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Trade Roads in Ancient Deserts: An Egyptian Case Study. The unrecognized Late Bronze Age commercial route between Mediterranean and Middle Egypt

Final Report Summary - TRADES (Trade Roads in Ancient Deserts: An Egyptian Case Study. The unrecognized Late Bronze Age commercial route between Mediterranean and Middle Egypt)

Project TRADES 326693 aimed to reach six objectives:
1. The complete analysis and classification of all the pottery imported from the Eastern Mediterranean into the Eastern Faiyum (Egypt) during the Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age (c.1500 – 1000 BC). These imports are currently kept in several museum collections and were excavated by British missions between 1880 and 1930. 2. The complete analysis and classification of imported pottery discovered at Gurob (Faiyum, Egypt) between 2005 and 2012 as well as the study of imports excavated from the site of Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham (Egypt) between 1994 and 2009. Both projects, the Gurob and Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham excavations, were led by the University of Liverpool. 3. The comprehensive study of the Egyptian materials found in the same archaeological contexts of the imported wares. 4. The chemical analyses of the imported wares.
5. The analysis of satellite images and aerial photographs to determine the possible presence of ancient land route connections between the Faiyum region and the other Oases of the Egyptian Western Desert. 6. The analysis of the hydrographic system at the entrance area to the Faiyum region. The researcher visited the following museum collections to obtain all the necessary data on the imported and Egyptian materials relevant for her project: the Ashmolean Museum (Oxford); the Manchester Museum; the Petrie Museum (London); the Rochdale Museum; the Hunterian Museum (Glasgow); UCL collections; the British Museum; the Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge); the Royal Museums (Brussels); the National Museum (Copenhagen). A total of 531 items were fully studied and classified according to the following fields: place of discovery, current location, inventory number, dimensions, description, fabric, surface treatment, technology, preservation, dating, parallels, notes, original context of discovery, associated objects, and bibliography (if any). All these items have been also drawn and photographed. All the relevant information on these materials have been collected in two databases, designed and implemented by the researcher.
Two field study seasons at the site of Gurob and Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham (Egypt) allowed the researcher to collect all the necessary data on the imported pottery excavated from these archaeological areas in more recent years. All the information was entered into the same databases previously mentioned. While the site of Gurob is now declared a restricted military area and, therefore, the researcher was not able to fully collect all the data on the imported wares, she was able to utterly accomplish her task at the site of Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham.
The researcher also performed pXRF analysis on the imports from Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham and conducted DNA analysis on the residual contents of two imported amphorae from Gurob, currently kept at the Manchester Museum. While the aim of the pXRF analysis was to determine the place of manufacture of vessels imported into the first Egyptian landing place for interregional merchants sailing in the Mediterranean Basin during the Late Bronze Age, the DNA analysis shed light on the re-filling and re-use of imported amphorae in funerary contexts.
As one of the aim of the TRADES project was to confirm the possible presence of land route trade connections between the Faiyum and the Egyptian Western Desert, the researcher used satellite images to demonstrate her research question. The analysis used multi-spectral Landsat 8 imagery freely downloaded from the U.S Geological Survey, and a 25k test area high (c. 0.4m) resolution Worldview 2 satellite image purchased from Digitalglobe through EU Space Imaging, including both multi-spectral bands and panchromatic data. These data were added to the Geographic Information System (GIS) project in ArcGIS 10.1 and examined to determine if any likely routes appeared. This examination included simple visual examination and image manipulation involving histogram equalization, histogram stretching and alterations to the contrast of each band in order to draw out the slightest difference in the data. After careful research using Landsat 8 imagery, traces of the route between Bahariya and the Faiyum have been identified where it crosses the Egyptian Limestone Plateau. Although the route disappears where it leaves the Egyptian Limestone Plateau at each end, the visible traces are consistent with the historically attested route of this trail, leaving Ayn el-Bahariya at the north-eastern end of the Bahariya depression heading north-east towards Wadi Rayyan, where grazing was available, and reaching the Faiyum in the area of the Middle Kingdom and later town of Medinet Maadi. This trajectory is very suggestive and might imply that this route has very ancient antecedents indeed. However, confirmation of the precise route of the Bahariya – Faiyum trail, its precise termini and date must await the study of additional satellite imagery and fieldwork. The research into the high resolution Worldview 2 imagery was very successful, identifying 12 potentially historic and/or ancient trails and 2 additional trails used by wheeled vehicles but with the potential for historic antecedents. Unfortunately the current volatile political situation in the Middle East, as well as the impossibility of obtaining permission to conduct fieldwork project in the Egyptian Western Desert, have not allowed the researcher to confirm the data on the ground, at least at present date.
While analyzing the ceramic materials, both imported and locally manufactured wares, from eight deposits known in the Egyptology literature as “Gurob burnt groups”, assemblages excavated at Gurob by W.M.F. Petrie in 1889 - 1890, the researcher was able to draw a completely new interpretation of their usage and significance. Since their discovery, the meaning of these peculiar and unparalleled deposits has been discussed by numerous scholars for over a-hundred years. Many different theories, albeit none of them conclusive, were formulated to explain the nature and function of the “Gurob burnt groups”. Prior to the current study, a detailed and comprehensive analysis of all the materials excavated from these assemblages did not exist. The researcher has therefore filled this considerable gap by presenting the first complete analysis of all the finds and by obtaining new data on the relative chronology of the materials as well as their date of deposition. Following the complete re-assessment of the available archaeological data, the researcher has been able to draw an innovative interpretation of the original nature and function of the “Gurob burnt groups”, supported by the literary evidence provided by a corpus of late New Kingdom papyri (“Great Tomb-Robbery Papyri”, Peet 1930). The new theory provided by the researcher also sheds light on the final occupational phase of the settlement of Gurob and adds considerable knowledge to specific social and economic dynamics of the late New Kingdom to early Third Intermediate Period at the site.
Following from all these considerations, the researcher achieved the following results:
1. She was able to confirm her working hypothesis on the existence of ancient land route connections between the Faiyum region, natural outpost in the Western Desert, and the remaining Oases. While the dating of these ancient land routes remains uncertain, as a survey of the area is needed to obtain these chronological information, the data provided by the TRADES project will open new research perspectives in the area and will add substantial and innovative data to the ongoing scientific debate on Desert Archaeology and land route trade connections in the Egyptian Western Desert.
2. The researcher completed the first, comprehensive analysis and classification of all the imported wares dated to the Late Bronze Age – Early Iron Age discovered in the Eastern Faiyum and at the site of Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham. As the researcher was mainly dealing with archaeological data from excavations carried out more than a-hundred years ago, where possible, she studied the imported wares in their original contexts of discovery through the analysis of the archival documents of the British missions. The researcher was therefore able to produce the first, modern study of these materials. She was also able to draw conclusions on the manufacturing place of the imported wares from Zawiyet Umm el-Rakham and to obtain new information on the re-use of imported wares in funerary contexts in the Gurob area.
3. Finally, one of the most important results derived from the analysis of the imported wares from the Faiyum is the innovative re-interpretation and re-assessment of the so called “Gurob burnt groups”. The nature and function of these eight assemblages has been finally explained, 125 years after their discovery.

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