Posts Tagged ‘Archaeology’

Homelessness In Bristol

January 19, 2014

I put up a piece earlier this week on Rachael Kiddey’s presentation on the archaeology of homelessness in Bristol, along with links and videos on the archaeology of homelessness in Indianapolis, under Dr Larry Zimmerman and Dr Welch, and York back here in the UK, also led by Kiddey. Since I put it up, there was a report on the local BBC news evening news programme, Points West about homelessness in the city. It’s doubled over the last year.

Well, as the American comedian Bill Hicks used to say, ‘Well, pull me up a chair!’

Some of this will be due to the Coalition’s cuts and destruction of the welfare state. Some of it is also no doubt due to budget cuts by Bristol council itself. The city is now governed by George Ferguson, its elected mayor. Nominally independent, he was previously a Lib Dem and seems to have ditched his formal party membership in order to get elected. As part of his image, he strides across Bristol and the world clad in red trousers, though for funerals these are claret, rather than the shade he usually adopts. Under him, this situation will get worse. Just before Christmas he announced his plans for another £90 million worth of cuts, though told the press that ‘people shouldn’t be afraid of it’. As more services are cut, so more people will find it difficult to cope, with some eventually ending up on the streets.

I’ve found a couple of videos on Youtube on homelessness in Bristol.

In this video below by Jake Dix, the producer and director talks to the manager of one of the homeless shelters, a spokesman for the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft, and a group of squatters. The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft is a co-operative, that has a number of subsidiary firms. One of these produces pottery from the fragments of old crockery. It has a policy of employing recovering drug addicts. As for the squatters, these have been occupying a building that was derelict for forty years.

This video on Bristol City Homelessness Advice Centre in Phoenix Court by ‘PublicEnquiry’ in itself isn’t really very interesting. It’s just footage of people coming and going in the office, set to a modern jazz soundtrack. I am, however, reblogging it on here because of its producer’s comments about the very commercial attitude of the Council and their attempts to remove it.

Here’s the video:

‘Despite their statutory duty to house the homeless Bristol’s local authority do virtually nothing nowadays to house the majority of homeless people. The council is being run as if it was a business and they can’t make any money out of the poor and mentally ill. They have even tried to get this video removed despite the fact that it is a public place and does not infringe anyone’s privacy.’

Advertisements

The Sarobe: A Living Megalithic Tradition in Basque Spain

December 26, 2013

Swinside Circle

Swinside Large Stone Circle in Cumbria

The stone circles constructed by the peoples of the Neolithic and Bronze Ages are some of the most fascinating ancient monuments in Europe. Despite considerable work by archaeologists, it is still a mystery why they were built. One of the most popular theories, proposed by Alexander Thom, is that they were built as ancient astronomical observatories, marking out the rising and setting of the sun, moon and stars on particular days of the year. They thus also acted as monumental calendars. Thom’s theories were later revised by Aubrey Burl, who demolished some of the more far-fetched theories. Burl demonstrated that not all stone circles were aligned with the stars, and that the elaborate mathematical calculations to produce the type of calendars proposes by Thom were beyond the capability of the societies that built them. He also showed that some of the stars, which were presently aligned with some stone circles, had moved since the circles were first built due to precession of the equinoxes. They were not originally aligned with the circles when the ancient peoples first put them up. Burl did, however, also confirm that many of the circles were aligned with the sun and moon, particularly at the solstices.

Other research on stone circles and other, associated monuments and structures, has investigated them as sacred, ritual landscapes used for the great ceremonies performed by these ancient societies. They have been compared to cathedrals in Christian society. Mike Parker-Pearson, for example, has recently suggested that Stonehenge was constructed as part of a wider funerary landscape that included Durrington Walls, deliberately laid out as a series of ceremonial paths to mark the journey of the dead to their last resting peace and their transition from the living to the world of the ancestors.

The archaeologists investigating the astronomical functions of the stone circles looked for similar practices in other cultures around the world, particularly with the Maya of Mesoamerica. This has also been discredited due to the immense cultural differences between the historic Maya and the peoples of Neolithic Europe. Nevertheless, in the 1990s archaeologists found a possibly much closer parallel to these ancient monuments and their builders in the Basque sarobes. These are stone circles consisting of eight stones, used by nomadic shepherds in the far south of the Basque country. Clive Ruggles, in his chapter on ‘Astronomy in Ancient Europe’ in the book Astronomy Before the Telescope, describes them thus:

‘However, an analogy of great potential interest has emerged recently, from far south in the Basque country. Here there are many examples of what appear to be eight-stone rings. These sarobe were constructed by transhumant shepherding people in historic times, and in some cases they were still in use at the beginning of the twentieth century. This means that we have both first-hand accounts and extensive documentary evidence relating to their purpose and function. this evidence shows that the sarobe were actually perceived by the builders as stone octagons rather than stone rings. Legal records specify their design, construction and celestial orientation. Each site was laid out using standard units of length and aligned with the cardinal and inter-cardinal directions. Linked to the theme of cosmic order, it acted both a seat of government and a centre for religious rites. The sarobe functioned within a cosmological network of social practices and beliefs rather than merely at an instrumental level.

