Winter in Egypt, week 3 at Elephantine

Having had a very pleasant visit from Friends of the Egyptian Museum in Munich today, I was just reminded that actually winter has arrived in Europe… Someone told me that it’s even supposed to snow in Munich early next week – well, I’d better not think to much about this… Anyway, I thought I share some pictures of the beauty of Aswan, especially for all of you who are not enjoying the very nice weather here in Egypt!

Week 3 just started, some more days to go before I have to head back to Munich (and will face real winter after all…). We are still focusing on Nubian wares and other pottery vessels; Oliver will be concentrating on pots from the early phases of use of House 55 this week. Lucia has already produced wonderful drawings of the numerous net weights and will continue with female figurines in the next days. Daniela is busy polishing the database and completing some entries. Making very good progress, more to come!

Nubian wares of House 55

This working week at Elephantine just flew by… I am back concentrating on another of my favorite topics within the intriguing House 55: the Nubian wares, comprising both fine wares and household wares, including drinking, serving and storage vessels as well as abundant cooking pots.

Most fascinating about the considerable assemblage of Nubian wares is besides the broad spectrum of forms and types that we find them in all levels of use of House 55 – thus, they are not restricted to the earliest phases from the 17th Dynasty and very early 18th Dynasty, but continue well into Thutmoside times. This also holds true for Kerma Black topped fine ware which is in particular of special importance – and of particular interest for us as we find good parallels in the New Kingdom town of Sai and AcrossBorders’ most recent works there.

My database currently holds 222 Nubian vessels from House 55 – 29 are Black topped fine wares, the well-known beakers, but also dishes, and small cups. Three more boxes full of Nubian sherds are still waiting to be documented, so these numbers will definitely increase in the next days. Detailed statistics and assessments of course have to wait until the very end, but the prospects are already really exciting!

Start of week 2 on Elephantine

It’s almost unbelievable – after four busy years, the excavations in House 55 on Elephantine are really finished! Today, Martin Fera took some last photos with the most recent details, including a newly emptied silo, to be added for the image based modelling of the complete building. Documentation will now focus on ceramics and finds – and the aim is, to have an overview at the end of the season of all materials.

The pottery is already well assessed – more drawings and photos will be produced, but with 2000 vessels in the database, the record is now very strong and representative.

The small finds will still keep us busy for a while – currently c. 3600 objects are in the database, but more are still waiting to be recorded. Today, I focused on some re-used sherds which are attested in a very high number. I am in particular interested in the various types of net weights. Most common in House 55 is type C in the classification by Cornelius von Pilgrim (1996). Currently, 64 net weights were recorded and except for one, all fall into this type. The single other weight is type A, the so-called axe-shape type.

Today’s focus: net weights from re-used sherds.

This dominance of type C net weights, mostly produced from Marl C and Marl A4 sherds, is striking – in particular in comparison with Sai Island. As outlined earlier, type C is quite rare in the new Kingdom town of Sai and definitely outnumbered by type A.

In 2013, I was still very unsecure about the interpretation of this difference – with little material excavated on Sai back then, all might have been accidental. But after five seasons on Sai and four seasons of work on House 44, it is now clear that the original line of interpretation is the most likely one, based on a large set of data from both sites.

As von Pilgrim has proposed (von Pilgrim 1996, 275–278) type C, recycled from pottery sherds, seems to represent the ad hoc product for individual needs. The distribution of net weights at Sai was probably organized at a more formal level than in Elephantine, with imported net weights of type A and only rare cases of versions from re-used sherds. A “centralized system of food production” as reflected in the use of net weights of type A was already suggested by Smith for the Middle Kingdom phase at Askut (Smith 2003, 101) and seems to be supported by the evidence from Sai in close comparison with Elephantine.

Tomorrow will be another busy day, full of net weights, sherds and other interesting traces of activities on 18th Dynasty Elephantine!

References

von Pilgrim 1996 = C. von Pilgrim, Elephantine XVIII. Untersuchungen in der Stadt des Mittleren Reiches und des Zweiten Zwischenzeit, AV 91, Mainz am Rhein 1996.

Smith 2003 = St. T. Smith, Wretched Kush. Ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London and New York 2003.

Back at work on Elephantine

The last excavations of the Swiss Institute Cairo in House 55 on Elephantine will start tomorrow – fieldwork is almost finished and during the last 10 days, Martin Fera and Seta Stuhec produced for AcrossBorders a complete photogrammetric documentation. An image based 3D model will soon be available, allowing a better illustration of the complex situation within the buildings with its multiple installations and various rooms.

House 55 was quite a challenge for SFM documentation.

Martin taking the very last photos this afternoon…

The focus of the 2017 season is again on ceramics, small finds and other objects. Daniela and Lucia are busy documenting objects, Oliver is producing pottery drawings and I am processing the remaining ceramic assemblages from the 46th season on Elephantine (fall 2016 and spring 2017). The focus of all of us is on the early phases of use of House 55. I am currently busy with very interesting material from the long corridor in the entrance area of the building – the amount of Nubian pottery is extremely high and raises various questions. Besides typical Pan grave style cooking pots there is also Kerma Black Topped fine ware present as well as Nubian storage vessels.

3 more busy weeks ahead of us and the final season of work at House 55 looks very promising so far!

New release & much progress in Vienna

Wow – what a week already! We’ve been busy working on the photogrammetric processing of digital images from Sai and generating 3D data. Thanks to the kind support of OREA, Cajetan Geiger can not only use our two fieldwork laptops, but also a PowerPC workstation here in Vienna. It’s simply amazing how much faster the processing is with this and we’re making great progress.

