Zooarchaeology at Amarna, 20042005

Phillipa Payne


Grid 10: The ‘dog cemetery’
Surface survey at The King’s House
Grid 12 in the Main City
N49.18 (the House of Ranefer)
Surface Survey at the House of Panehesy
Grid 8 industrial area
Grid 1 pottery kilns
Grid 2 (House P46.33)
The North Palace


The following is a preliminary report on three seasons of research at Amarna, carried out between Feb–April 2004, Aug–Sept 2004 and Feb–April 2005. Initially work has been centred on creating and refining the way in which faunal remains are recorded on site to build up a database that will be usable away from the physical remains themselves. Differential preservation across the city means that the same method is not applicable in all areas. In some areas preservation has been excellent facilitating the recording of measurements and the use of statistical tools such as the Minimum Number of Individuals MNI; in other areas bone is very fragmentary or burned and so weight is the more appropriate measure.

Work on site has been divided into several smaller projects all essentially sharing the same methodology. All projects begin with cleaning and numbering the bones and entering data into the catalogue. Butchery marks and possible causes of death are observed where appropriate. Bones are weighed and measured and the condition recorded. Note is made of healed injuries that may have affected the animal in its lifetime. An x-ray project discussed in further detail below is currently underway to advance research in this area, and will hopefully be expanded into mammal pathology.

Very few examples of worked bone were discovered, the commonest being 'weaving tools'. Rodent and canid gnawing were also rare and the bones were generally in a good condition with many of the breaks having occurred before being deposited in the ground. I am grateful to my predecessors Howard Hecker and Rosemary Luff for the reference collection at Amarna and I hope to add to it in future seasons.

At this stage in the work I am currently still studying the areas as individual projects, with very little cross-referencing. In the future these will become more integrated as I expand interpretations outwards. I have begun to do this in a short investigation of cattle consumption across the city as a whole. I have chosen cattle for several reasons. They are the third most prolific of the major food species, the top two being goat and pig. They also occupy a special place in Egyptian thought. When the city was founded Akhenaton recorded his deeds and intentions on 14 boundary stelae that demarcated its territory. He records a great cattle sacrifice taking place in his years four and eight at dedication ceremonies, and also that it is his intention to build a tomb for the sacred Mnevis bull of Heliopolis in the hills of Amarna. Therefore even with the new religion there is some evidence to suggest that cattle retained an important part in both worship and belief. From the faunal remains, I have been looking at who has access to cattle and what cuts of meat the bones attest to. In architecture I have been looking for evidence of cattle raising in the city, and in art at how cattle are depicted both as live animals and as offerings. Some evidence suggests that cattle were a temple monopoly. Zoo-archaeology may yet refute this.

Excluding the cattle project, current research is still treating the site as discrete units for data collection and storage, each discussed in turn below.

Grid 10: The 'Dog Cemetery'

This area of the site of Grid 10 was occupied during the Amarna period by large magazine blocks that must have lain beside the river bank. To the south of the Smenkhkare Hall several pits were discovered during the 1999/2000 season of excavation, which have yielded a total of 3494 recordable animal elements. This figure discounts fragments less than 3cms, rib fragments and undiagnostic shaft pieces. Working with this as a sample size, 54% has been found to come from the non-food animal dog. Considering cat bones rarely feature elsewhere, the figure of 3% for the feline remains is also notably high.

I have left 'Dog Cemetery' in inverted commas as there is as yet no proof that this is what this area of the site was. Unfortunately, there is no way to date this deposit, as it has been turned over in antiquity and by modern sebbakheen. Pottery dating to the late Roman period was found, as were the remains of several human burials.

I am grateful to Professor Jerry Rose for his analysis of the human bone that was found mixed with the animal bone and for discussions of the results, on which the following remarks are based. The human bone comes from a cemetery and was deposited in this location rather than being dumped here later. This is attested by the presence of very small bones such as [9586] containing a single finger. The disarticulation has been caused by disturbance within a very small area, not by moving the whole skeleton. Not all contexts had been subject to the same disturbances; some, [9631] for example, had been very disturbed leaving rough edges on the bone and darker staining. Maxilla and mandible coming from the same individual have been found in the same context and in adjacent ones. Space restricted a full refitting project, but several of the individuals were sufficiently distinctive to enable their remains, even when spread over several contexts, to be reunited on the grounds of age or size alone. There were at least two large males, two females (one aged under 35 the other over 45), one child 3-5 years old, two juveniles aged 6-10 and 8-10, one young man aged 17-22 and one old man suffering tooth decay who had lost several of his molars pre-mortem.