‘The sarobe are the material remnants of a system of the social organisation of space dating back to at least the early Middle Ages, and possibly much earlier. This system is also reflected in constructs and concepts in the Basque language. This language is pre-Indo-European, which provides evidence that Basque culture was not ruptured by the arrival of Indo-European speakers, so that a cultural continuity may be postulated right back to prehistoric times. In addition, it is interesting to note that the Basque standard unti of measurement relates to ancient units used to lay out traditional land holdings in France and possibly in many parts of the British Isles. These observations do not, of course, prove that cultural practice in the Basque Country in historic and modern times was in any way related to that in the Neolithic and Bronze Age British Isles; they do, however, provide a strong motivation for studying the Basque Country further as useful analogy for ancient cultural practice elsewhere in Europe, and such investigations are well underway’. (p. 25).

The Basque sarobe’s also show that the stone circles probably had both an astronomical and religious functions. They thus give an insight into the type of religious and social ideas behind their construction, though without being exactly like those of the peoples, a kind of cultural ‘living fossil’, who built the megaliths in Britain and the rest of Europe.

Sources

Alex Gibson, ‘Introduction’, in Alex Gibson and Derek Simpson, eds., Prehistoric Ritual and Religion (Thrupp: Sutton Publishing 1998).

Clive Ruggles, ‘Archaeoastronomy in Europe’, in Christopher Walker, ed., Astronomy Before the Telescope (London: British Museum Press 1996).

The Death Toll from Benefit Cuts: The DWP Blocks Attempts to Find the True Numbers

July 13, 2013

My brother, over on Vox Political, has been fighting a campaign with others to get the Department of Work and Pensions to release the figures of the number of people, who have committed suicide as a result of their Disability Payments being cut or stopped altogether. See the pages linked below:

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/call-for-evidence-on-work-capability-assessment-my-submission/

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/dwp-falsehoods-lets-get-some-questions-answered/

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/08/will-the-dwp-do-anything-to-avoid-revealing-the-true-extent-of-the-atos-deaths/

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/dwp-obstruction-over-atos-deaths-a-plea-for-sanity/

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/07/12/stop-collecting-death-stats-if-you-like-dwp-its-what-youve-got-already-that-we-want-to-see/

The Department has repeatedly turned down requests to release the statistics. They first refused to release them as the request came from a single person, and was therefore a ‘one-off’, which would require too much work to justify answering the request. When my brother put in another request for the same information, and encouraged the readers of his blog to do the same, the DWP turned it down because it was ‘vexatious’ and ‘harassing them’.

Courteous requests for information, as provided by law, is not harassment. Abuse, physical threats and obscene or disgusting objects sent through the post, to which employees of the Tax Office and the other welfare agencies have often been subjected, is harassment. The DWP’s stark refusal to release the information is also an affront to British traditions of open government.

The Enlightenment and Open Government

One of the great achievements of the 18th century Enlightenment was the idea of open, transparent government. It is what has made British and American democracy so great. Not only is the voting public entitled to know the content of the laws, they are also able, through government White papers and other publications, know the reasons why such legislation has been passed. As a result, the public is able to criticise such legislation, and decide for itself whether such legislation is appropriate.

Public Transparency and the Architecture of Annapolis

The idea that justice and government should be open to public view and inspection is built into the very fabric of our historic architecture. In the 18th and 19th centuries, for example, court room doors were opened during trials to show that not only was justice being done, it was seen to be done. A few decades ago there was a big archaeological project excavating and reconstructing 18th century Annapolis in Maryland. Not only did the archaeologists examine its material remains, including standing buildings, they also looked at architects’ plans, and the private letters and papers of its founders and citizens in order to reconstruct the ideas that governed its construction and layout. They concluded that the great Georgian buildings and streets of this great American city had been constructed in accordance with Enlightenment principles of transparency and openness. Buildings were deliberately built so that the activities of the people within them could be plainly seen. It was felt that darkness, obscurity and concealment provided cover for immoral and criminal activities. Thus, as far as possible, buildings were constructed to be as open as possible. The large panes of glass and windows in Georgian buildings were deliberately put in, not only to give their occupants the maximum amount of light, but also to allow people outside to see what they were doing, and check that it was honest and correct.

