Dating burials at Jebel Moya

Excavation, Henry Wellcome, Methodology, Skeletons

Radiocarbon dates published in our recent paper in Antiquity (open access) show something very interesting. Trench 8 had two burials very close together – you can see the pictures by following the link. There are many such burials on the site, some are on top of each other. So how do we determine the dates?

Let us consider the burials in Trench 8. The head of the first burial was deliberately and carefully placed on a long slab of rock. The second burial cut through the lower half of the first burial. Both bodies were deposited in Stratum C, the third of four identified macro-strata. Each stratum contains materials from different periods – this is why we carefully excavate in 10 cm spits (small layers). It allows us to see what is going on in detail.

The radiocarbon dates are highly interesting. The date for the first burial – the one whose head is on the rock – is approximately 1200 BCE. The date for the second burial is 2000 years ago. This is a very long gap between burials. The first burial coincides with the more northerly Meroitic state (ca 350 BCE – 350 CE). But what is really interesting is what it means for the site. Our work shows:

(1) later burials were cut down into earlier burials and the level of final resting cannot be taken as indicative of age,

(2) we can trace for the first time through direct dating, rather than surmising from grave goods, burial activity ranging from at least 2350 BCE down to 2000 years ago.

This is very important. When Henry Wellcome excavated the site, he did not carefully excavate. He did not attempt to arrive at any dates for the site. The first attempt was done by Frank Addison in 1949, where he hypothesised all the burials were contemporary with the northerly Napatan state (ca 800 – 350 BCE). Later, A.J. Arkell (Institute of Archaeology, UCL) critiqued Addison, which forced Addison to revise his chronology and attribute all the burials to the same time as the Meroitic state. There were no attempts at directly dating the skeletons and subsequent to both gentlemen there were no attempts to radiocarbon date the surviving curated human remains in Cambridge. It is only now with our project that the whole intricate history of the site is being deciphered, from chronology to studying the environment and how people lived over a timespan of more than 5000 years in the valley.

We remain optimistic that we will find earlier burial activity. We have occupational activity all the way back to the late 6th millennium BCE.

Uncovering the complex history of Jebel Moya takes a lot of time and skill. We are so proud of our whole team.

Note: a version in Arabic is currently being prepared.

Why we need to move away from Big Narratives

Genetics, Material culture, Media, Methodology, Skeletons

Today’s post is not about Jebel Moya as such, but a bit about Malta. Malta and Sudan share a number of colonial experiences, including British rule, the exclusion of people from their heritage and the treatment of human remains. A number of archaeologists worked in both Malta and Sudan, for example Leonard Dudley Buxton. I’ve written about him here (Twitter thread). As you’ll read in the thread, his work in Malta was neither scientific nor stellar. His work on Jebel Moya was equally unimpressive and distinctly not stellar (yes, even by the standards of the time).

But that’s by the by. The other thing we have in common is the insistence of scholars to create Big Narratives based on limited data sets. By this I mean writing a Big Universal Story that encompasses a large amount of space across a very long time period. Notable (!) examples include the “Agricultural Revolution” or the “Bantu Expansion”.

Limited data sets are especially prevalent in genetic studies. There are many reasons for this: the work is expensive and time consuming. And very often, there is not sufficient material for analysis. Your bone sample may yield enough for C14, for example, but not for genetic sampling. The paper in question, Ancient Maltese genomes and the genetic geography of Neolithic Europe is one such example. The paper is open access so do have a read, because it’s very interesting. And it is yet another example of using a tiny sample to discuss a vast area. This trend is the result of many factors, including the increased meddling by management in research, ridiculous protocols of measuring a university’s success and funding bodies demanding more. In reality, a data set from an island archipelago is worth publishing in its own right.

The trend to write highlights in addition to an abstract is another ridiculous thing, by the way, and in this case it opens with a banger. Before you even read the summary, you get “Three inbred genomes from Malta, dated around 2500 BC”. Inbred. And this was picked up by the Maltese media, with headlines declaring we used to be inbred and short. I could talk about many things, including the complete absence of science journalism or how the main newspapers in Malta just parrot statements (usually from politicians) as if they are the unalienable truth. But this is an archaeology blog so let’s talk about the archaeology.

If you want to familiarize yourself with Maltese archaeology see here (spoiler: I wrote this). This small island archipelago consists of THREE main islands and smaller ones; Malta is the largest and Gozo (Għawdex to us) is significantly smaller. The archipelago has an extraordinary prehistory that is most visible via megalithic buildings, often called temples, and present on both Malta and Gozo (bear this in mind). These form only one part of our prehistory, but they are the most visible and as such the most known. There’s more to say about this, but this is not the place. Because these are so visible and so substantially different from the things you find in nearby countries, there is this narrative of “uniqueness” and “isolation”. It goes: the island is too small for so many ‘temples’, no one else is doing this, not even Sicily, so people must have been so isolated from everyone else”. If you’re thinking this is steeped in colonialism, you are correct. For one thing, it doesn’t take into account how people view distance or what counts as “too many”.

