It is time to describe in more detail the main reason for travelling to Leicester at the beginning of September, namely the conference Nubia before the New Kingdom: Current research into the pre- and early history of northern Sudan organized by Ruth Humphreys and David Edwards at University of Leicester. Eight papers were presented by young scholars, i.e. who are writing their PhD or just having completed it. The conference were organized into three chronological parts: first two papers on the A-Group people, then two papers on the Pan-Grave culture, and finally four papers on the Kerma people.
The first paper was by John Gait of Liverpool University on The role of gender in the production and use of A-Group pottery in southern Lower Nubia. He argued that the pottery production should be examined from the perspective of technological and social choices. His interesting results were that the so-called eggshell-ware pots were painted after firing, indicating that the patterns were not a static decoration of these pots. Furthermore, most of these pots were found in the graves of women. His conclusions that the women were making the pots while the men were painting them caused some debate among the audience.
The second paper was by Henriette Hafsaas-Tsakos of University of Bergen who raised the question of A violent establishment of the ethnic boundary between the A-Group people and Naqada people in Lower Nubia? The argument was based around the numerous weapons found in cemetery 17 at Khor Bahan, which she argues belonged to young Naqada men expanding into Lower Nubia, and the instances of violent deaths in the early A-Group cemeteries nearby.
The third paper was by Petra Weschenfelder of Humboldt University on the Pan-Grave peoples in the Nile Valley. She used anthropological studies of nomad-sedentary interaction to argue that nomadic Pan-Grave people from the Eastern Desert who settled in the Nile Valley maintained family ties and obligations to groups remaining in the Eastern Desert.
The fourth paper was by Kate Liszka of Princeton University questioning The Medjay – Pan-Grave Connection? She gave an enthusiastic speech reconsidering the evidence for a connection between the Pan-Grave people known from archaeology and the Medjay people of the Egyptian texts. She concluded that the two peoples are not direct equivalents, and urged modern scholars not to use the terms interchangeably. We are looking forward to having a closer look at her PhD-thesis, whose abstract can be found on this link.
The fifth paper was by organizer Ruth Humphreys of Leicester University investigating A common origin? Some remarks on the development of early Kerma and C-Group phase Ia. She is working on the material collected by the Sudan Archaeological Research Society during the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project. This lecture summarized the knowledge of the the early Kerma and the C-Group Ia-phase and the similarities between the two groups.
The sixth paper was by Stacy Hackner of University College of London on Platycnemia in two Nubian populations: An activity-based explanation of shape change in the tibia. She had undertaken an osteological analysis of the tibia from people buried in a Kerma cemetery and a Meroitic cemetery in the northern Dongola Reach. Her results suggested that the two groups were having different levels of activity, and that the Meroitic group had a higher score on sexual dimorphism. However, she did not present any interpretation of the reasons behind the diverging results for the two groups.
The seventh paper was by Carl Walsh of University College of London on Bodily techniques and diplomacy at Kerma. He made a presentation of the grave goods from the great Kerma Classic tumuli – focusing on beds and headrests - and provided an intriguing argumentation for the participation of the Kerman court in a wider Eastern Mediterreanean diplomatic system. We strongly favour approaches that see the past of the Middle Nile Valley in a wider geographical perspective, and Henriette has written an article about the participation of Kerma in the wider Afro-Eurasian world of the Bronze Age.
The last paper was by Sarah Doherty of University of Cardiff on an experiment to make a Kerma beaker. She made an interesting suggestion as to the origin of the characteristic whitish “ash-band” of the beakers, but this remains to be proven through further experiments.
All the papers taken together illustrated in an eloquent manner the progress achieved in the research on Nubia before the New Kingdom and inspired us to wish to organize a similar venue on these early as well as later periods, perhaps here in Bergen… More on that in the future!