Some highlights of the diverse work programme that has taken place at Amarna over the past 40 years. To learn how you can support the site into the future, please take a moment to read about our Annual Fund.
Excavating the Workmen’s Village: Excavations proper began at the Workmen’s Village, through the late 70s and early 80s. The work here focussed on everyday living and set the scene for much of the fieldwork that would follow at Amarna. In this image, the ground just outside the walled village is being explored. More information on the Workmen’s Village is available here: www.amarnaproject.com/pages/amarna_the_place/workmans_vil…
A worker’s house: One of the tripartite houses cleared in the village, the view from the back room (with staircase foundation) into the central room. Low benches for seating line the walls, and a well preserved hearth can be seen. Many of the walls and fittings have been damaged by looting.
The T-shaped basins: Amarna offers rich remains for the archaeological study of cult in the ancient world. Here are the remains of one of the unusual T-shaped basins at the private chapels at the Workmen’s Village, probably miniature versions of sacred lakes.
A plaster jigsaw: The chapels at the Workmen’s Village had been elaborately painted. The wall plaster from the largest chapel was painstakingly pieced together over several seasons by Fran Weatherhead.
A colourful scene emerges: Fran’s reconstruction of one of the plaster groups showing a woman and man dressed in finery, holding floral bouquets. The scene fits a context in which the chapels were used for private ancestor worship, alongside the veneration of gods such as Isis, Shed and even Amun. The painted plaster from the chapels was published as an Egypt Exploration Society monograph in 2007: ees.ac.uk/excavation-memoirs.html
Keeping pigs: A surprising discovery in the grounds outside the Workmen’s Village was a series of animal pens, their floors impressed with bristles suggesting that pigs were housed here. That they were able to keep pigs, animals that require a frequent water supply, suggests that although the villagers were isolated from the riverside city, they were fairly well supplied.
Looking beyond material culture: The study of bioarchaeological and environmental materials has been central to the work strategy at Amarna since the early 80s. Howard Hecker, shown here studying some of the pig bones from the Workmen’s Village, established the study of faunal remains at the site. Learn more here: www.amarnaproject.com/pages/publications/environmental.shtml
Sieving for insect remains: Ashy rubbish deposits from the House of Ranefer in the Main City are sieved for insect remains under the supervision of Paul Buckland in 2003. Amongst the outcomes of the insect study is the earliest physical evidence of human fleas from Egypt, preserved in the dry desert conditions at the Workmen’s Village.
Plant remains up close: One of the aims of the excavations is to build up an assemblage of environmental remains from different parts of Amarna, enabling comparative studies across the city. Here, Delwen Samuel examines plant remains as part of an investigation of bread-making and beer brewing in Pharaonic Egypt.
Digging for water: The city had an intricate water-supply network, facilitated partly by deep wells. This example, on the outskirts of the Main City, was excavated in 1987 under the supervision of Antiquities Inspector Ahmed Galal. It may have provided water for the Workmen’s Village.
Seeking samples from the bottom of a well: As part of the study of the city’s ancient wells, an auger was used to recover samples from the well attached to the house of Ranefer, under the supervision of Dan Lines in 2002. The aim was to reach beneath the water table, but the work was stopped when the auger hit solid stone, perhaps a buried column base.
Experimenting with materials: In the 1980s, especially, Amarna became something of a hub of experimental archaeology (www.amarnaproject.com/pages/publications/tech.shtml
). Here Paul Nicholson shapes a hemispherical clay mould for making bread over a wooden form or patrix; cylindrical bread moulds can be seen drying in the background.
Baking bread: The moulds were used in a bread-making experiment by Paul Nicholson and Delwen Samuel, shown monitoring the temperature inside a reconstructed ‘bread oven’.
Firing on a bigger scale: The manufacture of pottery, from throwing on a wheel to a complete kiln firing, were also experimentally investigated in the 1980s. Here a reconstructed kiln, based on an excavated prototype, is prepared for firing. The team comprises (l. to r.) Pamela Rose, Barry Kemp, Paul Nicholson, Catherine Powell and (taking a photograph) Gwil Owen.
Architectural survey: In 1987 the project began a survey of previously excavated buildings, starting with the Small Aten Temple. Here the foundations of the doorway between the outermost brick pylons have been exposed. Originally floored with stones, with a low platform in the centre, what survives is a thick foundation layer of gypsum which preserves the clear imprint of the individual stones. Architect Michael Mallinson stands in the centre of the group.
Replacing lost stones: The architectural survey provides the basis for replacing lost stonework and repairing vulnerable areas of mud brickwork. In this picture, architect Surésh Dhargalkar supervises local builder Shahata Fahmy as he lays the first line of new stone blocks on a bed of sand which now covers and protects the ancient foundation layer of gypsum in the outer gateway of the Small Aten Temple.
Repairs to mud-brick walls: Showers of rain and strong sand-laden winds eat into exposed mud bricks. At the North Palace, exposed by excavation in the 1920s, many walls have lost half or more of their original substance (www.amarnaproject.com/pages/amarna_the_place/north_palace…
). Surésh Dhargalkar, accompanied by inspector of antiquities Attar Makramalla, discusses repairs with a local builder in 1997. Newly-made bricks are being inserted at the base of a wall where erosion has been particularly intense.
