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November 2002-April 2009Excavating Hierakonpolis
The final week of work in the Nubian Cemetery: we concentrated on clarifying Tomb 17 (foreground) and making progress in Tomb 22, but we had many diversions.
The only intact Nubian pot we found came from the upper levels of Tomb 22. Click here for a view of the pot.
Who would have imagined there would be a pot under every rock!?
Another offering place appears on the southeast.
The bowl had been set within a little brick cist.
Egyptian pots from the offering places. Click here to see the incised potmarks on the center jar.
Tomb 17's offering stone offering chapel was made with those special yellow stones. Originally it must have been a colorful tribute.
Dr. Salah on the job
Part of the coffin with disarticulated bones still remained in Tomb 22. The pit the plunderers dug in the western side was clear.
Although plundered, Tomb 22 still contained some treasures including the carved cow horn torque, which glistens in the sun.
Masahiro in blissful contemplation
Photos courtesy of the Hierakonpolis Expedition. Click on images for larger versions.
by Renée Friedman

Nubians at Hierakonpolis: Week 5, Part 1

It was now the final few days of the dig and all eyes and hands were turned toward two objectives: removing the fallen material still covering the tumulus of Tomb 17; and the excavation of Tomb 22, a grave next to Tomb 17 on the south, but obscured by masses of fallen brickwork. It was now time to take the plunge.

Initial investigation of Tomb 22 had delighted us with the only C-Group vessel we found completely intact: a small black-topped cup sitting among brickbats just below the surface.

As work in this southern quadrant proceeded, it became clear that this lovely little pot did not come from the tomb itself, but from one of the numerous offering places that surrounded both tombs. In fact, just about every rock, boulder, and brick wall, no matter how jerry-built, turned out to be an offering place!


Excavating Tomb 22

With our now reduced crew (Gillian, Serena, and Xavier had left us), this revelation was akin to a pleasant nightmare. It was hard to know where to look, photography, map, or record next--never has stress been so much fun!

With two crews of workmen concentrating on Tomb 17, the real walls of the tumulus were soon revealed--four carefully laid courses of bricks, with the bottom course set in radiating headers. It was a nice piece of workmanship.


The tumulus of Tomb 17 glows in the morning light.

As the workmen moved around the east, a recalcitrant tumble of bricks and stones that we had been picking at for some time finally was forced to give up its secret, as first a jar and then a fine little hemispherical bowl emerged, placed up against a fairly funky brick wall. The wall appears to belong to Tomb 22, but the boulder that it runs up against is associated with Tomb 17, so to whom these pots were left in memory is still unclear. Another big flat stone, no doubt part of the roof of yet another unexcavated tomb was also near by, so there are a number of options for these above ground offerings--or maybe they really were meant for all three.

[image] Deposited up against a brick wall, a jar and a hemispherical bowl. Click here for a view of the restored pots.

Meanwhile on the western side of Tomb 17's tumulus another large rounded boulder, our datum rock, was also divulging the offering place nestled at its base, over which we had walked everyday for five weeks! If we had only known! Within a small brick cist radiating out from the boulder was a hemispherical bowl, and beside it another set of stones served as markers for even more offering places.

The bowl from the datum offering place.

Though fractured, having either been ritually killed at deposition or later maliciously smashed, the offered pots could be mended to completion and including Egyptian wheel made vessels and Nubian black-topped bowls. One Egyptian vessel had a potmark typical of Middle Kingdom pottery all over Egypt, but of unknown significance. These potmarks can be geometric or of animals, and are always incised after the pot is fired, so they appear to be owner's marks rather than maker's marks. Curiously they are almost always on jars of this type and rarely on other types of vessels.

All around Tomb 17, under every rock was something--a pot, a flint blade, beads. Clearly this tumulus had belonged to someone who had been well loved or respected in life. This was expressed not just in offerings, our investigation also showed the amount of effort that went into the building of the funerary monument itself.