DWP Statistics Not Connected to National Security, Should Be Released

Of course there are things, chiefly relating to national security, which governments should keep secret. The statistics on the number of deaths through benefit cuts are not one of them. The only dangers these statistics represent it to the continued application of the policy, and the careers of the ministers involved. And these clearly are no reasons for their suppression.

I therefore hope and demand that such statistics become involve available, and look forward to the government releasing them.

John Locke and the Origins of British and American Democracy: A Reply to Ilion

July 10, 2013

Ilion, a long-term and respected commentator here, made the following comment on my post John Locke and the Origins of British and American Democracy:

“Black Britons, American and West Indians may well consider Locke’s comments on slavery profoundly wrong, considering their own peoples history of enslavement by Europeans.”

Only if they are either:
1) ignorant (which is curable);
2) stupid (which is not curable);
3) intellectually dishonest.

Locke: “‘Slavery is so vile and miserable an estate of man, and so directly opposite to the generous temper and courage of our nation, that it is hardly to be conceived that an “English,” much less a “gentleman”, should plead for it.’”

In other words: “How can a man call himself an Englishman, much less a gentleman, if he would argue *for* slavery?“

It’s a good point, and it raises a number of issues, which need to be examined.

Slavery Not Recognised in English Law by 17th century

Firstly, at the time Locke was writing slavery in England had long died out, and villeinage – serfdom – had more or less withered away. The last serf died in the middle of the seventeenth century, as I recall, and Cromwell’s government abolished the last legal remains of feudalism in England. This was important for the abolitionist cause when it arose in the eighteenth century. Abolitionist campaigners like Thomas Clarkeson brought a series of cases before the courts of Black slaves, who had been taken to England. Like the Dred Scott case in America leading up to the Civil War, Clarkeson and the other Abolitionists argued that as slavery did not exist under English law, these slaves were therefore free. They won there case, and during the 19th century a number of slaves came before the British authorities in the West Indies claiming their freedom, because their masters had taken them to England. They also believed that they were free by setting foot in a country that did not recognise the existence of slavery.

Slavery and Indentured Emigration to British Colonies in America and Caribbean

As slavery did not exist in English society, when slave traders turned up in Jamestown in 1621 to try to sell a consignment of Black slaves, the colonists initially did not what to do with them. Emigration to the British colonies in America and the Caribbean was largely through indentured servants, and slavery was not initially needed. Indeed, Hakluyt records in his Voyages and Discoveries the statement by one British sea captain to the African people he encountered that Englishmen did not enslave people, ‘nor any that had our shape’. Unfortunately, this attitude of some mariners did not prevent many others, such as the Elizabethan privateer, John Hawkins, from raiding Africa for slaves, which he attempted to sell to the Spanish in their colonies. By the end of the seventeenth century the British colonists in Barbados attempted to discourage further immigration by indentured servants, as all the available land was now occupied. They thus turned to importing Black slaves to supply the labour they needed on the plantations. These were for sugar in the Caribbean. In the British colonies in southern New England, by the early eighteenth century they were importing African slaves to work on the tobacco plantations.

Locke’s Hierarchical, Feudalistic View of Society

Now Locke, while the founder of modern theories of liberal representative government, wasn’t a democrat in the modern sense. He believed in a restricted franchise, which reserved the right to vote to the wealthy and a parliamentary upper house of landed aristocrats. His proposed constitution for Carolina was quite feudal, in that envisaged a social hierarchy of estates of increasing size, in ‘baronies’ and so on. Now I’ll have to check on this, but I’m not sure that Locke raised any objections to slavery in the New World. In any case, it continued regardless of his comments on how it was antipathetic to the English.

Frederick Douglas and the Irrelevance of the 4th July to Black American Slaves

One of the great abolitionist speeches in 19th century was Frederick Douglas’ ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ Douglas’ point is that the rhetoric of free, White Americans celebrating their liberation from British slavery and tyranny, rang hollow and meant nothing to Blacks, who were still very much in bondage. It occurred to me while I was writing my post on Locke that some people could say the same thing about this great master of British constitutional theory.

17th Century Slaves Treated More Equally than Later On
Now there’s some evidence to suggest that as, as horrific as slavery is, in the 17th century it wasn’t quite as degrading and horrific as it later became. A few years ago I came across a paper on the material culture of slave and free burials in early colonial America in the collection of archaeological papers in Historical Archaeology, edited by Dan Hicks. This found that there was no difference in material culture, and the reverence with which the deceased were buried, between White American colonists and their Black slaves. Both were interred with the same amount of respect, suggesting that in life there was, at least in their case, a degree of equality between masters and slaves. It is a deep shame and pity that this did not continue, and lead to the decline of slavery in America as well as England.