They were generally in good health, the exceptions being: [9610] a break in the elbow joint that had healed badly during life and had left the owner with very severe arthritis; a lesion on the distal femur [9876] could have been caused by arthritis; and [9931], a clavicle that had been broken but had healed exceptionally well, enabling the user to rely upon it again.

Their association with the dogs is far from clear. From a study of the elements present (NISP value of 1878), the MNI has been calculated at 120 dogs. This came from a count of the right humerus, there being 112 right and 99 left. The figure was increased after a preliminary investigation of the age of the dogs revealed that there were 19 juvenile right paws and 27 left, implying that the 8 that couldn’t be from the dogs already counted should be added to the final count.

Selection of animal bones, primarily dog, from a single Grid 10 context. Note the large number of metacarpals and phalanges in the centre of the image.
Selection of animal bones, primarily dog, from a single Grid 10 context. Note the large number of metacarpals and phalanges in the centre of the image.

The ages of the dogs ranged from very young puppy to old adult. Age was based on fusion of long bones, tooth wear and tooth eruption, providing the following:

Age Total Number Percent
Old adult 63 3
Adult 948 51
Juvenile 287 15
Neonatal 18 1
Unknown 562 30
TOTAL 1878 100

Although the juveniles only represent 15%, if we remove the undiagnostic specimens this goes up to 20%, which is quite high for young dogs, under 18 months old. This may indicate a much shorter life span, and we would anticipate the 'Old Adults' would be comparatively old but maybe not very old in actual years.

Dog skull from Grid 10
Dog skull from Grid 10

Preservation was very good in this area of the site. Almost all skeletal elements were present, including four complete skulls [9516] [9930] [9931]x2 and several partial skulls and mandibles. 415 bones were 100% preserved, see below:

Percentage of bone present Number of bones
100 415
90 142
75 103
50 298
25 368
10 552
TOTAL 1878

As well as the dogs there were some articulated bones; [9944], [9942], [9940] all had articulated goat limbs, including the carpals and in one case a complete set of phalanges. This again confirms that although the bones have been disturbed in context they have not been moved in from another area.

Articulated sheep/goat limb from Grid 10
Articulated sheep/goat limb from Grid 10

This season, tests were done with hydrochloric acid on the 'ashy' substance on the outside of some of the bones to ascertain if lime was present. In most cases this was found to be so. This raises the possibility of lime plaster or gypsum, but it is unusual that so little of it has remained. No evidence has been discovered for mummification on the bones. Some resinous substances occur but are likely to be the remains of the desiccated flesh of the animals (Margaret Serpico could not be sure what they were without further study). Work on mummified cats (Clutton-Brock 1981) revealed that the cats themselves were not treated with anything applied directly to their fur but were bandaged in linen that had been soaked in natron. This meant that the salt had only adhered to the ends of their fur; it had not soaked through to the flesh. If the dogs were wrapped in a similar way then none of the staining on the bones should be expected to indicate mummification. A purplish staining noted might be treated in a similar way. Insect remains may also be of use in considering mummification techniques. In some cases fragments of larvae were mixed up with the fill. Some discussion also ensued after the discovery of what appeared to be basketry around the zygomatic area of one skull fragment. Further examination under magnification revealed that this is unlikely to have been basketry but may be evidence that it was deposited with straw. Pieces of date palm leaf have been found on the bones but are not convincing evidence for wrapping.

Some of the long bones showed signs of unusual pathology and of healed breaks that would have left the animal partially incapacitated in that limb. Some of the rib bones from the cranial end of the rib cage showed healed trauma that may have been consistent with human abuse or with a hard working life. Gwil Owen, project photographer, and myself are currently experimenting with x-ray film of some of these breaks. At the veterinary school in Cambridge I am indebted to Dr. David Bainbridge for his assistance in understanding the plates and for his advice for taking more images in the future. So far the break in at least one individual looks severe enough to postulate human assistance during its recovery [9630].

The question remains as to whether this is a dog cemetery; I will be returning to the evidence as time allows. The resources available outside Egypt are the photographs, the measurements, the x-ray plates, and the database that was complied in Amarna. If I have the opportunity at Amarna I would like to explore further the refitting project and look in more detail at the desiccated flesh for signs of resin.

