Kate Fulcher

Painting Amara West: the technology and experience of colour in New Kingdom Nubia

Supported by

Arts and Humanities Research Council

My research investigates ancient paint and related technological objects that have been excavated from the ancient Egyptian town of Amara West (now in northern Sudan).

Start Date: September 2013
End Date: September 2017
Theme: The 'lives' of objects from their making, use, reception, loss, collection and later use and understanding. What objects can reveal about the social, cultural, religious, creative and political history of their makers, users, owners, depositors and collectors.
Research discipline: Scientific research
Locations: Africa, Middle East
Staff member: Neal Spencer
Rebecca Stacey
Department: Scientific Research; Ancient Egypt and Sudan
University and department: Institute of Archaeology, University College London
University supervisor: Ian Freestone and Ruth Siddall
Profile: Academia.edu
University College London
My website
Researchgate Profile

Are there differences between materials and technical processes in Amara West and Egypt, evidence of Nubian or localised practices?

Limited evidence for uptake of locally sourced pigments to replace Egyptian colours that are scarce or absent.

Can the evidence for painting materials and processes at Amara West tell us anything about wider social frameworks such as the organisation of labour or the centralisation of Egyptian blue production?

There does not seem to be a colour workshop, although there are areas of more concentrated colour production. Access to Egpytian blue and green appears to be restricted, maybe implying an elite or centralised control of the pigment.

What are the ways in which people at Amara West experienced colour? How did their experience of colour affect their technological choices?

This work took place Feb 2017.

About my research

The ancient Egyptian colour palette has been investigated extensively, but nearly always from royal, elite and funerary sources, typically based on objects housed in museums. The British Museum excavation of the Ramesside town of Amara West in northern Sudan has enabled an examination of the use of colour by a very different section of the population, enhanced by the ability to export samples for laboratory analysis (granted by the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums [Sudan]).

Painted decoration applied to house walls, including those of very modest dimension, and fragments of polychrome coffins are being analysed to identify pigment mixtures, and organic binders. Furthermore, a dump of materials relating to colour production (raw pigment, sherds reused as palettes, grinding stones) sheds light on the chaîne opératoire. The research thus provides insights into production and application of pigment in a vernacular setting.

Taking paint samples on site at Amara West, north Sudan

Conducting organic analysis for binders in the new labs in the WCEC at the Museum

On site at Amara West, north Sudan

Aims of my research

By investigating both the technology of the production of colour (paint) and conducting an sensory experiential project to experience this production process, I hope to provide insights into the practical and cultural performance characteristics of the painting materials and thus the reason for their selection in specific contexts.


Oxford (RLAHA) and UCL study day, 16 July 2014