Mary Chubb Lived Here: Some first impressions of Amarna

Anna Garnett recalls her first trip to Amarna to study the pottery from the Stone Village and a memorable trip to the EES Dig House where Mary Chubb worked with John Pendlebury’s team in the 1930s, an experience she recounted in her memoir Nefertiti Lived Here.

With the support of an Egypt Exploration Society Fieldwork and Research Grant, I am currently working on a 3-year project documenting the ceramic assemblage from the Stone Village, a worker’s settlement located in a shallow valley in the desert to the east of the Main City at Amarna, which was excavated from 2005 to 2009. It is likely that this settlement, located around 20 minutes’ walk south-east from the Workmen’s Village, was home to a community of labourers who worked on the Royal Tomb and perhaps also non-royal tombs at Amarna, and/or that the site played a role in provisioning and supporting desert-based workforces, including through the supply of food and water. The collection of pottery sherds from the Stone Village, comprising mostly coarse wares from utilitarian-type vessels together with a smaller number of decorated and imported wares, provides a snapshot of domestic activity and commodity supply at this peripheral settlement. My main role at Amarna is to undertake a detailed study of this assemblage, working towards publication, with the aim of building a clearer picture of the function of the Stone Village and shedding further light on the issue of trade and exchange of goods across the site.

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Excavations underway at the Stone Village in 2007.

However, while my main focus was my work on the ceramics, I also had another plan in mind for my first season at Amarna. Having previously read (and re-read, and re-read…) Nefertiti Lived Here, Mary Chubb’s humorous account of her time working at the site with the British team led by John Pendlebury on behalf of the Egypt Exploration Society (EES) in 1930, I was determined to retrace her footsteps during my first visit in 2015. Chubb volunteered to join Pendlebury’s team as Secretary after developing an interest in Egyptology when working at the EES, and her work on the Amarna expedition record, and later with the Oriental Institute in Iraq, contributed a great deal to the development of standards of archaeological publication. As such, she’s something of a personal hero of mine and having travelled to Amarna from Bloomsbury that year myself, I felt a particular affinity with her experience.

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Reading Mary Chubb amongst the ruins of the North Dig House, which served as the base for the EES expedition in the 1930s.

At the end of a sunny Thursday afternoon in April 2015, myself and the Amarna Project team congregated at the site of the EES Expedition House to the north of the city, which itself was constructed on the ground plan of an ancient Amarna house. My team-mates afforded me the indulgence of reciting some of Chubb’s words from her book while standing within the walls of the house where she and her team stayed in 1930, which has long since been abandoned. Chubb’s description of her approach to the site, and the house, are especially evocative. On her first impression of the house, she remarks:

As we came out from beneath the darkening trees into the still warmly-glowing desert, and saw the house quite near with its welcome of lamp-light, I felt an answering glow of happiness inside me. After the strange, hot, tiring journey, passing through the monotonous flat land of the western side for hour after hour, there was a quite unexpected effect of smug homeliness about the whole setting.

For a brief moment it seemed that life had been restored to the building with Chubb’s words, which conveyed both her excitement and apprehension about her impending first field season at Amarna: much like myself that year. With the sun setting fast it was then time to head back to our expedition house and continue to work on our various documentation tasks, each continuing Mary Chubb’s legacy in our own different ways.

The view from the North Dig House as the sun sets across the Nile.

Anna Garnett is currently completing her PhD in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool. You can read more about her work on the Stone Village pottery in Egyptian Archaeology 50.