Surface survey at The King’s House

In the 1820s, J.G. Wilkinson produced a pencil map of the Central City area (now held in the Bodleian Library Oxford) and marked the area close to the King’s House as 'dog bones'. Another note possibly reads 'dog and human bone' over the area where Grid 10 is now, which would be consistent with what was found in the 1999/2000 excavation there. It would also suggest even higher numbers than were discovered during excavation as Wilkinson observed only what lay on the surface. Pendlebury seems to have been unaware of the Wilkinson observation, for he makes no mention of them in his account of the King's House in City of Akhenaten III. I completed a short re-investigation of the area and of the spoil heaps in March 2004. Three days of excavation, sieving with a 0.5mm by 0.5mm agricultural mesh and collecting even the smallest pieces of bone, led to the retrieval of 2113.84 grams of bone. Of this 1192.34 grams were identifiable, along with 248.5 grams of vertebrae. A sample of 229 was retained as diagnostic for further study.

Excavation spoil heaps in the vicinity of The King’s House
Excavation spoil heaps in the vicinity of The King’s House

Site Number of bones recorded Number of Canis Number of probable Canis % of Canis % of Canis and probable Canis







A total of 27 teeth exhibiting all stages of wear were discovered, of which 22 could be securely identified as Canis and the remainder from a larger animal (probably Equus). Generally this sample was similar to the Grid 10 bones in that they represented all ages of animal and also that they had some unusual pathologies and healed trauma.,
Almost all of the bone that was sampled was Canis or thought to be so. At other areas of the site Canis bones are the minority not the majority of identified individuals; for example in Grid 12 (see below) there are just 10 dog elements making up 0.9% of the sample. Unlike Grid 10 however there were no felid or human bones at the King’s House.

Grid 12 in the Main City

This area in the Main City, excavated between 2004–2005, represents an island of unexcavated small housing between ground dug by the EES in the 1920s and by the DOG expedition of Borchardt.

The three main domesticates are represented:


The total number of excavated remains in the sample, again excluding, ribs, vertebrae, fragments less than 3cms or long bone shaft fragments, comes to 1071. This figure also excludes fish and bird. Given how fragile these species can be, they have survived very well in the Main City and make up a significant portion of the material. In the 2004 season alone 744 fish bones were recovered without wet sieving.

N49.18 (the House of Ranefer)

The House of Ranefer was built on a smaller scale (when it may or may not have belonged to the man of that name) and was later rebuilt towards the end of the habitation of the city on a larger scale. During the second phase Ranefer had his name and titles inscribed in a stone lintel over the door in association with the name of Akhenaton’s successor Smenkhkare.

The total excavated faunal remains from the house, again excluding ribs, vertebrae, fragments less than 3cms or long bone shaft fragments, amounts to 241 elements. The three main domesticates made up 73% of this total and show a different pattern to those of his neighbours.


Ranefer had considerably more sheep/goat but the remainder of his meals were made up of a fairly even split between beef and pork, whereas other residents of Grid 12 ate cattle rarely and divided their menu between mutton and pork.

This analysis shows that that there were differences between the houses of the Main City. We know from the inscription on his door frame that Ranefer was a charioteer of the king. The people who occupied the neighbouring plots seem to have had a much more ad hoc way of making a living. Does their diet reflect this? The comparison was made on numbers of elements present or absent at each place. The sample sizes were too small to use statistical devices such as the MNI, as both areas have an outcome of one or two in the case of most species. As a part of the cattle project, elemental analysis was undertaken showing that Ranefer and his households were almost solely reliant on head meat, the cattle remains being all from skull or parts of teeth, while the neighbours were not. They ate less meat but when they did it was usually of a better quality.

There are two problems with this observation: The first is that the idea of a 'good' cut of meat may be a cultural imposition. We might consider that the head is poor quality but it is frequently shown in art on offering tables, so perhaps Ranefer was receiving head meat as a prize, not as a cheap option for his family. The second problem is that the people of the Main City may have received the bones found in their rubbish not as choice cuts but as leftovers to be boiled for stock. Far from receiving rump steak; they were making a broth of the butcher’s leftovers. The best cuts of meat may leave no trace archaeologically and the simple calculation that he who has the most bones had the most meat may be far from the truth.