Locke Still Founder of British Constitutional Liberty

As for Locke, his hierarchical views on the structure of society were very much standard for his time. Nevertheless, he laid the foundations for modern representative government and democracy, as opposed to centralised, monarchical absolutism.

The Historical Accuracy of the New Testament

July 10, 2013

You regularly hear attacks on the historical accuracy of the Bible, and particularly the New Testament. These consist of statements like ‘You can’t believe all that. It’s all made up’. The opponents and critics of Christianity have been arguing like this since ancient Rome. There is, however, a lot of evidence supporting the Gospel’s historical accuracy. These are a few of the arguments. Whole books have been written defending the Gospels. I’ve tried to make this as short as possible, so that they can be printed and distributed on a single sheet of paper as part of church activities or private study.

Trusting the New Testament

The Gospels are bioi, Graeco-Roman biographies. St. Luke begins his Gospel in the way Greek and Roman authors began serious historical or scientific texts – stating that they have examined the previous sources and then compiled their own account.

The Gospels were written between AD. 64 and the 90s, when many of the witnesses to Christ’s life and ministry were still alive.

The Gospels provide four independent accounts of Christ’s life and ministry. They were composed earlier, and there are far more copies of them, then contemporary secular Roman biographies of the Roman Emperors. Indeed, some of these are known from only a single coin. A fragment of John’s Gospel has been dated from the late 1st century to c. 125 AD. It has been suggested that it may even have come from the scriptorium of the Evangelist himself. This contrasts with the earliest extant copy of one of the biographies of the Caesars, which dates from the 9th century.

The New Testament frequently refers to named individuals, who were still alive at the time they were written. Graeco-Roman culture distrusted purely written accounts of events and facts, and preferred eye-witness testimony where possible.

Ancient Jewish culture stressed the importance of memorising texts. Rabbis’ disciples were expected to memorise their masters’ teachings.

Anthropological evidence states that the dates when the Gospels were written is too soon after the events for mythological or legendary material to have entered the Gospel stories.

The Gospels also reflect 1st century Jewish life. Many of the questions put before Christ are about issues discussed and debated in contemporary Jewish society, such as the question of divorce. Christ’s commandment ‘Hear, O Israel, you shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy mind and with all thy soul, and thy neighbour as yourself’ is a kelal, a rabbinical short summary of the Law. One of the questions asked during 1st century rabbinical debates was ‘Can you summarise the Law while standing on one leg?’ Christ’s commandment above is an example of the answer to just such a question.

The description of Jerusalem in St. John’s Gospel corresponds to the layout of the town, especially the Pool of Bethesda and the Temple forecourt as revealed by archaeology. Furthermore, types of the tomb in which Jesus was buried, which were closed by a stone have also been discovered. Christ is also described as deidaskalos – teacher – which is also known from archaeology to have been used of 1st century rabbis.

A Face from Medieval Nubia

June 28, 2013

As I’ve already mentioned on previous posts on medieval Nubia, the churches of the Classic Christian period, including that at Arminna West, were decorated with wall paintings. Faras Cathedral was richly decorated with murals. It had been dedicated to the Virgin in 630, so many of the wall paintings were of her. One of these was of Our lady standing amongst the stars in heaven, holding the infant Christ and with two angels, one standing either side of her. The fesco had the inscription ‘The Holy Mary, Virgin Mother of Christ’. To the right was another inscription, reading ‘Jesus Christ, the Saviour’. There was another wall-painting showing the Virgin and the birth of Christ with the three kings and the shepherds. The two shepherds depicted had the names Arnias and Lekotes. There were other murals of the three kings, the Apostle Peter, and those saints that were particularlyrevered in the Monophysite church, such as St. John Chrysostom, and Ignatius, the archbishop of Antioch. There was also a vast mural of the three holy children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace as described in the Book of Daniel. The military saints were also depicted as was the the archangel Michael, the patron and protector of the Nubian kingdom of Macuria, whose capital Faras was. The murals also showed the Queen Mother, Martha, under the special protection of the Virgin and God crowning king Mercurius on the church’s foundation stone. The mural’s inscription described the king as ‘Christ-loving’. The tenth century mural of King Georgios II showed him under the protection of both the Virgin and Child.

