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The desert above the Stone Village, a small stone hut in the foreground.

Background


Anna Stevens

The Stone Village is located in a shallow valley on the northern face of a low plateau in the desert to the east of the main city. On the southern face, some 20-minutes walk away, lies the Workmen’s Village, the subject of EES excavations in the 1920s and again in the 1970s and ‘80s.

View from Stone Village to the cliffs of the high desert in the east. The entrances of the Royal and Great Wadis are highly visible from the site.
View from Stone Village to the cliffs of the high desert in the east. The entrances of the Royal and Great Wadis are highly visible from the site.

The Stone Village was, for a long time, a little understood — and indeed, little commented upon — element of Amarna. Barry Kemp undertook a sketch survey of the site on behalf of the EES in the 1970s (see Kemp 1978) and magnetometer survey and aerial photography were undertaken thereafter, but otherwise the site remained largely unrecorded. Suggestions regarding its function remained speculative and based largely on its setting on the city fringes. Was it a military outpost? A camp for workmen involved in cutting and decorating tombs? Might it have been an earlier ‘Workmen’s Village’ — or a settlement for servants assigned to the latter?

View of the Stone Village from the south-east
View of the Stone Village from the south-east

Against this backdrop, the Stone Village Survey was initiated in 2005, as a subsidiary element of the Amarna Project. Its aims were to:

  • reconstruct as far as possible the layout and appearance of the Stone Village and arrive at a better understanding of its internal function,
  • position the site within the broader physical and social landscape of Amarna (and beyond), through a contextual reading of the in situ remains, and the integration of its material culture, environmental and faunal remains into the Amarna-wide data set,
  • and consider, more generally, what the site indicates of life in special-purpose and peripheral occupational areas, and in particular of themes of isolation, adaptation and the control and ordering of space and activity.

The Survey ran from 2005–9, with five main survey and excavation seasons, and two study seasons. The results are published in full in a two-volume excavation monograph (Stevens 2012). Annual reports on the fieldwork are also provided at the links above.

The site is dominated by a roughly rectangular scatter of limestone boulders, and low mounds of crumbled orange marl clay, sherds and other cultural debris. This ‘Main Site’ represents the remains, heavily disturbed by looters, of a dense area of construction and the living-deposits it contained. Excavations at the Main Site revealed a dense cluster of roofed structures and external areas, in part probably used for residential purposes, but not laid out in the same neat arrangement of rows of houses separated by laneways as seen at the Workmen’s Village. It is also a much smaller site than the latter, and whilst the Main Site was surrounded, at least in part, by a perimeter wall, this was much less substantial than that at the Workmen’s Village.

Stone Village Map

Map of The Stone Village (Click to enlarge)

On the surface and slopes of the plateau, and to a lesser extent down on the desert floor, are further survivals of Amarna Period construction and activity. The most prominent are two heavily denuded stone structures on the plateau surface south of the Main Site (Structures I and II), perhaps connected with the administration, supplying and policing of the site. A smaller stone emplacement, perhaps a guard post (Structure III), lies on the plateau surface to the north. One clear focus of ancient activity was the spur that encloses the Main Site on its south-east side (the east spur). A number of robbed-out tomb shafts are visible on the eastern face of the spur, indicating the location of a small cemetery. On the north and west faces of this spur there are several other disturbed features, some of which are quarries for marl, in at least one case converted into a possible silo. Elsewhere around the site are occasional small clusters of stones that might be the remnants of simple emplacements such as jar-stands, whilst the ground bears scatters of potsherds and other materials, such as flaked basalt, occasionally in distinct clusters. Notably, there is no sign of a well. The extramural area at the Stone Village is again much less developed than that at the Workmen Village, with no evidence of private chapels or garden beds as found at this site.

The Stone Village seems to have been, in its final form at least, home to a community of labourers connected with the more mundane aspects of construction, such as cutting stone and plastering finished surfaces. The presence of basalt waste, probably from the production of hammerstones, and use of the latter to quarry out limestone within the Royal Wadi, suggests that this community was involved in work on the Royal Tombs, as was that of the Workmen’s Village. It is premature to rule out the possibility that they were also engaged on work at private tombs, or perhaps at other worksites when needed, although a connection with quarry sites proper is far less certain.

The reason why the eastern plain supported two workers’ villages remains elusive. It is nevertheless difficult to envisage the Stone Village as having been designed from the outset to serve as an outpost of the Workmen’s Village, whether to provide it with goods, services or secondary accommodation. The Stone Village has its own character and complex internal history. It may have had a completely independent origin, even predating the Workmen’s Village in its construction, and over time saw quite substantial architectural expansion and modification, presumably in response to changes in function and/or personnel. A more complex dynamic may thus have underlain the co-existence of the villages, related to their potentially staggered periods of occupation and the kinds of communities they represented. One important result of the Stone Village Survey was to tease out differences between the two villages, especially in terms of internal organisation and quality of life, including level of state support. This leads, in turn, to the idea that two quite different processes might have given rise to the two communities. Let us suppose that the Workmen’s Village housed a pre-existing group of workers, presumably from Deir el-Medina. This group, with a strong identity as tomb builders and in some cases artists, came to Amarna as a fully fledged community, with their own social networks, modes of living and relationship with the state. Their ways of doing things were long established. Even at the time that the Workmen¹s Village was being built, however, there could have existed, on the other side of the plateau, a small group of personnel, only recently brought together, who were already engaged in activities on the eastern boundary of the city. The cutting of tombs might not yet have featured amongst their workload, and they may not have identified themselves as tomb builders. Over time, as the need for workers in the Royal Wadi, and perhaps other tomb sites, increased, the Stone Village became a place to send new labourers to who could not be readily integrated into the Workmen’s Village. The physical expansion of the site, and a shift in its main role, followed. At the same time, it was progressing down the path of transition from being simply a settlement shared by a group of workers to becoming a community proper, with its own character. And so the two villages co-existed, sometimes overlapping in their roles and sharing at least the Royal Wadi as a worksite, but with their own individual patterns of living.


Publications

Stevens, A. 2012. Akhenaten’s Workers. The Amarna Stone Village Survey, 2005–2009. Volume II: The Faunal and Botanical Remains, and Objects. London: Egypt Exploration Society and Amarna Trust. With contributions by A. Clapham, M. Gabolde, R. Gerisch, A. Legge and C. Stevens.

Stevens, A. 2012. Akhenaten’s Workers. The Amarna Stone Village Survey, 2005–2009. Volume I: The Survey, Excavations and Architecture. London: Egypt Exploration Society and Amarna Trust. With contributions by W. Dolling.

Stevens, A. 2011. ‘The Amarna Stone Village survey and life on the urban periphery in New Kingdom Egypt’, Journal of Field Archaeology 36, 100-118.

Stevens, A. and W. Dolling, 2009. ‘The Stone Village’, in B. Kemp, ‘Tell el-Amarna, 2008-9’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 95, 1-11

Stevens, A. and W. Dolling, 2008. ‘The Stone Village’, in B. Kemp, ‘Tell el-Amarna, 2007-8’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 94, 1-13

Stevens, A. and W. Dolling, 2007. ‘The Stone Village’, in B. J. Kemp, ‘Tell el-Amarna’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 93, 1–11.

Stevens, A. and W. Dolling, 2007. ‘Shedding light on the Stone Village at Amarna’, Egyptian Archaeology 31, 6–8.

Stevens, A. and W. Dolling, 2006. ‘The Stone Village: 2005–2006’, in B. J. Kemp, ‘Tell el-Amarna 2006’, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 92, 23–7.

 
 

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