AcrossBorders in retrospect

Those were the days – back in 2013 we had our first season on Sai Island, starting work at sector SAV1 East. The outlines of Building A were discovered, exciting finds in the southern part of our squares allowed us to date the earliest remains in this area to the very early New Kingdom. Among the highlights were pots from the early 18th Dynasty, found in situ in a small storage bin.

Continuous excavations until this spring season 2017 brought to light further evidence supporting this original interpretation. It is well timed that a substantial volume on “Nubia in the New Kingdom” was just published – edited by Neal Spencer, Anna Stevens and Michaela Binder these proceedings of a conference in London 2013 bring together the latest results and a large variety of finds dating to the New Kingdom, unearthed in northern Sudan. I am proud that also AcrossBorders’ work on Sai Island is represented in this splendid and important volume – an overview about “Life in the New Kingdom town of Sai Island: some new perspectives” summarizes the potential of the first season back in 2013 in SAV1 East – and illustrates among others the significant find of the storage bin with its in situ pots.

Since 2013, I regularly wrote a blog post “summer break” in August, announcing vacation and a short break from our various tasks including blogging – well, those were the days… 2017 is a bit different – with the closing conference “From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia”, to be held from 1–3 September, 2017 in Munich, we are all very busy and time for vacation is limited. Travelling between Vienna and Munich, we are especially involved in the anthropological findings in Tomb 26 and the GIS applications of our documentation; the digital landscape models of Sai are getting prepared and all will be presented at the conference.

Perfectly timed is now the release of a video produced by the FWF high lightening our main research questions and most important discoveries on Sai. For those of you who have missed photos and reports about the nimiti flies in the last months – I am convinced that the video will make up for this: beautiful shots of SAV1 East, the one and only nimiti paradise ;-).

How to cook like an Egyptian – experimental archaeology in Asparn/Zaya, Austria

Working on Egyptian and Nubian cooking pots, both in the field and back home in Munich, Julia Budka and Daniela Penzer—who wrote her Masters thesis about Egyptian cooking pots earlier this year—created another practical session for the LMU students this summer.

Dealing with Egyptian and Nubian cooking pots during the production of our drawings doesn’t give us the opportunity to understand the process of cooking with them. There are lots of questions following our studies of these pots: First, it is necessary to understand how the pot was made. Second, it is useful to think about ways to combine the theoretical aspects of pottery making with practical exercises. Finally, the essential task would be to cook in replicas under more or less similar conditions as had been done in ancient times. The keyword here is experimental archaeology.

Within the practical class, a poster was prepared to illustrate the fundamental changes in cooking pot tradition at the beginning and throughout the 18th Dynasty (see Budka 2016). While texts and paintings give us a good overview regarding funerary practices and traditions, cooking is underrepresented in the reliefs and tomb decoration. Without a theoretical background, someone can just suggest why one shape of cooking pot was replaced with another one, and so experimental studies can provide us with useful information, which cannot be produced by the archaeological context alone. Also, the difference in cooking in Nubian cooking pots compared to Egyptian ones can be investigated further, maybe leading to interesting conclusions about diet and the cooking process. To create as much useful data as possible, the main tasks for the upcoming experiments won’t only be cooking in the pots, but to observe the different effects of distinctive temperature during the fire process and the permeability of water caused by the composition of the pots. Measuring temperature and heat will be crucial for significant results.

The experiments took again place in Asparn/Zaya in Austria – like Julia’s former experiments with fire dogs and other tasks and only possible because of Julia’s cooperation with the University of Vienna, from June 30th until July 2nd. We began our work by preparing the clay after Hans Reschreiter, field director of the famous Austrian excavations in Hallstatt, gave a nice introduction to the clay we used. The first task was to grind the clay with simple methods, such as using a stone or wooden tool.

The dry and dusty powder was then mixed with water before kneading. We grogged the clay with a measured amount of animal dung (e.g. donkey dung, cow, and goat dung, etc.), which Julia had brought from Sudan especially for experiments like this. However, another chunk of clay was simply grogged with chaff. Shortly after producing enough clay to work with we immediately started modelling our first small pots and dishes.

The progress of this work was nice to watch. Vera and Vig Albustin, both very experienced experimental potters (who joined AcrossBorders already at the fire dog experiment in 2014), showed us different ways to build the pottery by hand and using different shaping methods such as “paddle and anvil” or the “coiling-technique” (see Arnold/Bourriau 1993 for more details).

Step two (also under the guidance of Vera and Vig, who made realistic replicas of Nubian and Egyptian cooking pots before the actual excursion) was the process of firing the pottery in an open fire place.

On our second day, we continued with shaping different pots and dishes and began with the preparation of our experiment. The firing process of the pots was completed and everything ready for the main task on day three: experimental cooking in Egyptian style cooking pots.

