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.

International Kurru Archaeological Project — Fieldwork Friday #1

The International Kurru Archaeological Project is back in the field!

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Jebel Barkal in a photo taken during 2016 fieldwork.

30 November 2018

By Gregory Tucker

Welcome to the first of a series of blog posts that I plan on writing every Friday over the next few weeks for the Kelsey Museum’s #fieldworkfriday series! This happens to coincide perfectly with our rest day in the field, so I thought I could take the time to share with you a bit of what we’re up to this season in Sudan.

The International Kurru Archaeological Project has been an international project studying the ancient Nubian site of El Kurru in modern-day Sudan near the city of Karima since 2013. As part of this project I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to conduct geophysical survey at El Kurru and the neighboring sites of Sanam and Jebel Barkal, to get a better understanding of the unexcavated areas of these sites without, or prior to, intensive excavation.[1]

In general, geophysical survey attempts to detect features beneath the surface by remotely sensing various properties at, or just above, the earth’s surface. Perhaps it might be useful to think of an x-ray or other medical imagery detecting something within your body without actually touching the bones or other internal body parts; geophysical survey for archaeology works similarly. In the case of this season’s work I will be conducting a magnetic gradiometry survey over two locations at Jebel Barkal. This technique is similar to the one used by metal detectorists who you may have seen at the beach or in parks, but instead of looking for individual objects we are seeking patterns in the subsurface that are indicative of various structures or other features, and our instruments are able to document all of the readings at the surface as I walk across the desert which I then plot them in a map at the end of the day. This technique has proven especially effective in the conditions we are expecting to experience this season at Jebel Barkal and with any luck we will have exciting results once again![2]

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Here I am walking with the magnetic gradiometer at Sanam in winter 2017. Photo by Ibrahim Sidahmed.

Over Thanksgiving and the subsequent few days, I traveled from Sohag to Cairo to London to Doha to Khartoum, leaving another Kelsey Museum project at Abydos, Egypt, to pick up the magnetic instrument that I will be using this season in Sudan from its home in England.

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I actually passed through sunny Leighton Buzzard to pick up the equipment, rather than London itself.

I had traveled through Doha to reach Sudan once before, in 2016, but that was before the route was changed due to airspace issues, and the flight from Doha to Khartoum has now become two hours longer than just two years ago. There was some good news for me though: The longer itinerary meant a low passenger load and a mere handful of us had almost the entire coach section to ourselves!

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“Boarding complete” on our flight from Doha to Khartoum. Don’t worry, I moved to a window seat. I was very thankful for the empty flight the day after Thanksgiving, with so much travel over the prior 48 hours and so much still to go before reaching Kurru.

Once I arrived in Khartoum I collected my belongings, including the magnetic gradiometer, and I made my way to the hotel for the night to rest for the journey to Kurru the following day. In the morning I met with our colleague and friend Sami Elamin, who is assisting my work as our inspector from the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), and we made the six-hour trip through the desert to Kurru.

This past week has been spent getting started in the field, from arranging logistics related to the work, such as how we would get our breakfast delivered while in the field, to meetings with our colleagues from NCAM and another active project at Jebel Barkal run by the University of Venice, to once again taking part in the vibrant life of the village, for instance by attending a pre-wedding party last night which was open to all and featured a live band and much revelry, at least until the power went out over the entire region for the night.

With the help of my colleagues from Kurru and NCAM we have already collected some very useful data and set out the grid that will guide our work across the landscape.

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Proof of work in the desert (and the heat!) while setting out the grid for our survey work using a total station.

Next weekend (and remember: our rest day is on Friday), I hope to share a bit more about the site of Jebel Barkal and the projects that I am working with this field season.

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1. See our publication on the 2016 season work in 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.

2. In addition to our 2016 publication we have presented our results at the 2018 Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) annual meeting in Boston and the 2018 International Conference for Nubian Studies in Paris.

Craig’s Back!

