Palaces in New Kingdom temple towns?

One of the characteristics of the so-called temple towns in Nubia is the presence of so-called governor’s palaces in the south-eastern corner of the walled area. These exceptional, palace-like houses are situated in the vicinity of the stone temples of the individual towns and most probably functioned as headquarter for the local ruler or highest official. In an article recently published, I presented some thoughts based on the evidence from Sai and the so-called palace SAF2, including AcrossBorders’ new results from sector SAV1 East (Budka 2018).

Overview of southern part of the New Kingdom town of Sai, with so-called palace in the background (southeastern corner of town).

I tried to argue that the close relationship of the “palace” and the stone temple for gods becomes very evident on Sai. Obviously, SAF2 was a representative building for the local administration and offi cials like the mayor and the jdnw of Kush. Small details like the non-axial access to the main columned hall and storage installations indicate that in addition to its evocative character as an “Egyptian” building, SAF2 was really used for domestic purposes.

Ingrid Adenstedt has worked on the ground plan and also the 3D reconstruction of SAF2  – she convincingly showed that the building most likely had two storeys (Adenstedt 2016). Her reconstruction was also used in the animations of our recently published short film about the AcrossBorders project.

Reconstruction of SAF2, Ingrid Adenstedt 2016.

What also became evident by the reassessment of the so-called governor’s palaces within Egyptian temple towns in Nubia is the fact that despite of all their common characteristics (location within the town, two storeys, columned central hall etc.), a site specific approach considering the local topography as well as the functional aspects of the site (depending on its date of foundation, its specific situation, the local temples, the surrounding Nubian sites, the hinterland etc.) is essential for our understanding of these palatial buildings of the New Kingdom.


Adensted 2016 = I. Adenstedt, Reconstructing Pharaonic Architecture in Nubia: the case study of SAV1, Sai Island, Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant 3, Vienna 2016.

Budka 2018 = J. Budka, Palaces in so-called Nubian temple towns: A reassessment, in: Manfred Bietak and Silvia Prell (eds.), Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Palaces. Volume I. Proceedings of the Conference on Palaces in Ancient Egypt, held in London 12th – 14th June 2013, Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant 5, Vienna 2018, 251–273.

New short film about AcrossBorders project

A short film, available both in English and German, has just gone live!

In the film (editing and animations: hertha produziert), our new fieldwork on Sai island is presented, especially the work conducted and recently published in sector SAV1 North. 3D reconstructions by our architect Ingrid Adenstedt illustrate the recent advances in the study of the architecture of New Kingdom towns.

Various analyses of the material remains, especially the ceramics – with my personal favorites, the fire dogs, are highlighted to illustrate the new insights into Sai’s regional and trans-regional networks and its heydays.

Looking much forward to feedback for our video!

AcrossBorders monograph now freely available online

I am delighted that the monograph AcrossBorders I, dedicated to SAV1 North, is now freely available online.
The main focus of the book published in the OREA series Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant by the Austrian Academy of Science Press is the physical remains of SAV1 North: the architecture and material culture, with emphasis on the pottery and small finds.
Datable to the mid- to late 18th Dynasty, the building phase labelled as Level 3 was the heyday at sector SAV1 North, well-attested by several architectural remains with associated finds and pottery, which are all presented in the volume. A summary of thoughts on possible hints about the lifestyle and activities at SAV1 North preserved in the material remains completes AcrossBorders I. All in all, the evidence from SAV1 North underlines the important role Sai plays in understanding settlement patterns in New Kingdom Nubia.
Of course all of us are very much hoping that the openaccess version of the book will be widely used, especially by users without access to Egyptological/archaeological libraries!

Arabic Version of the Nubiin Wordlist

One month ago, we presented the open-access, free version of a Short Archaeological Wordlist in English, Sudani Arabic and Nobiin which was compiled by the expert of Nilo-Saharan languages, Helmut Satzinger. This wordlist is one of the by-products of the archaeological fieldwork of the AcrossBorders project on Sai Island.

Today, I am delighted to announce that the Arabic translation of this wordlist is now also online!

Many thanks go here to two very dear friends and colleagues who have worked with me at fieldwork projects in both Sudan and Egypt. Huda Magzoub kindly translated my preface and Helmut’s introduction.

Huda kindly translated our text!

Hassan Ramadan was responsible for the final checks – together with Veronica Hinterhuber who deserves loads of thanks for preparing this new layouted version of the wordlist.

Hassan and Vroni did a great job with the final layout!

Since we hope that this short collection of useful terms in Nubiin will help to deepen one’s understanding of Mahas Nubia, I am quite convinced that the new Arabic version will be well received. Thanks again to everyone involved – alf shukur and órosee!