The murals also showed the bishops, and their staff of archpriest, priests and deacons. These were shown in their vestments, including the stoles and chasubles. These were richly decorated, some covered with jewels. Their vestments were modelled on those of the Byzantine church, but are not very different from the modern vestments of the Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican church. As a diocese, Faras had the status of Metropolitan, a high status held only by the most important dioceses of the Byzantine Empire. The town itself was under the Eparch, a high official directly subordinate to the king himself in Old Dongola. The Eparch was styled ‘illustris’, a term used only of the highest rank of civil servants Byzantium. One of the churchmen depicted on the murals is of Marianos, who was bishop of Faras from 1005 until his death in 1036. With his broad face and beard, he has been described as resembling King Henry VIII of England. I’ve attempted to depict the mural of him in the drawing below.

Nubian Face Drawing

Clearly Nubia had a rich artistic as well as literary and religious heritage.

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: The Church at Arminna West

June 28, 2013

Dating the Church

It is possible to date the church and suggest when the alterations to it were made by comparing it to other, similar Nubian churches which also underwent similar architectural changes, such as the Buhen Church near Wady Halfa, and the Church on the Mastaba’ and the Cathedral, both at Faras.

The Buhen Church

The Buhen church had experienced extensive reconstruction during the floor had been raised by 60 cm and its piers and walls had been reinforced by further brick walls. New piers composed of rough stone work had also been built in the nave, where they helped to take the weight supported by the existing pillars, the corner of the southwest chamber, the north side of the sanctuary and the area between the north wall and the northwest pillar. This had been done to balance a similar pattern of walls that had earlier been constructed on the south side of the church.

There were also differences between the Buhen Church and that at Arminna West. The nave of the church at Arminna West had included the presbyterium, part of the sanctuary. In the church at Buhen, however, the sanctuary was extended to include part of the nave. It is possible that the Buhen Church may have been built as early as the sixth century or so, as a small painting on wood was found in the fill of the church’s tribune. This was very similar in style to Byzantine art of that century. It is not known, however, when the church was rebuilt.

The Church of the Mastaba, Faras

This church appears to have been constructed in two phases. It originally had square pillars and wide arches. The width of these arches were later reduced and the building made more solid. The pillars on the west side of the church were enlarged on their east and west sides. The east and facing sides of the two pillars in front of the sanctuary were also added to so that they formed a heavy altar screen like that at Arminna West in the final phases of its development. Unlike the church at Arminna West, the altar was moved further east into the apse when the sanctuary expanded into the nave.

Faras Cathedral

The church at Arminna West is closest in its construction and development to the Cathedral at Faras, which underwent two phases of rebuilding according to the Polish archaeologists, who worked on it. It was probably originally built some time around the beginning of the eighth century. It then possessed monolithic granite columns which supported a wooden roof. These were replaced in the tenth century by large brick piers and a vaulted roof. Some time after this, probably in the twelfth century, mud brick walls or screens, on a foundation of debris from older, demolished stone structures, were built between the pillars separating the aisles from the nave. On the north side of the sanctuary the screen were two metres high. They were much higher on the south side, however, to block the greater amount of light that came in from that side. The archaeologists excavating the church believed that the church had been rebuilt due to decay or damage inflicted during raids.

The changes to the fabric of Faras Cathedral may also have been due to general changes in church architecture. In Egypt Ibn Sebba issued a decree commanding all flat roofs to be replaced by vaulted roofs. This change to the structure of the roof also required that the supporting piers should be strengthened. This decree also affected the churches in Nubia. If the other churches were also rebuilt at the same time as Faras Cathedral, then the two phases of rebuilding in the church at Arminna West would also date to the tenth and twelfth centuries. The Coptic stela with its date of 920 suggests that this was also the date of the first phase of the church’s reconstruction.

Comparison with General Nubian Church Types

The church at Arminna West is also similar to a type of Early Nubian church described as Meinarti Type 1c. William Y. Adams, who developed this typology of Nubian churches, considered that the inclusion of part of the nave as well as the apse in the sanctuary indcated that the church had been built in some time in the eighth century. It was unlike the other churches of Meinarti Type 1c in that these had relatively long apses in which the sanctuary was confined. The church at Arminna West, however, had doorways connecting the sanctuary directly with the two sacristies, which did not exist in the other churches of that type. Churches of Meinarti Type 1c also had vaulted roofs. No direct evidence for the type of roof had survived in the church of Arminna West. The brick pillars, on the other hand, suggest that the roof was also composed of brick. If the church was constructed at the date suggest by Adams, then it would have been contemporary with the Early Christian village there and probably the Christian cemetery.

