Summary of week 8, fieldwork season 2017

In week 8 of our current fieldwork season on Sai, we started excavations at sector SAV1 East with a group of workmen. We extended our excavation area towards the southwest, opening a new square labelled Square 4D, hoping to get more remains of the mud brick structures we found last year with in situ-schist pavements.

First day at SAV1 East, with part of the extension Sq. 4D visible.


Making very good progress, we have indeed exposed already a new mud brick wall which is exactly in line with the one in Square 4C! Some of the bricks of this wall are burnt, lots of ash and charcoal were found adjacent to it. Together with a very large proportion of 18th Dynasty bread moulds, I am wondering again – like I did in earlier season – if SAV1 East is connected with the production of bread for the nearby Temple A. The amounts of ceramics are still in general amazing: I processed 112 baskets of pottery from only 5 working days! Dating confirms earlier results: a very good presence of mid-18th Dynasty material, some late 18th Dynasty and few Ramesside sherds, all together with mixed material from later periods up to Ottoman times.

Work in the magazine with registration, drawing of pottery and small finds is progressing very well. This week, Daniela Penzer joined Oliver in making drawings of pottery, Lucia Sedlakova concentrates on objects from the town area.

Regarding new finds, the usual stone tools, clay beads, female figurines and reused sherds came in this week from SAV1 East. Our registrar Meg Gundlach is still mostly occupied with wonderful things from Tomb 26 – more scarabs, more amulets and more gold foil from funerary masks. The beautiful crocodile amulets – now a total of 4, probably all belonging to a female adult buried in the northern part of Chamber 5 – were photographed and described in detail.

In addition, with the re-arrival of Cajetan Geiger, the new chambers and excavated areas of Tomb 26 were completely surveyed and measured.

With the end of our season approaching, Andrea, Marlies and me will now spend a productive Friday in Tomb 26 – aiming to finish documenting it today! An update will follow shortly.

Summary of week 7, field season 2017

In week 7, we started with post-excavation documentation of the burial of Khnum-mes from Chamber 6. There are two aspects that I got completely wrong during excavation while the objects were still in situ, dusty and not yet clean: the total of 6 “stone vessels” from Chamber 6 are actually made of a different material – they are all in faience! Very nice parallels can be found in neighbouring tombs excavated by our French colleagues.
The second modification concerns Khnum-mes’ title – already when taking out his shabti and the faience vessels, I was a bit irritated by my first reading as “wab-priest”. Well – in the magazine, with good light and together with our registrar Meg Gundlach, it is now clear that Khnum-mes was a master goldworker (nbj and Hrj nbjw). This fits of course perfectly to the association of New Kingdom temple towns in general, and Sai Island in particular, with gold exploitation in Nubia!
His shabti – as well as the heart scarab – are real master pieces and of very high quality – it is definitely the highlight of AcrossBorders’ excavation in SAC5 since 2015.

As reported yesterday, excavation work now focuses in Tomb 26 on Chamber 5 – Andrea and Marlies are busy cleaning and documented a good number of burials; amulets, beads and scarabs as well as funerary masks are the most common finds in addition to pottery – several intact vessels of various sizes, with so-called flower pots as most frequent type.
Most important and actually very fresh news, having spent a productive Friday of work in Tomb 26: I managed to locate the southern and western walls and also the corresponding corners of Chamber 5! This was of prime importance at this stage, but not an easy task, given the poor quality of sandstone and a large amount of debris on the walls. Some white wall plaster is still preserved in situ – exactly like we found it in the main chamber 2. Fortunately, the dimensions of Chamber 5 are now confirmed, with only the north-western corner left to clean.

Furthermore, registration and documentation was continued this week, reaching the “drawing phase”. Oliver Frank Stephan and Julian Putner arrived at the beginning of the week and started immediately with drawings of small finds and pottery vessels, both from the town and Tomb 26.

A last group of team members will arrive next week – the final reinforcement for the grand finale of our last season and 3 weeks of excavation in the town, at SAV1 East.

FROM POT TO DRAWING

Teaching theoretical and practical aspects of pottery processing (by Oliver Frank Stephan & Giulia D’Ercole)

Winter can be quite long and relatively boring in Munich, especially when compared to the time in the field and the spectacular recent discoveries coming day after day from Tomb 26 on Sai Island.

