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Excavation in progress in front of the Workmen's Village in 1983. In the centre is the front of the Main Chapel

Workmen's Village


This is the name (another being the Eastern Village given to an isolated settlement tucked into a south-facing valley in the low plateau that runs westwards from the cliffs and divides the eastern part of the Amarna plain in two. It was partially excavated in 1921 and 1922, and saw further excavation between 1979 and 1986. Its relatively sheltered location has preserved many of its buildings to a greater height than is common elsewhere at Amarna and its distance from the cultivation has improved the conditions under which organic materials are preserved. The isolation also means that the complete archaeological print of a human community is preserved on the desert.


Aerial photograph of the Workmen’s Village site, towards the south-east. Note the faint lines of the ancient roadways in the foreground
Aerial photograph of the Workmen’s Village site, towards the south-east. Note the faint lines of the ancient roadways in the foreground

A section of one of the ancient roadways on the hill above the village
A section of one of the ancient roadways on the hill above the village

General map of the Workmen’s Village site, showing the main areas. General map of the Workmen’s Village site, showing the main areas.

The main parts of the site are:

  • A walled village. In its final stage the village proper was contained within a plain brick wall, approximately 69 metres square. A major internal subdividing wall and joins in the brickwork imply that the village was extended westwards during its life, so that it rose up the flank of the western side of the valley. A total of 72 houses of similar design were built along a series of parallel streets. They preserved the remains of furnishings and craft materials (especially those used in the manufacture of textiles). A larger house in the south-east corner was presumably for the official in charge. The later addition also contained one larger house. The village came to have a single narrow entrance (a separate one to the later addition was walled up). Just inside the gateway a low rectangular pedestal could have been a shrine.

Plan of the 1921/1922 excavation within the walled village. Plan of the 1921/1922 excavation within the walled village.

The walled village at the end of the 1922 excavation. The walled village at the end of the 1922 excavation.


View of the interior of the central part of the house Gate Street 8.

View of the interior of the house Gate Street 8.
View of the interior of the house Gate Street 8.

Fallen roofing material and a wooden shutter to a window or cupboard, Gate Street 8.
Fallen roofing material and a wooden shutter to a window or cupboard, Gate Street 8.

Reconstructed life in a house, using original objects (1922 photograph).
Reconstructed life in a house, using original objects (1922 photograph).

Outline painting of a procession of figures of the god Bes, on the wall of the front room of house Main Street 3 (1921 photograph).
Outline painting of a procession of figures of the god Bes, on the wall of the front room of house Main Street 3 (1921 photograph).

Grass roofing material in the debris of house Gate Street 11 (1921 photograph).
Grass roofing material in the debris of house Gate Street 11 (1921 photograph).

The kitchen of house East Street 10 (1922 photograph).
The kitchen of house East Street 10 (1922 photograph).

The kitchen of house Gate Street 11 (1921 photograph).
The kitchen of house Gate Street 11 (1921 photograph).

Reconstructed life in a street of the Workmen’s Village (1922 photograph).
Reconstructed life in a street of the Workmen’s Village (1922 photograph).

  • An area of pits and rubbish deposits to the south and east. The bricks for the village were largely made from clay dug from the desert floor. Several clay pits have been located, one large enough to be regarded as a quarry. They were convenient places for dumping ashy rubbish containing broken objects and organic debris from the village, material which also spread across the surface generally to the south and east.

  • The zir-area. To the south of pits and rubbish a flat area of desert had been set aside where large pottery jars (of the kind called in Egyptian Arabic zir) were kept in the open, held upright in heaps of stones mortared together. Two brick courtyards accompanied them. The village appears not to have possessed a well of its own (the water table would have been at a considerable depth). Instead the village was supplied with water from a well in the Main City, brought out probably in pottery amphorae. The zirs could have been the place where the water was received and stored. It was needed for both the human and animal population.

View of the zir-area during excavation in 1983.
View of the zir-area during excavation in 1983.

  • Site X1. The natural route from the city follows a path that skirts the base of the plateau and approaches the village from the south. At the point where the path starts to round the hillside and the village to come into view, a line of stones had been laid across the desert, evidently to act as a boundary marker. At one end a series of small rooms had been constructed on a terrace, perhaps to house a point of inspection.