This narrative persists and goes unchallenged by some archaeologists and geneticists. At some point, geneticists need to independently try to understand the archaeology before writing big narratives. But what about this paper in particular? The genetic work is, in itself, perfectly fine and indeed laudable. But the narrative is grounded in this problematic Big Narrative of Extrapolation. So to begin with, the paper notes that there are two main routes of Neolithic dispersal in Europe. This is based on a number of works (all cited in paper) which, in turn, have varying sizes of data sets. So this big narrative is by no means set in stone. In any case, the argument goes that the first route came from the Balkans into Central Europe (the LBK culture) and there was a lot of genetic exchange back and forth. The second was along the Mediterranean coast and this produced a degree of genetic insularity. The latter narrative is even more tenuous and based on a data set that leaves much to be desired. Yet, it is chosen as the basis for the argument.

The site under discussion, the Xagħra Circle, is an incredible burial Neolithic burial site that was in use over a long period of time. It also yielded a large number of individuals and overall, it’s a really exciting site. It reminds me a lot of Jebel Moya, although alas most of our burials were hacked away by Wellcome’s team. The Xagħra burials are the result of careful excavation. Like other Maltese prehistoric sites, this was used over a long period of time. The paper discusses DNA from only three individuals, one dated to 2900 BC and the other two to 2500 BC – the site was active for longer than that.

The problem has to do with conclusions. From a mere 3 individuals they conclude that the Xagħra Circle population was never larger than c 400 people at any one time. Maybe, maybe not – the skeletal record provides a much better insight on this. ONE of the 3 individuals is believed to be the result of both genetic insularity and inbreeding – these markers were not detected in the other two examples. So why is this the lead for the paper? This problem of applying broad brush strokes will be very familiar to anyone working on the African continent.

Now, the earliest phases of occupation on the Maltese Islands require further work but the archaeology points to a population arriving from Sicily and southern Italy. This is acknowledged by the paper. But the 3 sampled remains are framed in terms of genetic drift, i.e. from people arriving c 3000 years previously. This is then taken as evidence of isolation. More confusingly, the paper claims that unlike Sardinia, Gozo does not present any genetic hunter-gatherer admixture. Now, this work is fairly problematic and ignores the complexities of Sardinian archaeology. It too is the result of a grand narrative. The lack of hunter-gatherer admixture in Gozo cannot be taken as evidence of shielding and isolation.

And somehow, the argument is pushed further, citing “unique” building methods found only in Gozo. That may be (it’s debated) but it does not automatically result in genetic isolation. Indeed, there are many differences across sites on both Malta and Gozo (you can poke around my Research Gate profile if you are after papers, including why using “obese” figurines as illustrative of genetic markers for obesity is not a good idea. The figurine repertoire is wonderfully complex, the “obese” figurines are deliberately neither male nor female).

DNA sequencing on Sudanese remains is still fairly new, but not unknown of course. This 2021 paper is a major advancement and uses a good sample size over a reasonable period. From our end, we have had trouble finding enough genetic material because of the very arid conditions. Yet, using grand narratives at the expense of archaeology will be familiar to many. For example, we are about as far away from the Meroitic State as you can get and still some scholars insist that Jebel Moya is a Meroitic site (spoiler: it most certainly isn’t, it’s much more fun than that). I find this Meroe-mania very much reminiscent of narratives of isolation on the Maltese Islands – both are inherently wrong, both ignore archaeology and both persist because they keep being perpetuated in scientific and popular discourse.

There are other things shared by Malta and Sudan, despite the vast difference in size, and working in both places really hammers home the point that Big Narratives are harmful. They ignore the complexities of archaeology, and, by extension, of the people we aim to study. Should we use very rich data sets across a region? Absolutely! But these Big Narratives that hinge on small samples are ultimately rooted in colonialism and they erase context (and people!).

Doubtless, someone will coin the term “microarchaeology” when making a case for focusing on context but really and truly, it is just archaeology and we should not forget that.

2022 season report (Arabic version)

Excavation, Guest Post, Methodology, The site

Guest post: Ezzeldine Hajjaj, one of our team members, kindly translated this report into Arabic.

رغم كل الصعاب ، تمكنا من مواصلة عملنا الميداني في عام 2022. ويا له من موسم رائع! هذا العام كان لدينا  اعضاء من الفريق القديم وأعضاء جدد  وانضم إلينا أيضًا المفتش عبد الحي من الهيئة العامة للآثار والمتاحف.

ركزنا في هذا الموسم على الطبقات من الألفية الأولى قبل الميلاد والعصر الحجري الحديث، وقد حصلنا على أكبر عدد من البقايا الحيوانية من جميع مواسم العمل. كما تم العثور على بقاية رفات بشرية والتي تم فحصها من قبل الدكتور إيونا.

المنظر ناحية الجنوب عبر الوادي من استراحة هنري ويلكم

هنا حيث قمنا بتخطيط مربعات الحفرية

مربعات الحفر موسم2022

هذا الموسم وصلنا أخيرًا إلى الطبقة السفلية والتي تشكل الطبقة الأساسية في المربع(2)  ، والذي يقدم أول تسلسل أثري كامل في السودان جنوب منطقة  الخدي  في النيل الأبيض. في الجدار الشرقي وتحت طبقة رقيقة من التربة  وجدنا الجزء العلوي من جمجمة بشرية على ارتفاع 10 سم فوق الطبقة الأساسية و 135 سم من الجدار الشمالي،ويعد هذا أعمق هيكل عظمي تم التنقيب عنه حتى الآن بواسطة  البعثة ، ولكن ما إذا كان يعود هذا الهيكل إلى أواخر العصر الحجري الحديث أو تم حفره في الرواسب من العصر الحجري الحديث ، فسيتم تحديده من خلال التأريخ بالكربون المشع، وعليه تم اتخاذ قرار بمد المربع شرقا وهذا الامتداد يسمى الآن مربع(14).