Surface Survey at the House of Panehesy/Great Aten Temple

My interest in the Great Aten Temple arose in part from a discussion of the 'Butchers’ Yard' that is marked on the original Pendlebury plan in City of Akhenaten III, pl. I (also page 10). To judge from the present appearance of the ground this part was barely investigated by previous EES expeditions. The other reason for taking an interest in this area is a statement in the preliminary report on the excavation of the house that the High Priest Panehesy possessed that lay adjacent to the south wall of the Great Aten Temple. In JEA 13 (1927), 212, Frankfort wrote 'Remains of cattle, horns and bones, cropped up everywhere, and it thus seems probable that these rooms served for the preparation of the sacrificial animals, for which Panehesy, as superintendent of the cattle of the Aten, was responsible'.

Aerial photograph of the eastern end of the Great Aten Temple taken in 1935, with the locations of the Butchers’ Yard, Sanctuary and House of Panehesy marked. North is to the top of the image.
Aerial photograph of the eastern end of the Great Aten Temple taken in 1935, with the locations of the Butchers’ Yard, Sanctuary and House of Panehesy marked. North is to the top of the image.

A surface faunal survey was begun in March 2004 as a preliminary investigation. The results were encouraging and a further day was spent at the temple in April 2005. It is hoped that next season permission will be granted to continue on a larger scale on the old dumps, on the strength of the success of the project so far. Work proceeded using a 0.5mm by 0.5mm agricultural mesh to recover bone in areas that looked promising. Investigation of the spoil heaps on the north side of the temple did not provide any faunal material. Pieces that were collected lying on the surface were discarded as likely to be modern, all being donkey and often still having skin or sinew attached. By contrast, investigation of the spoil heaps on the south side, at the perimeter wall by the house of Panehesy, yielded 4957.9 grams of bone in just two working days.

Panehesy had two houses in the city, and he built though was not buried in Tomb 6 of the north group. His titles include 'Chief Servitor of the Aten' and 'Keeper of the Cattle of the Aten'. For this reason it is interesting that his temple accommodation was connected to cattle remains. The spoil heaps were explored in four areas.

Area Total excavated (weight in gm) Total excavated (number) Number
of cattle elements
Percentage of cattle elements Number of uncertain Percentage of cattle including uncertain
Area II 39.6 6 0 0 0 0
Area III 695.6 62 26 42 25 82
Area IV 763.0 47 5 11 23 60
Area V 781.6 59 27 46 11 64
TOTAL 2279.8 174 58 34 59 67

Area II only yielded remains of dog, which may be modern. The final column of the table above shows how the percentages increase if the elements that fall into the 'uncertain' category are included. These are elements that are the correct size or shape or texture to be cattle but lack any diagnostic feature, so it is not possible to tell what species of large bovid they come from. For this reason they are usually not included. They have been included here as an illustration of the proportions of bone being recovered.
Discounting site II as the remains of a possible modern dog, the overall percentage for cattle or likely cattle comes to 70%. It is hoped that once the sample size has been increased by future work on the spoil heaps, then it will be possible to build up a good profile of the cattle that are associated with the Great Aten Temple.
So far the age ranges from Neo-natal to old adult animals:

Age Number Percentage
Neo Natal 3 2
Juvenile 36 21
Adult 3 30
Old Adult 5 3
Unknown 77 44
TOTAL 174 100

The number of identified cattle so far remains small but nearly a quarter are under two years of age:

Age Number Percentage
Neo Natal 1 2
Juvenile 13 23
Adult 24 41
Old Adult 3 5
Unknown 17 29
TOTAL 58 100

In artistic representations cattle are sometimes shown fattened up, for example, in the tomb of Meryra I at Amarna or on the blocks from the Gem-pa-itn at Karnak. It is not clear if the cattle had lived all their lives in pens close to the temple or if they had been brought into the temple yards a short time before they were due to be offered, in order to be fattened up. Some of the better-preserved examples and all of the epiphysis have been x-rayed in the hope of ascertaining if there was any stress on the bones that might be indicative of this over-feeding regime. Unfortunately there were no indications visible, but once again we hope to expand the sample size.

Cattle are often reduced in offering scenes to either just the head or just the ribs. Another popular element of the animal to offer is the foreleg, which seems to have had a specific significance especially associated with the dead. Of the sample size here only 6 elements were from the foreleg but 20, that is 34%, were from the head.

