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!

On the way to Elephantine, Egypt

The 2016 season on Elephantine Island is approaching and promises exciting results like last year! Meg, Oliver and I are flying today, all eager to get back to House 55 and its rich inventory of small finds and pottery. The 2016 season will concentrates on this material and its comparison with Sai, illustrating the strong links between the First Cataract area and the region of Upper Nubia.

Of course we’ll keep you posted!

The journey of a New Kingdom beer jar

Hello, it’s us, Vanessa and Daniela!

After working for the project for over a year now, we finally made our first blog entry. We wanted to show you how a pottery illustration from the original sherd to the final drawing is generated.

The development of a pottery illustration for a publication from a single sherd is a long process and includes a lot of different steps in different locations. After the discovery and documentation of the sherd or complete pot, the object first has to be cleaned. This of course happens in the field.

The next step is to create a drawing of the specific piece.

Bild 1 Bild 2

For that it is measured and drawn as detailed and accurate as possible. The diameter and ultimate height are taken, as well as its specific attributes, like coloured rims or other elements of decoration, which are included in the drawing. In the case of the lower part of the beer jar illustrated here, details like finger impressions around the base must be given. This step takes place at the magazine on Sai, where working photos of the pottery are taken as well.

Bild 3But after the field season is finished the work on the sherd has to be processed. Whereas in former times the final drawing for the publication was done by hand, we now create a digitized version of the drawings that were made on Sai.

In the new office of the project, we are well equipped for this last step. We are working with an Adobe Program on an interactive tablet to “re-draw” the sherd once again and create a vector graphic. For that, the outlines of the object are generated with the original drawing as the initial point. Then the inner lines, details or decorative parts of the sherd are transferred.

Bild 4Bild 5Bild 6Bild 7

It is important that this step is very accurate, because the original size and form of the sherd must not be changed. The object is named and the file is saved in different formats to be used with other programs.

So for the process of developing this final drawing, the piece of pottery has journeyed over hundreds of miles and a lot of months, from the actual sherd on Sai to the graphic illustration in our office in Munich.

Late Ramesside use of Tomb 26

Post-excavation processing of all the data from tomb 26 is ongoing and we’re making good progress. It became clear already in 2015 that the use-life of Tomb 26 where the pyramidion of the Deputy of Kush Hornakht was found is very complex. All of the major phases of use of elite cemetery SAC5 are reflected in the objects and ceramics from Tomb 26: mid to late 18th Dynasty, 19th Dynasty, Late Ramesside, Pre-Napatan and Napatan (see Thill 2006-2007). Scarabs, stone vessels, pilgrim flasks and complete ceramic vessels are particularly significant.

Bild1Today, I would like to focus on a large, almost intact amphora found along the north wall of burial chamber 1 in Tomb 26. It was solidly stuck in several layers of dense flood deposits, lying partly lower than remains of individuals in this area which are therefore likely to be younger (or not in place/re-deposited). However, some human bones appeared also below the amphora. The vessel which finds good parallels in both Egypt and Nubia is therefore significant for the relative dating of some of the interments in Tomb 26. Unfortunately, it was found almost isolated. Two broken simple dishes with a red rim and round base were found next to it, on its southern side between the human remains. These vessels correspond to the dating of the amphora itself: the Late Ramesside period (Dynasty 20, see Aston 2004).

Tomb 26 AmphoraAlmost no material from Dynasty 20 is known from the New Kingdom town of Sai – in order to understand the possible end of the New Kingdom occupation on the island, cemetery SAC5 and here also Tomb 26 are therefore of great importance.

References

Aston 2004 = David A. Aston, Amphorae in New Kingdom Egypt, Egypt and the Levant 14, 2004, 175–213.

Thill 2006-2007 = Florence Thill, Les réoccupations “(pré)napatéennes” dans la cimetière égyptien 8B5/SAC5 de Sai, in: Mélanges offerts à Francis Geus, CRIPEL 26, 2006-2007, 353–369.

Feature 15 – another update

Giving a lecture about Sai in Hamburg last week, I had not only the pleasure to meet dear colleagues and friends there (and to have a great Abydos-Berlin-reunion!), but also to spend some time thinking about feature 15.

Feature 15 is definitely the highlight of AcrossBorders’ excavations in SAV1 East and has kept us busy ever since 2013. The large subterranean room (5.6 x 2.2 x 1.2m) was dug into the natural gravel deposit and lined with red bricks. Its filling deposit was very rich in archaeological material: large amounts of charcoal, hundreds of dom-palm fruits, abundant animal bones, c. 100 almost intact ceramic vessels and more than 200 clay sealings. The sealings comprise a large number of royal names (Amenhotep I, Hatshepsut and Thutmose III), a seal of the viceroy Nehi and various floral decorations in a style typical for the Second Intermediate Period.

Feature 15_Seite_1Thanks to the stratigraphic sequence, several phases of use can be reconstructed for feature 15. A dating of these building phases was already proposed in 2015, based on the clay sealings and the ceramics (Budka 2015) – the stages show an interesting correspondence with the building phases of Temple A and its surroundings. Most importantly, a section of wall 44, the western boundary wall of the courtyard of Building A, is set into feature 15, thus definitely later in date and sitting on top of the lowermost deposit of feature 15.

It was therefore clear that feature 15 was already in place before one of the main walls of the courtyard of Building A, wall 44, was built. Only this season in 2016, we removed wall 44 and excavated the deposit below it, exposing the westernmost part of feature 15.

The deposit corresponded to the lower filling of feature 15 east of wall 44. Several fragments of pottery and a clay sealing are especially significant. The small fragment of a mud sealing (SAV1E 203) shows a stamp which contains the name of Mn-xpr-ra (Thutmose III), written vertically and without a cartouche, with a nbw-sign beneath. Two uaeri extend downwards from the disc and face the exterior sides of the stamp. The top of the stamp is not preserved.

Feature 15_Seite_2

The results from the 2016 season therefore nicely support the reconstruction of the building phases from 2015 ‒ Building A was extended in the later phase of the reign of Thutmose III (maybe even under Amenhotep II) and wall 44 was set into feature 15 at this stage.

The study of the complete set of finds discovered in feature 15, currently underway, will contribute to the functional analysis of SAV1 East in general and Building A in particular.

Reference:

Budka 2015 = J. Budka, The Pharaonic town on Sai Island and its role in the urban landscape of New Kingdom Kush, Sudan & Nubia 19, 40–53.