أنواع الفخار في المربع 14 تتماشى مع الطبقات الجيولوجية: مجموعة القطع الأثرية المختلفة التي وجدت مرتبطة ببعضها البعض 3 للطبقة B ، و مجموعة القطع الأثرية المختلفة التي وجدت مرتبطة ببعضها البعض2 للطبقة C ، و مجموعة القطع الأثرية المختلفة التي وجدت مرتبطة ببعضها البعض 1 للطبقة D، 23 سم من الجدار الشمالي مثل حجر طحن صغير وفخار وعظام حيوانية.

توجد اكتشافات أكثر ثراءً ابتداء من الطبقة 6 فصاعدًا. أسفرت الطبقة 6 عن فخار وعظام حيوانية وأصداف، ومدقة ومطرقة وأزمة شفاه. احتوت الطبقة 7 على فخار وفحم وأصداف وأزمة شفاه وقطع  فخارية كبيرة. كما تم العثور أيضًا على قطعة حجر دائري الشكل من صنع الإنسان يرتكز على قاعدة الطبقة 6 ، مع قطع فخار كبيرة الحجم تستقر فوق الدائرة التي تمتد شمالًا إلى جدار المربع الشمالي. تم العثور على تمثال  صغير مصنوع من الفخار في الطبقة  8 لم يتم دراسته بعد. يظهر الجزء السفلي من الطبقة 11 القطع لحفرة الدفن – هذا قيد الدراسة حاليًا ، لذا سيكون هنالك المزيد من المعلومات حول هذا عند الإنتهاء من الدراسة.

حجر طحن من الطبقة الرابعة

تم حفر المزيد من الرفات البشرية في الموقع ، بما في ذلك البقايا التي تم انتشالها من الوادي بالقرب من مربع (2). كشف نشاط التعرية هذا الموسم عن جمجمة بشرية مغروسة في الطبقة C  في جانب الوادي. تم رفع هذه الجمجمة بعناية، كما تم العثور على عظام ساق طويلة ، ولكن لم يتم العثور على بقايا بشرية أخرى. تم العثور على بقايا هيكل عظمي آخر من المربع 12 وكان المربع16 يحتوي على رواسب من عظام الحيوانات مثيرة للاهتمام للغاية. في الوقت الحالي نعمل على جميع العينات التي تم جمعها في هذا الموسم – لذلك سنشارككم بمزيد من المعلومات عندما تكون متاحة.

في هذا الموسم ، لعب جميع أعضاء الفريق دورًا حيويا في العمل المجتمعي، بفضل ريان ، جاء عدد من النساء للتحدث إلينا عن حفريات هنري ويلكوم. لا يزال عدد مذهل من الأشياء من مخيم هنري ويلكم موجودا في القرية معظمها عبارة عن أدوات ، على سبيل المثال أواني الشاي. وقد تم تسجيلها وتصويرها وإعادتها إلى أصحابها. انضم عدد من الأشخاص للمساعدة في عملية تجهيز وفصل البقايا النباتية عن التربة  عن طريق تقليب خليط الماء لدراستها معمليا لاحقا أو مايعرف بعملية (التعويم ) بقيادة مصعب. أثبت عزالدين و بكري أنهما وسيلة اتصال ممتازة – في الواقع ،  يجب على فريق العمل تحمل الصعاب لان المشروع يستحق الجهد.

بالطبع لقد كان وقتًا عصيبًا على الجميع ونحن نقر بأن الوضع السياسي في السودان لا يزال صعبا،إذ لم ينته الوباء ولا يزال عدم المساواة في أخذ اللقاحات مصدر قلق. ومما يجدر ذكره أن المشروع استمر بمباركة شركائنا السودانيين ونحن ممتنون لهم ولسكان جبل مويا بعمق.

Community Outreach

Education, Gallery, Outreach, Social, The site

This season’s outreach deserves its own post, largely because our team members Ezzu and Bkry did such a great job.

Ezzu joined us with a wealth of experience in setting up community museums and as a result we are expanding our outreach. Bkry is not just an archaeologist – he is also a teacher and a journalist and these skills have proven to be extremely useful. First up, here’s our team (as always, I hide behind the camera). It’s the beginning of the day, which explains why we are (relatively) clean. From left to right we have Abdelhai, Ahmed, Bkry, Mike, Musab, Ezzu and Rayan.

Abdul returned to the site. This year he joined us in digging, sieving and looking for burials. He has a keen eye and a really good hand for excavation.

Once we settled down, we spent afternoons talking to people. Bkry and Ezzu took the lead, aided by Musab, and they were fantastic.

Everyone came to see what’s up – at one point these guys had really large crowds! The Neem tree became our regular meeting point.

And Bkry, being the brilliant teacher that he is, gathered all the children and he combined teaching English with talking about heritage. He was absolutely brilliant – and as you can see it’s not just the children who paid attention.