Our current focus is on generating maps and 3D models from Tomb 26, especially from the various situations in Chamber 5 and Trench 4. Cajetan is also doing his best in fulfilling my last-minute wishes for illustrations to be used at the conference next week in Munich!

Being already perfectly happy with all of this progress and productive atmosphere, this Viennese success week was yesterday topped by the release of AcrossBorders first monograph! After all of the work we invested in this volume, I am very proud to have the finished product now in my hands. Many thanks go to all who were deeply involved in this book – first of all Florence Doyen, Meg Gundlach and Oliver Frank Stephan.

AcrossBorders I is dedicated to SAV1 North, the sector situated along the northern enclosure wall. It was excavated between 2008 and 2012 by the Sai Island Archaeological Mission (directed in the field by Florence Doyen) and processed within the framework of AcrossBorders. The principal focus of the book is the physical remains of SAV1 North: the architecture and material culture, with emphasis on the pottery and small finds.

Timing of both the new publication and our data processing here in Vienna is just perfect, especially in regards of the upcoming conference!

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 ;-).

In the spotlight: Khnummose and other finds

Summer has definitely arrived in Munich, the teaching term has almost ended and our AcrossBorders conference is quickly approaching.

In the last weeks, Khnummose and his tomb at Sai has received quite some attention, see e.g. an article by Owen Jarus on Life Science (https://www.livescience.com/59534-ancient-nubia-tomb-of-gold-worker-found.html). Interestingly, most articles focused on the question whether the people buried in Tomb 26 were mummified or not – I will discuss this issue as well as other aspects at the upcoming Sudantag of the Staatliches Museum für Ägyptische Kunst, July 29.

Some of the general aims and preliminary results by the AcrossBorders project are presented today on the LMU website. With a small photo gallery, the most important aspects of our work on Sai Island are addressed, focusing on the complex relations between Egyptian and Nubians in the New Kingdom.

LMU website https://www.uni-muenchen.de/index.html, July 24 (screenshot).

Being very proud of and grateful for all the attention paid to Khnummose and other discoveries by AcrossBorders, I am very much looking forward to our upcoming international conference.

AcrossBorders’ closing conference “From Microcosm to Macrocosm”

It is my great pleasure to announce the conference “From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia”, to be held from 1–3 September, 2017 in Munich, hosted by Ludwig-Maximilians-University. Thanks to the kindness of the Egyptian Museum and my colleagues there, the venue of the conference is the lecture hall of the Museum. It is the closing event of the ERC project AcrossBorders and will highlight our recent fieldwork on New Kingdom Sai.

The AcrossBorders project has concentrated in the last five years on settlement patterns in Egypt and Upper Nubia in the 2nd Millennium BC: various interactions and mutual influences are attested for these regions which are situated across ancient (Pharaonic Egypt and Kingdom of Kush) and modern (Egypt and Sudan) borders with diverse environmental and cultural preconditions. Much progress has been made in Egyptian and Nubian settlement archaeology in recent years, but further research addressing general aspects of living conditions and the specific coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians is required. Of chief interest are the architecture and structure of the Egyptian towns established in Upper Nubia during the New Kingdom, their social stratification, the local relations of Nubians and Egyptians and the specific material culture.

The conference focuses therefore on 1) individual households of selected sites in Egypt and Nubia. In addition to this microapproach, introducing microhistories of individual sites according to recent fieldwork and archaeometric applications, the event also discusses 2) general patterns and regional developments –thus, the macrocosm of New Kingdom Nubia.

I am extremely delighted that so many colleagues have accepted our invitation – the program covers a large variety of case studies from Egypt and Nubia. Among others, we will welcome as our distinguished guests Abdelrahman Ali (Director General of NCAM), Manfred Bietak (Prof. em. Vienna and PI of the ERC Advanced Grant “The Hyksos Enigma”), Charles Bonnet (Director of the excavations at Kerma/Doukki Gel), Cornelius von Pilgrim (Director of the Swiss Institute Cairo) and Neal Spencer (Keeper of the Department Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum and Director of the Amara West excavations).

Looking very much forward to this closing event here in Munich!

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.

Piecing the town layout further together

As posted recently, some new observations about the town layout of the New Kingdom Sai are possible thanks to AcrossBorders’ archaeological fieldwork on Sai Island from 2013 until 2017. In a short summary, now available for free online, I stressed that our archaeological excavations were complemented with kite aerial photography, structure from motion approaches, terrestrial 3D laser scans, geoarchaeological surveys, micormorphological soil sampling and various archaeometric analyses of diverse materials. Naturallly, much potential derives from this combination of methods and approaches.

The recent 2017 field season on Sai Island provided some answers to both general research questions, e.g. about the occupation of Sai during the 18th Dynasty, but also to more detailed questions like building phases within individual sectors. Excavations in sector SAV1 East resulted in particular in new insights on the layout and function of the New Kingdom town.

Large subterranean storage rooms were unearthed in rooms with schist floors, stressing the role of Sai as Egyptian administrative center during the mid-18th Dynasty. The new cellars (Feature 83 and 85) and corresponding rooms are comparable to the southern sector of the town, excavated by a French Mission in the 1970s and recently re-studied by Ingrid Adenstedt.

Feature 83 and 85 are probably related to the Egyptian stone temple, Temple A, close by. With our new fieldwork, the town map can therefore be updated and fresh remarks on the internal structure are possible.