However, in Munich winter is also the time for teaching and for the annual winter semester AcrossBorders classes on practical archaeology. Following the successful experience of last year, we organized the second edition of the ‘AcrossBorders classes on Grabungsarchäologie’ for the students at LMU this current semester.

The main topic of this year was pottery, in all its forms, beginning with the theoretical aspects on ceramic and ending with the principal methodologies for pottery documentation and processing. Classes started in December with the first introductive lecture on Dec 8th, at which Julia Budka gave the students a comprehensive introduction on the theoretical aspects of pottery, with particular reference to the importance of pottery for dating structures and archaeological contexts.

In the following classes, students received a summary on Egyptian ceramics and the Vienna system, which is an essential tool for categorizing and macroscopically assessing different types of wares and clays. Oliver Frank Stephan, now on Sai Island for his fifth excavation season with AcrossBorders, illustrated to the students the main manufacturing techniques known in Egypt. He also discussed the different methods adopted by ancient Egyptian potters for firing their vessels and further presented the different styles of decoration, e.g. paintings, slips, incised wavy lines or applications. Finally, Giulia D’Ercole informed the students on the potential of recent archaeometric and technological methodologies for studying pottery, with reference to some of the principal analytical approaches used by archaeologists: petrographic, mineralogical and chemical laboratory analyses. The first series of classes ended with a theoretical lecture on pottery drawing.

The second step of this pottery-seminar was a two-day full immersion practical class, held in January at our project-office. With the students, we repeated and settled some of the main topics of our theoretical classes. Then the practical part started: each student was equipped with the materials we use for drawing pottery in the field and could experience in person how fascinating but challenging it can be to draw authentic ancient sherds! At the end of the day, with our helping hand and their excellent endurance – combined with the typical enthusiasm of the beginner – they were able to create very nice drawings!

We closed our practical class with some other important processing steps that need to be done on excavation and in the office after the field season. These include photographic documentation of potsherds and small finds (e.g. scarabs or shabtis) and of course the digitalization of the drawn pots, making them ready for publication or further studies.

To sum up, the class was highly useful for both the students and us. They learned more about the importance of pottery in archaeological contexts and how to deal with it, theoretically and especially practically, by working “face to face” with original ceramic material from Sudan. We also had the nice opportunity to share our knowledge with others and hopefully pass on a bit of our passion towards pottery, sherds and lots of drawings.

Egyptian cooking pots from New Kingdom Sai

A paper dealing with Egyptian cooking pots from contexts of the early to mid-18th Dynasty within the New Kingdom fortified town of Sai has just appeared in the new volume of Bulletin de liaison de la céramique égyptienne (Budka 2016).

As highlighted earlier on this blog, cooking pots are of particular interest for AcrossBorders and our research about cultural identities and Nubian vs. Egyptian lifestyle.

In all sectors recently excavated in the New Kingdom town, authentic Egyptian wheel-made cooking pots imported from Egypt as well as and locally made examples thrown on the wheel appear side by side with Nubian-style products (hand-made pots with basketry impression or incised decoration). The authentic Egyptian cooking pots from Sai Island are manufactured either in a sandy version of a Nile clay B2 or a variant of a Nile clay E of the Vienna System – both probably of Upper Egyptian origin.

In the BCE paper, I tried to argue that Egyptian cooking pots of the 18th Dynasty are not only a highly interesting class morphologically, but also one of the key vessel groups to illustrate the sometimes quite close relationship between the Egyptian wheel-thrown tradition and the Nubian hand-made ceramic production.

Reference

Budka 2016 = Julia Budka, Egyptian cooking pots from the Pharaonic town of Sai Island, Nubia, Bulletin de liaison de la céramique égyptienne 26, 2016, 285‒295.

Closing the field season at House 55, Elephantine

More than six weeks of excavation in House and study season of finds and ceramics from the building passed by very quickly – we closed a very successful season yesterday.