Our days are long, really long, and involve a lot of physical labour. After a long day of digging, we barely had time to rest before we had to deal with the usual post excavation and all our other activities. But outreach has to be an essential part of any project – this is not to say we have any funding for it. In fact, this was funded by personal funds and the free labour of our team. We are deeply grateful to them, but at the same time we really need to think beyond immediate research. I shall save those thoughts for another time – for now, please join me in thanking our team.

The 2022 Season Report

Excavation, Material culture, The site

Against all odds, we managed to continue our fieldwork in 2022. And what a season it was! This year we had old hands and new team members and we were also joined by Inspector Abdelhai.

We concentrated on first millennium BC and Neolithic layers. We have obtained the greatest number of animal remains from all the seasons. Human remains were also uncovered and examined by Dr Iwona.

Looking south across the valley from the House of Boulders

Here is where we placed our trenches

The 2022 trenches

This season we finally reached bedrock in Trench 2, which offers the first entire archaeological sequence in Sudan south of Al Khiday. In the east wall, behind a thin veneer of soil, we found the top of a human cranium 10 cm above bedrock and 135 cm from the north wall. It is the deepest skeleton yet excavated by this mission, but whether it dates from the Late Mesolithic or was dug into the deposit from the Neolithic will be resolved by radiocarbon dating. Accordingly, the decision was made to extend the trench to the east. The extension is now termed Trench 14.

The types of pottery in Trench 14 aligned with the geological strata: Assemblage 3 for Stratum B, Assemblage 2 for Stratum C and Assemblage 1 for Stratum D. Stratum B started with Spit 4 and yielded a lower grinding stone c. 23 cm from the north wall, a smaller grinding stone, pottery and animal bone. There are richer finds from Spit 6 onwards. Spit 6 yielded pottery, animal bone, shell, a pounder, a hammerstone and a lip plug. Spit 7 contained pottery, charcoal, shell, lip plug and a large pottery bead. There was also a human-made stone circle resting on the base of Spit 6, with large pottery fragments resting on top of the circle which extends northwards into the north trench wall. A figurine was found in Spit 8. The bottom of Spit 11 showed the cut for a burial pit – this is currently being studied, so more on that when we are finished.

Grinding stone from spit 4

More human remains were excavated across the site, including remains retrieved from the gully by Trench 2. This season erosional activity had exposed a human cranium embedded in Stratum C in the gully face. This cranium was carefully block-lifted. Associated leg long bones were also recovered, but no other human remains. Further skeletal remains were retrieved from Trench 12 and Trench 16 had a very interesting deposit of animal bones. At the moment we are working through all the material – so we will share more information when it is available.

This season, all team members took an active role in community work. Thanks to Rayan, a number of women came to speak to us about Wellcome’s excavations. A surprising number of objects from Wellcome’s camp still survive in the village. Most are paraphernalia, for example tea pots. These have been recorded, photographed and returned to their owners. A number of people joined in to help with flotation, led by Musab. Ezzu and Bkry proved to be excellent communicators – in fact this season’s outreach merits its own post (so once again, please bear with us).

It’s been a difficult time for everyone. We acknowledge that the political situation in the Sudan continues to be difficult. The pandemic is not over and vaccine inequality remains a concern. The project went ahead with the blessing of our Sudanese partners. We are deeply grateful to them and to the people of Jebel Moya.

This field season was made possible by a grant from the Society for Libyan Studies.


archives, Excavation, Henry Wellcome, Media

Last September, the Egypt Centre Museum of Egyptian Antiquities at Swansea University hosted a conference on Sir Henry Wellcome’s extensive collection. This is the contribution on Jebel Moya. It talks about piecing together archives but, more importantly, it considers the archive in its colonial context. Yes, there are some upsetting themes in this discussion but they are very necessary. We cannot simply “take” from archives – we have to get to grips with all the implications, however hard they may be.

If you’d like to listen to the other very excellent talks, they can be found here. A huge thank you to the Egypt Centre for hosting this event.

The Jebel Moya Figurines (Arabic version)

Artefact, Figurines, Guest Post, Material culture

We have another guest post in Arabic by Osman Khaleel, one of our team members. He is passionate about outreach and communicating archaeology to a wider audience. In this piece he translates the previous posts on the Jebel Moya figurines. This is part of our continuing series of posts aimed at reaching our readers and followers who speak Arabic, particularly our friends at Jebel Moya.

كجزء من سعينا لتحسين إمكانية وصول المعلومات إليكم، نقدم لكم الموضوع التالي وهو عبارة عن ملخص لآخر أوراقنا العلمية. يمكنكم الحصول على الورقة كاملة بالضغط على الرابط هنا (يشترط الدخول عبر حساب مؤسسة). سيتم تقسيم المنشور إلى عدة أجزاء. ونسخة باللغة العربية سيقدمها عثمان خليل.