Adams considered that after the church at Arminna West was rebuilt, it was broadly similar to churches of Faras Type 2a construction, though there were also striking differences. The reinforcement of the piers, replacement of the wooden altar screen by one of mudbrick, and the rebuilding of the roof so that it was vaulted rather than flat were all typical of Type 2a churches. Where the church at Arminna West differed from the other churches of this type was in the removal of the door between the north sacristy and the aisle. In the other churches of Type 2a the doors removed were those from the apse to the sacristies. Adams believed that there was a connection between the blocking of the door between the aisle and the north sacristy, and the construction of the room at the north end of the church.

The styhle of church architecture described as Type 2a by Adams lasted from 700 to 1150 AD. Early Nubian churches were decorated with stone carvings, while Classic Christian churches were only decorated with wall paintings. The traces of wall paintings discovered at Arminna West were either in the side chapel or belonged to the later phases of the church’s construction. Bruce Trigger, who excavated the church at Arminna West, believed that the original triumphal arch was replaced by one in red sandstone before the last phase of the church’s rebuilding. He considered that this could have taken place as part of the alterations in the tenth century. It may also have occurred somewhat earlier or later. Trigger was strongly influenced in his dating of the church at Arminna West by Adam’s observations, which he concluded were basically in agreement with his own. He thus believed the church had been constructed in three phases as follows.

Conclusion: The History of the Church at Arminna West

Phase 1.

This was when the church was first built, probably in the eighth century. The church was probably built at the same time the Early Christian settlement at Arminna West it served, was founded.

Phase 2.

This was when the church was rebuilt in the classic Christian style, possibly in the tenth century. By this time the town of Arminna West had become a nucleated settlement – that is, a distinct town, rather than a collection of isolated farms and homesteads – south of the church. There was a cemetery between the church and the river, that was still in use. The church may have been maintained as part of the cemetery and its functions. The altar screens were modified in two phases. It is the church as it was in this phase of its history that it shown in the reconstruction I included in my last blog post. This reconstruction does not show the windows, nor the room built at the western end of the church.

Phase 3:

This was the last phase of the church’s existence. Over a metre of debris was found in the church, probably deposited during the late twelfth century. The church was either used for crude religious purposes, or had been completely abandoned to secular occupation. The Classic Christian village at Arminna West had been abandoned and there were few other indications that the wider area was settled. It is therefore believed that the area was largely deserted. It’s a sad end to a formerly prosperous community and its church.

Source

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Pennsylvania: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ the University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).

Medieval Nubian Churches and Monasteries: Arminna West

June 26, 2013

Despite its great age, the ground plan of the church at Arminna West had survived almost completely intact except for the south sacristy when it was examined by archaeologists in the three years from 1961 to 1963. The surviving walls were mostly under a meter in height. Nevertheless, the excavators were able to reconstruct much of its original structure and history. A diagram of of the church as it was found by the archaeologists is shown below. South is in the top right hand corner.

Arminna Basic Church 1

The church was originally 11.25 meters long, but the east and west side were both of different widths. The east side was 8.1 meters while the west end was 8.4 meters. The walls were composed of mudbrick. The church had an altar (1), which may have had a wooden top, such as those at Ar-Rammal, the northern church near Adindan and Church on the Mastaba at Faras. In front of this were two mud brick pillars (2). Running between them was the stone base for an altar screen. The sill for another altar screen was found on the north side of the altar. The groove for a third screen ran from the north pillar to the north wall, separating the vestibule from the north aisle. It also had an apse, consisting of two curving brick walls on the east side of the church (3). Flanking this were the south and north sacristies (5 and 6 respectively). The south sacristy was probably a baptistry. It held a sandstone font in its south-east corner. This was rectangular, but with an uneven base. Near its front end it had a stone spout and a hole in the bottom, which was lined with lead. This probably held the pipe that drained the font. The font was originally covered with pink plaster. West of the north sacristy was the vestibule. South of this was the ambo or pulpit (8). There were two chambers either side of the nave (10 and 12), with the socket for a door at the entrance to the northwest chamber (11). The room held steps or a low bench (9). It also held a platform of brick and stone to take a stairway. This would either have led to the roof to a second storey, though this unlikely given the church’s small size. Two small pieces of parchment with the remains of a text in Coptic were found in this room, suggesting that it had been a scriptorium. There was a side chapel on the north side of the church (14). This room had had a barrel-vaulted roof, which, along with its walls, had been covered in paintings. Running along the church’s south and east sides was a low mastaba (15 and 16). This had been cut through for a passage to the south entrance with a stone sill (13). The building also had an annex containing a low bench on its northeast side (17). Only one other room like this to have been found is at the church at Ukma. The low bench suggests it is an extension of the north sacristy, though it is not really known what it was used for. Built on to the church’s west end was another room (18). Like room 17, it is not known what this room was used for, although it is believed that it was used for some purpose associated with the church. Although the walls were cleared, the room itself was not excavated.