Pottery, chronology and society in New Kingdom Sai, Sudan

Some brief thoughts about what ancient ceramics tell us about life in New Kingdom Nubia, using Sai Island as a case study, have just been published.

To access the full version of the article, please visit:

Article originally published on:
Reproduced by kind permission of Pan European Networks Ltd,

© Pan European Networks 2018

Valentine’s Day Special: An exceptional heart scarab from Sai

Last year on Valentine’s Day, excavations in Tomb 26 on Sai were still ongoing. As Meg Gundlach put it back then “there are few things more romantic than a dung beetle”. Well – exactly! One year later, it’s again time to write about this very special heart scarab, SAC5 349, found next to the skeleton of chief goldsmith Khnummose. Let’s start with a spoiler: no, I still cannot read the name on the heart scarab, there is no complete love story to tell about Khnummose and his wife. But: my assumption that it is possibly the wife’s name on the scarab who was buried next to Khnummose at a slightly later moment still stands, although it remains hypothetical.

The heart scarab of Khnummose’s tomb group is an exceptional example also for other reasons. The general appearance of gold flakes and use of gold for the funerary equipment and jewellery in Tomb 26 is striking and seems to be connected with Khnummose’s profession. Very remarkable, among others, is this beautiful signet ring made of silver and gold found in Chamber 5.

But coming back to the heart scarab: during the process of cleaning it in situ in Chamber 6, very fragile strips of gold came to light.

One piece was clearly attached around the base, other fragments where found close to the head of the scarab.

Possibly there were originally also gold bands across the elytra and at the division of the wing cases; this arrangement finds a close parallel in a Late New Kingdom example now kept at Liverpool – 1977.112.257 is a very nice heart scarab made of green jasper, it still has strips of gold attached.

Heart scarab Liverpool 1977.112.257,

In general, such gold bands on heart scarabs of the New Kingdom are rare – for our example from Sai, I believe that they could attest to Khnummose’s job as chief goldsmith and to the general connection of the island to the gold exploitation in Nubia.

An update on Nun bowls from Sai Island

Back in 2015, Sabine Tschorn recorded all Nun bowl fragments from the New Kingdom town on Sai. This unique group of faience vessels is associated with regeneration and fertility and offers some insights into the daily life of 18th Dynasty Sai.

Happy with small, but diagnostic pieces of Nun-bowls from SAV1 West.

I am delighted that her analysis of the Nun bowls is now published (Tschorn 2017). In her paper, Sabine examines the excavated fragments and their distribution in the different sectors of the settlement as well as their diverse decorative motifs and functions. She is able to show that these faience vessels have to be seen in context with the architectural remains – for Sai, it is highly interesting that most fragments come from SAV1 North and SAV1 West, where a substantial amount of storage facilities and cellars was found, located close to the New Kingdom town wall. An association of the Nun bowls with ritual vessels like footed bowls for burning at both sectors might suggest a connection with offerings and libation. All in all, the function of Nun bowls in domestic settlements of the New Kingdom appears to be quite complex – once again stressing that daily life in ancient times also included various activities connected to the ritual and religious sphere (cf. Stevens 2006).

Thanks to the support of my FWF START project, the paper by Sabine has been published with full open access and will hopefully stimulate further research about an intriguing object group of the New Kingdom.


Stevens, A. 2006. Private Religion at Amarna. BAR International Series 1587. Oxford.

Tschorn, S. 2017. Nun-Schalen aus der Stadt des Neuen Reiches auf der Insel Sai, Ägypten und Levante 27, 431–446

Agréeskatti Helmut Satzinger!

Every archaeologist working in northern Sudan has experienced this: puzzled looks by Nubian workmen addressed with some obviously un­comprehensive instructions and, vice-versa, confusion because the workmen are speaking something very difficult to understand… well – in the Land of the Mahas people, Nobiin is of course frequently found at archaeological excavations! This may therefore cause quite some problems, especially for excavators used to learn the colloquial language ‘on site’ in various regions, e.g. in Upper Egypt.

With my background of excavating in Egypt since 1997 and starting work on Sai Island in 2011, I quickly noted down as my personal wish to assimi­late new vocabulary necessary for the work in northern Sudan. Back in my first season on Sai, I even had problems with such basics as addressing my beloved and numerous pottery sherds for the workmen because fukhār was not un­derstandable for all.

I am very proud to present today an open-access, free version of a Short Archaeological Wordlist in English, Sudani Arabic and Nobiin which was compiled by a distinguished Egyptological colleague and expert of Nilo-Saharan languages, Helmut Satzinger. This wordlist is one of the by-products of the archaeological fieldwork of the AcrossBorders project on Sai Island. Within the framework of my project, Helmut joined the fieldwork in January to February 2017.

