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.

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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.

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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.

65 days ago still in the field, now ready for publication: an example for post-excavation working steps

Post-excavation work is keeping us very busy at the moment in Munich, the summer term has also started with teaching and exams. Among the priorities of current tasks is the digitalization of pottery drawings in order to prepare publication-ready illustrations. These days, it was the turn of a very thought-provoking group of vessels: Egyptian cooking pots. One of these vessels is of particular interest.

A large fragment of a cooking pot from Square 4B was among my favourite finds from SAV1 East during the 2016 field season. The vessel, SAV1E P179, found still filled with ashy deposits, was sitting next to the remaining parts of a mud brick wall.

IMG_8133a1Close by, another highlight, SAV1E 1595, a small steatite scarab, was discovered. Both finds, the cooking pot and the scarab, are coming from a room to the west of Building A – traces of pavements and various deposits allow reconstructing several phases of use in the early/mid-18th Dynasty.

Coming back to the cooking pot SAV1E P179: After documenting the vessel in its original find position, we removed it and the content was sieved for further analyses. The cooking pot itself was put on the “priority list” for drawing – Daniela did a great job in Sai, and now in the office with our interactive multi-touch pen display.

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SAV1E P179 gives really significant evidence: stratigraphically datable to the Thutmoside period, it finds close parallels at Elephantine in Upper Egypt. It is a typical example of a wheel-made, authentic Egyptian cooking pot. It was made in a very sandy Nile clay variant which was presumably produced at Elephantine/in the Aswan region – this cooking pot was therefore shipped from Egypt to Sai!

CP SAV1East

Whereas storage vessels and amphorae are commonly transported along the Nile, it is quite remarkable that also cooking pots were transported for long distances to places outside of Egypt. Imported cooking pots allowed Egyptian-style cooking in Sai during the early to mid-18th Dynasty. Obviously authentic cooking pots were considered to be important like SAV1E P179 illustrates. Our ongoing processing of the data suggests that this gradually changed in the course of the 18th Dynasty – the degree of dependence of Sai from Egypt became different and the local production of wheel-made pottery was introduced/increased.

The pottery from Sai Island New Kingdom town promises fascinating insights into the complex and developing microcosm of the site attesting to a co-existence of Egyptian and Nubian elements – we will work hard to decipher as much as possible in the next months.

Some complete pots from tomb 26

After cleaning the shaft of tomb 26 in 2015, its burial chamber kept us busy during this season – not only were there plenty of human remains for Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager, several nice objects like four scarabs and one stone pilgrim flask, but also complete ceramic vessels!

This markedly contrasts with our findings from last year, where bits and pieces were found in the shaft and only some complete vessels at the bottom of the shaft.
Earlier in the 2016 season, our Sudanese trainee from NCAM, Roa, did a great job in joining sherds from the bottom of the shaft with ones from the topmost debris coming from the chamber. Altogether, there was plenty of evidence for several phases of use, plundering and re-use of tomb 26– spanning a long period from the mid/late 18th Dynasty, the Ramesside period to Pre-Napatan and Napatan times!

Excavating the burial chamber in 2016, we were lucky enough to find several intact vessels – most interesting is an assemblage of two slender bottles along the southern wall in the southwest corner.

Cleaning the vessels in the southwestern corner.

Cleaning the vessels in the southwestern corner.

One of them seems to bear a “killing hole”. Close to them, just at the skull of the individual lying there on his back, was a complete Base Ring II jug – a very nice import from Cyprus!

The small intact BR II jug.

The small intact BR II jug.

Another really lovely vessel is a complete zir found along the north wall of the chamber. It was filled with the sediment of the chamber and also yielded foot/leg parts of an infant whose body was found close by.

The intact zir from tomb 26.

The intact zir from tomb 26.

Post-excavation processing of all the data from tomb 26 has just begun – the ceramics will be of prime importance to narrow down the specific phases of use and re-use!

More discoveries in tomb 26: end of week 9

Week 9 of the 2016 season has just ended – work is progressing well in the cemetery (both in tomb 26 and in the area around the shaft) and in the magazine.

The burial chamber of tomb 26 has produced a lot of really nice objects by now – our fourth scarab of 2016 came up this week! It is still inside the chamber, left in situ as found next to the upper leg of one particularly well preserved individual in the southwestern corner. It is made of faience and bears a royal cartouche (finally :-))! Although already readable, we’ll share this news with you on the blog once the scarab is taken out and registered!

Marlies cleaning the area of of the skeleton where the scarab was found.

Marlies cleaning the area of the skeleton where the scarab was found.

One of the other highlights of this week was a very nice, intact stone pilgrim flask. It was discovered close to the upper body area of one of the individuals in the northwestern corner.

