Sustainability and subsistence systems in a changing Sudan

Lead Research Organisation: The British Museum
Department Name: Conservation and Scientific Research

Abstract

This research seeks a better understanding of the interaction between people and the Nile Valley ecosystem in northern Sudan, and how present-day and ancient peoples have found solutions for coping with a risky environment. Massive technological shifts are dramatically altering modes of food production and bringing about new environmental challenges. Recent years have seen relocation of populations from islands, colonisation of new areas of the Nile valley and implementation of new agricultural technologies. This study will create a long-term perspective of adaptive solutions and how these are relevant to the future. This will be achieved through case studies of agricultural and plant exploitation practices from ancient and present day Nile island settlements, set within the context of a temporal overview of subsistence systems from the archaeological record.

Traditionally, islands have been important locations of settlement since there are fewer areas of wide floodplain suited to traditional agriculture (in comparison with Egypt). Amara West will provide an archaeological case study for exploring how subsistence systems in an ancient town were impacted by aridity. Once situated on an island, sediment studies show a subsidiary channel dried up towards the end of the 2nd millennium BC exposing the town to windblown sand (prompting architectural amendments) and reducing agricultural land. Analysis of archaeobotanical remains recovered from well preserved architecture and features such as ovens and grinding emplacements will allow chrono-stratigraphic assessment of subsistence change in relation to the onset of localised aridity.

Car and electricity-free Ernetta, a Nile island 5km upstream, will provide a base-line to study present-day traditional Nubian foodways and exploitation of natural local resources. Findings will be contrasted with river bank settlements subject to greater development, in terms of agricultural technology, modern materials used for house building, and access to new road networks and imports. Contemporary subsistence data and that from Amara will be placed in a broader temporal overview to create a new perspective on agricultural risk management strategies and adaptive solutions, predominantly via review of subsistence related literature.

Research will examine:
Can archaeological evidence inform decisions and advice being given to develop sustainable farming practices in the present and future?
Can comparisons of ancient and present-day traditional Nubian agricultural and plant exploitation practices inform us about risk management and sustainable strategies?
Were agricultural practices and access to other natural resources effected by environmental change (including climate) in the distant and recent past?
How are changing foodways and resource exploitation patterns connected with population dynamics, and import patterns?

Research will record and promote local knowledge of sustainable resource exploitation as relevant to future natural resources management. A report will be authored (and translated into Arabic) for organisations and bodies related to sustainable livelihoods and agriculture. Research will be disseminated via conferences within and outside of academia, through peer-review papers with multi-disciplinary academic audiences, and to the wider general public, school children and academic audiences via the British Museum. British Museum outputs will include print and web media, and the development of new Key Stage 2 teacher resources. Research will support the British Museum's, and other UK government agencies', on-going work and training and cultural relations in the Arab Republic of Sudan, but will also position the Museum and University sector, with its understanding of human settlement patterns and subsistence strategies across a long timeframe, as a key stakeholder in the shaping for future strategies.

Planned Impact

This research is intended to explore how archaeological evidence combined with studies of current farming practices can provide information to inform decisions about risk management and sustainable strategies in the future. Ensuring this impact takes place is therefore a key part of the project itself. This will be achieved through producing a report for and arranging meetings with individuals working for NPOs and government bodies, such as DifD (Department for International Development) related to investigating sustainable livelihoods and food security, as well as Sudanese bodies, universities and agricultural colleges and independent consultants. The report will be in print form as well available as a free PDF, and will also be translated into arabic.

The PI and CI will collaborate with Neal Spencer (Keeper, Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the
British Museum; and director of a Leverhulme Trust funded archaeological research project at Amara West). The PI and CI will also collaborate with R. Neil Munro, an independent land use planning consultant and irrigation engineer who specialises in studying the problem of sand drift, and the impact of this on irrigation systems. Neil Munro works with various institutions relating to work in Sudan, including the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Neil Munro is also already involved with the Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS), based at the British Museum. This project will contribute through providing contextual information about examples of environmental change and sand drift on ancient communities (evident in the re-arrangements of architectural space at Amara West), through ethnographic information from traditional villages about coping mechanisms, and information about changing ecology that may assist in discussions of sustainability and suitable vegetation barriers to protect against sand migration.

The Universities of Khartoum and Dongola
Workshops and seminars will be arranged with the Faculty of Agriculture, Faculty of Archaeology and Faculty of Sociology and Social Anthropology.

