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False-colour Landsat satellite image of the Nile Valley, Amarna slightly left of centre. North is to the left.

Middle Egypt Survey Project 2005

Contents

Introduction
Background
Objectives
Coring on the West Bank
West Bank Exploration
Coring in the North Palace well
Future work

Introduction

The 2005 Middle Egypt Survey Project commenced on March 7th, 2005, directed by Sarah Parcak of Cambridge University and assisted by Dr. Greg Mumford of the University of Toronto. Special thanks are due to the Supreme Council of Antiquities, directed by Dr. Zahi Hawass, and Mr. Samir Anis, head of Middle Egypt’s antiquities. Mr. Walla Mohammed represented the SCA for the duration of the project. Reis Omer Farouk and Reis Said Mohammed ably assisted the coring portion of the work, with help from Abdullah Mohammed, Hussein Farouk and Ahmed Abdullah. The overall project was generously funded through the Egyptian Exploration Society Centenary Award, a portion of which was the Christine John award.

Background

Initial project work commenced in the winter of 2003-4, when satellite imagery analysis identified over 60 potential archaeological sites on the West Bank. The project work sought to identify sites in relationship to Tell el-Amarna within Akhenaton’s boundary stele, in an area measuring 15x30 kilometers. After locating the sites on the ground using a GPS, material culture was collected for evaluation. 70 sites were visited during the 2004 season, with pottery collected from 27% of the sites. 50% of the sites contained surface material culture including columns, column bases and capitals. 99% of the collected and photographed material culture dated the sites to the Late Roman period, ca. 300-800 AD.

Objectives

The 2005 West Bank coring season set out with the objectives of finding material culture deposits from a variety of different sites, including sites along the Bahr Josepf, beneath modern settlements and below fields. By coring down to a depth of six metres, it was hoped to reach earlier material culture deposits.

Coring on the West Bank

A total of ten sites were visited and cored during the 2005 season, with a variety of depths reached at each site. Initially a practice core was attempted near the site of Ezbet el-Malik to gain expertise in the equipment, an Eijelkamp bailer boring core set. The first site visited, Kiman Zeit, was cored to a depth of 6 metres, with potential early Roman material reached near the base of the core. The site is extensive, extending for a minimum of a kilometer in each direction of the core. At the site of Ismu el-Arus, the core reached a depth of nearly seven metres before material culture stopped appearing. At this site, an imported lamp from Aswan appeared, with a Coptic inscription: Apia Hagiam. Beneath the site of Singerg, potential Roman period material appeared at a depth of 5 meters. Very little material culture was brought up from the site of Nazlet Badramin, although dense clay appeared which seemed to suggest a former branch of the Bahr Josef. Close to this site, at Dawar el-Hakooma, a Corinthian capital and several additional limestone blocks appeared in the fields, next to which we cored to a depth of 5 metres. Using a differential GPS, we were able to map the site of Sheikh Moussa, were we cored 6 metres and still brought up ceramic material. Kom el-Zurzur revealed itself to be atop an ancient gezirah. Two additional cores were attempted in Tell al-Amarna’s North Palace, which are described below.

West Bank Exploration

One day of surface sand clearance (to map subsurface wall-tops) and one of mapping took place at the site of Kom el-Ahmar, a major site dating to the Roman-Late Roman Period. The site is rapidly being covered by sand dunes and removed piecemeal by local farmers. In the northern part of the site a square area of mud brick was revealed, and initial cleaning showed what remained of a large mud brick structure. We decided to clear surface sand to view fully the partly visible wall tops and a small test pit to see how deep the walls extended. The total area of sand cleared measured 10x15 metres and 5x15 metres, in a 25x35 metre area. Five loci appeared during the excavation of a single room in a structure, potentially a poorer house based on the material culture remains. An exposed section revealed walls extending to a maximum of 1.6 metres in depth, with alternating layers of wind blown sand and mud brick collapse debris. A partially exposed floor had Late Roman period pottery. The differential GPS was able to map the entirety of the site, measuring some 500x500 meters in size.

Coring in the North Palace well

In the latter part of the season, it was decided to attempt several cores within the North Palace Well at the site of Tell el-Amarna. The coring efforts had several purposes: to locate anaerobic environmental remains (primarily plant and bug remains), to detect the modern water table and to ascertain at what depth the well began. Initial efforts involved removed large quantities of halfa grass which had grown over the 1996 excavation units. It was decided to first attempt a core in the eastern part of the trench. This core had no ceramic material culture save one sherd from its uppermost layers, and revealed many layers of poorly sorted desert material. It appeared that this core was not taken within the well proper; most likely just outside its environs.

The second core was taken roughly 3 meters to the west of core 1, in another excavation area. The uppermost parts of the core showed modern debris (plastic), with ceramic material first encountered at a depth of 97 cm. At 1.3 metres, a piece of limestone was hit with the core. We changed the core location two times to within 50cm of the initial core, but still hit the same piece of limestone at 1.3 metres. We then changed the core location, with a 1.4 m offset to the west atop a 1 meter higher piece of ground. At a depth of 2.8 metres we hit the water table, which is much higher than it would have been in ancient times (and this would have been variable depending on the Nile ’s flood levels). At a depth of 2.9 meters, we hit a lengthy sequence of alternating bands of sand and clay, representing different seasons. The sand layers appeared as very well sorted, representing probable wind blown sand accumulating within the well in between wetter seasons. Only five of the cores brought up pieces of pottery, of which P. Rose identified one which could tentatively be dated to the Amarna Period. Based on the high rounded nature of the sherds within the cores, it seems that they would have been exposed to the elements for a lengthy period of time before falling/being swept into the well. A very dense clay layer was reached at a total depth of 8.07 metres below the North Palace floor level, with a 47 cm layer of poorly sorted material uncovered below this. Two limestone pieces came up in the second to last core, with a dense piece of saturated limestone encountered in the last core making it impossible to continue.

A total core depth of 5.08 metres was reached, which measures 8.54 metres below the modern North Palace floor levels. It seems that the interior of the Amarna Period well could lie at least 2 metres below what we were able to reach in the two days of coring, so future seasons should reveal the extent of additional material culture and anaerobic materials.

Future work

It is hoped that future coring work will take place within the North Palace well, to gain more information about the material deposited in the well over time. In addition, more sites will be cored on the West Bank to gain a further understanding of the region’s environmental history and to discover any potential earlier remains. Next season the pottery from the excavations at Kom el-Ahmar will be drawn as well in preparation for an article about the site.

 
 

Website first posted September 2000; last updated October 2017 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk