From InBetween to Living Nubia

OK, so a lot of people have been asking, and I’ve been dropping hints about what is happening once my Marie Curie project officially ends (on Friday!!!). Well, I have some news…

I’m super excited (and immensely relieved!) to say that I’ve received a two-year project grant from the Austrian Science Fund (the FWF) under the Lise Meitner programme! I’m excited because I get to explore some new material and new ideas, and I’m relieved because I don’t have to make the virtually impossible and prohibitively expensive trip back to Australia in the midst of a pandemic! And while I would love to go home to see my dearly missed family and friends, I’m very happy that I can stay in beautiful Vienna for a while longer.

So, what is this new project all about?

Living Nubia: New perspectives on Nubian settlements

The Living Nubia project is going to be a comparative study of indigenous Nubian habitation sites of the Early and Middle Nubian periods, covering rock shelters, campsites, and larger villages. I use the word ‘indigenous’ here as a technical term to differentiate Nubian settlements established by Nubian communities from Egyptian installations south of the First Cataract.

The idea came from a casual conversation in the office kitchen with my colleague Luci. I was talking about something to do with Nubia (surprise!) and Luci asked if there were many remains of non-Egyptian settlements in Nubia besides Kerma. I answered yes, to which she said that she had never heard of them because it always seems to be about Kerma.

*light bulb*

Luci was right. Most people have heard of Kerma, but there are dozens of smaller Nubian habitation sites in and around the Nile Valley that get little or no attention. Most of these sites are only briefly published across numerous and disparate sources, partly because they are quite small and poorly preserved, and hence presumably were considered as being of secondary importance. Besides Kerma, the other settlements in Nubia that have received extensive attention are Egyptian monuments – fortresses, temples, temple towns. Not only that, most of what we know about Nubian populations comes from their graves, so we know a lot about how Nubians buried their dead, but virtually nothing about how ancient Nubians actually lived. Addressing all of these imbalances is the ultimate goal of Living Nubia.

The main research questions driving the project are:

  1. What constitutes an ‘indigenous’ Nubian settlement during the late-third to the mid-second millennium BCE (c. 3200–1550 BCE)?
  2. How far do variations in settlement style and spatial organisation reflect varying subsistence strategies and lifestyles?
  3. To what extent do Nubian built environments construct, maintain or challenge social structures and concepts of identity?
  4. Can changes in the character of Nubian built environments and settlement patterns be linked to broader cultural processes such as contact, conflict, and identity negotiations?
  5. What evidence is there for Nubian impacts on Egyptian culture and identity?

Sites to be included in the survey include the many small campsites and village remains along the length of the Lower Nubian Nile Valley (e.g. at Sayala, Aniba, and around the Second Cataract), the well-known site of Wadi es-Sebua, and Mahal Teglinos in the Sudanese Eastern Desert, along with many other small sites in the region. There are also a handful of Nubian settlement remains in Egypt, like the supposedly ‘Pan-Grave’ villages located near Badari. The city of Kerma is already extensively published but it will of course be included, mainly as a point of comparison.

The settlements themselves are central to the project – their architectural styles, building technology, and spatial organisation – but (as always!) I’m also interested in the material culture objects that were found in association with these structures. These objects and their distributions could offer clues as to how spaces were used and inhabited. Object biographies will also be explored by considering objects that moved between the quotidian and mortuary worlds.

I’ll also take the landscape into account, in particular factors like access to resources, wildlife, spatial relationships to cemeteries and other habitation sites, transport and migration routes, and other things. This might offer some insights on the choices that might have been made in selecting a location to settle, even if only temporarily.

And, as the title of the project is Living Nubia, I will as much as possible engage with members of the Nubian community to gain an understanding of their perspectives on the built environment. Here again I refer to the work of Menna Agha, who has already given me enlightening insights into Nubian concepts of dwellings, domesticity, and the social role of ‘the house’.

The project will officially begin in March 2021 after an “in-between” period during which I’ll wrap up all of the reports and administrative stuff for the InBetween Project. But fear not! InBetween might be over in official terms, but its outcomes and its driving concepts will live on in this new project and everything that comes after it.

I hope you’ll follow me on the Living Nubia journey. Let’s see where it takes us!

Author: Aaron de Souza

Aaron de Souza is an archaeologist specialising in Nubian material culture of the Second Millennium BC. He obtained his PhD at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia, with a dissertation on the ceramic traditions of the so-called Pan-Grave archaeological culture. Aaron is currently the Nubian ceramics specialist with the Tell Edfu Project (The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago), and has an ongoing involvement with the Hierakonpolis Expedition (University of Oxford), where he recently excavated two of the last remaining Pan-Grave cemeteries. Aaron has also recently worked with the Aswan-Kon Ombo Archaeological Project and the Swiss Mission to Elephantine, and has previously worked as ceramicist with the Dendara Necropolis Project (Macquarie University), and the Helwan Project (Macquarie University). Aaron has also conducted extensive museum-based research at the Museum Gustavianum (Uppsala University, Sweden), and at the Oriental Institute Museum at the University of Chicago. For more information and a CV, visit Aaron’s Academia profile.

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