Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Reconstructing the use and conception of pharaonic domestic space in Nubia: geoarchaeological investigations at Amara West (~1300–1070BC)

Dalton, Matthew
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The conquest of Upper Nubia (ancient Kush) by the New Kingdom Egyptian state around 1500BC instigated over four centuries of pharaonic control of the region. Over the course of this occupation, the state founded a number of towns along the Middle Nile Valley, each typically provided with monumental enclosure walls, one or more cult temples, and administrative buildings and housing. The architecture and material culture of these settlements overwhelmingly parallel those of contemporary Egypt proper. Yet significant evidence from these sites and their associated cemeteries also indicates the existence of a hybrid cultural horizon drawing upon both indigenous Nubian and pharaonic traits. The study of these sites is therefore an exercise in both pharaonic urban archaeology and a set of highly specific colonial circumstances.

Households constituted the fundamental socioeconomic unit across pharaonic society, and are generally the finest-grained social entity amenable to archaeological investigation in New Kingdom settlements, where textual evidence for non-elite individuals is scarce. The manner in which houses were arranged, used and conceptualised by their residents and builders would have shaped and been shaped by culturally and contextually-contingent aspects of social structure and household life, settlement economy, and private religious beliefs and worldviews. The preserved remains of houses, their contents, and the activities that took place within them thereby provide essential sources for reconstructing these important components of ancient lifeways.

This thesis presents the results of high-resolution geoarchaeological and macroscopic investigations of house floors and associated features at the extremely well-preserved site of Amara West, the administrative capital of Kush in the later part of the New Kingdom (~1300–1070BC). These methodologies allow the identification of otherwise invisible or ambiguous traces of ancient human activity. By combining this fine-scale evidence with patterning in architecture, and floor and fixture provision between multiple diverse houses, and with other artefactual, textual and representational sources, this thesis primarily aims to reconstruct residents’ conceptions of domestic space over time.

This research builds upon and complements wider ongoing scientific investigations of domestic lifeways at Amara West. As the site’s housing is firmly situated within a wider New Kingdom tradition, insights gained through this research are also capable of nuancing current understandings of household life during this period as a whole.

French, Charles
Spence, Kate
Spencer, Neal
Nubia, Archaeology, Geoarchaeology, Ancient Egypt, Household Archaeology, Micromorphology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge
AHRC (1233285)
Charles McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology Sidney Sussex College


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