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Second season of UCL excavations concludes in Sudan

2 May 2013

sudan-season-2

Dr Jane Humphris has recently returned from two months of excavations at Meroe in Sudan. Completing the second field season of archaeological research for the UCL Qatar project, The Kingdom of Kush and the Power of Technology, Dr Humphris is very happy with the progress of UCL Qatar’s research in Sudan.

The research focuses on the industries that supported the might of the Kushite Kingdom, which at one point ruled as far as most of Egypt as the 25th dynasty. Famous for its monumental stone architecture including pyramids, palaces and temples, during the Meroitic period (from approximately 350 BC to 400 AD) a number of industries become of fundamental importance to the success of Kingdom. For example, quarrying the stone to construct the monuments of the kingdom would have been a major industry. Thus, building on the work of Dr Abdelrahman Ali Mohamed Rahma (Director General of the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums), UCL Qatar have entered into a collaboration with Dr Abdelrahman as part of a QNRF funded project, to further explore the Meroitic quarries. Dr Brigitte Cech is running the research into the ancient quarries, and began this season with an extensive car and foot survey of a 30 km x 30 km area surrounding Meroe Royal City. She located over 70 quarry locations and, along with mapping expert Frank Stremke, performed detailed mapping, surveying and photography for photogrammetry and 3D imaging. In addition, Dr Cech also collected samples that are now here at UCL Qatar ready for analysis in our laboratories. Dr Cech will be considering issue such as where the stone came from for particular Meroitic buildings and hence how much stone was quarried; what techniques were used to quarry; how far the stone was transported, and the nature of the transport. She will then be able to consider question such as the organisation of the industry, how many people may have been involved, and the technological knowledge employed by those involved in this huge Meroitic industry.

Another aspect of Dr Cech's work concerns the sources of iron ore that may have been exploited during Meroitic times. Around Meroe and other Meroitic locations, the often-extensive remains of iron slag (the waste product of iron smelting), litter the landscape. In some places, notably at the Royal City, these remains have created major aspects of the Meroitic landscape in the form of huge mounds of iron slag. It is these remains that Dr Humphris, along with archaeologist Thomas Scheibner, has been busy excavating this season. She began the 2013 season by excavating five, 2m x 2m units within one of the biggest slag mounds in Africa, situated just outside Meroe Royal City. Continuing to refine the methodologies she developed last season at the Meroitic site of Hamadab, Dr Humphris processed approximately 36 cubic meters of iron slag and associated archaeological material from this immense slag mound, and documented the sections of the units in detail, taking further samples from the defined stratigraphy. She excavated further remains within six additional units around two Meroitic ruins to the south of this slag mound – the Lion Temple and building M70, both of which appear to have been constructed on top of iron production remains. Again, extensive processing, sampling and recoding was carried out.

Dr Humphris also continued the luminescence dating strategy she employed with dating specialist Dana Drake Rosenstein. Dr Humphris and Rosenstein laid over 20 dosimeters within the sections of trenches at the site of Hamadab one year prior to the 2013 season. Rosenstein returned to Sudan this season to collect the dosimeters and their associated samples, including some for OSL dating under the cover of darkness, and a black tarp. Dr Humphris has laid a further 17 dosimeters within the sections at Meroe for collection next season. The results of the luminescence dating will be used to refine the results of the radiocarbon dating that is ongoing.

The results and interpretations of these excavations will assist, in combination with the results of the laboratory analysis of the 240kg of material that Dr Humphris has shipped to UCL Qatar, in generating and understanding of the role and impact of the iron industries during the rise, dominance and fall of Meroe.

In addition to the archaeological work, a party for the workmen and local community was organised which was a big success and helped to thank those with whom we live and work for their patience and constant assistance. Dr Humphris gave lectures at the University of Shendi and the National Museum in Khartoum to encourage staff and students to encourage further diaologue on archaeoly and keep people informed about the progress of the UCL Qatar research. She also gave a two-part interview in Sudan Vision, the widest circulated English written newspaper in Sudan, publicising UCL Qatar and our research in Sudan.

After a busy two months, with the samples safely here at UCL Qatar, the whole team is very excited about the results we will be generating and the future of this long-term research.