يشتهر موقع جبل موية بمدافنه الأثرية، كما يحتوي أيضًا على مجموعة كبيرة من التماثيل المصنوعة من الطين. كل التماثيل التي تم العثور عليها حتى الآن أظهرتها حفريات السير هنري ويلكوم القديمة، بإستثناء تمثالين. توزعت الكثير من مواد جبل موية وفُقد بعضها. ولكن هنالك مجموعة من التماثيل تم حفظها في متحف الآثار والأنثروبولوجيا بكمبريدج بينما وضعت مجموعة من الصور والألواح الزجاجية ضمن مجموعة ويلكوم. تم اكتشاف تمثالين آخرين من الطين بواسطة البعثة الحالية. دعونا معاً نرى ما ستخبرنا به هذه المادة؟

عندما بدأتُ إعادة دراسة هذه التماثيل، أدركتُ أن هذا السياق بحاجة إلى مناقشات أكثر تفصيلاً، فبحكم تخصصي الثاني في تماثيل ما قبل التاريخ في البحر الأبيض المتوسط، سرعان ما أدركتُ أن السودان لديه مجموعة غنية من التماثيل، ولكنها بطريقة ما ظلت بعيدة عن دائرة الضوء ولا تشكل جزءاً من الدراسات الأثرية. إنه لمن الصعب جداً دراسة التماثيل لأننا نحتاج إلى نوع من النظام لتصنيف وفرز كل مجموعة، ذلك لأن التماثيل أشياء سكنت عوالم مختلفة ولعبت أدواراً نشطة للغاية في المجتمع. فالتماثيل ليست ببساطة مجرد تصاوير لشئ ما – فهي ليست مجرد “أشياء”.  

جدول 1: جبل موية: الأعداد التقريبية لتوزيع التماثيل كما وصفها أديسون (1949، 148) وأعاد تركيبها

نوع التماثيل                          الناحية الجنوبية الغربية                       الناحية الشمالية الشرقية

حيوان                                             805                                                   89

إنسان                                             237                                                    33

المجموع                                         1042                                                 122

جدول 2: جبل موية:  توزيع التماثيل كما وصفها أديسون وأعاد تركيبها (1949: 149)

رقم الطبقة     الناحية الجنوبية الغربية  الشمالية الشرقية    الجنوبية الغربية           الشمالية الشرقية

                     (حيوانات)               (حيوانات)           أشكال بشرية                 أشكال بشرية

A            215                       5                       84                               0

B             98                      15                      28                          3

C            35                        3                        9                             1

D             0                        0                        0                             0

جدول 3: جبل موية:  توقف تسجيل التماثيل مع سجلات القبور (أديسون 1949) ومعظمها تم العثور عليها في حفر الدفن أما ال 15 تمثال المتبقية فقد تم تسجيلها على أنها تم العثور عليها في رديم حفر الدفن. تم تصنيف هذه التماثيل بالطريقة الموضحة أدناه كما هو مذكور في المرجع

       رقم القبر    إسم المربع     القطاع     الطبقة   عمق الطبقة فوق سطح الطبقة ج     نوع القطعة المسجلة  

من داخل القبر

                    1027       غير متاح   غير متاح    غير متاح         غير متاح

من الرديم  28        م.11، ن. 12          شرق           ج              45                                 غير محدد

             69         ك.12،ل. 13          شرق             ب             40                                 حيوان

141         ل.11، م.12          شرق            ج           20                                  حيوان

264         ل.11، م.12         شرق             ج             30                                حيوان

296         ل.11، م.12          شرق            ج             25                                حيوان

324         ل.11، م.12          شرق           ج               50                               حيوان

338         ك.11، ل.12         شرق            ب             5                                  حيوان

341         ل.10، م.11          شرق              د             70                               إنسان

375         ل.11، م.12           شرق            ج            40                                غير محدد     

409         ل.11، م.12          شرق               د           90                               غير محدد    

550         ك.10، ل.11         شرق               ج             5                                 حيوان

574         ك.10، ل.11         شرق               ب           30                                 إنسان

577         ك.10، ل.11          شرق             ج            30                                 إنسان

693         ي.10، ك.11      شمال شرق         ج            10                                 حيوان

2163       ك.10، ل.11          شرق           ج              10                               غير محدد

لم تكن كثرة التماثيل مصدر إزعاج لأديسون – فقد لاحظ وجود تماثيل الحيوانات، فأجرى بعض المقارنات الواسعة مع عمل إيفانز بريتشارد حول مجموعات النوير وأكتفى بأن إعتبرها ألعاباً. ولكن مجرد نظرة خاطفة على هذه التماثيل تخبرنا بأن لدينا شيئاً أكثر تعقيداً وإثارة للإهتمام. إذن ما العمل؟ بدأتُ دراسة التماثيل بالتفصيل، بدءاً بملاحظة سماتها. لأن ذلك يساعدنا على تحديد سماتها الكمية – والتي تعتبر مجرد نقطة البداية لعملنا. بالفعل يمكنك ملاحظة أن لدينا مجموعة متنوعة كما هو موضح في الجدول أدناه:

مجسمات بشريةأشكال أسطوانيةأشكال حيوانات  
 صليب بيضاوي الشكل ذو نتوئين في الصدربسيطةالماعزالأبقار
صليب بيضاوي الشكل ذو نتوء أفقي في الصدربسيطة: ذات نتوء جانبيالقوارضالخيول
صليب بيضاوي الشكل بدون نتوء في الصدرذات رأس محزوزالقنفذالكلاب
جسم مزين أو مميز     ذات رأس على شكل معيناتالفئران الصغيرةحيوانات مائية وبرمائية
مجسم ثلاثي الشكلذات إنتفاخ/ إنتفاخات في الجزء العلوي من الجسمالأفيالالقندس
غير مصنفذات إنتفاخ/ إنتفاخات في الجزء السفلي من الجسم  

