Investigating life in
an Egyptian town
- National Corporation for Antiquities
and Museums, Sudan
- University of Durham
- University of Manchester
- University of Aberystwyth
- Purdue University
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A late Ramesside house divided
Excavation in Amara West has focused on a 600m² area of housing north of the residence of the deputy of Kush. The block of up to nine houses, not all contemporary, were framed by narrow alleys to the west and south.
Further excavations in this area are needed – and the study of artefacts and associated scientific analyses will take many years – but the digging of one house was finished in the 2011 season. The changes made to this house during the late Ramesside period (about 1250-1069 BC) provide a fascinating glimpse of the individual choices made by inhabitants in the ancient town, as they modified their dwellings to meet changing requirements.
In the earliest phase of the town, a house (E13.10) was built directly on the Nile clay of the island. This dwelling featured a sandstone gateway, a central room with a hearth (for cooking and warmth) and a staircase for access to the roof. An outer court with food processing installations was located outside the front door. Our understanding of this house is rather patchy; much of the remains cannot be accessed, as they lie directly beneath well-preserved later architecture.
House E13.10, marl jug (C4019) from rubble 4348
The nature of this area changed in the mid-late 19th Dynasty, with the construction of two long vaulted storerooms, similar to those found attached to temples such as the Ramesseum at Luxor. These magazines are likely to be related to the Deputy’s Residence immediately to the south of the housing area. Upon construction of the magazine, house E13.10 was levelled – the doorposts being laid flat – to allow construction of a new house. A small jug found in the rubble of this early house shows how fine marl vessels were being imported from Egypt. The majority of ceramics were locally produced.
The new house (E13.3) was larger in area (120m²), and features a doorway from the western alley, two broad rooms (the first with a staircase to the roof or upper storey), and a space at the back which may have been divided into two rooms. Similar houses (E13.5 and E13.6) await excavation at the eastern edge of the housing block.
The needs of the inhabitants changed quickly. With almost no deposits accumulating on the smooth clay floors, a thin dividing wall was built down the middle of the house, creating two narrow corridor houses – E13.3-N and E13.3-S. What caused this sudden change? Birth, death, marriage and divorce are among the possible reasons for changing household circumstances. The fortunate discovery of a scarab of Ramesses III, in the first floor layer of the divided house, indicates this architectural change happened after 1194 BC.
Thereafter, the two houses developed separately. Looking at the southern one (E13.3-S), it had a front room reached by a rough staircase down from the space outside. Here, the inhabitants could use the old staircase to access the roof, and also had installations for cereal grinding. Other craft activities may have taken place here, and the floor was relaid at least six times. There was no bread oven in the house at this point, and a courtyard just outside may have provided communal cooking facilities. Some years later, the cereal grinding place was moved, and a bread oven installed inside the house.
The middle room must have been the heart of the house – where people socialised and slept. A hearth in the middle would have been used for cooking and to warm the cold desert nights. The room beyond was the most private in the house, but its purpose is rather unclear. Alongside the recovery of a large array of finds – metal and precious stone jewellery, stone and flint tools, fishing weights and possible toys – was one of the most surprising discoveries at Amara West. A 29 cm high bust of a male figure was found sitting on a short plinth. Such figures, well-known from Deir el-Medina, are likely to have allowed the inhabitants to communicate with deceased relatives.
Surprisingly, the room with the bust was then blocked off, while the front of the house continued in use. Eventually the front two rooms became a larger single room, but this building may no longer have been a house by that point. The site was abandoned some time in the tenth century BC, or slightly later.
Explore the house
Multi-layer phase plan of house E13.3 :
Use the layers menu to the left of the document to view different construction phases.
A preliminary publication of house E13.3-S will appear as N. Spencer, " Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies. London, 2012.