IMG_0124aMarlies Wohlschlager and Andrea Stadlmayr were busy cleaning, documenting and removing several skeletons this week – among them a minimum of two infants – lots of interesting material which will tell us more about the complex history of use of tomb 26.

The area around the shaft of tomb 26 was cleaned by the gang of workmen headed by Hassan Dawd and supervised by Vanessa Becker, Cajetan Geiger and Huda Magzoub. A number of interesting finds were made – first of all a beautiful heart scarab and the lower part of a clay shabti – all hinting to the presence of a near-by shaft; however, until now, the cleaned area is void of tombs.

IMG_0172aWork in the magazine is progressing as well – ceramics are washed and reconstructed, then documented by detailed drawings and the registration of objects continues as is photography. Reorganizing boxes, shelves and storage-space is another important task keeping us busy.

The significant mud brick remains within the test trench in SAV1 Northeast were drawn earlier this week by Michaela Janker and Bartlin Schöpflin. During very happy nimiti-days we all have to endure…

IMG_0246aFingers crossed that today’s wind will last for a some days and help to make the upcoming, final week of AcrossBorders season on Sai as productive and nimiti-free as possible!

A “killed” vessel and more human bodies in tomb 26

Work is progressing very well in tomb 26 this week. Martin Fera regularly documents our present state of work using a structure from motion application, saving us much time in producing highly accurate 3D surface models of the complete chamber as well as of detailed situations.

One of the interesting new finds in the burial chamber is that more complete vessels were partly unearthed in the southwestern chamber. I was especially delighted that one of them, when further cleaned today, shows clear signs of a “ritual killing”! An intentional perforation is visible on its junction of the neck to the body.

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The vessel is a very nice tall-necked red-washed bottle and most Egyptologists will probably now think of the famous “Breaking of the Red Pots”. This Egyptian ritual is attested since the Old Kingdom (Pyramid Texts) and there has been the tendency to associate every ritual that involved the smashing of pottery vessels with the “Breaking of the Red Pots” (cf. Seiler 2005, 178; Budka 2014). Recently the awareness increased that pots with killing holes appear within Egyptian and also Nubian contexts over a very long time span and should be separated from the “Breaking of the Red Pots”. Like in other cultures, there are a number of different pot breaking rituals embedded in the funerary sphere in ancient Egypt and Sudan – they are especially common in the 2nd and 1st millennium BC and there is no universal interpretation for all of these broken or perforated vessels.

We have to be patient whether any clues why and when the vessel in tomb 26 was intentionally perforated come up during the course of exposing it and its context further – for now I would simply call it a killed pot, probably to render the vessel “useless”, but with the awareness that other explanations are possible.

Apart from our “killed” vessel, Marlies and Andrea are finding more and more fragments of new individuals while working on the fragile human remains. This rich and quite complex situation in the burial chamber of tomb 26 will keep us busy in the next weeks!

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References

Budka 2014: Julia Budka, Egyptian impact on pot-breaking ceremonies at Kurru? A re-examination, in The Fourth Cataract and Beyond. Proceedings of the 12th International Conference for Nubian Studies, ed. by Julie R. Anderson & Derek A. Welsby, British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 1, Leuven 2014, 641–654.

Seiler 2005: Anne Seiler, Tradition & Wandel. Die Keramik als Spiegel der Kulturentwicklung in der Zweiten Zwischenzeit, Sonderschriften des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts Abteilung Kairo 32, Mainz am Rhein 2005.

Summary of week 7 at Sai Island: focusing on tombs, ceramics & finds

Week 7 of AcrossBorders’ 2016 season has just ended – it was a very busy week – with the start of work in the cemetery, the arrival of a group of German students from Munich (all newcomers to Sai), our Austrian physical anthropologists (Marlies Wohlschlager and Andrea Stadlmayr) and the departure of our distinguished external experts Dietrich and Rosemarie Klemm (LINK). Today, two other team members, Sayantani Neogi and Sean Taylor have left Sai and are returning to Europe after a rich season of landscape archaeology with special assistance by THE sandstone experts from Munich…

Fieldwork focused in week 7 on cemetery SAC5 – and here both on tomb 26 and the neighboring area. A sector towards the south and southeast of tomb 26 was cleaned in order to check the existence of other shaft tombs – until now, unsuccessfully, but with plenty of pottery and bones attesting the use of the site as burial place during the 18th Dynasty, Ramesside times, Pre-Napatan and Napatan era.

First surface cleaning in SAC5 earlier this week.

First surface cleaning in SAC5 earlier this week.