It’s been pretty quiet in the corridors of Newberry Hall lately. The Kelsey staff is as busy as ever, but the students are all away for the summer; some are taking part in fieldwork projects, others are conducting their own research. (Some might be kicking back, though I’d wager it’s not very many.) The Kelsey research library and the IPCAA study areas — normally hives of activity enlivened by the voices of students chatting about their research, an upcoming exam, or the latest happenings on campus — are dark and deserted.

Frankly, it’s been a little dull around here.

But the new semester is approaching and the students have begun to trickle back, hale and tan and with renewed energy, and we who have stayed behind prod them for details about their adventures abroad.

The first to return this year is one of our favorite Canadians, Craig Harvey, who’s beginning his sixth year as an IPCAA grad student. We sat down with Craig to learn about his summer and (let’s be honest) to live vicariously for a little while as he regaled us with tales of his travels.

* * * * *

The Kelsey: Welcome back, Craig! What have you been up to this summer?
Craig: Quite a lot! My “summer” actually started back in January when I left for what I thought would be a three-month research trip to Israel, Cyprus, and Jordan to collect data for my dissertation. During my trip, I was invited to join a survey project in Saudi Arabia, which extended my travels until June when I presented at a conference in Jordan and participated in a second project in Israel.

Petra-web
Craig in front of al-Khazneh (“The Treasury”), Petra, Jordan. All photos courtesy of Craig Harvey.

Kelsey: Wow. That sounds amazing. What specifically were you working on?
Craig:
During my time in Israel, Cyprus, and Jordan I was doing a lot of traveling to sites relevant to my dissertation, which is on Roman-period construction in the Eastern Mediterranean. Specifically, I was looking at the extent of local influence on the construction techniques and materials used in Roman baths. When I was not visiting sites, I was conducting research in libraries and meeting with local scholars.

Kourion-web
The Sanctuary of Apollo Kylates at Kourion, Cyprus.

Kelsey: And in Saudi Arabia?
Craig: In Saudi Arabia, I was part of a survey project documenting the archaeological remains around the city of al-Ula, and for the project in Israel, I was working as the numismatist and was processing and identifying their coins.

al-Ula-web
The old city of al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.
Saleh-web
Qasr al-Farid, a rock-cut tomb at Mada’in Saleh, near al-Ula, Saudi Arabia.

Kelsey: That sounds like an incredible experience. Did you get to travel around much?
Craig: Yes, I got to travel a lot, although not all that much in Saudi Arabia. I have been going to Jordan since 2008, and yet there were still places I had not seen before, so this trip was a chance for me to finally get to these important archaeological sites.

Kelsey: What did you do in your free time?
Craig: More travel! I tried to visit as many sites as possible, even those not connected to my dissertation. While in Cyprus, I rented a car and visited a number of the Painted Churches in the Troodos Mountains, and I even managed to visit Beirut and a few sites in Lebanon during the month I was in Jordan.

Kelsey: You must have seen some spectacular things. What would you say was your favorite aspect of the trip? Did you discover any “hidden gems”?
Craig: Well, like I said, I have been going to Jordan for over ten years now, but I still cannot get over how friendly and hospitable the people are. In my opinion, they are some of the nicest people in the world. In terms of a hidden gem, I have to recommend Qasr Bshir, which is a Late Roman fort in the Jordanian desert. It is one of the best-preserved Roman forts in the world, with its walls and towers nearly fully preserved. In my opinion it is one of the best hidden sites in the Middle East and is just spectacular.

Qasr-Bshir-web
A view of Qasr Bshir, a Late Roman fort in the Jordanian desert.

Kelsey: Thanks a lot, Craig! What’s next for you?
Craig: Now I’ll go back to writing my dissertation!

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Craig would like to express his thanks to the American Center of Oriental Research, the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, and the Rackham Graduate School for the generous grants that funded much of his travel.

Student research on university excavations at Dimé, Egypt, 1931–1932

by Bianca Gallina and Josiah Olah, U-M students

Through the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) we each joined Professor Arthur Verhoogt’s research project in the fall of 2016. We were interested in the documentation of an excavation at Dimé, Egypt, that lasted only a single field season, from 1931 to 1932. Because current archaeologists are revisiting this site, our goal has been to digitize the Dimé material such as field notes, triangulation points, and maps both hand drawn and printed. After we exhausted materials at the Bentley Historical Library we contacted the Kelsey Museum for assistance. With immense help from Museum Collections Manager Sebastián Encina, we began continuing our research with the Kelsey’s archives. Since then our project has continually been aided by the Kelsey Museum from both their staff and the materials made available to us. The materials we have been digitizing from the Kelsey will be shared with and examined by the archaeologists who have been excavating Dimé recently and will be used as a tool to further their research as well.

