The Oriental Institute Nubian Expedition - 2007 Excavations

Though we had initially planned to focus our 2007 work on Shirri Island, in the territory of the Manasir tribe, resistance on the part of the Manasir to the resettlement plan proposed by the Sudanese government made it impossible for us to work in the area. This problem had not been entirely unexpected, so we were able to implement a backup plan, aided by the generosity of the expedition from the Gdansk Archaeological Museum, directed by Henryk Paner.

OINE Area Overview

The change in plan required a shift in focus from survey with limited excavation to full-scale excavation of two sites. The first of these sites was Hosh el-Geruf, a settlement area dating to the Neolithic (5th - early 4th millenium BC), later Kerma (2000-1500 BC), and early Napatan (7th century BC) periods.

Overview photo of Hosh el-Geruf

The site is surrounded by granite boulders and the surface is littered by stones of various sizes, sherds, and shattered quartz fragments. Remnants of recent pits confirmed reports by locals that gold had been found on the site in recent memory. In addition, numerous large grindstones were scattered across the site.

View of grindstones in-situ

View of Grindstones in-situ

Map of Hosh el Geruf showing grinstone locations

Map of Hosh el-Geruf showing grindstone locations

These grindstones were far larger and more deeply worn than is typical for stones used to process grain and there were far more of them than would be expected for a village of the size of Hosh el-Geruf. Further experimental studies involving panning soil samples from Hosh el-Geruf has led us to hypothesize that the site was a gold extraction area. Further analyses of soil and other geological samples is planned to test this hypothesis.

Gold panning

Local villagers demonstrate gold panning technique

In addition to the site at Hosh el-Geruf, we also undertook excavation of a Kerma cemetery near the modern village of al Widay.

Overview of Al-Widay cemetery View of one of the Kerma Period graves

2007 Excavations at al-Widay.

Approximately 90 close-packed, roughly constructed stone circles comprised the cemetery, of which we exacavated a little over 30. Interestingly, the forms of some of the graves and some of the ceramics comprising grave goods (particularly broad-bottomed black cups) bear a resemblance to Pan Grave (Medjay) graves and ceramics. However, there are also graves of a more typically "Kerma" style, with rectangular shafts and ceramics including the tulip-shaped beakers regarded as indicative of the Classic Kerma period. Scarabs and faience and carnelian beads found in the graves also have parallels at Kerma.

Tulip-shaped Kerma Beaker Scarab

The salvage excavations in the 4th Cataract have been significant in revealing that the region supported a respectable population during most major phases of Nubian history, something previously regarded as unlikely by some scholars. In particular, the evidence suggests that the first Kingdom of Kush, based at Kerma, extended not just northward to the 1st Cataract at its greatest extent, but also far upstream.

Our 2007 season was made possible through the generosity of the Packard Humanities Institute and the National Geographic Society. The project was directed by Geoff Emberling (Director, Oriental Institute Museum) and Bruce Williams (University of Chicago). Team members included: Tom James (Curatorial Assistant, Oriental Institute Museum), Justine James (graduate student in NELC, U of Chicago), Randy Shonkwiler (graduate student in NELC, U of Chicago), Debora Heard (graduate student in Anthropology, U of Chicago), Megan Ingvoldstad (graduate student in human osteology, NYU) Carol Meyer (Research Associate, Oriental Institute), Lisa Heidorn (PhD from NELC, U of Chicago), and James Harrell (Professor of Geology, U of Toledo).

OINE 2007 Team Photo

In addition, we must recognize our archaeological colleagues in Sudan, including Dr. Hassan Hussein Idris, General Director of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums and Dr. Salah ed-Din Mohammed Ahmed, Director of Excavations were gracious and helpful in encouraging our work. Our inspector, Mahmud Suleiman Bashir, was extraordinary in his helpfulness, generosity, and professional ability.