Modest restoration: As far as possible during consolidation work at the site the ancient brickwork is left exposed. Where, however, walls or parts of walls have been lost it seems permissible to recreate the missing lines with two or three courses of new bricks, as here at the North Palace. The column bases are originals.
New column bases: Of this colonnade at the North Palace only the limestone column bases at the far end of the line are originals. The line has been completed with six replicas cast in a specially made mould under the supervision of Surésh Dhargalkar. Local builder Shahata Fahmy holds the measuring staff.
As visitors see the North Palace: Most visitors to the North Palace view it from an embankment outside the rear of the building and outside a barbed-wire fence. Our repairs have thus been concentrated here. From the excavations of the 1920s we know that the walls had originally been decorated with paintings, often of themes from nature, on a layer of mud plaster. This images dates to 2002.
Temple columns: A project to reconstruct two of the Small Aten Temple columns was undertaken to help give visitors a sense of the vertical scale of the temple. They are now one of the most recognisable landmarks at the site.
Survey and repairs at the Great Aten Temple: The programme of removal of sand and spoil, of detailed recording of the remains, and finally of recreating the lines of key components of the building in fresh bricks and stone blocks began at the Great Aten Temple in 2012. Here draftsperson Juan Friedrichs draws a scale plan of brickwork towards the front of the temple. The building team of Shahata Fahmy works in the background. Learn more about the work here: www.amarnaproject.com/pages/recent_projects/excavation/gr…
The monumental front to the Great Aten Temple: By 2015 the new stonework outlined the northern of the two pylons and, in front of it, the edge of a solid foundation platform which supported two rows of giant sandstone columns. The position of each column is marked by a circular pad of reinforced white cement. All will be repeated, in mirror image, for the southern pylon and columned portico (lying to the right of the picture).
A repaired house: This house of an official (or nobleman, name unknown) lies not far south of the Small Aten Temple. It has house number Q44.1 and was excavated by the Egypt Exploration Society in 1923. Repairs began in the 1990s. A damaged brick floor has been made anew and new column bases installed. Further work is intended, including the insertion of a replica stone threshold in the main doorway to the central hall. Visitors to the site are able to see the whole house from a viewing platform built atop an adjacent spoil heap.
Developing a formula for new mud bricks: At the outset of the repair programme architectural conservator Richard Hughes spent much time experimenting with ways to produce mud bricks that were fairly resistant to weathering. His conclusion was that we would be better served by compacting a fairly dry mix within a mould rather than following traditional practice in which much more water was added. Amarna bricks, it should be noted, largely dispensed with the addition of plant material and used stones instead. The new bricks do the same.
Bricks made by compaction: The technique is slower and requires strongly-made brick moulds (which correspond in size to an average for the ancient bricks). But the result is bricks which are fairly robust and, because of their size, less likely to break when handled.
Column bases for house Q44.1: The Project relies heavily on local skills and knowledge in its efforts to consolidate the ancient monuments. The two-part glass-fibre mould for this column, however, was made in the UK by sculptor Simon Bradley. The material for the column is white cement mixed with small stones and formed over iron reinforcing bars.
A precursor to tents: The excavations require temporary shelters for the excavating team, for storing equipment overnight and for the two night guards. For many years the shelters (Arabic ‘sabáta’) were made locally using maize stalks (and shown here at the Great Aten Temple site). Now we use canvas tents made in Cairo.
A move to Kom el-Nana: In the late 80s, fieldwork shifted to the isolated desert temple at Kom el-Nana, in response to illegal encroachment on the temple outskirts. Here archaeologist Wendy Horton presents to the camera a large mud-brick platform, the excavation of which she supervised over three seasons. The circular indentations in the brick floor mark the positions of stone column bases. More information on Kom el-Nana is available here: www.amarnaproject.com/pages/amarna_the_place/komelnana/in…
Amarna’s later history: The work at Kom el-Nana provided the chance to look beyond the Amarna period, the site being the location of a well-preserved early Christian monastery. These walls represent the rear of a small church, the upper parts of which had borne paintings of figures, including saints, reduced to hundreds of fragments found in the rubble. This final cleaning for photography is under the supervision of archaeologist Lauren Bruning.
Part of the monastic complex: The monks cleared out some of the Amarna-period rooms and rebuilt them to provide the various elements of a monastery, here perhaps a refectory, its floor at a lower level than that of the surrounding ground. Archaeologist Duncan Schlee supervises a stage in the excavation.
Statues rediscovered: The work at Amarna has yielded hundreds of thousands of artefacts, not all of which have come from new fieldwork! In the early 2000s, a dump of statue fragments left on site during the early Egypt Exploration Society excavations was found, which launched Kristin Thompson’s long-term study of Akhenaten’s statuary program: www.amarnaproject.com/pages/recent_projects/material_cult…
And the pottery corpus resurfaces: Then came the unexpected discovery of the old EES pottery corpus behind the dig house. Along with other objects, it had been buried in two circular grain silos and at the back of two rectangular storage rooms, visible just outside the enclosure wall of the house, where the left-hand balloon tethering-cord is being held.
