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Sudan research team concludes latest excavations at Royal City of Meroe

25 June 2014

Lecture for visiting University of Khartoum Students

The UCL Qatar Sudan research team has recently completed the third year of archaeological excavations investigating the iron production industries at the ancient Royal City of Meroe in Sudan.

Continuing to focus on investigating the technologies that supported the growth and power of the Kingdom of Kush, the most recent excavations began with a geophysics campaign in collaboration with Dr Chris Carey (University of Brighton) and Mr Frank Stremke (Stremke Archaeology, Germany). The team made use of a combination of resistivity and gradiometry geophysics data to locate the first iron production workshop to be found at Meroe in over thirty years and only the third one ever found.

Dr Jane Humphris, head of the UCL Qatar Sudan project, brought together specialists from around the world to complete a major excavation season that has seen many hundreds of kilograms of archaeometallurgical and associated archaeological samples systematically documented, collected and shipped to Doha for laboratory analysis.

In preparation for a smelting festival to be held in 2015, Dr Humphris brought smelter Mr Jake Keen from the UK to Meroe to explore the local landscape and identify potential iron ore locations and clay sources that could be used to build the furnaces. Ore roasting and clay firing experiments were carried out by Mr Keen in the UCL Qatar dig house. The results of these experiments have proved invaluable for providing ideas and information the team will use when performing the experimental smelts next year.

This season also saw the biggest community engagement programme yet take place in Sudan. In addition to capacity building with donations of equipment, books and training courses, Dr Humphris embarked on a series of community meetings in and around the area where the research took place. Meetings were held separately for men and women, and during the course of the field season over 200 men and over 200 women took part.

Dr Humphris trained her Sudanese colleagues from the National Museum and University of Khartoum in the theory of Public Archaeology and in techniques of interviewing and presenting research so that the meetings and the material used was all in Arabic. Each meeting comprised an anonymous interview section aimed at understanding the level of knowledge and interest within the local populations about the archaeology and the archaeologists as well as an open discussion to ensure communication channels were open for future discussions and to gather local feedback on issues such as tourism development in the area.

The data collected during these meetings will develop future public engagement strategies with Dr Humphris planning to continue the meetings in other villages as well as initiate outreach projects in local schools and hold monthly lectures about the archaeology of Sudan during her next field season.