In these weeks, he compiled the wordlist which is hopefully of use for all coming to the beautiful region of Mahas Nubia. As it will be obvious from the start, not all terms used in the archaeological field or the related camp find correlates in Nobiin. Nevertheless, I believe that this short collection of useful terms helps to deepen one’s understanding of the re­gion.

Today is a very special day – last year, we were celebrating Helmut’s birthday with a boat trip to one of the most beautiful islands in the neighbourhood of Sai in Sudan – today, I am proudly presenting the final, layouted version of the wordlist as a small birthday present.

Happy birthday dear Helmut and many thanks again for everything! May there be many more interesting and happy years full of linguistic challenges around Ancient Egyptian, Arabic, Coptic and Nobiin!

New releases – some papers on Tomb 26 on Sai Island

Having just returned from Sudan and the student excursion, it’s very pleasant to find some new releases on one’s desk – especially because these also comprise papers highlightening the significance of Tomb 26 and especially of the burial of Khnummose on Sai Island.

The following new articles are relevant for AcrossBorders’ work in cemetery SAC5:

Budka, J., Pyramid cemetery SAC5, Sai Island, Northern Sudan: An update based on fieldwork from 2015–2017, Ägypten und Levante 27, 2017, 107‒130.
Budka, J., Das Grab eines Goldschmiedemeisters auf Sai in Obernubien, Sokar 35, 2017, 52-63.
Budka, J., The Tomb of a Master of Gold-workers on Sai Island, Ancient Egypt 18, No. 3, 2017/2018, 14-20.

Within the article published in Ägypten und Levante 27, I tried to reconstruct the complete use-life of Tomb 26, presenting for the first time preliminary results from the pottery analysis.

Please note that all of these articles still have to be regarded as “preliminary” – the final analysis, including the anthropological findings in Tomb 26 and the results from the Strontium Isotope analysis, is already well under way and will be published as another monograph in the series Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant.

2017 in review

I should somehow check how many times within this blog I have used the phrase „time flies by “… but well – it indeed does!

2017 is almost history and this year was particularly important for AcrossBorders since we finished excavations at both sites, Sai Island and Elephantine Island – exactly as planned!

  • In January 2017 we clarified that there are strata below the wall street in SAV1 West in the New Kingdom town of Sai – datable to the early 18th Dynasty!
  • In February 2017 we discovered the undisturbed burial of Khnummes and his presumed wife in Tomb 26!
  • In March 2017 two large cellars, one with still intact vault ceiling, were unearthed in SAV1 East in the New Kingdom town of Sai!
  • April was somehow a short break – back to Munich and Vienna again… teaching term started…
  • In May 2017 I could present the lasted findings on Sai at the SARS meeting in London – the Sudan & Nubia volume is now already published!
  • In June 2017 we conducted some experiments within the framework of the practical class experimental archaeology.
  • In July 2017 I tried to get some written work done… and processing of finds and pottery continued…
  • In August 2017 the first monograph of the series dedicated to AcrossBorders’s work on Sai was published in Vienna – AcrossBorders I, hurray!
  • In September 2017, a wonderful closing conference took place in Munich – thanks again to all participants!
  • In October 2017, we were busy working in Khartoum on the objects now stored in the National Museum – and later in the month, started our Elephantine season!
  • In November 2017, we finished the excavation in House 55 on Elephantine, including a complete documention of the building for image based modelling! And late in the month, an interdisciplinary workshop was held in Vienna, in cooperation with the Young Academy at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. Our guest of honour was Dr. Abdelrahman Ali Mohammed, General Director of NCAM.

    Photo by Jacqueline Godany (*Art_PhotOgraphy)

    The workshop was closed with a book presentation – AcrossBorders I and also Ingrid Adenstedt’s book on the 3D reconstruction of the New Kingdom town were introduced – very proud to publish with OREA and at the Austrian Academy!

    Photo by Jacqueline Godany (*Art_PhotOgraphy)

  • In December 2017, processing continued and formatting of the first papers of the AcrossBorders conference from September started – the volume will be out by summer 2018 insha’allah.

With four more months to go before AcrossBorders officially ends in April 2018, timing will be as dense but for sure also as productive like during the complete 2017 year – many thanks here to all our collaborators, supporters and team members.

Wishing all of our friends, colleagues and readers very happy holidays and a perfect start into 2018! I’ll be off to an excursion to Sudan with students from LMU soon – guaranteeing that my personal start into the New Year will be simply impeccable, or, as we say in Vienna: “urleiwand”.