Sebastián Encina has assisted us repeatedly in our research with the Kelsey archives. He assisted us in not only the digitization of these maps and documents, but has also helped us obtain valuable experience in how to research efficiently and effectively. Through our research at the Kelsey each of us now has a far greater understanding in scanning documents to TIF files for dense pixel quality, the process of adding and amending metadata to digitized documents, using Photoshop, moving material into a database format, and improving the methods we used in researching these documents.

Aside from the many new archival research skills we acquired, we also were introduced to much of the Kelsey museum staff as well as the Clark Library staff after visiting the map library to scan the largest maps we found. The museum resources we have been able to utilize, including people and technology, have allowed for complete student engagement and a unique opportunity to further our research in this area. With the help of the Kelsey’s resources we created a poster presentation for the UROP symposium and also presented our research during the Department of Classical Studies Research Symposium. The work we have done so far at the Kelsey has been a wonderful opportunity to further our academic experiences on a professional level.

We are extremely thankful for all that the Kelsey has provided to us and added in our research project. We strongly recommend future students to contact the Kelsey and if possible utilize its vast resources to improve their own research and to gain truly unique and valuable experience in the museum’s fields of study. Each of our first years at the University of Michigan have been fantastic academic experience made in a large part by the Kelsey Museum.

 

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Here we are presenting our work at the UROP Symposium

From the Archives 19 — April 2017

BY SEBASTIÁN ENCINA, Museum Collections Manager

Around the world, the Kelsey Museum is known as the home for the excavations at Karanis, which the University of Michigan conducted between 1924 and 1935. The collections and archives from this expedition continue to fascinate us, and they provide a wealth of information we continue to revisit through many projects. Scholars from everywhere look to the collections, both artifacts and archives, to further research and our understanding of Egypt under Roman power. Here in Ann Arbor, the collections play an important role with classes and exhibitions.

When Francis Kelsey was finding funding for the Karanis expedition, he was actually initiating a fund to excavate at multiple locations. In 1924, U-M went to Karanis, as well as Antioch and Carthage. These latter two sites turned out to have single-season excavations, as the focus was placed on Karanis due to its rich artifact and papyrological finds. U-M stayed there through 1935, when finally excavations were completed. However, the team did not excavate only at Karanis during this time, as they ventured to other sites while in Egypt. In 1931, the team went to Soknapaiou Nesos (Dimé), and in 1935 they excavated at Terenouthis. Each of these also turned out to be a single-season excavation due to a number of reasons.

Since 1931, the Kelsey has still housed the archives and artifacts from Dimé. Not nearly as plentiful as Karanis, it still provides a wealth of information for archaeologists working at Dimé today. These archives were deposited within the papers of the Karanis Expeditions, not even separated into their own collections. Because of the tremendous attention paid to Karanis, the Dime archives are not as often studied.

Over the past academic year, Classics professor Arthur Verhoogt made an effort to focus on Dimé again. Prof. Verhoogt worked with two UROP students, Bianca Gallina and Josiah Olah, to revisit this collection, study what they could within the Kelsey as well as Bentley Historical Library. The two students scoured the letters, papers, drawings, and maps, and made note of what they found that would be useful to researchers.

For this month’s From the Archives, we present some of the items they digitized. Much like Karanis, the excavations at Dime resulted in some impressive maps. These will likely look familiar to some readers, as the style and look of these maps are similar to those from Karanis. The maps include triangulation points, cross sections, and overview of the excavation site. Having these on hand will assist us in understanding the work carried out at Dime nearly 90 years ago. This is even more important to our colleagues who continue working at the site. This Spring term, the students will continue digitizing more archival materials, including house drawings. In Autumn, the Dime excavators will visit Ann Arbor to further research the materials housed here. By then, we hope to have everything digitized to provide even greater access.