  • Animal pens. The open ground south and east of the village supported a number of low buildings made from bricks and stones mortared to form walls. Their characteristic plan was a courtyard one corner of which was separately enclosed with a curving wall. The doorways into these corner enclosures were narrow and flanked with slightly protruding walls that supported sticks of wood running across and just above the threshold, evidently to act as a partial barrier. Stone troughs were another feature, set into the outer courts. By their size they seem only suited for the penning of animals. The surrounding and filling debris contained numerous stiff dark bristles, identified after expert examination as coming from pigs. Pig bones were numerous in the general refuse deposits (as were those of sheep or goat and cattle). The care shown in the making of these animal pens, and the high water requirement of pigs, emphasise how important this industry was to the villagers. Pig bones are fairly common in the city but no trace has been found of specially constructed installations for them.

Animal pen (of the no. 400 group), with limestone trough.
Animal pen (of the no. 400 group), with limestone trough.

Animal pen (of the no. 300 group) during excavation.
Animal pen (of the no. 300 group) during excavation.

Wooden poles fixed across the entrance of one of the animal pens of the no. 400 group.
Wooden poles fixed across the entrance of one of the animal pens of the no. 400 group.

Group of bristles identified as belonging to pig.
Group of bristles identified as belonging to pig.

Modern pig in an Egyptian village (El-Bayadiya).
Modern pig in an Egyptian village (El-Bayadiya).

  • Chapels. Generally behind the animal pens the villagers had also constructed many small chapels of bricks. The total seems to be around 23. Their rooms (which were roofed) were provided with benches, as if for communal gatherings, and a few had ovens and food remains. The sanctuaries of these chapels were brick benches, evidently for the support of images. The chapels were decorated with painted designs and scenes, and with a certain amount of carved stonework. Mention of the Aten is notably absent. In its place were traditional designs and references to familiar deities. The initial explanation was that the chapels belong to the short interval after the death of Akhenaten. The placement of the shrines, however, implies that they were integral to the village layout and belong within the reign of Akhenaten. Two of the chapels had tombs attached, and a small cemetery existed on the hilltop behind. The chapels are likely, therefore, to have served a memorial cult to ancestors that was celebrated with family meals.

Chapel 521 (1921 photograph).
Chapel 521 (1921 photograph).

Chapel 522 (1921 photograph).
Chapel 522 (1921 photograph).

The Main Chapel, after excavation in 1984.
The Main Chapel, after excavation in 1984.

The shrines at the back of the Main Chapel.
The shrines at the back of the Main Chapel.

Steps and offering-place in the Main Chapel.
Steps and offering-place in the Main Chapel.

Fragments of painted wall-plaster from the Main Chapel, depicting the face of a woman.
Fragments of painted wall-plaster from the Main Chapel, depicting the face of a woman.

Reconstruction (by F. Weatherhead) of fragments of a vulture wall-painting from the Main Chapel. Reconstruction (by F. Weatherhead) of fragments of a vulture wall-painting from the Main Chapel.


Wooden top to a police standard depicting a figure kneeling beneath an image of the god Wepwawet on a stand. Found in the Sanctuary of the Main Chapel.
Wooden top to a police standard depicting a figure kneeling beneath an image of the god Wepwawet on a stand. Found in the Sanctuary of the Main Chapel.

The reverse side of the wooden standard, depicting two figures running.
The reverse side of the wooden standard, depicting two figures running.

  • Cemetery. By the time that the first archaeologists worked at the village the cemetery associated with it had already been robbed. None of the expeditions has paid it much attention. It is mainly visible only on aerial photographs.

Aerial photograph of the cemetery above the Workmen’s Village. It is marked by the sand-filled pits of robbers.
Aerial photograph of the cemetery above the Workmen’s Village. It is marked by the sand-filled pits of robbers.

References

Peet, T.E. and C.L. Woolley, 1923. The City of Akhenaten, Part I. Excavations of 1921 and 1922 at El-‘Amarneh. London, Egypt Exploration Society, Chapters III and IV.

Kemp, B.J., ed., 1984. Amarna Reports I. Occasional Papers 1. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Kemp, B.J., ed., 1985. Amarna Reports II. Occasional Papers 2. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

B.J. Kemp, ed., 1986. Amarna Reports III. Occasional Publications 4. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

B.J. Kemp, ed., 1987. Amarna Reports IV. Occasional Publications 5. London: Egypt Exploration Society.

Kemp, B.J., 1987. The Amarna Workmen's Village in retrospect. Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 73, 21–50.

Samuel, D., 1999. Bread making and social interactions at the Amarna Workmen's Village, Egypt. World Archaeology 31, 121–44.

 
 

Website first posted September 2000; last updated November 2010 | enquiries concerning website: email bjk2@cam.ac.uk