Ancient Roads and GPS Survey: Modelling the Amarna Plain

Article excerpt


The construction of the city now known as Tell el-Amarna was begun in the fifth year of the reign of the Pharaoh Akhenaten (c. 1350 BC) (Kemp 1989). The city remained the centre of power during Akhenaten's reign, but upon his death power returned to the older centres. A sparse population probably remained in the city during the reign of his successor, Tutankhamen, but after this, the city was abandoned, although a couple of small settlements remained (Kemp 1989). The city of Amarna therefore allows the archaeological investigation of a wide area without the encumbrance of subsequent occupation.

The city is located on the Nile, about halfway between the important centres of Memphis and Thebes. It lies mainly on the east bank, on a flat piece of desert which is surrounded by a crescent-shaped escarpment. In the central part (Figure 1) is a temple and ceremonial centre, with surrounding accommodation for the city's officials, workers and citizens. The escarpment itself contains rock-cut tombs attributed to the more prominent inhabitants. Akhenaten marked the limits of his city by placing boundary stelae both on this eastern escarpment, and on the distant escarpment on the western bank of the Nile. In the area between the main city and the eastern escarpment lies an area of desert which at first viewing would appear to be devoid of activity. It is on this area that the new survey work reported here was focussed.


Previous investigations

Flinders Petrie conducted the first archaeological investigations at Tell el-Amarna between 1891 and 1892 (Petrie 1894), although the site had been previously surveyed and included in the Napoleonic Description de l'Egypte (Kemp & Garfi 1993). Petrie noted that the site had been recently looted and remarked with a slight irony that his work was "better late than never" (1894: 2). Within the seemingly blank area between the central city and escarpment, Petrie recorded a series of roads (1894: 4). These 'roads' were simply strips where the stones that litter the surface had been cleared to either side to produce an accessible routeway through the desert. Petrie began to record them using a compass and fixed points on the escarpment, and by "counting steps all day" (Petrie 1984: 1). Unfortunately an injury to his foot cut short this exercise, so it was left to his assistant, Howard Carter, to complete the record. On his return to England, Carter then posted his notes and maps of the road system to Petrie, but they never arrived (Petrie 1894: 4). Later investigators at the site also attempted to record the road system; for example Davies (1906), whilst recording the rock-cut tombs, and Timme (1917), a military surveyor with the German army, who produced an impressive map of very straight roads criss-crossing the Amarna plain.

The Egypt Exploration Society originally undertook work at the site between 1921 and 1936, and the current programme of research began in 1977 (Kemp 1989). The area of the central city has been surveyed in detail and published (Kemp & Garfi 1993). With the advent of high accuracy, differential Global Positioning Systems (GPS) the total mapping of the large area contained by the eastern escarpment has now become a practical proposition.

The Eastern area GPS survey 2001-3

A small area of the escarpment was surveyed using an EDM in 1996; including the area of the North Tombs, and it was felt that this was a good point to start the new survey in 2001 which has made use of a GPS. The two main aims of the survey are to build a topographic model and to locate any known or previously unrecorded sites in the Amarna hinterland. In the first season the survey was undertaken using a Geotronics Geotracer System 2000 L1-RTK differential Global Positioning System (GPS). Subsequently, the survey has been undertaken using a Leica 500 series differential GPS. The GPS equipment receives and compares radio signals from 24 satellites which in this case are under the control of the U. …