In tomb 26, we started removing the uppermost flood deposits in the burial chamber, finding very fragile human remains. It was thus time to pass work in the chamber on to Marlies and Andrea in order that they can document the original position of the bones and their distribution – they did a great job cleaning the very fragile pieces as best as possible. A minimum number of 4 individuals were found still more or less in position in the northwestern corner of the chamber.

Marlies and Andrea busy in the burial chamber of tomb 26.

Marlies and Andrea busy in the burial chamber of tomb 26.

We were busy cleaning and documenting these remains in the last days – so it still remains unclear whether they are from the first phase of burial (plundered) or maybe a slightly re-deposited secondary phase. The latter seems more likely from my perspective. And there is still hope for more remains below this level of burial remains – a very nice scarab is still sealed in solid mud debris just in the entrance area. We’ll keep you updated in the next 3 weeks to come!

Very promising: a scarab close to the entrance of the burial chamber!

Very promising: a scarab close to the entrance of the burial chamber!

With the Munich group arriving, life in the magazine has quite changed for our registrar Meg: three students busy with drawing ceramics, one assisting her with several registration tasks! Two workmen are washing sherds from both the town and the cemetery – so also the courtyard is well occupied.

The small finds from SAV1 West and SAV1 East excavated in this season are now all registered and most of them photographed. One of my personal favorites is coming from feature 15 – no surprise given all the great finds unearthed in this cellar! This tiny figure of a ram functioned as a lid or stopper for a very small vessel– it is unique in our contexts so far and definitely one of the highlights of 2016.

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Summary of week 5 at Sai Island, Pharaonic town

As planned, excavations at SAV1 West have come to an end after 5 weeks. At SAV1 East, there are still small things to do – first of all, the final cleaning in feature 15, the large cellar which yielded numerous clay sealings and complete pottery vessels in 2015. The westernmost part of the structure was left unexcavated last year.

At SAV1 West, work focused during this week on feature 123, a very interesting, but still obscure structure with several building phases. In the surroundings of feature 123, remains of occupation deposits and some pavements were documented.

Feature 123 had several building phases and experienced modifications during its lifespan.

Feature 123 had several building phases and experienced modifications during its lifespan.

We also returned to Square 1NW – located in the norther western part of SAV1 West, first opened in 2014 and covering an area in front of the enclosure wall, outside of the Pharaonic town. Interesting remains of mud brick structures and floor levels were observed and will be documented in the upcoming week – hopefully we will be able to add information to the layout of the western façade of the 18th Dynasty enclosure wall – and the later reuse of this area outside of the town.

With the arrival of Sean Taylor and Sayantani Neogi, some micromorphologial samples were taken in SAV1 West and SAV1 East. Complementing our digital landscape model based on kite photography by Martin Fera, Sean and Sayantani also started augering in the western part of the site in order to understand the ancient topography within the context of the New Kingdom town.

Work at SAV1 East focused on the extension towards the northwest – Square 4B1 yielded not only in situ schist fragments and fragmentary walls, but also a very nice sandstone column.

Overview of Square 4B1 in SAV1 East with a sandstone column close to the in situ-remains of the schist pavement. Note the differences in levels!

Overview of Square 4B1 in SAV1 East with a sandstone column close to the in situ-remains of the schist pavement. Note the differences in levels!

Some areas at SAV1 East with 18th Dynasty deposits in Squares 4B and 4C like the one below the in situ baking plate will be excavated in the upcoming week (the deposit has already been sampled for micromorphology).

Finally, we opened a new test trench in the northern part of the town area, just above the sandstone cliff (labelled SAV1 Northeast) – the aim is to check whether an eastern enclosure wall is traceable in this area or not. We are still just below the surface, but some remains of bricks and a promising sandy area were already revealed. Interestingly, Ramesside sherds were present among the ceramics.

Of course, work on the pottery and objects continued simultaneously with the excavation. From SAV1 West, 430 baskets of pottery were processed in 2016! But this is beaten by SAV1 East which yielded a total of 610 baskets… in retrospect, really amazingly large numbers of ceramics! Thanks to these amounts, the phasing and corpus from both sectors are now well established.

Our registrar Meg Gundlach was very busy with a considerable number of finds in the last week – one of the highlights from the town excavation in 2016 is definitely the scarab SAV1 East 1595. I was lucky to find it myself while cleaning the floor in one of the rooms attached to feature 51 in SAV1 East. The scarab beetle itself, made from steatite (12 x 16 mm), has been hacked off, leaving just the decoration on the back. A crudely carved winged cobra/vulture holds a shen-ring with her talons, protecting an empty cartouche in front of her.

SAV1E 1595a combined (thumbnail)Week 6 will allow documenting and describing the excavated features in more detail; and we will also start our landscape survey in the area to the south of Gebel Abri. Very excited about the upcoming tasks and happy with the results so far!