Interview with Nettie Adams, William Y. Adams, September 17, 2001

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
Transcript
Toggle Index/Transcript View Switch.
Index
Search this Index
X
00:00:00 - Aerial photography--Sudan

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Recording of an interview with, uh, Bill and Nettie Adams and it's the 17th of, uh, September, 2001 and I'm John van Willigen.

Segment Synopsis: Van Willigen inquires about how W. Adams got involved in Sudan and with UNESCO. W. Adams explains that he obtained the position offered to him in Sudan because others before him had turned it down and it wasn't an attractive position to those wanting long-term projects, the term being around four months. W. Adams states that he knew nothing about Nubia (Sudan) or aerial photography before taking on the job. However, W. Adams explains that he quickly understood that aerial photography was not the method that would work for locating cultural landmarks in Sudan because of the nature of the terrain (lots of sand).

Keywords: Aerial photography; Antiquities; Archaeology; Aswan; Aswan Dam; Egypt; Egyptology; Flinders Petrie; Flinders Petrie Library; International cooperation; Nubia; Sudan; United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Subjects: Anthropology; Antiquities; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Aswan Dam (Egypt); Nubia; Society for Applied Anthropology; Sudan

GPS: Khartoum (Sudan)
Map Coordinates: 15.485194, 32.581428
00:13:42 - Finding and dating archaeological sites

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Well anyway to get back to the st--the, the story is of course--my, um, contract was due to run out in December--

Segment Synopsis: W. Adams explains that, in order to find significant historic sites, the entire Sudan project had to switch its primary method in locating sites to be surface surveying. He then provides information on the structure of the team of laborers who worked on the project with him and how he and N. Adams were the only specialized workers on the project actually recording anything. W. Adams explains that due to the time frame of the project and the lack of archaeological data in Sudan, the surface surveying was conducted almost completely blindly for the first couple of years. He describes the process of using ceramic sequences to date sites over radio carbon dating because of its cost and time effectiveness. W. Adams then describes that this process was largely left to his discretion from a lack of interest from the higher ups in the Sudanese government. He explains how he determined what sites had the most historical/cultural value and should be excavated and removed from his position as an anthropologist.

Keywords: Antiquities; Archaeology; Aswan Dam; Ceramics; Egyptology; Excavation; Excavators; Nubia; Peasant archaeology; Potsherds; Quftis; Stratigraphy; Sudan; Surface surveys; Surveying; United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

Subjects: Anthropology; Antiquities; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Ceramics; Excavation; Nubia; Society for Applied Anthropology; Sudan

00:25:16 - Creation of a new paradigm

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So, uh, uh, your identity and background as an, as an American mid-century anthropologist was really important?

Segment Synopsis: W. Adams describes the nature of American mid-century anthropology after Van Willigen's inquiry over the matter. He explains that this period of anthropology was of a humanistic perspective and characteristic of the last phase of the Boasians: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Clyde Kluckhohn. He further explains that the ethnography characteristic of this time was different from earlier salvage ethnography because it sought to study culture as it was in the current time with current people. After describing the nature of anthropology at the time of the project in Sudan, W. Adams explains that it was he who largely created/popularized a new paradigm in Sudanese archaeology that stressed cultural continuity rather than migration. W. Adams ends this part of the conversation by saying that none of the archaeological work he had done in Sudan had been what UNESCO hired him to do and so he never reported it to them.

Keywords: Archaeology; Boasian anthropology; Cultural continuity; Cultural-logical paradigm; Ethnography; Humanism; Humanistic perspective; Nubia; Sudan

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Nubia; Society for Applied Anthropology; Sudan

00:32:24 - UNESCO liaison--Sudanese logistical support

Play segment

Partial Transcript: Uh-huh. So what did you talk about, you know, after the initial stint of, uh, the, uh--uh, aerial photography?

Segment Synopsis: W. Adams explains that, in order to keep with his commitments to what he was hired to do by UNESCO, he was a liaison to many foreign expeditions that arrived in the country. He further explains that his team could be a lot of help because of their connections to local services and ability to speak Arabic. N. Adams speaks in the interview for the first time, about how Wadi Halfa was the location of the project's documentation center and was the location of her and W. Adams' main residence. However, W. Adams explains that they often lived in rented houses in villages around locations of their fieldwork while they were conducting fieldwork. N. and W. Adams explain that they saved anything that could be used as storage for collected potsherds and as carrying baskets since Sudan was largely unprepared with these materials. Van Willigen asks W. Adams how he recruited Quftis and other labors. W. Adams emphasizes that a large part of the success of his project in Sudan was the logistical support he had from the government. He explains that he solely worked as an archaeologist, not as a recruiter or human resources official.