UK based Schools
Ancient Egypt is a popular topic for schools at Key Stage 2 leading to large numbers of school visits to the British Museum, participation in Museum based learning workshops and use of learning materials on the BM website. The BM has a track record of generating schools resources from fieldwork projects. We intend to develop specific learning materials that will look at Nile Valley farming in terms of the risks of living in an arid and changing environment, thus linking past and present.

The general public
In addition, the project and its work will be disseminated through other media. It will feature in an article in the British Museum Magazine (circulation 44,000), on dedicated project webpages (the Research section of the BM website which receives 8 million page views a year), and will be presented through Public Lectures and Gallery Talks at the Museum and talks to local Egyptological and Archaeological societies. The innovative nature of the project using the past to inform the future, means this project is likely to have a high profile within the Museum. As such, this is a project likely to be regularly mentioned by the Director, senior staff and Trustees in talks, reports and discussions with Government and other key stakeholders here and around the world.

We will work with the Museum's Press and Communications team to maximise media coverage (print and online press, TV, radio). The Museum has an established record in disseminating research through these channels.

The Pathways to Impact document outlines the steps we will take to present and discuss the results of the research in more detail.
 
Title Farming in the Nile valley - Google Arts and Culture 
Description This is an online exhibition about farming in the Nile Valley, written for a key stage 2 audience 
Type Of Art Artistic/Creative Exhibition 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact This is accessible to the general public and to schools audiences in particular, directly from the Google Arts and Culture website as well as the British Museum website 
URL https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/rwKyk-YaOyfgJw
 
Title Processing emmer wheat: storage, pounding , sieving and grinding. 
Description This is one of a series of animations created to illustrate farming and crop processing in Ancient Egypt and Sudan. This example demonstrates the process of processing emmer wheat in the home. The other animations present other agricultural processes, including harvesting, threshing and winnowing of crops. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact This animation was created to help explain the narrative in an online exhibition created as part of the project 'Ancient Egypt and Sudan: a guide to farming in the Nile Valley' as a Key Stage 2 schools resource with the help of the museum's Learning and National Partnerships department and as part of the museum's digital team's collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute, which will be online shortly. This virtual exhibition will enable teachers to explore Nile valley agriculture directly in the classroom. As well as helping to explain crop processing processes, the animation also illustrates the creation of crop processing waste which helps to explain why such remains are recovered in houses in the archaeological record, including at Amara West. We have also been using these animations in broader public engagement activities and additionally when presenting findings to academic audiences as they were also deliberately created with sufficient detail for this purpose. 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J58RXIHPT9E
 
Title Threshing and winnowing cereals in New Kingdom Egypt and Sudan 
Description This is one of a series of animations created to illustrate farming and crop processing in Ancient Egypt and Sudan. This animation illustrates the threshing and winnowing cereals in New Kingdom Egypt and Sudan.This is part of an exhibition to be used as a Key Stage 2 schools resource 'Ancient Egypt and Sudan: a guide to farming in the Nile Valley', which was created for the project with the help of the museum's Learning and National Partnerships department and as part of the museum's digital team's collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute. 
Type Of Art Film/Video/Animation 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact We have also been using these animations in broader public engagement activities and additionally when presenting findings to academic audiences as they were also deliberately created with sufficient detail for this purpose. The online exhibition will be available shortly. 
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ydziQ8FJAoY
 