شكل رقم 3. يوضح تصنيف تماثيل جبل موية

يمثل العمود الأول مجموعة من التماثيل شبيهة في خصائصها بالإنسان. أما العمود الأوسط فيحتوي على سلسلة من الأشكال التي أطلقت عليها إختصاراً أسماء بالأرقام (و سيرد تفصيلها لاحقاً)، بينما يشتمل العمود الثالث على جميع أنواع الحيوانات التي تمكنت من تمييزها والتعرف عليها. إعتمد تصنيفي على السمات المتكررة. وهنا يجب أن أالإشارة إلى أنه في دراسات التماثيل، هناك ميل لتقسيم الأشياء إلى فئات “مألوفة بالنسبة لنا” ، أشياء لها معنى في نظرة عالم الآثار للعالم من حوله. أديسون، على سبيل المثال، وصف عدداً من التماثيل بأنها مجسمات أو أعضاء تناسيلة لذكور. وبعد الفحص الدقيق، تبين إن تماثيله ذات الذراع الواحدة ما هي في الواقع إلا حيوانات السافانا، أما “الأشكال القضيبية” فهي على الأرجح دعامات للأفران (وليست تماثيل). وإليك المفتاح: لدراسة التماثيل، نحتاج إلى تجاوز المفاهيم الغامضة حول الخصوبة والماشية. نحن بحاجة إلى النظر للصورة في سياقها. ما هو دور التماثيل؟ كيف كان شكل المجتمع؟ إذ لا يمكننا فصل التماثيل عن الأشخاص الذين صنعوها واستخدموها.

في المنشور التالي، سنلقي نظرة عن قرب على التماثيل.

تماثيل جبل موية (2)

قطعة أثرية، تماثيل، منشور آخر، ثقافة مادية

بإستمرارنا في دراسة التماثيل، إتضح لنا أن التماثيل المجسمة لها خصائص مختلفة. من حيث الشكل، فبعضها له نتوءات في الصدر (ثدي؟)، والبعض الآخر به علامات على الجسم (جسم مزين … يمكن أن تكون مجوهرات، ملابس، حناء، وشم). الشيء المثير للإهتمام هو أن الأجسام تم تمثيلها بطرق مختلفة فبعضها له خصائص فريدة جداً. الشكلان أدناه هما مجسمان.

فالتماثيل الأسطوانية مثيرة للاهتمام لأنها ليست مجسمات فعلية، فهي في الغالب قائمة بذاتها. ففي هذه الصورة من مجموعة هنري ويلكم يمكنك رؤية كلٌ من الأشكال الأسطوانية (الأشكال 1 ، 6 ، 17 ، 18 ، 20 ، 21 ، 22 ، 23 ، 24) المجسمات (2 ، 3 ، 4 ، 5 وبها نتوءات مختلفة في الصدر، والشكل 7 له علامات على الجسم، والشكل 8 مجسم ثلاثي، والشكل 9 مجسم بسيط، أما الأشكال 10، 11 و 13 فهي عبارة عن مجسمات مزخرفة). تظل الأرقام 14 و 15 و 19 و 21 تماثيل غير مصنفة، أما الشكل رقم 16 فهو عبارة عن مجسم لحيوان ثدي صغير (زبابة أحد أنواع القوارض صغيرة الحجم) لكنه مكسور.

بعض التماثيل الأسطوانية

عندما يتعلق الأمر بالحيوانات، على الرغم من أن الماشية والماعز هي الأكثر عدداً، لدينا أيضاً عدداً من الحيوانات  الأخرى المثيرة للاهتمام.

الأبقارالماشيةالخيلياتالقوارضالكلابالقوارض الوبريةالقنافذالحيتانالأفيالالحيوات المائية والبرمائية
أبقار: مقيدة وغير مقيدة  الضأن           الماعزالحمار           الحصان  فأر الخلدالكلبالزبابةالقنفذالوبرياتالفيلفرس النهر
أبقار: مقيدة القرون، أو معدلة القرون  
عجلة أو عجل   ثور محدب

بالنظر إلى تماثيل الحيوانات التي تم العثور عليها، نجد أن لدينا حمارين وحمار بري ، وحصان، وكلب (أو ربما كان ذئباً  أو حيوان آخر من عائلة الكلاب)، وقنفذين وحيوانين من ذوات الوبر، وحيوان لم يتم التعرف على جنسه له حفر في العين ربما كان مستخدماً كقلادة وفرس نهر وفيل. أما الأبقار فتنقسم إلى أبقار (ذات ضرع)، وعجل، وثور أو بقرة محدبة (بظهر مستقيم ، وبدون ضرع أو كيس صفن)، وحيوانات مقيدة وماشية ذات قرون معدلة. تشمل التماثيل أيضاً بعض الضأن (ذات ظهر مستدير أو مائل) والماعز (بظهورها المائلة أو المستقيمة أو المستديرة).