Keywords: Antiquities; Archaeology; Foreign expeditions; Liaison; Nubia; Quftis; Sudan; United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); Wadi Halfa; Wadi Halfa (Sudan)

Subjects: Anthropology; Antiquities; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Nubia; Society for Applied Anthropology; Sudan

GPS: Wadi Halfa (Sudan)
Map Coordinates: 21.799552, 31.371362
00:44:32 - Stratigraphic methods / Conflict with the Archaeological Commissioner

Play segment

Partial Transcript: How did it work with, uh--because you, you, uh, talked about the sand--the, the sand being unstable and the tools being what they were and the fact that you couldn't produce actual faces and things like that? How, how did you deal with the issue of stratigraphy?

Segment Synopsis: After Van Willigen asks W. Adams about how he dealt with stratigraphy given the nature of the sandy terrain, W. Adams explains that he stripped the terrain layer by layer rather than vertical trenches for the reason of the terrain and because vertical trenches only show a sequence of events in a particular spot rather than indicate a pattern over a large area. He further explains that he utilized natural stratigraphy because one couldn't define arbitrary surfaces because of the nature of sand. W. Adams explains that workers used a tool called a turiya to sift the sand while it was up to him to organize whatever potsherds were found. W. Adams responds to Van Willigen's question if he learned all of his methods on the job with the answer of yes, because you have to constantly adapt to the nature of whatever site it is that you are working with and combine this with what your own ideas are. W. Adams then begins telling Van Willigen about his frustrations with the new archaeological commissioner of Sudan at the time, Thabit, who distrusted him and restricted him from working on site at the various sites he was in charge of. He explains that he gained Thabit's trust after siding with him in an argument over archaeological law and never was restricted from then on.

Keywords: Archaeology; Foreign expeditions; Natural stratigraphy; Nubia; Potsherds; Stratigraphy; Sudan; Turiya; Typology; Wadi Halfa; Wadi Halfa (Sudan)

Subjects: Anthropology; Antiquities; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Nubia; Society for Applied Anthropology; Sudan

00:57:14 - Meinarti

Play segment

Partial Transcript: --I could work and the next year there was never anything more said about my not working in the field.

Segment Synopsis: W. Adams begins talking about a site called Meinarti that he started working on. He explains that the site was an archaeological concession to the British, but they had neglected to work on the site for a long time. W. Adams asked Commissioner Thabit to try to get the British to give up the site. The British excavation director agreed to give up Meinarti only if W. Adams was the one to dig it. W. Adams explains that, after taking into account the nature of the flood season, he decided to take on only half of the mound at Meinarti at first. After a month, W. Adams requested and was given another fifty men (for a total of 200) and gained a lot of experience managing the logistics of a site. W. Adams explained that he continued to work on the site with the help of Thabit putting in a good word for him with the higher ups. Van Willigen inquires what got Thabit into archaeology and W. Adams explains that he wasn't sure, but Thabit had some credentials from training in England, however, he eventually resigned as commissioner and entered the banking business.

Keywords: Antiquities; Archaeology; Meinarti; Meinarti (Sudan); Meinarti Island; Meinarti Island (Sudan); Nubia; Sudan

Subjects: Anthropology; Antiquities; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Nubia; Society for Applied Anthropology; Sudan

GPS: Meinarti Island (Sudan)
Map Coordinates: 21.006901, 30.577785
01:05:05 - Life in Wadi Halfa--Isolation from American anthropology

Play segment

Partial Transcript: So what, what--how were the, uh, living arrangements in, um, Wadi Halfa? What was going on there?

Segment Synopsis: Van Willigen inquires about what the Adams' living arrangements were like at the time and N. Adams explains that they had a UNESCO field house in Wadi Halfa for their family and their two assistants. She further describes what the facilities were like, going into detail about how the water worked. N. Adams also explains that they had a cook and a house cleaner, neither of which lived in the house. The cook did most of the shopping for them. W. Adams then describes the "bucket system" which was what most of the city ran on for sewage maintenance. Both W. Adams and N. Adams discuss what their diet was like while living in Wadi Halfa at the request of Van Willigen. Both explain that they had a well-balanced diet from their access to the market and because of the skill of their cook. After Van Willigen asks about expatriate communities in the city, W. and N. Adams mention the Greek, Egyptian Coptic, and Syrian communities. N. Adams explains that she and W. Adams' family were the only European/Euro-American people that stayed year round. W. Adams states that one couldn't find a better gathering of intellectuals anywhere else in the world when all the foreign archaeologists arrived for the season. Van Willigen asks W. Adams if he kept up with American anthropology while in Sudan. W. Adams explains that he was very isolated from developments in America and it was a revelation to see the changes in American anthropology and university life upon his and his family's return. W. Adams explains that his family resided in Khartoum for a period and then returned to the U.S. where he started teaching undergraduates.

Keywords: Archaeology; Expatriate communities; Expatriates; Nubia; Sudan

Subjects: Anthropology; Applied anthropology; Archaeology; Nubia; Society for Applied Anthropology; Sudan