The results were richer and more informative than expected – for the study of the architecture and building sequences as well as the material culture. More than 25 complete in situ ceramic vessels were documented – together with more than 40.000 sherds in total, they provide a substantial corpus of pottery. In 2016, a total of 350 vessels were drawn by Oliver and Eva. Although the number of objects was not overwhelming (though considerable), the stratified contexts and also the in situ position of some interesting tools and other objects present fantastic data for the early 18th Dynasty.

team-h55-2016_kleinMany thanks to all participants and everybody involved making our work here possible – first of all, of course, to the Swiss Institute and its director Cornelius von Pilgrim. Looking very much forward to processing the rich data we collected and of course to the very final 2017 season at House 55!

Pinched rims and incised decoration from the Second Intermediate Period to the New Kingdom

Working currently in the earliest strata of House 55 and especially the foundation levels, a considerable amount of older material came up in the last days (including the small fragment of “gilded ware” from Lower Nubia). Dating these ceramic assemblages is sometimes not easy: Second Intermediate Period style of ceramic production continued well into the 18th Dynasty and often one relies on ware and technique to distinguish between residual pieces and products of the New Kingdom.

That Second Intermediate style was not completely passé by the time of the 18th Dynasty, can be nicely illustrated by a common type of carinated bowls. Of various sizes, both in Marl and Nile clays, these often show wavy lines, sometimes in combination with applied ridges and what Stuart Tyson Smith named “pinched ‘piecrust’ rims” (Smith 2012, 397). This type is commonly associated with the Second Intermediate Period pottery tradition in Egypt; early variants are already attested since the late Middle Kingdom in Egypt and Nubia, but these dishes are more common during the Second Intermediate Period.

As noticed in an earlier post, these carinated bowls – by now they are definitely among my favorite types! – are well attested from both on Elephantine and Sai Island. At both sites, they are known from stratified contexts of the early 18th Dynasty, up to the time of Thutmose III.

Carinated dish with ‘piecrust’ rim and wavy incised lines from House 55.

Carinated dish with ‘piecrust’ rim and wavy incised lines from House 55.

Today, Oliver was drawing some of the early examples from the phases of use of House 55 – almost identical to the ones he already made drawings of on Sai, stressing again the strong links between the two 18th Dynasty settlements currently being investigated by AcrossBorders.

Reference:

Smith 2012 = Stuart Tyson Smith, Pottery from Askut and the Nubian forts, in: Robert Schiestl / Anne Seiler (eds.), Handbook of pottery of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. Volume II: the regional volume, Vienna 2012, 377‒405.

Beneath the golden hill…

 

golden-hillWeek 4 at Elephantine just flew by – probably because of all the big shocking world news, including the very sad loss of one born with a truly golden voice…

Gold and golden are good keywords for one interesting observation during this week. Please note: Other than quite often assumed, Egyptologists are NOT hunting for gold – finding gold during excavations in Egypt and Sudan happens of course sometimes, but fortunately not on a daily basis!

This week, among the usual unspectacular, but very significant, finds like pottery vessels, re-cut sherds, net weights, stone tools, jar stoppers and thousands of broken pottery sherds, a very interesting, glittering sherd caught my attention. It might look not too spectacular for most of you, but it really is something very special!

A "golden" sherd...

This small fragment (3.1x3cm) of a thin-walled jar with flaring rim made in a very fine Nile B2 was found in material below the foundations of House 55. It is covered with a micaceaous slip on both sides, giving the sherd a “golden” appearance. It really glitters in the sun with all the mica contained in its surface slip! Sherds like this are well known – but not from Egypt, but from further South: Kush, the land of gold. Our recently discovered fragment represents the so-called “gilded ware” produced in the Second Cataract forts, recently re-studied by Christian Knoblauch (Knoblauch 2011). This rare, wheel-made Nile clay ware was obviously locally produced in Lower Nubia during the late Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period. Thus, even if it is a residual piece and has nothing to do with the actual phases of use of House 55 we are focusing on, the “golden” sherd is of interest for general connections between Elephantine and Nubia.

Reference:

Knoblauch 2011 = Christian Knoblauch, Not all that glitters: a case study of regional aspects of Egyptian Middle Kingdom pottery production in Lower Nubia and the second cataract, in: Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne 9, 2011, 167‒183.

