In February 2019, the EES launched a new archaeological project on the Third Cataract of the Nile in Sudan. The aims for this new mission are to investigate how the entanglement between the Nubian and Egyptian cultures occurred in this area, and how the archaeological landscape has shaped its occupation. We assume the situation is far more complex than as it looks at first sight.

During February, Cédric (EES), Carl (EES), Stephanie (EES), Julie (MA student, Montreal), and Amel Hassan Gasmalla (NCAM inspector), assessed the main features of the concession. A stone settlement, previously identified as HBB017 by Osman and Edwards (2011), is located near a small, modern village called Uraaw and formed the focus of the survey. Initial conversations with the local community indicated that there were more areas of interest to investigate than initially expected from previous publications.

Overview of HBB017

The aims of this first campaign were to assess the occupation period of the settlement, produce a first map of it, and to survey and identify the other features present within the concession. In order to achieve these objectives, a topographer (Olivier) and a ceramicist (Philippe) joined the team for the first part of the season.

We completed an initial surface survey in and around the settlement to produce a topographic map, locate and record any major artifacts encountered, as well as to examine the ceramic sherds. The survey highlighted a few spots where artifact concentration was higher, including ceramic sherds and stone flakes with traces of debitage. The first results are impressive: the surface pottery collected shows a clear blend between Egyptian and Nubian pottery types, and hint at a potential occupation period concentrated around the Classic Kerma / early 18th Dynasty with some later reoccupation during the Christian period. It is expected that excavation with further analysis of ceramic assemblages will give further detail of this short occupation period which corresponds to a time when this region was the meeting point between Egyptian and Nubian communities living in modern-day northern Sudan.

Stephanie and Amel taking total station points in Area 3

Alongside the surface survey and processing, we were able to complete the first ever topographic map of settlement HBB017. We can now deduce that the settlement is divided in three large round enclosures in the centre, within and around which a dozen household units are built, some containing a few smaller rooms. Other outlying structures surround the rocky escarpments and are mostly circular in shape. Further archaeological investigation will be necessary to obtain a clearer picture of the whole settlement’s layout and purpose of the different structures visible in the map.

In order to understand the stratigraphic preservation at the site, a single unit was chosen for further investigation, known as Area 3. The structure covers an area of 200m2 and is divided into five different spaces, each of them having been partially excavated this season by a different team member. The processing of the preliminary results of this work is now in progress but already indicate that each space (or room) had a specific function: i.e. storeroom, working space, living quarter, etc. These promising results are however just the tip of the iceberg of the work that would be required to explore this site to the fullest and allow us to understand the purpose of the settlement and its remote location.

Some of the rock art discovered in the area being photographed by Olivier

In order to introduce ourselves and our work to the local community a gathering was organized. Though only numbering around 100 individuals, the small community have a distinct identity as part of the Mahas tribe and use the Rotana language. This led to a few funny moments when trying to translate words from Arabic to Rotana! The good relations with our local community extended to our work where we were helped by a small group in our excavations, as well as finding supplies of equipment and even pointing out sites that had been missed in previous surveys.

The archaeological potential of the area surrounding Uraaw is exciting. The large settlement of HBB017 is just the centre of a huge landscape including cemeteries, production zones, rock art, rock inscriptions, as well as natural features specific to the Third Cataract region. The local community are engaged with the survey and we look forward to seeing them again in order to continue the work. It is thanks to the efforts of our local helpers and our fantastic NCAM inspector (Amel) that this initial season was so fruitful, as well as to the supporters of the EES for funding such a unique archaeological mission. Thank you all!

The archaeological team at Area 3, HBB017. L-R: Stephanie, El-Zebir, Carl, Albazer, Selim, Mohamed, Mohaned, Amel, Julie, and Cédric