End of fieldwork on Sai Island

After very intense last days – with severe attacks by nimiti-flies from 6:45 am onwards – and a total of 10 successful weeks, we finished fieldwork on Friday and returned back to Khartoum yesterday. Most of the team has left already this morning; Cajetan and me stay two more days to arrange our export samples and other things.
To be very honest: I am still too tired to write up a proper summary of this simply amazing season! I am also too impressed by all of the finds from the last days – the big cellars we excavated in square 4D at SAV1 East were better preserved than originally thought. Their discovery itself did not come as a surprise – thanks to Martin Fera and his close look on the map of the geophysical survey back in 2011, we were expecting something similar like feature 15.

The two new cellars in Sq. 4D during excavation.


Feature 83, the southern cellar, was exposed first, because it was disturbed by a later pit in its central and western part. The pavement in the eastern part was still preserved and yielded some nice in situ finds of pottery and animal bones.

Cellar 85 with its vault still in place.


Feature 85, situated in the north, however, was much better preserved: at least it was not disturbed by pits from above. Part of its vault is still in place, only its side walls have collapsed and covered the lower part of the cellar. A really amazing find, very unexpected for SAV1 East in general – and very challenging for the very last week of a fieldwork project!
Both new cellars are similar in date and belong to the major Thutmoside building phase at SAV1 East – contemporaneous to Building A. They add important data to the general layout of the town and the functional interpretation of SAV1 East.

For now a big “thank you” to all the brave workmen and the staff working at SAV1 East – including the “magazine guys” who helped us finishing on the very last day, despite of the black flies attacks! When even the workman who never never never wears a mosquito net does ask for one and then does not take it off for one second, you really know that these last weeks were like hell – but with much reward regarding the archaeology of New Kingdom Sai!

Tomb 26 – a short update from the field

As recently highlighted on the “Archäologieblog” at DerStandard.at, Tomb 26 really yielded fantastic finds, especially in the current 2017 season.

We have finished clearing Chamber 6 (holding the burial of Khnummose and presumably his wife) and now also Chamber 5. In the latter, all together a minimum of nine adults and two infants (one pre-natal) were buried – with quite rich equipment and nicely preserved, although partly smashed because of the collapsed roof of the chamber.
The best preserved and probably two earliest burials were put in East-West direction (head to the west) in the southern part of the chamber. Probably a male and a female, these two burials resemble the ones discovered in Chamber 6 – remains of the painted wooden coffins, the wooden funerary masks with eye inlays and gold foil applications were found as well as faience scarabs and intact pottery vessels. Most exciting are here four small pottery vessels which were found next to clay lids with human heads – a very charming small sized variant of clay canopic jars!

Some of the finds including pottery “canopic vessels” in the head area of the southernmost burial in Chamber 5.


But the highlight of Chamber 5 is clearly a very nicely worked scarab ring made in gold and silver – still found in situ between the legs of a female individual close to the entrance of the chamber. The quality of it is simply amazing, really the work of a very skilled craftsman – probably a master goldworker…

Not only the highlight from Chamber 5, but one of the most beautiful objects from Tomb 26!


Unfortunately, no personal names have survived from Chamber 5. The pottery and funerary equipment suggests a date in the mid-18th Dynasty, thus very close to Khnummose’s burial – for now, I would therefore like to suggest that at least some of the persons buried in the western Chamber 5 were related to the master gold worker Khnummose. The quality of the finds, especially the jewelry and also the use of gold foil, would definitely seem suitable for a family of gold workers living on Sai during the 18th Dynasty.
Tomb 26 will keep us very busy in the next weeks and months – but for now, loads of thanks go to Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager for their excellent job – alf mabruk, more than well done!

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.

Work in progress in Chamber 5, Tomb 26: more bones, pots & some crocodiles

Week 7 of our field season on Sai just ended – and kept us very busy in Tomb 26. After having finished documenting the burial of Khnum-mes and his wife in Chamber 6, we are now concentrating on Chamber 5 – our hidden western chamber, discovered In January. I am delighted that Marlies Wohlschlager arrived earlier this week, working now jointly with Andrea Stadlmayr as the project’s bioarchaeologists on the burials in this part of Tomb 26.

