Nubians at Hierakonpolis: Week 1: Tomb 6
From the work in 2001 we knew that there was a tomb (tomb 6) waiting to be excavated in the northeast corner of Test B, and as expected, when we scraped back the surface debris we soon saw the telltale outline of the gray sand filling of the burial shaft framed by the distinctive red color of the earth into which it had been dug. What we didn't expect was its size: over 2 meters long and more than a meter wide, it is the largest Nubian grave we found.
Even more curious is the semi-circular offering chapel (?), strangely at its south end and made of mud bricks. In 2001, we had found only slight traces of mud bricks around some of the graves, so this too was new to us. It surprised us that there was so little stone, in fact, almost none--all the construction material was of mud brick, a material used only rarely in Nubia itself.
As we began excavating, it became clearer that the tomb had probably been topped with a mud-brick vault and may have been at least partly brick lined, but much of the brickwork was very disturbed. Early on it was also clear that there wouldn't be much of the body in situ either, as vertebrae, finger bones, and ribs began to appear within the upper layers of debris.
In the end, the tomb turned out to be completely plundered. Among the brick tumble we recovered more bones of its adult occupant and some of his or her yellowed gray hair thrown to the edges during the disturbance. The best preserved bones were found beneath the brick fall, which indicated to us that the tomb had been plundered twice: once while roof vault was still in place, when the bones were tossed against sides of the chamber; and then a second time after the roof had collapsed and a pit was cut in the north end that later filled with what is characteristic to us as the gray sand of the looter's pit. The first plundering must have taken place in antiquity and appears to have been quite violent: the body was ripped up and the grave goods removed. The second event is harder to date. It may be relatively modern and a by-product of mining the area for its stone, all of which is not native to the site, although it can be procured only a short distance away.
Despite these depredations, it must have been a very wealthy burial, for even after two episodes of plundering, we still recovered a high-quality silver ring in the debris. In addition there were also many fragments of fine Egyptian pottery, the exact date of which we are still investigating.
Indeed, the tomb had not yet given up all of its secrets. Our final clearance of the mud lined floor revealed small holes at each corner, 15cm in diameter and 10cm deep, that were apparently for the feet of a wooden bed. Fragments of plastered wood, painted red, lodged in the southeast corner may be remnants of it.
Burials upon beds are known from other C group cemeteries, but appear to be a funerary custom adopted from their powerful neighbors in Kerma. However, it is possible that Tomb 6 is a burial of a Kerman or someone with more than a passing familiarity with Kerma. Potsherds that might otherwise be disregarded may well be fragments of Kerma domestic ware: coarse pottery covered in impressed decorations. The devil is definitely in the details!
Unfortunately, we didn't find a single scrap of the more diagnostic, and certainly more beautiful, blacktopped Kerma beakers that would help determine the owner's origins. Nevertheless it remains a tantalizing possibility that Kerma traders may have also been resident at Hierakonpolis, as they were apparently also at a handful of other important sites in Egypt. This possibility may also help us explain the tomb's strange architecture and orientation.
Certainly more work needs to be done before we can know for sure. Also still to be investigated is the brick chapel. Although the chapel looks to be of solid brick from above, there may be a chamber behind the brick wall that was built against the southern end of the tomb. As this was so nicely preserved, we didn't have the heart to dismantle it until we were sure that all the photographs we took of it had come out and all the plans we drew were completely accurate. Now reassured, we will investigate this remaining mystery.