Everyday objects: Many objects recovered during fieldwork at Amarna are small personal items, or manufacturing pieces; here, a group of pendants, beads, wedjat-eye ring, flint knife and possible piece of a spindle whorl.
A private monument: One of the most striking artefacts found in recent years – a funerary stela showing a private couple in a similar style to the Amarna royal couple.
Most artefacts are drawn by a specialist illustrator: here, Andy Boyce produces pencil drawings of fragments of hard-stone sculpture.
Andy’s illustrations have helped us communicate our results in publication – these image of tweezers on cloth and a fragile wooden handle with decorative binding will appear in our forthcoming monograph on the cemetery excavations.
Surveying by air: Sometimes it is helpful to look at Amarna from another perspective. In the 1980s, Gwil Owen began a long-term program to record the ancient city through aerial photography, with a succession of kites, hot-air- and helium-filled balloons. Thanks to his work, we now have a near-complete record of Amarna from the air.
GPS survey: And Helen Fenwick’s survey of the desert hinterland east of the riverside city from 2001–2006 shed remarkable new light on how the city’s boundaries were used and perceived.
Through her recording of the elaborate network of ancient roadways, used at least in part as patrol routes by charioteers…
To her discovery of a previously unrecorded Boundary Stela, and the city’s public burial grounds, which earlier generations of archaeologists had long searched for in vain. One of the cemeteries is seen here, tucked away in a picturesque wadi behind the North Tombs. You can learn more about the Desert Survey here: www.amarnaproject.com/pages/recent_projects/survey/desert…
Geophysics field school: And whilst geophysical survey has never been a substantial part of the fieldwork program at Amarna, the ruins of the city being relatively clear from the surface, between 2009 and 2011 sample areas of the city were surveyed using a variety of electronic equipment (provided through the University of Arkansas) which recorded buried features. Here Jason Herrmann demonstrates, to a group of students and trainees, the use of a magnetometer.
Quarrying for stone: Understanding the ancient city of Amarna requires consideration too of its broader landscape. To the north of the site – extending some 10 km beyond the Amarna bay – are vast quarries where limestone for Akhenaten’s city was extracted, here under study by Barry Kemp in 2001.
Presenting Amarna to the world: The creation of an Amarna Visitor Centre (an Egyptian government project to designs by Mallinson Architects) has provided the opportunity to illustrate the nature of the ancient city and the ideas of its creator, Akhenaten, to Egyptian and international visitors. Here Michael Mallinson, assisted by Ann Cornwell, makes a mould of the surface of one of the fragments from Boundary Stela S. A cast of the complete stela is now one of the exhibits. See the opening of the Visitor Centre in early 2016 here: www.facebook.com/pg/amarnaproject/photos/?tab=album&a…
A Visitor Centre announcement panel: One of the planned displays for the Visitor Centre is a scaled-up copy of an Amarna tomb scene, carved on talatat-sized limestone blocks. The scene has been carved by a group of sculptors led by Theodore Gayer-Anderson. The blocks are currently stored at the Amarna expedition house awaiting installation.
Carved by the Gayer-Anderson sculpting group, each of the blocks is 52 cm long, the length of an ancient talatat building block. After the initial blocking out of the carved design, final finishing of the relief awaits.
A return to domestic archaeology: For much of the 2000s, domestic archaeology was at the fore of the fieldwork programme, partly through work on a housing neighbourhood in the Main City which centred on the villa of Ranefer, a chariotry officer in Akhenaten’s army (www.amarnaproject.com/pages/recent_projects/excavation/ho…
). Gwil Owen has photographed the house here by balloon.
These small mud-brick houses provided the typical domestic environment for most of Amarna’s residents. This was the first neighbourhood-level clearance of Amarna housing undertaken in modern times.
Learning archaeology: The work provided a chance to further develop training initiatives, which continue today.
The Stone Village: The 2000s also saw a return to the desert fringe of the site, and the exploration of the second of Amarna’s workers’ villages, the so-called Stone Village.
Recovering a looted site: Badly disturbed by looters in around the middle of last century, the Stone Village nonetheless contained rich archaeological deposits that included fragments of stone quarrying tools, suggesting a connection with tomb building. Learn more about the site: www.amarnaproject.com/pages/recent_projects/excavation/st…
With over 600 graves excavated, the work has produced one of the largest assemblages of human remains and funerary items available for study from Pharaonic Egypt.
Revealing life experiences: The study of the human remains, headed by Jerry Rose and Gretchen Dabbs, reveals a population suffering poor health and heavy workloads.
Conserving coffins: The cemetery work also reveals much about the experience of living through Akhenaten’s religious reforms through the study of decorated coffins, which require specialist conservation treatment before they can even be removed from the ground.
A jackal god emerges: A figure of a jackal god on one coffin reveals that not all the people of Amarna were forced to give up traditional funerary beliefs.