The church was basilican in form, but had been gradually modified and altered during the centuries it was in use. The archaeologists excavating the church believed that it had been built in three phases, which will be examined in the next post.

Source

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967)

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: The Church at Arminna West

June 25, 2013

The Town of Arminna West

One of the Nubian churches excavated by archaeologists was that of Arminna West. This township lay on the west bank of the Nile directly opposite Khor Usha in the middle of the modern Arminna East, a large and prosperous town on the east side of the river, four km south of Toshka, ten km south of the post boat station at Duki Dawur and 26 km north of Abu Simbel. The township was 600 m in length and 300 m in width. It was excavated in preparation for the construction of the Aswan dam from 1961 to 1963. During the Classic Christian period at Arminna West, between 850 to 1100, the town had a population of between 100 to 200 people. It had large, finely built houses with eight or more rooms and barrel vaulted roofs, which were well plastered. These were probably occupied by nuclear families, rather than extended clan groups. The houses in medieval Nubian villages are located extremely near to each other. This, however, may have been due to the fact that ancient Nubian society was highly integrated, rather than for defensive reasons. Under a treaty with the Ummayyad caliph Abdallah ibn Saad in 652, Nubia traded 400 slaves with Egypt annually in return for cloth, horses and food. This trade nearly vanished completely from the middle of the eighth century, possibly due to the overthrow of the Ummayyads by the succeeding Abbasid dynasty, though there was a brief revival around 1000. The Nubians also imported wine from the Egyptian monasteries. There is also evidence of animal herding in Arminna West during the Classic and Late Christian phases of the town’s history. A map of the town’s remains from its Classic Christian phase is shown below.

Arminna Township

The church lay about 54 m north of the town, as shown below.

Arminna Church and Town 1

Sources

Bruce G. Trigger, The Late Nubian Settlement at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967)

Kent R. Weeks, The Classic Christian Townsite at Arminna West (New Haven and Philadelphia: The Peabody Museum of Natural History of Yale University/ The University Museum of the University of Pennsylvania 1967).

The Churches and Monasteries of Medieval Nubia: Part 1 – Introduction

June 21, 2013

I’ve blogged a bit before on the great Christian civilisation of medieval Nubia in what is now the Sudan. This civilisation consisted of the three kingdoms of Nobatia, Merkuria and Alwa. Nobatia was situated in the area between the Nile’s first and second cataracts, with its capital at Faras or Pachoras. Makuria stretched from the third cataract to the Butana. Its capital was Old Dongola. It was amalgamated with Nobatia in the seventh century. Alwa was centred on its capital of soba far to the south. Alwa is its Arabic name. The Greeks called it alodia. The remains of extremely small churches and a limited number of burials suggest that there may have been a settled Christian presence in Nobatia in the early sixth century before the possible conversion of the pagan temple of Dendur into a church by the king Eirpanome in 550 AD. The Nobatian church was monophysite, like the modern Egyptian Coptic Church, which believes that Christ only had a single, divine nature. The Makurian church, however, was dyophysite. Like the modern Greek and Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic and European Protestant churches, it believed that Christ had two natures. He was both human and divine. Nubia boasted numerous churches. Little is known about Alwa, but the Armenian traveller Abu Salih described it as possessing 400 churches. Archaeological excavations in Soba have uncovered very few buildings that may have been churches, and it is possible that Abu Salih had overestimated their number. One of the very earliest churches in Nubia was in Qasr Ibrim, which was created by the local Christian community in the fifth century through the conversion of the Meroetic temple of King Taharqa, dating from the seventh century B.C.

European and International Exploration and Archaeological Investigation

After its conquest by Islam in the 16th century, medieval Nubia was largely unknown in the West until a series of European explorers and archaeologists visited the area from the early 19th century onwards. One of the first was the great Swiss explorer Jacob Burckhardt, who made two expeditions to Nubia and travelled as far as the third cataract from 1813 to 1815. Burckhardt was the first to describe the Nubians’ way of life, and their faded memories of their ancient Christian past. Two tribes even then still claimed to be descended from the ancient Christian inhabitants. He saqw the remains of two public buildings, which were probably churches at Qasr Ibrim, and came across the remains of a chapel in one of the islands of the Batn el Hajar, lying between the second and third cataract. Later explorers included Count Vidua, Richard Lepsius, the archaeologist, Somers Clarke, and many others. Most of what is known about medieval Nubia comes from the great rescue operations to investigate its archaeology during the construction of the Aswan dam. The first of these was 1899,led by Clarke, and the second, much greater series of excavations in the ‘Save Nubia’ UNESCO campaign from 1960s onwards, caused by the construction of the High Dam and formation of Lake Nasser. These were done by teams of British, American, Polish and Dutch archaeologists.