First, we decided to arrange two cooking pots directly over a fire. We arranged the smaller pot over a triplet of stones and filled it with 2 litres of water. Additionally, a bigger pot was placed over fire dogs and filled with 5 litres of water.

Daniela was equipped with an infrared-thermometer in order to test the temperature of the blaze and fire; the outside temperature of the pot and also the temperature of the water periodically.

The purpose of this experiment was to check the time it took for the water to reach boiling point. Meanwhile, we had to continuously take care of the fire, which was sometimes not easy given that one of the pots was arranged over three stones.

After this first attempt to get some useful data, we prepared our lunch: Egyptian style “foul”. Daniela brought the ingredients: oil, onion, tomatoes, garlic and (canned) foul beans. Following the instructions in the recipe, Daniela again checked the temperature with the thermometer while cooking in our two pots; one over the stones and the second with AcrossBorders’ nice fire dogs.

The result of our cooking was quite delicious, with everybody enjoying the lunch break. Back in Munich, Daniela will be busy with interpreting the data and following up the experiments we performed.

To sum up, it is easy to say that the experience of working with clay, preparing it, producing small pots, and to perform the firing process was useful when you’re working with pottery on the project. It was a nice opportunity to perform different shaping methods with your own hands and to learn how to dry and then fire the pots. Everybody would therefore recommend that experimental archaeology is a perfect way to understand the subject of your research in more detail. Additionally, doing it as a team was also quite fun!

References

Arnold/Bourriau 1993 = Dorothea Arnold/Janine Bourriau (eds), An Introduction to Ancient Egyptian Pottery, Mainz am Rhein 1993

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

On the move – to and from Sai

An upcoming workshop organized within the framework of the program “LMU – UCB Research in Humanities” brings together researchers from LMU Munich and the UC Berkeley to discuss phenomena of “Archaeologies of human mobility and migration”.  I am very happy to be able to participate and much looking forward to this event with a rich variety of archaeological case studies.

AcrossBorders, its aims and results are of course highly relevant for understanding people and things “on the move”, migration between Egypt and Nubia, but also aspects of appropriation and the entanglement of cultures. The location of Sai Island in a territory of strategic value with changing boundaries and alternating ruling powers in the Second Millennium BC (Egypt and Nubia) allows the addressing of questions of ancient lives across borders and cultures.

In general, we know that mobility of administrative staff and officials was common in New Kingdom Egypt – examples from Sai include the viceroy of Kush Nehi and other officials.  Nehi’s monuments in Egypt and Nubia (incl. door jambs, lintels, statues, stelae etc.) illustrate that high officials had temporary living quarters in different parts of Egypt as well as in Nubia.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My paper will present results of the AcrossBorders project based on the study of the material culture, here especially of ceramics including data from iNAA. In addition to the analysis of finds and architecture from the settlement, the mortuary evidence helps investigating the coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians on the island. The latest results from Tomb 26 will be discussed, highlightening also the potential of ongoing strontium isotope analysis for exploring the origin of the occupants of New Kingdom Sai.

Reconstructing the use-life of Tomb 26

Back in Munich, all of us are busy with post-excavation tasks – updating databases and lists, finalizing reports, maps and 3D models as well as digitalizing original drawings. The latter currently keeps Oliver and Daniela busy – they are digitalizing the pottery drawings from Tomb 26.

The amount of complete pots found in the tomb in 2017 is striking – particularly interesting is a deposit of six so-called flower pots and three dishes in the southeastern corner of Chamber 5. Situated at the feet of the presumed earliest burial within this chamber, these ceramic vessels also include a stone vessel.

Deposit of pottery vessels in Chamber 5.

Flower pots – conical deep bowls with perforated bases – are very common New Kingdom types known from Egypt and Nubia (see, for example, Holthoer 1977, pl. 18; Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. II, pl. 132). Their function is still unclear and was much debated. In Sai, they are both attested in the Egyptian town and cemetery SAC5. The best parallels from a funerary context on the island for our new deposit come from the neighboring Tomb 7, excavated by the French Mission. In the main burial chamber of this tomb, a cluster of vessels was found in the south-east corner, including five flower pots (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. I, 49).

Datable to the early-mid 18th Dynasty, these ceramic vessels are key markers to reconstruct the phases of use within Tomb 26. The current task for understanding its complete use-life is to collect all available information (objects, pottery, stratigraphical information, human remains, C14 dates etc.) and process these data with reference to each other.

References

Holthoer 1977 = Holthoer, Rostislav, New Kingdom Pharaonic Sites. The Pottery, The Scandinavian Joint Expedition to Sudanese Nubia Vol. 5:1, Lund 1977.

Minault-Gout/Thill 2012 = Minault-Gout, Ann / Thill, Florence, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 69, 2 vols., Cairo 2012.

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.