There are many directions that the enlarged project could take. I am especially interested in the connections between artistic representation and faunal analysis. With a larger sample size it will be possible to develop a profile of these animals, in age, elements present and possibly diet; then to compare the household remains to those associated with the temple and with the house of the keeper of the cattle of the Aten.

The House of Panehesy with excavation spoil heaps rich in animal bone in the foreground. Facing south-east.
The House of Panehesy with excavation spoil heaps rich in animal bone in the foreground. Facing south-east.

Grid 8 industrial area

Four seasons of excavations (1993, 1994, 1998, 2003) directed by Paul Nicholson at Grid 8 produced a total of 2248 animal remains, with a total weight of 9318.9 grams. Of these 29% (656 elements) could be identified with some certainty to species and/or element of the animal represented. These animals were all of the ungulate genus except for Canis remains from the carnivore group. The total of 2280 animal remains omits 38 bird bones weighing a total of 29.9 grams and 100 fish bones from all parts of the anatomy weighing 45.7 grams.

Category Number
Identified mammal 365
Unidentified mammal 58
Identified to animal size group 233
Fish 86
Burned fish 14
Bird 33
Burnt bird over 10% 3
Less than 5 cm 568
Less than 5 cm, burned over 10% 365
Ribs 12
Burned ribs more than 10% 6
Shaft fragments 113
Non-diagnostic burned 372
Tooth 20
TOTAL 2248

Species Number of elements
Cattle 183
Capra/Ovis 93
Sus 50
Canis 23
Equus 10
Gazelle? 4
Ovis 2

Excluding the possible gazelle, these categories cover animals known to have been domesticated in the city at the time of deposition. The capra/ovid group may be expected to contain some examples of gazelle but 'deer were rare in ancient Egypt' (Osborn and Osbornova 1998: 153) and may even have been extinct by the 18th dynasty. The gazelle category is also likely to be gazelle, as they can graze a natural habitat of semi-desert and of desert. Gazelles are also among the fauna depicted in the Middle Kingdom tombs at the near by site of Beni Hasan, and one gazelle is shown with the Princess Setepenra in the tomb of Meryra II at Amarna. However the reference collection is not extensive enough to rule out other desert-dwelling small antelopes.

With regard to the number of fish bones, a large number have also been excavated from House N49.18, that of Ranefer, in the Main City, making them likely to be an important food group. Work has been done by R. M. Luff with regard to the fish remains from the site (Luff and Bailey 2000).

Where a definite identification of animal species was not possible the bones were grouped into size bands with a remainder of 58 that lay between two bands. The 'large ungulate' group is likely to consist of cattle but the bones were too fragmentary to be certain that they did not belong to an equus or to possibly a large antelope. The 'medium ungulate' group can probably be assigned to Sus rather than to ruminants.

Species size Number of bones
Large ungulate 113
Small ungulate, canis 75
Medium ungulate sus 40
Small carnivore 5

Bone came from 257 contexts across every square of the grid but in 75 of those contexts the bone was too badly damaged to allow further identification. The identified total of 656 also contained many bones that were badly damaged. Over a third (43%) were represented by less than 10% of the whole bone and over half (60%) were less than 50% present. Work remains to be done regarding the ancient and modern damage differences but much of the damage appears to have occurred pre-deposition. From the initial count of 2248, 2 sub–categories were identified of elements less than 5 cm, divided into pieces not burned and pieces over 10% burned. 578 fragments with an average weight of 1.3 grams each were recorded across the site in the first category and 370 fragments weighing an average of 2.8 grams were burned beyond recognition.


The fragmentary nature of the collection means little information is available about a minimum number of individuals at the site or about how many elements are articulated.
Of the 656 identified remains, 39% had been burned possibly used as fuel for the several kilns found in the area.

Gnawing marks made by rodents or carnivores were rarely seen in the sample, only four bones exhibited signs of carnivore damage and an additional one may have been gnawed by a rodent. This suggests that the remains did not stay on the surface for any length of time during which they may have undergone perthotaxic processes.

No bone tools were identified.

The poor state of the assemblage, both in terms of the state in which it was deposited and the weathering from the soil, may account for the lack of visible butchery marks. Only 13 bones show definite signs of cut marks and all in this group had less than ten marks. These marks were drawn to allow the future possibility of identifying either an individual hand in the work or of understanding how the animal was killed (see also Luff 1993).