Description We have interviewed farmers in Nile valley settlements in northern Sudan, with a focus on the Abri region. A key aim of the interviews was to inventory crops grown today and in the recent past to enable comparison temporally and between villages. We have recorded crop processing techniques, land use and irrigation, seasonality, and crop uses. The research has shown that crops grown have changed dramatically over the last 100 years and several 'traditional' crops and foodstuffs were recorded that are rapidly being forgotten. These crop changes are not documented elsewhere, so a major outcome of this project is the development of local agricultural histories for the regions visited. These increasingly little used food crops include hulled barley, to some extent sorghum, and also the pulse crop 'lablab'. These older crops are more arid tolerant than the range of cash crops currently focused upon. One surprise was the extent to which local agricultural histories amongst villages have varied, and in turn how these contrast with broader country wide or regional agricultural assessments. Local trajectories of crop changes appear to be influenced by the speed of local economic development, cultural factors, and the range of soils categories around villages. The archaeological record has provided a context from which to discuss the antiquity of contemporary crops, and this helps to reinforce the proposition that maintaining knowledge of local crops is important. The use of certain cereals and pulses over thousands of years suggests their suitability to the agro-ecological context of the Nile valley and that they are sustainable to exploit. These previously little reported agricultural changes create a new modern reference point from which to think about the longer history of crop use in the archaeological record. The ethnographic results throw light on the importance of discussing what is 'traditional' or not 'traditional' when considering any comparison with past practices. Research at Amara West has helped to characterise the agricultural economy of the late 2nd millennium BC. The focus on ancient and modern Nile Islands has provided a means from which to better understand the archaeological and archaeobotanical remains from Amara West through a period of known environmental change. A surprising find has been that there are fewer projects around the world focusing on endangered crops or recording the local loss of crop diversity than expected. It was initially more difficult to find contacts to distribute results to (outside of academia and Sudan) than expected because of this, and also because such projects tend to cross-cut varying academic disciplines, categories of global organisations, and are often local initiatives organised by small NGOS. Through attending interdisciplinary events on food security that were attended by NGOs and other professional practitioners, it was however possible to make contacts facilitating the dissemination of research findings to these broader audiences, including being invited to participate in the creation of a new network on the topic of forgotten crops.
Exploitation Route Project results and resources will contribute to debates concerning agricultural risk management, natural resource sustainability and the role of traditional ecological knowledge and be relevant to agricultural research institutions, government and non-government organisations within and beyond Sudan. Looking to the future, the project highlights how archaeobotanical and ethnobotanical information can contribute to present-day concerns about the environment, sustainability and climate change. Looking to the past, the results are relevant to the sub field of ethnoarchaeological enquiry, including through querying what is 'traditional' or not 'traditional'. Archaeobotanical results from Amara West will contribute both to the agricultural history of this region, and a better understanding of ancient Egyptian colonial settlements and local Nubian practices. An online British Museum exhibition 'Ancient Egypt and Sudan: a guide to farming in the Nile Valley' created for schoolchildren will have an ongoing contribution as an educational resource and will be able to be used by teachers remotely from the museum.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Education,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Results and outputs of research have been presented to Nubian school children in local villages as well as to agricultural researchers in Sudan. A report 'Sustainability and subsistence in northern Sudan' was created as a useful format for communicating results directly to colleagues as well as the agricultural research and NGO sectors. Research findings have been used to contribute to initial discussions regarding the establishment of a new UK initiative to promote 'forgotten crops'.'Broader UK and international public audiences have been reached through presentations to the public at the British Museum and online resources to raise awareness about climate change, agriculture and environmental sustainability. Findings have been used to create a new exhibition 'Ancient Egypt and Sudan: a guide to farming in the Nile Valley' in collaboration with the Learning and National Partnership department in the British Museum, and in association with the Google Cultural Institute platform, which will be online shortly and will be a major new teaching resource which is complimentary to the national curriculum Key Stage 2 in geography and ancient Egypt.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic

 
Description Follow-on Funding for Impact and Engagement
Amount £78,375 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/R004536/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 11/2017 
End 08/2018
 
Title Ethnobotanical plant collecting 
Description Modern plant specimens were collected during fieldwork in the study region, and have been deposited in the herbarium at Khartoum University and an equivalent collection was also brought back to the UK. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Year Produced 2014 
Provided To Others? Yes  
Impact The collection of a modern reference collection is an essential part of undertaking ethnographic research into plant diet in order to determine specific plant identifications. Leaving a collection of plant materials in a herbarium means that these will be available to other researchers in the future. 
 
Title Ethnographic fieldwork and ethnobotanical interviews 
Description Structured interviews were developed and translated into Arabic during year 1 of the project prior to fieldwork. Additionally 'plain language' statements and consent forms were developed and also translated into Arabic; these are used at the beginning of the interviews in northern Sudan. Crops grown and agricultural practices are recorded during the interviews. 
Type Of Material Biological samples 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The research method was developed to enable the acquisition of semi-quantified data in addition to more descriptive accounts and this has successfully resulted in the ability to compare crops grown amongst different villages in Nubia (northern Sudan) 
 
Description International Workshop for African Archaeobotany 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Presented a paper 'Cereals and agricultural practices in northern Sudan past and present' at the 8th International Workshop for African Archaeobotany (IWAA) in Modena, Italy June 2015. This conference is every three years and includes archaeological and ethnographic research. The audience is international.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.palinopaleobot.unimore.it/site/home/8th-international-workshop-for-african-archaeobotany-...
 
