Barracks

The thinner-walled buildings that take up the central and southeastern parts of Uronarti’s interior are interpreted as housing for the population who lived there. All of these buildings, which share walls with one another, were built on the same plan initially, with differences only where the irregular shape of the fort demanded it. From the street one entered a longitudinal hall. This led into two back rooms, parallel to one another and perpendicular to the hall.

Composite image showing the current state and original plan of the barracks in the north of the fort. The blue is the corner of the treasury complex. Black is the first phase house within our Unit CC. The grey overlay shows how that plan was repeated to form the whole of the barracks area. As can be seen, however, there are walls that do not match the lines, which are later modifications.

This basic plan is amongst the simplest versions of a type of house known from other state-planned Middle Kingdom settlements. Like so many other times and places where housing is built on the orders of an organization, not its occupants, the picture presented would have been one of sameness, familiarity from house to house. When houses were modified over time, which is what we are tracing, the monotony diminished.

This can be seen particularly in the northernmost area of the originally uniform housing. We chose to begin our excavations here precisely because we could see that modifications had been substantial, blocking off the street to incorporate it into a house, possibly combining rooms from two structures into one, and entirely reconfiguring some rooms. Instead of a small house with three rooms of approximately equal size, the second major architectural phase in our unit CC has a more labyrinthine plan.

Both the building history and the excavation history complicate our ability to figure out the phasing of domestic architecture at Uronarti. Left, the published plan of the area in which our Unit CC was excavated. Middle, a scan from Wheeler’s notebook. Right, our unphased plan of remaining walls.
Interpreting the remains to produce phased plans in which we have confidence is difficult. We know that the Phase II architecture was complicated, different than Phase I, and not standardized across the site, but precisely what it looked like is more debatable.

What we do not know yet is if these changes were determined by individuals – the units in a row of row houses become increasingly eclectic over time as they are lived in, after all – or were because of state-level decisions to change the way the fortress functioned. Hopefully we will get a better sense of this as we investigate the housing further. In future seasons we hope to target those areas with substantial modifications where there were walls built where none had been before. These interest us for two reasons – first, they’re the most substantial changes in the plan of whole structures, but second, they are also the only places where intact stratigraphy remains after Wheeler’s excavations. (The banner image for this page shows one such place.) They will give us a chance to glimpse the deposits in the rooms from the time of their original configuration.

Finds are scarce when excavating the barracks thanks to earlier excavations, and presumably not in their original contexts. An exception might be these fragments of a tea set – presumably from Wheeler – found in Unit CC.

Even if we can determine to what degree individuals and personal choice conditioned changes in the architecture, we face another fundamental question when looking at the houses. Who was living at Uronarti? When we use the word “barracks” we presuppose that the population was just soldiers, but the architecture does not tell us this. After all, the type of house is similar to houses in places where the population was presumably a more ordinary urban mix. There is no reason the house type would not have worked for barracks – you could easily sleep five to ten men in each of the back rooms, using the front hall for more communal activities.

Nubian cooking pottery is a small percentage of our total finds in excavation and survey at the fortress, but consistent.

But the problem remains that we do not really know what activities and what social units were accommodated by these houses. Some amount of cooking probably happened outside of them – bread loaves appear to have been provided by the administration of the fortress, and bread was the chief staple of the Egyptian diet. But the front halls might have been used for minor cooking. A moderate presence of Nubian cooking pots in the fortress dumps suggests that some of the food preparation – and thus some of the people? – were more local than Egyptian. Was there a servant population at Uronarti, and if so did they, too, live in these houses? (See also: Site FC.) When we see the major reconfiguring of housing in Phase II, is that because social units changed? Cemeteries at some of the other fortresses suggest that in the later Middle Kingdom the garrisons became more permanent and that women and children were parts of the communities living in them. This may have led to changes in house structure. 

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