The age spread of the animals was estimated to neonatal, young, adult or old adult. Fusion of epiphysis where such information was available was primarily used, as was tooth wear and adult or milk dentition. None of the assemblage preserved enough horn core to use this as an ageing method. Tooth wear stages were recorded using Annie Grants' (1982) guide, where some error is to be anticipated as she was recording modern domestic animals.

Age Small ungulate Medium ungulate/Sus Large ungulate Gazelle? Canis Total
Neonatal 1 2 2 4 0 9
Young 78 47 134 0 0 259
Adult 30 12 42 0 18 102
Old adult 0 4 1 0 0 5

Species represented were all domesticates, except the gazelle (?) category, but no work has been done as to whether the elements present did come from domesticated animals.

Catalogue of Individual contexts
The following five areas of the site were singled out for individual discussions at the time of excavation. All five pre-date building 045.1.

[9009] A donkey 'burial', square M75
This context contained an almost complete skeleton of a donkey in anatomical position, excavated in 1994. The cranium, innominate and both scapulae were unavailable for analysis owing to damage post-excavation in the site storage area. Enough material remained to conclude that they had been present at deposition and excavation photographs show the skull in anatomical position. The mandible was complete with all teeth in occlusion suggesting an age of possibly 5 years old. The vertebral column was also complete (7 cervical, 18 thoracic, 6 lumbar, 5 sacral and 11 caudal) although many of the individual elements had been badly damaged particularly in the lumbar and thoracic region. The forelimbs were complete and all long bones fused.

It is possible to estimate the age of the animal at death using a combination of epiphysial evidence and tooth wear. According to both I. A. Silver (1969) and E. Schmid (1972) the humorus proximal epiphysis fuses between the ages of three and three and a half years, as do the tibia and femur proximal epiphysis. This individual therefore must be over this age. The minimal wear on the teeth, however, suggests that the animal may be somewhat older. The latest of the teeth to erupt (Silver 1969) are P4 and M3 at three and a half and the canine at four to five years.

The limb bone measurements can be used to calculate the height of the animal, but this was not done in this case since the comparative basis is so slight. The vertebrae did not exhibit any interesting pathologies.

[8076] Human Skeleton square L85
This context contained a human skeleton and five animal bones. Two of the animal bones were un-diagnostic, one weighing just 0.4 grams. The total weight of the animal elements was 54.1 grams. The three identified elements came from a large Bovid of indefinable age. The astragalus was whole but only 10% remained of the vertebrae and of the third phalanx. None of the bones had been burnt or exhibited butchery marks. If the astragalus had come from a joint of meat where the whole leg was buried the astragalus would be partly protected during butchery by the calcaneus so may have escaped damage in this way.

Kiln 2 Square L80
This kiln had five separate contexts and animal bone was found in the lower two and the top fill.


This context contained a total weight of 77.2 grams of bone, one totally calcined rib and 25% of a bovid scapula, which was very badly weathered and despite its position was unlikely to have been burned.


This context contained a total weight of 75.5 grams of animal bone but none of it was burned. An ovis distal epiphysis and the third/forth metapodial of a bovid point to use as food, as does a rib shaft, but the lumbar vertebrae of a caprid-sized animal could represent Canis and could not be more securely identified.


This context contained just 4 grams of animal bone, none of which was burned. The two bones were Ovis or Capra femur and were articulated, an unfused proximal epiphysis and the shaft from the same individual. The femur proximal epiphysis and shaft is estimated to fuse between three and three and a half years of age (Schmid 1972) putting this individual under this age bracket.

Kiln 3 Square L80/M80
This kiln had three contexts with bone being found in only one.


This context contained two bovid bones that were also not burned. They may have come from the same individual, as both are young. The third and fourth metatarsal had fused together but the distal epiphysis was missing. This is thought to fuse between the ages of two and two and a half. The second phalanx was also unfused and this is though to fuse at the age of one and a half to two (Schmid 1972). If they are the same individual, then the lower end of this age range is to be expected.

Pit Area


This area was a single context that yielded a variety of bones with a total weight of 24.5 grams. Of this two were fish bones and one was possibly lizard skin. A pubis shaft from a large animal of Equus or Bovid size had been carbonised over 90% of the surface and a Bovid carpal had been calcined over 100% of the surface. The other eight bones were not burned, and were mostly under 5 cms at their greatest measurement.

