and a figure associated with the underworld.

wooden bust of Egyptian god Serapis
Wooden bust of Serapis decorated with gesso, bole, and gold leaf. H: 10.2 cm. Roman period, late 2nd to early 3rd century CE. KM 4655.

How do we know that this particular wooden bust is Serapis? A major clue is in the wooden dowel at the top of the figure’s head, which originally held a grain basket in place. The thick, shoulder-length hair is another Serapis signature. The decorative surface is pretty patchy, but the losses happen to reveal how the figure was made. A carved wood base was coated with a thick layer of gesso. A layer of red clay (called bole) was painted onto the gesso, and a final layer of gold leaf was applied on top. The bole would have allowed the gilding to be burnished and smoothed to a lustrous sheen, which would have made this Serapis super shiny. This is fitting, considering that the bust likely started out as an element of bling on a piece of furniture.

Come visit our shiny Serapis, on display in the Karanis House on the first floor of the Upjohn Exhibit wing! And see if you can spot other Graeco-Roman Egyptian deities elsewhere in the Kelsey galleries.

From the Archives 36 — November 2018

By Sebastián Encina, Collections Manager

The primary purpose of the Kelsey Museum archives is to document the activities of the Museum and capture history that will inform future research. Scholars visit the Kelsey archives to find information relating to excavations. When they want to know, for example, the measurements of the walls at Karanis, or the findspot for that certain vase from Seleucia, or when the excavation team was at Lahoun, they will peruse the records in the archives. Kelsey staff often use the archives to learn how older exhibitions were mounted, how certain artifacts were displayed, or what font was used in an exhibition 30 years ago. This history proves invaluable to the work that takes place at the Kelsey every day.

One of the pleasures of working in archives is finding information that was captured as a memento, but not meant to further research. These are snapshots of life — lectures and parties, events where people came together to socialize. These images will not likely be featured in any publication, nor will researchers from across the world ask to see them. But they remain an interesting view of a time long past, where friends we know, or knew, can be seen in another era.

For this month’s “From the Archives,” we present some random photographs found years ago in the archives. They were never included in our archival photographs database, so identification proved problematic. However, they were seen as being too valuable to the Kelsey’s history to just set aside and forget. Former Kelsey Museum director John G. Pedley (director from 1973 to 1986) sat down recently with the Registry to help identify the people and events in the photos. As a result, we were able to put faces to names, and keep the memories of these people alive. These photographs have now been accessioned into the archives database, and when people come to the Kelsey to do research, these images will be available to them.

 

photo of people in museum gallery.
Left to right: Donald White, Dick Edwards (in background), unidentified man, and Ann and Ted Buttrey. KAP00044.
photo of two men talking in a museum gallery.
Donald White (center right) chatting with an unidentified man in the exhibition gallery. KAP00054.
photo of man at podium in front of seated audience.
Donald White at the podium. Seated, left to right: Clark Hopkins, unidentified woman, Ginnie Moss. KAP00033.
man in suit handles a slide projector while seated audience members look on.
Donald White helping with the projector during a presentation. Ted Buttrey seated at right. KAP00039.
people mingling at an event.
Left to right: Clark Hopkins, Donald White, Ann Buttrey, Ted Buttrey, and James Mason at James Mason’s retirement party. KAP00097.
people mingling at an event.
Standing at right: Clark Hopkins and Donald White at James Mason’s retirement party. KAP00123.
photo of three people talking.
Foreground, left to right: James Mason, Donald White, and Ann Buttrey at James Mason’s retirement party. KAP00135.
four men in suits laughing.
Left to right: John Pedley, Phil (?) Zumetta, unidentified man, and Donald White chatting and laughing. KAP00138.

With Professor Pedley’s assistance, we now know what events are captured in these photos, and and who attended them. We see here many Kelsey stalwarts such as John Pedley, James Mason, and Ted Buttrey attending lectures and receptions, and — in several photos — the retirement party for James Mason, who was responsible for building many of the Kelsey exhibition cases in years past. But one figure, Donald White, appears in all the images, and he is the catalyst for showing these photographs at this time. On November 21, Professor White passed due to injuries sustained in a car accident. He was 83. From 1963 to 1973, White taught at the University of Michigan. He then left to embark on a 30-year career as professor of classical archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania and curator of the Mediterranean section at the Penn Museum. While at Michigan, and continuing at UPenn, White was involved with the excavations at the Libyan sites of Apollonia (1965–1967) and Cyrene (1969, 1971, 1973–1981). More can be learned about these excavations in the Kelsey Museum publication In the Field (Talalay and Alcock, 2006).

It is a sad moment when a friend of the Museum passes. However, we are better off for having had Professor White spend time at the Kelsey. He will be missed, but his work carries on. And these photographs interspersed within our archives will ensure that we at the Kelsey will continue remember him.

 

November’s News from the Conservation Lab — Cultural Heritage Management

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation

Hello! The conservation excitement of my month was attending the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Denver. I co-chair the Cultural Heritage Management sessions for this meeting, along with my colleague Glenn Corbett (program director at the Council of American Overseas Research Centers). This year we had a great selection of papers in two sessions.

