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Jebel Moya, south-central Sudan

Jebel Moya is a Late Holcene combined cemetery and settlement locality in south-central Sudan. It was excavated from 1911-14 over four seasons by the founder of the Wellcome Trust, Sir Henry Wellcome. Sir Henry died in 1936. The archaeological report was compiled by Frank Addison and published in 1949. The anatomical report was published in 1955 by Mukherjee, Rao and Trevor.

Overall, close on 2800 graves were excavated (2792 according to Frank Addison, 2791 from my determinations; 1 grave record was duplicated by Addison), though more were recorded (2883), making it one of the largest British excavations ever undertaken in North-East Africa. My ongoing doctoral work re-examines the excavation records and materials in order to re-construct the nature of social variability. Although there have been previous attempts to make sense of the Jebel Moya material (see my 2009 article below for further details), Rudolf Gerharz relied entirely on Addison's published registrar of graves and Joel Irish re-examined the teeth of selected individuals. The project is the first to return to the original excavation records in order to reconstruct the occupational and soci0-economic history of the site. There are selected photos of artifacts on DigitalEgypt for anyone interested.

My research would not be possible without the support and assistance of the Institute of Archaeology (University College London), the Wellcome Trust and the Duckowrth Laboratory (University of Cambridge). I am grateful to the Institute of Archaeology and the Wellcome Trust for sponsorship and logistical support, and to the Duckworth Laboratory for access to the archival records and other relevant materials.

Update (23/04/2016): Three related papers were published in 2015. Please see the About link above to view the list of available publications. The research on Jebel Moya is ongoing.

Update (21/09/2014): New data published on the mortuary layout and implications for the social structure:
Brass, M. 2014. The Southern Frontier of the Meroitic State: The View from Jebel Moya. African Archaeological Review: DOI: 10.1007/s10437-014-9164-5

Update (10/11/2013): The OSL results have been publishsed:
Brass, M. & Schwenniger, J.-L. 2013. Jebel Moya (Sudan): New dates from a mortuary complex at the southern Meroitic frontier. Azania: DOI: 10.1080/0067270X.2013.843258

Update (29/02/2012): I have received the results of the OSL dating. The samples are the first direct radiometric-dated samples which can be directly linked to human activity. They alter the currently accepted chronology of the site. The results will be published.

Update (18/02/2012): I am waiting for the OSL results from the six samples submitted to the dating laboratory at Oxford University. It should hopefully be complete by the end of March. The aim is to publish a journal article with the findings and initial results of the archaeological investigations. The investigations remain underway - the task of analysing the British Museum pottery will be complete at the end of March. Work remains in analysing the pottery data as well as on spatial GIS analysis of the mortuary artefacts & remains from the site.

Update (09/10/2011): I was at the British Museum on Thursday 6th continuing my examination of the pottery. I mentioned that three categories of pottery assemblages could be distinguised in the BM collection, a deduction which was reconfirmed yesterday. I also mentioned at Poznan that I had been given enough funds, including money from the Wellcome Trust, to undertake 3 luminescence dates. I am very pleased to inform you that the Oxford dating laboratory has been refining its OSL techniques and believe that they can now date up to 6 pottery samples for the same cost; the dating attempt will begin in the next few weeks and I should have the results in the New Year. There will subsequently be a joint journal publication by myself and the dating lab.
Derek Welsby joined us on Thursday before we chose the samples for dating after he left. He believes that one type of sherd in particularly is the same or damn close to pottery from Soba. Date of 5th century AD, 500 yrs after JM is said to be abandoned. One of my dates may be done on a similar sherd - we chose 13 candidates, of which the BM will chose the best 6 they can cut for dating. Could be that there was northerly movement too after the abandonment of JM? If so, and it is just one hypothesis reliant on the forthcoming dating, then it contradicts prevailing thought which says there was only southerly movement post-abandonment. In essence, there are new interesting questions to ponder in addition to the ones which my research has thrown up already.

Update (09/07/2011): I was honoured to present my latest data and thoughts at the 2011 Dymaczewo Conference in Poznan. The programme of speakers is available on the LPNEA website. The text and ppt downloads are available in pdf. Various photographs from the conference are available for viewing too.

Update (17/06/2011): A new Registrar of Graves has been constructed. Errors have been found in the original Registrar constructed by Addison. While attempts to radiocarnon date some of the skeletal remains have been unsuccessful, funding has been secured to date pottery sherds which will be the first radiometric dates obtained from secure androcentric remains. Re-examination of the artifacts in the British Museum and the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology (Cambridge) is underway.

Update (25/12/2010): The Duckworth Laboratory kindly gave me access to their database on the human skeletal remains. I have combined the necessary information with the excavation records in the spreadsheet in order to draw up a longlist of suitable candidate samples for AMS dating. The list will be narrowed down in the New Year and an attempt made to obtain the first ever direct dates for the site. The dates will also assist in analysing the spatial and temporal distribution of the graves, completing the GIS work underway using ArcGIS.

Update (17/10/2010): I completed the digitisation of the excavation records at the end of September 2010, cross-correlating the information with Frank Addison's Registrar of Graves. A new, more accurate and expanded Registrar has been produced. There are differences between the new numbers and those given by Addison. I gave a talk to the African Archaeology Research Day 2010 conference yesterday, updating the Africanists on the progress of my research and some preliminary ideas. The text and PowerPoint is available for download below and contain revised figures on the number of graves, individuals, and burial orientations and attitudes.

Update (19/09/2010): There are 2883 graves in total. I have exactly 300 graves left to digitise from the excavation cards and cross-correlate with Frank Addison's original and inadequate Registrar of Graves. The information is being inputted into a spreadsheet suitable for subsequent analysis, including spatial analysis using ArcGIS. I am also in the process of requesting permission for the first ever direct radiometric dating of the remaining skeletal materials housed in the Duckworth Laboratory.

Update (07/04/2010): I've made some good progress. I've finished digitising all the cards which I scanned originally. It means I have reconciled the information on the three different sets of excavation card records and Addison's registrar of graves for a third of all the recorded burials. I have information from 2/3 of the different sets of cards on just over another 300 burials.

  • October 2010. Jebel Moya: Initial re-investigation into the archaeology of south-central Sudan [text and ppt download]. African Archaeology Research Day, Cambridge
  • May 2008. Social organisation at Jebel Moya, south-central Sudan, 5th - 1st millennium BC. Sudanese Archaeological Research Society: British Museum, London
  • September 2008. Pastoral social organisation at Jebel Moya, south-central Sudan, 5th - 1st millennium BC. Society of Africanist Archaeologists: Frankfurt, Germany.

    Please click here for a list of publications.

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