Grid 1 pottery kilns

This area has yet to be fully studied in the post-excavation stage and is still being written up. Work began here in 1987 investigating the industrial area of the site. It is possible that, as was the case in the glass-working area, people were dumping their rubbish in the area to be disposed of in the kilns. In the glass-working area skeletal representation was very diverse, with frequently all elements from a species represented, but very little articulated. This may suggest that bone material was procured near to the home then brought over to the kilns when necessary. Much work has been done into the nature of rubbish disposal and into people’s habits regarding the removal of different kinds of refuse. Comparatives between industrial and domestic area may shed further light on this in the case of Amarna.

Grid 2 (House P46.33)

The inhabitants here, as in Grid 12, are almost equally reliant on pig and sheep/goat but more of their diet comes from cattle. The percentage of cattle bones recovered was higher here than in Grid 12, more similar in volume to the household of Ranefer. Access and procurement strategies seem to have varied across the city. Also available for comparison are several of the individual houses from the Workmen’s Village. I hope in future to be able to make these comparisons on a household-to-household level, especially where the rank or occupation of the owners is known. This is one of the very valuable parts of excavation at Amarna. The length of excavation here means that even at the very detailed level there are always areas of the site that can be examined for comparatives. It is a long-term goal to begin bringing these areas together.


Something that so far seems to be unique to this area is the very high number of juvenile and neonatal animals represented. 56% fall into one of these two categories:

Age Number Percentage
Neo-Natal 16 10
Juvenile 66 46
Adult 21 14
Old Adult 0 0
Unknown 45 30
TOTAL 148 100

Preservation here has been excellent. Once again the bones show very little signs of perthotaxic processes suggesting that they did not remain on the surface for very long. The large number of complete bones also suggests that they may have been boiled rather than roasted and that marrow extraction was not an important part of the diet. Further research needs to be done in this area, looking at the kinds of breaks that were recorded, percentage of burned or partially burned material and the evidence that remains of dispatching and butchering of the animal.

Percentage of bone present Number of bones
100 56
90 6
75 10
50 21
25 16
10 39

The North Palace

The North Palace is currently undergoing conservation work in the main areas. The garden court and throne room as well as a bathroom and the perimeter wall have been restored and replica column bases installed to give the visitor a sense of the palace layout. It is an enigmatic building. When viewed in plan it appears to be a normal axial Amarna period building. However on visiting the space it is anything but that. The rooms are tiny, the throne room barely big enough to hold the two pillars. The garden court, a shady retreat with wall paintings and sunken watered garden, is adjacent to the animal courtyard. It is this juxtaposition that has interested me. At the Maru-Aten two articulated cow skeletons were discovered in the buildings behind the main pool, could these two areas have something in common? The cattle area at the North Palace is indisputable. Mangers showing fattened cattle and gazelles feeding were discovered there and the emplacements are still there now. Several are in museums: one in Cairo, for example, and another in the British Museum. Tethering-stones also attest the presence of cattle, which are shown tied to them in the tomb scenes.

The faunal remains from the 1999 excavations by Kate Spence and John McGinnis are disappointing. Both excavators are in agreement that the faunal material recovered does not represent waste from the occupation of the palace. It comes from only 2 contexts [9710] and a pit [9718]. Overall there were 32 elements recorded. Excluding the 4 bird bones and the one bone from [9710] the material is divided:

Animal Number Percentage
Small ungulate 3 10
Goat 1 3
Pig 19 70
Large bovid 5 17
TOTAL 27 100

Context [9718] also contained flecks of gold leaf, and this pit could have been the result of clearing out the palace either officially at the end of the Amarna Period, by later looters or visitors or even by the people who stayed on into the last phase of occupation here after the court had returned to Memphis. It does not seem likely that so small an amount of meat could be the representative of the occupation period. As the palace overlooks the Nile it is possible that organic waste was dumped into the river and so is lost to us.

The high number of pig bone is also deceptive. It could have come from only 2 individuals and much of it comes from the skull and teeth.

The North Palace provides an opportunity to study an area where animals were known to have lived rather than just as remains of the consumed. I have taken measurements of the area in order to make a scale drawing of the animal courtyard. The Meketra models show unroofed animal pens with individuals hand-feeding the animals, as shown in the Amarna tombs. The North Palace and the Maru-Aten may be places where such animals lived, their noise and smell a part of the naturalistic philosophy of the Aten rather than a by-product of raising sacrificial cattle.


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Dog Bones


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