Something under every rock!


The well-built of brick tumulus was only the first part. After its construction, the massive rounded boulders had been rolled in and set in place abutting the brick walls. They were not natural features, as we originally thought, but sit on building debris from the tumulus construction. Two large boulders had been placed along the southern side of the tumulus and between them a platform or offering chapel was built of those special yellow sandstones that the Nubians favored. Once cleared of all its overburden Tomb 17 was a remarkable sight. In its full glory with its white boulders, yellow platform chapel and multicolored pots nestled between the stones and resting beside the dark brick of the tumulus, it must have been an impressive and touching tribute to a surprisingly young member (the physical anthropologist tell us the young man was aged about 20 at time of death) of the C-Group community.

Tomb 22, which was evidently built later, may have belonged to someone with close family ties. Its rather ad-hoc above-ground architecture of bricks and stone carefully skirts the construction of Tomb 17, but borrows support from it and may have partaken in some of its offerings, if it was not the focus of its own.

The tomb belonged to an older woman (perhaps the mother?) who had been buried in a narrow wood coffin with white plastered sides. Although plundered, again masses of multicolored leather were revealed piled up over and around the long bones.

[image] Tomb 22, left, and the remnants of its brick and stone tumulus. It contained masses of multicolored leather, right, made of a patchwork of smaller pieces. [image]

From previous experience we knew that the excavation of these fragile remains was time consuming, and time was one thing we didn't have a lot of. To expedite the situation we sent in our best workman, Salah Mohamed el-Amir. The tomb shaft was surprisingly deep and the organic preservation remarkably good, for not only masses of leather were recovered, but also a good deal of intestinal content, and with no fresh air down in the shaft this made for a rather uncomfortably smelly job for Salah. But we were prepared, and once clad in his surgical mask, Salah got down to the delicate job with the wonderful results we had come to expect from him.

Unfortunately the body had been completely disarticulated during plundering, although most of the skeletal elements were recovered, telling us the occupant was a woman, in her late 30s to early 40's at the time of her death, with some bad teeth! Two cavities were observed on the molars of her jaw. The poor dental health seen in just the few examples where the teeth are preserved (see also Tomb 18 with his potentially lethal abscess) stands in strong contrast to what we see in the Predynastic cemetery at HK43, dating some 1,500 years earlier. However, we must also take into account that the Nubians in the C group cemetery, though admittedly based on a very small sample so far, are living on average a great deal longer. In the Predynastic cemetery, the majority of the over 400 individuals excavated there were died between the ages of 25 and 35, while in the C group cemetery, most of our folks are in the 40s or older. Again, it must be stressed, that our excavations in the C group cemetery are only beginning and our sample size is too small to really generalize at this point.

In addition to the leather, Salah's careful ministrations revealed numerous brown faience beads still on their string, and tucked into northeastern corner of the coffin, possibly originally before the face, a Nile oyster shell containing cosmetic pigment (kohl). Loose in the fill, he also unearthed a fragment of what may possibly have been a torque necklace. Although the material initially looked like tortoise shell, examination by Wim Van Neer, our archaeozoologist, showed it to be cow horn that had been carefully carved and polished. Held up to the light, it was stunning. It is hard to imagine what beauties this tomb my originally have held.

[image] In the disturbed debris, beads still on their string were revealed.

Between the pots popping up everywhere and continuous revelations in Tomb 22 it was not surprising that at the close of work on the final day, after the final day group photos and after all the stakes, markers and equipment had been collected, we drove off exhausted, but had to leave behind poor Masahiro (at his request--and who could blame him after the hysteria of the final day) to map in the final finds and contemplate our amazing discoveries.

The end-of-season group photo

The actual excavation is only one part of any field season. The longer and more difficult part is the analysis and study of what has been found, so just because we were no longer out in the field at dawn, that didn't mean it was rest time. In fact, back at house, the only one snoozing was the cat!


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