الصورة أعلاه مأخوذة من مجموعة هنري ويلكم. يمكنك أن ترى فيها الأبقار (1 ، 2) ، أبقار مقيدة (3 ، 4)، ثور مقيد (5)، حيوان من ذوات الوبر (6)، الماشية ذات الأجسام المعدلة (8 ، 9)، الحمير (10 ، 11)، الأغنام (14)، فرس نهر (19)، كلب (21) وقنافذ (24، 25) وغيرها من الحيوانات.

في الصور التالية يمكنك أن ترى مجموعة من تماثيل الثيران، وبقرة ذات ضرع وثور محدودب (يصعب تصويره).

هذه  مجرد نماذج فقط من تماثيل جبل موية. فهنالك الكثير منها  للدراسة كما أن هنالك العديد من الأسئلة التي يجب طرحها. فكلما إزدادت معرفتنا بعظام الحيوانات، تكونت لدينا صورة أفضل بكثير عن الحيوانات التي سكنت هذه البقعة من الأرض. أظهرت هذه الدراسة أنه على عكس “المثل” الشعبي، إن المجتمعات الأفريقية لا تهتم فقط بالماشية. قد تعتقد أنه من الواضح أن الناس سيكونون على دراية بالحيوانات في عالمهم، ولكن غالباً ما يكون التركيز على الماشية فقط. بالطبع، لا يمكن تجاهل أهمية الماشية – ولكن هناك ميل للنظر إلى الماشية منفصلة عن حياة البشر، دون التوقف عن التفكير في العلاقة التي تجمعهما. فهذه العلاقة تتجاوزنقطة أنها علاقةٌ إقتصادية فقط. فالسودان بلد كبير ومتنوع، فبينما تظهر الماشية في أماكن كثيرة منه، لا يمكننا أن نفترض أن لها نفس الأهمية عبر الزمان والمكان.

ففي جبل موية، ليس لدينا المجتمع الرعوي “الكلاسيكي” كما هو موضح في كتب الأنثروبولوجيا القديمة. ولكن لدينا مجتمع زراعي رعوي يتغير ويتكيف مع المناخ. والهدف من استمرارية دراساتنا هو معرفة المزيد عن إنسان تلك المنطقة وعالمه، وهو عالم يضم بجانب الإنسان عدداً من الحيوانات أيضاً.

The Jebel Moya Figurines (2)

Artefact, Figurines, Material culture

Here’s part 2 on figurines. Part 1 is here. The Arabic version is here.

Continuing our look at figurines, the anthropomorphic figurines have different characteristics. They are different in shape, some have chest protrusions (breasts?), others have marks on the body (adorned body… this could be jewellery, clothing, henna, tattoos). The interesting thing is that bodies are represented in many different ways and some have very unique characteristics. The two figures below are anthropomorphic figurines.

Cylindrical figurines are interesting because they’re not quite anthropomorphic. They are mostly free-standing. In this image from the Wellcome Collection you can see both cylindrical (figures 1, 6, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24) and anthropomorphic (2, 3, 4, 5 have different types of chest protrusions, 7 has markings on the body, 8 has a triangular body, 9 is plain and 10, 11 and 13 have an adorned/marked body). Numbers 14, 15, 19, 21 remain unidentified and number 16 is a broken shrew.

And here are some more cylindrical figurines

When it comes to animals, although cattle and goats are the most numerous, we also have a number of interesting animals.

Looking at the animals we have two donkeys and a wild ass, a horse, a canid (either a type of wolf or a member of the genus Canis), two hedgehogs (Erinaceidae) and a hyrax (Procaviidae), an unidentified animal with a drilled hole for an eye and possibly used as a pendant, one hippopotamus and an elephant. Bovines (Bos taurus) are subdivided into cows (udders), calf, humped ox, heifer or steers (straight back, no udders or scrotum), yoked animals and cattle with modified horns. Figurines also include some sheep (with rounded or sloping backs) and goats (backs shown sloped, straight or rounded).

The above photo is from the Wellcome Collection. You can see cows (1, 2), yoked cows (3, 4), yoked bovines (5), hyrax (6), cattle with modified bodies (8, 9), donkeys (10, 11), sheep (14), hippopotamus (19), canid (21) and hedgehogs (24, 25) among others.

In the next images you can see a collection of bull figurines, a cow with udders and a humped ox (which is very difficult to photograph).

This is just a small taste of the figurines from Jebel Moya. There is so much more to study and so many more questions to ask. As we learn more about the animal bone assemblage, we should have a much better picture of the animals that inhabited this ancient landscape. What this study shows, is that contrary to the popular ‘wisdom’, African societies are not simply concerned with cattle. You would think that it is obvious that people would be aware of the animals in their world, but so often the focus is just on cattle. Of course, the importance of cattle cannot be ignored – but there is a tendency to view cattle as separate from humans, without stopping to think about the relationship between the two. It is a relationship that goes beyond economics. The Sudan is a large and diverse country, and while cattle appear in many places, we cannot assume that they had the same significance across time and space.

At Jebel Moya, we do not have the “classic” pastoral society as depicted in old anthropology books. We have an agro-pastoral community that is changing and adapting to climate. As our studies continue, we aim to learn more about people and their world, a world which also included a number of animals.

The Jebel Moya Figurines (1)

Artefact, Figurines, Material culture, Methodology

As part of our drive to improve accessibility, the following is a condensed version of the latest project paper. The full paper is here (institutional access required). The post will be divided in two parts Part 2 here. A version in Arabic can be found here.