The nicest find from Chamber 5 so far was just taken out today – a small, quite fragile scarab in faience. Its back part has a wonderful decoration pattern showing a lion, a crocodile (which almost looks like a human/prisoner, maybe not a coincidence…) and a snake.

With two amulets in the shape of crocodiles discovered close by at another individual (and, as yet, still left in place), crocodiles seem to have been preferred themes within the funerary equipment of Chamber 5. Since we have not viewed a single living crocodile during this season, really much welcomed!

Valentine’s day compliments from Tomb 26

In honor of Valentine’s day, we thought we would share with you a tribute worthy of Hathor herself.

SAC5 349
L: 8.4cm
W: 6.1cm
H: 2.1cm

As highlighted earlier this week, the burial of Khnum-mes is a treasure trove of Eighteenth Dynasty funerary goods, a period that emphasized quality and artisanship over quantity. Amongst the assemblage is a large stone heart scarab, shaped as a rather abstract beetle. The opposing side is inscribed with Chapter 30 from the Book of the Dead. Though the name of the owner is rarely incorporated into this text, the proximity to the body and similarities to the associated shabti make the identification certain.

We all know that there are few things more romantic than a dung beetle, this is not just a standard heart scarab. In the gap between the upper register and the curved top, an additional inscription has been added. Clearly in a second hand—and rather scruffy for even the standards of heart scarabs—a dedication to the lady of the house has been scratched into the surface. Unfortunately, the name is less clear and the two horizontal lines encompass a number of options. Thus, though the scarab itself appears to belong to the assemblage of Khnum-mes, the naming of his wife quite probably identifies the female body of the chamber (which seems to have been buried slightly later). A married couple, together for eternity. Love memorialized on a dung beetle.

Summary of week 6, field season 2017

Week 6 in Tomb 26 focused on the very nicely equipped burial of Khnum-mes in Chamber 6. Documenting it was getting more and more challenging – it is directly next to the northern wall of the chamber, leaving little space cleaning its northern side and for taking photos for Structure From Motion surface models…

Stone shabti of Khnum-mes in situ.


In addition to his nicely painted coffin and funerary mask and the high-quality stone shabti, Khnum-mes has four stone vessels, two of which are inscribed with his name!

A large-sized scarab just came up yesterday, resting outside the southern side of the now decayed coffin, not yet fully exposed. But like the shabti, this piece is very nicely made and will hopefully give us the name of the deceased. Palaeographic comparisons might even allow some judgement whether these two pieces of mid-18th-Dynasty elite funerary equipment were made in the same workshop…
The second burial in Chamber 6 remained anonymous so far. It had some pottery vessels as burial gifts as well as a nice collection of miniature stone and pottery vessels! Together with Khnum-mes, Chamber 6 yielded a total of 6 stone vessels – quite a considerable amount.

Work in the western Chamber 5 makes very good progress thanks to the efforts by Andrea. However, the situation in the northern part is very difficult. A minimum of 5, possibly more, individuals are buried there below debris, very close to each other and partly superimposing another – a real challenge for cleaning and very time consuming!
Some nice finds were already made in this part of Chamber 5 – a small crocodile amulet and a scarab; more are to be expected in the upcoming week!

An eye for an eye…

As reported, the burials we are currently excavating in Tomb 26 were buried in Egyptian style in wooden coffins – unfortunately, with all the flooding of the chambers little of the wood has survived. We are mostly dealing with “negative” coffins – slightly darker outlines in the flood levels and sometimes decayed wood with traces of pigments. The colors white, blue and yellow are most common – there are also traces of red.
What has survived slightly better, are parts of the funerary masks – and here especially inlays. Already during the French excavations in neighboring tombs in SAC5, eyes of such funerary masks were found (see Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. 1, 166, vol. 2, pl. 88).
In Tomb 26, a very nicely preserved eye pair is associated with the individual whom we can tentatively identify as Khnum-mes thanks to his shabti found last week.