The first session focused on ASOR’s Cultural Heritage Initiatives. The ASOR group works on cultural heritage preservation in conflict zones and receives funding from a variety of important sponsors. They focus on documenting damage due to conflict, promoting global awareness of heritage in conflict zones, and planning emergency and post-war responses. We heard from archaeologists working on projects in Iraq, Libya, and Syria. If you love a) human life, and b) archaeological and built heritage, these papers aren’t easy to hear. And yet, it was good to see the important work ASOR is doing in partnership with local communities and heritage professionals in areas suffering from prolonged conflict and instability.

ancient ruins
Jerash, Jordan. Colonnade Street. Image from the ACOR Photo Archive.

Our second session looked at wider preservation initiatives for archaeological heritage and community-focused projects at archaeological sites. We heard about a great photo archive project at the American Center of Oriental Research (ACOR), where archival photographs of Jordanian heritage are being digitized and made publicly available; this form of virtual site preservation is also a special form of time travel, since researchers can see early images of important sites. Following this presentation, a report from Tel Mozan about the ongoing site preservation and presentation work by local community members and Syrian professionals made me jealous that I don’t work there; I would happily hear multiple days of papers about this project! We also heard from two other wonderful community-engaged projects: the Madaba Regional Archaeological Museum Project, and the Umm el-Jimal Project, which is doing so much cool stuff — like water conservation — with its community, it’s hard to know what to explore here. You’ll have to check it out for yourself.

The conference was also interesting for many other reasons. In addition to lots of great archaeology papers and posters (many by current or former IPCAA students), I attended several meta sessions about ASOR itself. For example — the name, is it time to change it? The member consensus was “yes!” Other big topics were: where and how the organization should hold its annual meetings, and how the group would like to develop its research over the next fifty years. I was impressed by the commitment of the ASOR and ACOR boards to transparency and the desire to engage members in these kinds of decisions. It was an inspiring meeting, as always, and I hope you enjoyed this update about it. Check out some of the links above!

Ugly Object of the Month — November 2018

By Suzanne Davis, Curator of Conservation, with Kelsey Director Terry Wilfong

This month for the Ugly Object blog, we’re featuring an object chosen by Kelsey Museum director Terry Wilfong for the new Kelsey in Focus case in our Upjohn Exhibition Wing. To learn about this special object, I interviewed Terry, who is also the Kelsey’s curator of Graeco-Roman Egyptian Collections.

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Suzanne: Hi, Terry! The new Kelsey in Focus case features three ostraka, or pottery sherds with writing on them. Can you tell us what this is about? Why would someone have written on a potsherd?
Terry: In ancient Egypt, papyrus and parchment were relatively scarce commodities, but broken potsherds were easily available. Using a potsherd to write something, like a letter or a tax receipt, was a good way to reuse a common, inexpensive material.

Suzanne: Ostraka, in my opinion, are not the most aesthetically pleasing objects in the world (which is why they’re being featured in this blog), but some people really like them. Is it fair to say you’re one of these people? What can you tell us about the attractions of ostraka?
Terry: I am one of these people! My dissertation research focused on women’s lives in 7th–8th-century Egypt, and one of the main ways I studied this was by reading a set of excavated ostraka from a site called Medinet Habu. Unlike “official” documents, which were written on papyrus or parchment and tended to focus on the lives of elite men, the ostraka from this site were less formal and documented much more about the lives of women.
You are right that ostraka are not good-looking in the way we usually think of museum objects, but that’s what I like about them! They come in different shapes and colors, and they often show a lot of wear. They’re also usually hard to read, since you have to decipher someone’s handwriting at the same time you’re contending with the unique shape of the potsherd. Ostraka are challenging, but very cool.

white limestone with lines of Coptic written in black ink.
Coptic ostrakon written by “Severus.” Ink on limestone. 7th c. AD. 15 x 9.5 cm. KM 25120.

Suzanne: Of the three ostraka being featured in the Kelsey in Focus case, which one is your favorite and why? And can you tell us something about the text?
Terry: My favorite of these is a literary text by “Severus,” as the ostraka identifies the author. It’s interesting for many reasons — it is written on limestone, the handwriting is beautiful, the contents are unusual, and “Severus” was probably an author known locally in Egypt. To learn more about the text (and the language it’s written in), be sure to read my article in the upcoming Kelsey Newsletter (Fall 2018). I don’t want to give everything away in this post ….

Suzanne: Fair enough. We will look forward to your article! What is one thing you think everyone should know about this important class of non-art objects?
Terry: Beauty isn’t everything! Ostraka are written on throwaway pieces of pottery and stone, but if you want to know about the daily lives of ancient people, they’re wonderful — they contain lists, letters, receipts, and contracts. They’re like the email of Graeco-Roman Egypt: pure gold for anyone studying ancient lives.

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Come see this ostrakon for yourself! The Kelsey in Focus case is located on the first floor of the Kelsey Museum, on your right as you enter the galleries from the gift shop.

Interested in learning more about Coptic writings? Check out Written Culture of Christian Egypt: Coptic Manuscripts from the University of Michigan Collection in the Audubon Room of U-M’s Hatcher Graduate Library. This exhibition is curated by visiting scholars Alin Suciu and Frank Feder and is on view November 12th through February 17th, 2019.