While Jebel Moya is known for its burials, it also has an extensive figurine assemblage. Thus far, these are all from the old Wellcome excavations, with the exception of two figurines. Much of the Wellcome Jebel Moya material has been dispersed and some of it is lost. But there is a collection of figurines curated at the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Cambridge and a collection of photographs and glass plates curated at the Wellcome Collection. Two further figurines have been unearthed by the current expedition. So what can this material tell us?

When I set out to re-examine the figurines, I realized that we needed much broader discussions. For context, my other specialism is prehistoric figurines in the Mediterranean. It soon became clear that Sudan has a rich figurine corpus but somehow it is not part of the broader archaeological discussion on figurines. Studying figures is always difficult because while we need some sort of system to sort out the assemblage, figurines are objects that inhabited various worlds and played a very active role in society. Figurines are not simply images of something – they are not just “things”.

First, let’s take a look at the assemblage. A total of 156 figurines are curated at the MAA and 47 other figurines have been photographed by Frank Addison – not all of them were published in his volume. Here you can see how Addison describes the assemblage.

Addison was not unduly troubled by the figurines – he noted the presence of animals, made some broad comparisons with Evans-Pritchard’s work on the Nuer and dismissed them as toys. But even a quick look at the figurines makes it clear that we have something much more complex and interesting. So what do we do? I started by looking at the figurines in detail, noting their attributes. This helps us quantify the assemblage – but this is only a starting point. Here is our starting point. Already you can see that we have a diverse assemblage.

The first column represents a range of figures that have human-like characteristics. The middle column is a series of what I call abbreviated figures (more on that later), and the third column is all the types of animals I have been able to identify. My classification is based on recurring attributes. Here I have to note that in figurine studies there is a temptation to assign things to categories ‘familiar to us’, things that make sense in the archaeologist’s world-view. Addison, for example, described a number of figurines as anthropomorphic or phallic. On closer examination, his one-armed figurines are, in fact, burrowing savanna animals and the “phallic shapes” are most likely kiln supports (not figurines). And here’s the key: to study figurines we need to go beyond vague concepts of fertility and cattle. We need to look at the imagery in its context. What was the role of figurines? What was society like? We cannot divorce figurines from the people who made and used them.

In the next post, we will take a closer look at the figurines.

You can read Part 2 here.


archives, Henry Wellcome, The site, Women

Another photo from the Wellcome Archive has caught my attention today. It shows Henry, George Reisner and his wife Mary descending from the mountain. And in fact I’ll be looking at two photos today. Let’s start with this one.

(c) Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

Henry, in his pith helmet, is smiling. He had long wanted the celebrated Egyptologist George Reisner to come to his excavations. He finally visited during the fourth season (November 1913-April 1914) and brought along his Egyptian workmen to conduct limited excavations. Wellcome yearned for the approval and legitimacy, and Reisner certainly lent his excavations a lot of credibility.

In this photo, Reisner’s wife is laughing and appears to be in a good mood. Behind the adults there is their ten-year old daughter, also called Mary. Mrs Reisner’s presence is particularly interesting because the Jebel Moya excavations were an exclusively all-male affair. Indeed, when the poor Sergio Uribe first considered marriage, Henry dissuaded him and firmly noted that Sudan was no place for women. Clearly, no such restrictions were imposed on the Reisner party.

But another photo of Mrs Reisner (and I’ll get to her in a second) is particularly interesting.

(c) Wellcome Collection (CC BY 4.0)

Here we see her, her gaze lowered, mounting a camel. The photo is captioned Mrs Reisner mounting a camel, as the men, including Henry Wellcome and some Sudanese, look on. She is wearing the standard European Edwardian dress that one would associated with “exotic” expeditions. She wears a pith helmet, an overcoat, a collared shirt, long skirts, gloves and sensible boots (and probably a number of under layers). This is hardly the most comfortable outfit in the heat, or for mounting and dismounting camels (which I can tell you takes a bit of practice). Presumably she was used to this, having spent many years following her husband’s work in Egypt, but I doubt if the years made the outfit any more comfortable or practical. Fortunately, the camel is very chill.

I often wonder about what life was like for her. Mary Reisner was born Mary Putnam Bronson. She and George, both American, got married in 1892 and then left for an excavation in the Middle East. He received his Ph.D. in 1893. From here on, biographies focus on George and his work. In 1903 they had a daughter, Mary. It appears that Mary (the mother) spent much of her time accompanying her husband. Her bearing is that of a seasoned traveller. I often wonder what she thought about all this work, whether she had any interests other than archaeology. In his final years, George suffered from increasing ill health and he was fully supported by his wife and daughter. Indeed, in his final years he dictated his manuscripts to his daughter. He refused to leave Egypt, although in 1940 his wife and daughter were persuaded to return to the United States. He remained in Giza, where he died in 1942. I find it heart breaking that he was separated from his wife and daughter, who had also spent the majority of their time in Egypt and Sudan.

Here are the grave stones. Mary Putnam Bronson lived a long life, although their daughter Mary died before her 60th birthday. I wish I knew more about their lives, what their interests were, and what they thought of all this archaeology that was such a huge part of their lives. They serve as a reminder that the archives are only as vocal as we create them to be.