One eye was laying upside-down next to the skull (blue arrow), the other one was found a bit further down the body close to the chest. The first was removed today, in order to continue cleaning the head part of the coffin – and it turned out to be the left one, nicely corresponding to its find location.

Both eyes are perfectly worked – the iris, set into white plaster, is made in a hard, black stone, giving a very natural appearance! Metallic outlines of the eye underline the high quality work of the mask which must have been really stunning when completely preserved.
In addition to Khnum-mes’ funerary mask, we have fragments of at least two more – insha’allah more pieces will turn up in the next days.

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

Summary of week 5, Tomb 26

We made very good progress working in Tomb 26 this week. Excavation and cleaning continues in the western, “hidden” Chamber 5 and in the northern, lower Chamber 6.

In Chamber 5, the southern third of the chamber has been cleaned, revealing 2 in situ burials in extended position, oriented East-West. The second burial was badly smashed below debris from the roof and partly covered with collapsed plaster. Ceramic vessels and other finds had been placed at both the feet and the head – the most remarkable  new find from this week is a nicely worked heart scarab! This piece is still left in situ, as are all the other finds and human remains – if space allows it, we would like of course a final SFM documentation of all burials in the chamber. A minimum of 4 more burials are still waiting for us!

Chamber 5, note the collapsed plaster.

Chamber 6 is getting more and more exciting! We have finally reached the base of the trench giving access to this chamber – the chamber itself is only 80-100 cm high and with an east-west extension of 220-230 cm quite small. However, and these are the big news from this week, large enough to hold 2 wooden coffins and 2 burials!

Chamber 6 with remains of two burials placed in wooden coffins.

The remains of the coffins, placed with the head to the west, parallel to the side walls, are very fragile – decayed wood, faded plaster remains and traces of blue, white, yellow and red were documented. Best preserved are the head parts of the two coffins. In each of them, the skull is a bit misplaced – possibly because of all the sediment/water floods that filled the chamber until the top.

As already announced earlier this week, a small cluster of miniature vessels and more flower pots were used as burial gifts in Chamber 6. The biggest discovery, however, was made yesterday, just before lunch time: between the two coffin heads, two stone vessels and a broken flower pot appeared a few days ago. While cleaning them and the outline of the northern coffin, I found another object made in stone: a beautiful stone shabti, lying on its side looking towards the northern coffin!

It’s a very high quality product, finding parallels in the 18th Dynasty tombs excavated by the French mission in SAC5. The shabti in Chamber 6 is of course still in place and not completely cleaned, thus the inscription is not yet readable in total. But the name of its owner is already visible and for the AcrossBorders project, it is simply perfect: he is a wab-priest with the name Khnum-mes, thus a very nice indirect reference to the First Cataract region and AcrossBorders’s other working site in Egypt, Elephantine!

The newly discovered shabti of Khnum-mes.

Much to look forward to in the upcoming week! For now, we’re having a well-deserved weekend after a busy week full of excitement and important discoveries.

Much excitement in Chamber 6

Today was quite full of important discoveries in Tomb 26… While Andrea is still working on the nicely preserved in situ-burials in Chamber 5, the new, western “hidden” chamber, I was occupied with the northern, lower Chamber 6 during the last days. We have finally reached the base of the trench giving access to this chamber – with a total of 128 cm depth, it is more or less as deep as expected.
What came somehow as a surprise are the finds inside the chamber. Already yesterday it was clear that we have two extended burials side by side, east-west oriented, head to the west. For the southern one, a small cluster of miniature vessels, nicely placed in a dish was also already known. Two new flower pots appeared yesterday at the feet of the northern individual! Making it now a full dozen of complete flower pots this season so far :-)!

Most important, however, is that I was able to clean something just a bit west of the cranium of the southern individual which allows only one interpretation: fragile plaster remains and faded wood, but clearly the outline of the top part of an anthropoid coffin!

The coffin was nicely flanked by pottery and stone vessels – in addition to the vessels placed in the dish to its south, it had two more stone vessels and one (or two) pottery vessels (guess what shape? of course flower pots again!) just north of the head part.

Although the state of preservation of the bones is rather low, Chamber 6 has already produced many important finds and rich insights for the early use of Tomb 26!