Sunday, February 15, 2015

Plants at El Kurru

I'm in the town of Karima, buying construction supplies and taking advantage of the internet connection here to make a couple of blog posts. Here's a guest post from our archaeobotanist, Naomi F. Miller:

It has taken several days to get organized, so I have not yet begun to float. But I have walked around in two main directions: west along a wadi (the only place that has any plants on really is dry here!) and east to the Nile, planted in palm groves. There was a small spot that that had flooded and dried with huge cracks, about 20 cm deep; Carola, the geologist said with time and pressure it'd turn to shale, one of the three rock types in the region (the others being sandstone and siltstone). I pinched a little piece, almost hard as a rock, dissolved it in river; I now understand the black mud of the Nile–it looked good enough to eat (like fine chocolate with good mouth feel!), but I didn't.

On one of my wadi walks, young Hasan (maybe 10 years old) joined me; he clearly was primarily interested in my pencil, but I was not prepared to give it up. I let him use my camera to take a few photos, and he did help me collect some seeds and encouraged me to take a photo of a woman on a donkey cart and show it to her...the wonders of digital photography. You ask what about the plants? Well, in the desert there aren't all that many types, maybe 15 or so. Before I left the U.S., I made a folder for downloaded photos of taxa that have been found on archaeological sites in Sudan. Some are so obvious that I am pretty sure I've found them! I recommend you search on the internet for images of Calotropis procera, which grows everywhere (I first saw it in Khartoum).

The palm groves are a revelation! The trees are sort of planted in rows, but because of all the offshoots, some basal and some aerial, the plantings seem a little ad hoc (and there are acacias and other wild-growing trees I don't know scattered about, along with beans, alfalfa, and sorghum).

As for the animals, there are remarkably few, perhaps because there's not much for them to eat. Out in the countryside around here I've seen just a few goats, and donkeys. I've seen only one dog so far (!); it did have that ancient Egyptian look to it. I have noticed a surprising number (less than 10, but more than 3) dead animal parts, including fur...I'm wondering if it is because of a paucity of scavengers. There are a lot of songbirds in the palm groves. (In Khartoum I saw falcons, but not here, at least not yet). In the village there have been a few cats caterwauling. A lizard seems to have gotten zapped by the electricity and fell to the ground at my feet even as I write this. There are lots of crickets, many of whom find their way into the sink. Still no mosquitoes, but there are flies here and there, and a few gnat-like bugs in the groves. So that's what I've seen with my own eyes. And there are bats at the excavation.

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