Squat jars, zir vessels and other finds at Elephantine

Among the highlights from week 3 at Elephantine are several complete vessels from room A in House 55. The pottery database of all New Kingdom ceramics comprises now a total of 12257 entries, 1599 coming from House 55. Amazing is the large number of 247 complete or almost complete vessels from the building — many were found in the cellars of House 55, but also as piles of pots left in corners of various rooms.

squat-jars

One of the vessels from the latest phase of use of House 55 which was left behind and found last year is a large Marl A2 squat jar, 45602G/a-4. Only the rim and part of the shoulder is fragmented, otherwise this painted jar is completely preserved. It is of Thutmoside date, finds many parallels at other sites in Egypt, and – most important for us – also in the New Kingdom town of Sai. SAV1W P233, found in a cellar in SAV1 West, is also a Marl A2 squat jar and almost of the exact shape like the Elephantine vessel, especially its rim base. The decoration is slightly different, also illustrating the variability of decoration patterns of this type of vessel which had its heyday under Thutmose III.

Further complete vessels from House 55 are large zir vessels – as pointed out earlier, these are mostly of Marl A4 variants. Nile clay versions are less common, but also present, comparing nicely to the corpus of storage vessels from Sai.

Finds from this season from House 55 are mostly re-used sherds, grind stones and other stone tools; clay figurines are also present in small numbers as are lids and stoppers. Similar to the pottery, both parallels and differences are notable comparing these finds with the corpus from Sai Island New Kingdom town.

Week 4 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow, will focus on the documentation of the many complete vessels from this season and on further object registration.

Getting ready for week 3 at Elephantine

The second complete week of work here at Elephantine passed by very quickly. Work directed by Cornelius von Pilgrim in House 55 makes very good progress – some interesting new features give fresh food for thoughts about the ground plan and the building phases!
Work in the magazines continues as usual – Meg is busy with the object registration, OIiver is drawing ceramic vessels from House 55. In the last days, he focused on small decorated fragments – Marl clay squat jars, bichrome vessels as well as red splash ware and black rim ware. Processing of the newly excavated pottery is well underway (thanks to the great job of the specialists from Quft!) and so far the results from last year are nicely supported by this fresh material.

In addition, a new micromorphological sampling programme was started this week in House 55. We took 13 samples from various areas in two rooms. We are especially interested in floor deposits and the maintenance of floors, and, of course, general formation processes within the building. The original floors from the earliest phase of use are here of special importance. Taking samples from the well preserved sections here at Elephantine was quite a change to Sai and our sampling there. Whereas at SAV1 West and SAV1 East only little stratigraphy has survived, the perfect preservation of several phases of use of House 55 are over and over again simply amazing!

Looking much forward to week 3 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow and promising new finds and pots.

“Chamber pots” from Elephantine and Sai

Only 3 days have passed since we arrived on Elephantine Island in Egypt. Everything worked out fine and we had a very good start into the season.

Today, I used the day off from fieldwork to work on the pottery database from both Elephantine and Sai. One of the most exciting aspects of this analysis is that we are currently comparing the ceramic data from the New Kingdom town of Sai with the pottery corpus from the contemporaneous settlement at Elephantine.

Among the most important contexts from Sai is of course the material from feature 15. The large amount of intact vessels, their association with seal impressions and the clear stratigraphic sequence makes this cellar a perfect case study.

Unusual vessels from Feature 15, Sai.

Unusual vessels from Feature 15, Sai.

Besides dozens of bowls, plates and beakers, there are also two very unusual vessels from feature 15. They are unique within the pottery corpus of Sai, being heavy deep bowls with a thick flat base and a pronounced outer lip. We nicknamed them “chamber pots” and until today I was not able to find close parallels. Until today! Sitting here on my desk surrounded by all the New Kingdom pottery data from Elephantine, I suddenly remembered a complete pot we documented some years ago which is also unique within the local corpus.

Unusual pot from Elephantine...

Unusual pot from Elephantine…

The copy of the drawing of 37601X/b-29 was labelled as “Nachttopf” in my handwriting… and closely resembles our pots from feature 15! While the piece still has no parallel within the Elephantine material, it clearly compares nicely to the pots from Sai.

Although the functional use of these vessels still poses several questions (which I will leave open for now…any thoughts are of course welcome!), finds like this illustrate the huge potential of AcrossBorders’ approach to compare the Sai pottery corpus in detail with the one from Elephantine. Linking and differentiating Sai and Elephantine is making excellent progress and will of course continue!