Description African Archaeology Research day (AARD), Bristol 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact I presented a talk 'Ancient and modern plant use at Amara West and Ernetta island in northern Sudan' at the African Archaeology Research day (AARD), Bristol.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/birtha/events/aard/
 
Description Anthropology, Weather & Climate Change conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact I presented a talk at the 'Anthropology, Weather and Climate Change conference' organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute and the Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas of the British Museum.
Title: 'Cultivating Nile Islands, crop choices, land use and environmental change in modern and ancient northern Sudan.'
Panel: 'Interweaving narratives: combining written sources, scientific data and material culture to understand past human ecodynamics'.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.nomadit.co.uk/rai/events/rai2016/panels.php5?PanelID=3807
 
Description Attended and presented poster at agrobiodiversity workshop held in Morocco 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact I applied for and was awarded a place at a workshop in Morocco 'Agrobiodiversity past and present in Morocco'. This was arranged by and funded by the British Council and CNRST. This was a week long event which explored agro ecosystems in arid environments and involved working directly with ethnobotanist and agro ecological colleagues in Morocco. The event was international in scope with researchers present who work in arid environments across Africa and the Near East. This was organised by Amy Bogaard (University of Oxford) and Mohammed Ater (Tetouan).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Blog post 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Project blogs are linked to the British Museum webpages enabling them to remain accessible. The blog was written during my ethnographic and archaeological fieldwork season in Sudan, and was useful for communicating preliminary results to colleagues at home and in Sudan as well as to public and academic audiences.

N/A
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
URL http://blog.amarawest.britishmuseum.org/2014/03/13/amara-west-2014-sustainable-plant-use-ancient-and...
 
Description Cambridge Conference on Global Food Security 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact I presented a poster 'Increasingly underutilised crops in northern Sudan and their potential role in agricultural risk management strategies.' An outcome of this was meeting practitioners from very different disciplinary areas and organisations that are interested in the same topic of endangered crops (including from crop research science, other agricultural research organisations and NGOS); thus facilitating new pathways and contacts for disseminating research outputs from the project to new audiences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Care for the future and Labex workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact I attended the Care for the Future : Thinking Forward through the Past, Labex Les passés dans le présent : histoire, patrimoine, mémoire workshop, and presented a paper ' Perceptions of past agricultural practices in northern Sudan'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description International Work Group for Palaeoethnobotany 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact I presented a talk 'Changing crop choices in northern Sudan: past and present - at the 7th conference of the International Work Group for Palaeoethnobotany' at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Invited lecture to the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact I was invited to give a presentation 'Crop choices, processing and land use in northern Sudan, past and present.' at the Institute of Archaeology, Oxford University.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Invited talk at SOAS as part of their 'food forum' lecture series 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact I was invited to give a talk at SOAS as part of their 'food forum' lecture series. The topic was - ancient and modern plant use in northern Sudan.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description National Science Week 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I participate each year in an event called 'Zoom in, a closer look at science' which is held in the great court of the British Museum as part of National Science week. I present a stand with botanical materials that I have brought back from ethnographic fieldwork in Sudan to talk about agriculture and sustainability and also present posters of archaeobotanical finds from fieldwork at the archaeological site of Amara West (northern Sudan).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015,2016
URL http://www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/events_calendar/event_detail.aspx?eventId=2121&title=Zoom+in%3...
 
Description Non-Eurocentric approaches to environmental history seminar at the Open University 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact Invited to talk at a Joint Ferguson Centre-OpenSpace half-day seminar 'Non-Eurocentric approaches to environmental history' at the Open University.
Title: Changing food crops and agricultural risk management in modern and ancient northern Sudan.
The afternoon consisted of two presentations (the other focusing on South Asia) followed by a discussion exploring the field of environmental history and the role of traditional ecological knowledge.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.open.ac.uk/researchcentres/osrc/events/non-eurocentric-approaches-to-environmental-histor...
 
Description Nubian Living Heritage workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact This was part of two interdisciplinary workshops on 'Nubian Living Heritage'; I presented a talk titled 'Changing foodways in Nubia'. The event brought together researchers working on different aspects of endangered Nubian cultural heritage.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://nubianlivingheritage.wordpress.com/seminar-materials/
 
Description Oxford Food Forum lecture: changing crop choices and agricultural risk management in northern Sudan 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact I presented a paper titled 'Changing crop choices and agricultural risk management in northern Sudan' at the Oxford Food Forum 2015 conference 'Culture, Food, & The Environment: New Perspectives On Food Sovereignty And Security'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Project Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Webpages on the research section of the British Museum website receive up to 8 million page views a year.

Audiences include the general public, those interested in Ancient Egypt and Sudan, as well as researchers within the fields of environmental change and agricultural risk management both within and outside of academia.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/research_projects/all_current_projects/sudan/amara_west_resear...
 
Description Working with school children in northern Sudan 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact I visited and presented classes at the local school on Ernetta Island which is the primary location for the ethnographic research undertaken during this research project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015