Low-tech adhesive testing for Egyptian polychrome limestone

BY CAROLINE ROBERTS, Conservator, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology

One of my favorite conservation activities is researching practical solutions to complex condition problems. Example problem: how to stabilize flaky, powdery paint on deteriorating Egyptian limestone artifacts. The solution? Some kind of adhesive. But which kind would work best in an outdoor environment on salt-laden painted stone?

To figure this out I took a look at published information on the treatment of painted Egyptian limestone sculpture and wall paintings. There’s a lot of information out there on this topic, and I wanted to see for myself how some of the adhesives tested by conservators and scientists performed on a painted, salty limestone surface. The Kelsey Conservation Lab has limited equipment for this type of research, although we often partner up with labs that do (check back with the Kelsey blog for an upcoming post on our collaboration with UM’s Aerospace Engineering Department). One thing I could do in-house was to create mockups of the problem surface to approximate how each adhesive might perform in situ.

 

Creating mockups that accurately represent the materials and conditions of an ancient paint surface required some creativity. I used travertine tiles as a base, and soaked half of them in a solution of sodium chloride, or halite. This type of salt is present in much of the soil in Egypt, and has been shown to have an impact on adhesive performance. Stone was often covered with a “preparation” layer (or layers) of plaster before paint was applied, so I applied Plaster of Paris to each tile. I then applied a layer of red ochre in gum Arabic — a plant-derived binder used in ancient Egyptian wall painting — with a high pigment-to-gum ratio representing the often diminished state of ancient binders on polychrome limestone. A section of each material — stone, plaster, and paint — was left visible on each mockup.

I applied five different adhesives to the tiles, leaving a number of them untreated as a control. I recorded their working properties, absorption, and resulting color changes, and then placed them outside to see how the adhesives fare in an exposed environment on both salty and un-salty mockups. From this low-tech experiment I hope to determine, from a practical angle, which adhesive to use on artifacts both at the Kelsey Museum and in field settings.

RTI at Kurru!

JANELLE BATKIN-HALL, Graduate Intern in Conservation

I’ve just returned from a fantastic six-week fieldwork experience at the El Kurru archaeological site in North Sudan. There, Kelsey conservator Suzanne Davis and I documented ancient figural and geometric graffiti in a funerary temple at the site. Each day, Suzanne and I would make our way through a maze of mudbrick alleys to the edge of the village, where the funerary temple and several royal burial tombs and pyramids are located in the desert.

We photographed  the graffiti using a process called reflectance transformation imaging (RTI) (fig. 1). RTI is an excellent technique for documentation because each pixel records surface texture in addition to color. Since sandstone is subject to ongoing disintegration and loss, the resulting RTI images provide an excellent record of the graffiti’s current condition, as well as a highly detailed image of the column’s surface texture.

Fig-1
Figure 1. Conservators Suzanne Davis (left) and Janelle Batkin-Hall performing RTI imaging at El Kurru. (photo by Walter de Winter)

The Kurru graffiti were documented using highlight image capture where the camera remains fixed and a portable flash is moved at intervals which create a dome of light over the surface.  In a single photo sequence of one object (or in this case, graffito), approximately 48 digital images are taken. Two reflective black spheres are also fixed within the image frame, and the reflection of the flash on these spheres allows the processing software to calculate the light direction for each image. The resulting images are combined with software, resulting in a single file. In this file, the viewer can move the light source across the surface in order to examine the surface details and topography from any angle (fig. 2).  As a result of using this technique, 64 “new” ancient graffiti were positively identified and additional surface details became visible. In a couple of instances, a graffito was initially misidentified. For example, in 2015 a particular graffito was identified as an arrow. After performing RTI, it was clearly a human figure.

Fig-2_RTIViewer_Screen_Capture
Figure 2. Screen capture of bull graffito using CHI’s RTIViewer software.

For me, this was a great experience because I was able to use a technique I recently learned in graduate school. Being able to apply it onsite and share the results with our colleagues was very rewarding.