Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The latest Amarna update from Barry Kemp and Anna Stevens - 16th June 2014

The latest newsletter from Barry Kemp and Anna Stevens about the latest progress at Amarna:

The expedition returned to Amarna on May 21st, for a period of study, due to end on Monday, June 16th. Five anthropologists, led by Jerry Rose and Gretchen Dabbs, have reviewed the entire collection of human bones from the South Tombs Cemetery, where excavation began in 2006 after a surface collection of bones in 2005. This has been done to ensure consistency of recording and identification of skeletal characteristics and, using the excavation records, to look for further opportunities to reassemble skeletons dispersed by ancient robbery. In addition to this general review the final group of 86 individuals which had not been fully examined were analysed and the results incorporated into the database of individuals. The final count of individuals is now 432.
Now that the complete database is established, the next step is the writing of the narrative report, combining the anthropology with the excavation records and developing broader themes of interpretation. Jerry Rose and Anna Stevens are set to carry out this work of synthesis in the autumn, dividing their time between the Cairo office and the Amarna expedition house, with the participation of several other members of the expedition. 
Other specialists have also worked at the house during this time. Jolanda Bos, assisted by Lonneke Beukenholdt, returned to continue research on the human hair from the South Tombs Cemetery. An important step is to allow the anthropologists to take full sets of skull measurements without damaging full heads of hair still in place. The hair had to be lifted from the skulls and placed temporarily on artificial skulls. Some of the most fragile pieces were worked on by the conservators. Especially well preserved heads of hair were lifted using Cyclododecane. The material is applied to the hair when warm in a liquid state, it then hardens like a wax, facilitating the lifting of the hair. The Cyclododecane will completely sublime over time. After lifting, some of the coiffures were given extra supports in order to strengthen the structure after the Cyclododecane had vanished. Detailed records were made of the rich variety of hairdressing details, which often involved the braiding or tying in of hair extensions. 
A team of three conservators (Julie Dawson, Lucy Skinner and Nicole Peters) spent ten days reviewing the condition of the wooden coffin material recovered from the South Tombs Cemetery since 2008. An important part of the review has been to calculate the work that remains to be done and what supplies are needed, ahead of a major winter conservation season at the expedition house. Building on their previous work on some of these very deteriorated coffins, they also performed further experiments to establish the most suitable adhesives and consolidants for strengthening and preserving the varnished and painted wood. 
The expedition keeps in store a large collection of potsherds from excavations going back to the first seasons at the Workmen's Village. Pamela Rose, during a short visit, was able to record a further batch of pottery from the South Tombs Cemetery. Of particular interest is the divergence of the types from those commonly in use in the city. Cemetery vessels tend to be relatively small, and in some cases are copies of larger forms that are found in the town site. Valentina Gasperini, present for much of the season, recorded all of the material we have in store from the North Palace excavations.
The re-examination of the Great Aten Temple has yielded a large quantity of fragments of limestone and sandstone, from wall blocks, columns and other architectural elements. This study period has provided an opportunity for Barry Kemp and Miriam Bertram to start to make a record of it. Amongst the pieces are many from large columns of limestone which had had the decorated faces broken off in rough slices, presumably so that the remaining stone could be made into drums for new (and slightly smaller) columns. The columns had taken the familiar form of simplified clusters of papyrus stalks with buds but, probably in the upper parts, had one or more bands of lotus flowers and buds, as well as geometric designs, carved over the surfaces and brightly painted. Several corner pieces probably derive from small shrines. 
It has also proved possible to employ, under the supervision of the local antiquities inspectorate, our regular small group of builders to undertake minor repairs. At the Workmen's Village they refaced a length of the western enclosure wall damaged by weathering where there was a danger of major collapse, and repaired a stretch of the thick village dividing wall where weathering was also eating into the brickwork. At both the North Palace and Small Aten Temple they went on to repair the barbed-wire fences, many of the iron supports having been snapped or bent. 
Over this period of time, the project to scan the excavation archive has continued to make steady progress in the Cairo office, through the employment of a local assistant.
As always, we wish to express our thanks to the generosity of our supporters, and also to the Ministry of State for Antiquities for their permission to continue at the site and for facilities granted.

Barry Kemp/Anna Stevens 16 June 2014