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Dr Jane Humphris: An update from Sudan

6 May 2012

jane-humphris

In early 2012 Dr Jane Humphris, a research fellow at UCL Qatar investigating early iron production in Sudan, travelled to the Meroitic site of Hamadab to join the ‘Hamadab and Meroë Royal Baths’ project of the German Archaeological Institute (DAI). Led by Dr Pawel Wolf, archaeological research at the site of Hamadab has been ongoing for a number of years, and continues to reveal much about life at this urban settlement. One aspect of the site that had remained unexplored until now are the extensive remains associated with a major iron producing industry.

In addition to a significant (and largely unexplored) archaeometallurgical potential, there exists an emotive debate as to whether iron production in fact entered sub-Saharan Africa from Meroë, or was instead independently invented at one or more locations to the south and/or west. Hence this new research, the first in decades to attempt to understand Meroitic iron technologies, will both generate data from which a much enriched view of the role and impact of technology during Meroitic times will be gained, and allow for a broader consideration of the position of Meroitic iron production within debates surrounding the origins of iron in Africa.

The fieldwork began with an extensive ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey. The results of this survey were combined with data produced during a pervious megnetometry survey, in the hope that the locations of ancient furnaces would be revealled. In total, six large trenches were excavated both within and close to the iron production remains, and nearly 700 archaeometallurgical and associated archaeological samples were collected and shipped to UCL Qatar for laboratory anaysis. These samples included numerous charcoal samples which which were collected for wood species identification and radiocarbon dating. To ensure that the research produces a sound chronological framework for the iron production remains, radiation dosimeters were placed within the sections of the trenches. These will be collected next season and will allow for the callibration of luminescence dates which will compliment the radiocarbon sequence.

The laboratory analysis will begin over the coming months, and Jane is looking forward to returning to Sudan to continue this exciting research in 2013.