Nubian Courts and Kings Styled on Byzantine Empire

Archaeological finds and inscriptions, including evidence from churches, indicate that Nubia had strong connections with the Byzantine Empire. Often these were stronger than its relationship with the Egyptian Coptic church to the north. Inscriptions found by J.W. Crowfoot in the region of ancient Mekuria in 1927 indicates that the Nubians used Greek and followed the Byzantine liturgy in their worship. Documents discovered and published the following year by F.Ll. Griffiths showed that the Mekurian court was also modelled on that of the Byzantine Empire. There were courtiers and officials with the Byzantine titles of meizoteros (mayor of the palace?), proto-meizoteros (premier super-mayor), domesticus, primacerius and eparchos. A graffito in mangled Greek at St. Simeon’s monastery, dating from 7th April 1322, records that the last Christian king of that part of Nubia, Kudanbes, styled himself ‘president of the Caesars’.

Construction of Nubian Churches

Nubian churches were mostly built of mud brick, which does not survive very well in the archaeological record. Otherwise churches were composed of fired, red brick on stone foundations. These were either of sandstone, or granite from the marginal areas near the desert. The roof, which could be either flat or vaulted, were supported by granite pillars. These were painted or plastered, and occasionally were covered with frescoes. Stone capitals, doorjambs and lintels were carved with a wide variety of motifs and designs which reached their zenith in the eighth century. These included fish, crosses, vine and palm leaves. Granite capitals have been found in Upper Nubia, but they are rare, and were probably robbed out for reuse after the buildings were abandoned. William Adams identified four phases in the evolution of Nubian church architecture from his work in Lower Nubia. In the first, earliest phase churches probably consisted of the Byzantine basilica type. These were rectangular buildings comprising a nave flanked by two aisles. The Byzantine influence on these churches suggest that the dyophysite Christian communities in Nubia were earlier than indicated by the historical sources. The next phase, termed Early Nubian by Adams, lasted from about 650-800. This still roughly followed the form of the classical basilica, but with some slight differences. These may have been the result of changes in the Nubian liturgy, or the deliberate creation of a separate architectural style by the churches’ builders.

The zenith of Nubian church architecture was reached in the next phase, the Classical Nubian, which lasted from roughly 800 to 1150. This was defined through the addition of a passage running across the east side of the church, leading from the baptistry in the south to the vestry on the north side of the church. These were probably constructed to allow the clergy to pass from one side of the church to the other without going through the sanctuary or heikal. In some churches of this type there was a brick wall between the sanctuary and the nave. This indicates that the ceremonies in the sanctuary was becoming more secret and spiritual, and so concealed from the view of the laity.

According to the Polish archaeologist, Wlodiemiercz Godlewski, who excavated Old Dongola, the first three phases also saw changes in the construction of the baptistry. These were usually located south-east of the nave or narthex. These originally possessed large, circular tanks into which the candidates for baptism could walk. These were gradually replaced by square fonts, which were placed on a pedestal or base, similar to those in modern western churches from the eleventh centuries onwards. It appears that there was thus a move away from large, public baptisms towards a smaller, more intimate ceremony.

During the last phase of church construction from around 1150 to 1400, churches became smaller. The earlier large tanks for baptism were not generally built in churches of this period, and the emphasis was now on the sanctuary. This suggests that the church interior was exclusively reserved for the clergy, and that the congregation were deliberately kept outside. It also indicates that baptisms were being conducted in the Nile, rather than in a special space within the architecture of the church. This may well have been produced by changes in the liturgy, or as a result of the position of Christianity in Nubia becoming increasingly endangered from Muslim and desert raider incursions from the north. It is possible that the Nubian church became increasingly orientated towards Byzantium after Muslim raiding and conquest made contact with the Egyptian Coptic church increasingly difficult.

Among the churches that have been excavated are those of West Arminna and the cruciform and granite column churches of Old Dongola. The monasteries that have also been revealed and investigated by archaeologists include those of Ghazali and Qasr el Wizz. I will talk about these in parts two and three of this essay.

Sources

William H.C. Frend, The Archaeology of Early Christianity: A History (London: Geoffrey Chapman 1996)

Niall Finneran, The Archaeology of Christianity in Africa (Brimscombe Port: Tempus 2002)