New thoughts on layout and planning of New Kingdom town of Sai

My paper with the title “Crossing Borders: Settlement Archaeology in Egypt and Sudan” has just been published in the latest volume of Near Eastern Archaeology (Vol. 80, No. 1, March 2017, pp. 14-21), see https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5615/neareastarch.80.1.0014?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

Based on the fresh data from AcrossBorders’ excavations on Sai Island between 2013 and 2017, this paper presents the current state of knowledge regarding the evolution of the New Kingdom town of Sai.  Its potential for general aspects of settlement archaeology in New Kingdom Egypt and Kush are highlighted. New evidence for a landing place in the early Eighteenth Dynasty as well as fresh information about the Thutmoside temple town are presented.

Screenshot of 3D model of the New Kingdom town of Sai, overbuilt by the Ottoman fortress in the south. View from the south. Illustration by Martin Fera.

Furthermore, I try to argue that AcrossBorders’ excavation results suggest some new thoughts about the development of this town with its orthogonal city map: despite of its obvious urban planning as a royal foundation, the site of Sai also illustrates dynamic aspects of Egyptian towns which must have been very common. These aspects reflect local microhistories and show common deviations from what we consider as “standard types” in both architecture and material culture.

These first thoughts highlighted in the NEA paper will be followed further by still ongoing archaeometric, micromorphological and other analyses of various materials as well as the final assessment of the excavation results in sectors SAV1 East and SAV1 West.

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!

Exposing in situ-remains of Dynasty 18

Week 4 of fieldwork in SAV1 West and SAV1 East was very busy and fruitful – in both areas we have by now exposed in situ-remains dating from Dynasty 18, the main occupation phase of the New Kingdom site.

At SAV1 West, work in Square 1S, partly excavated in 2015, was continued – and feature 123 along the southern baulk of the trench is getting more and more exciting. We have not yet cleaned its foundation level, but have reached clear occupational deposits of high interest.

Feature 123 in SAV1 West, Sq. 1S, was exposed further.

Feature 123 in SAV1 West, Sq. 1S, was exposed further.

Work was also continued in the “wall street” – exposing more layers which will hopefully be of excitement for our micromorphologists arriving next week!

At SAV1 East, a very nice area for bread making (on a flat baking plate) was discovered – the baking plate was cut and partly hacked away like all the surrounding structures and layers. BUT: below the plate there are still 20 cm of occupational deposit – very exciting and again a task for Sean Taylor and Sayantani Neogi!

With two walls in Square 4B going into the northern baulk, we were forced to extent our excavation area: Square 4B1 covers 3 extra meters to the north and to the west.

The new extension at SAV1 East, Sq. 4B1.

The new extension at SAV1 East, Sq. 4B1.

And here we really found the extension of the walls. Most importantly, my assumption that we had remains of a collapsed schist pavement in the northwestern corner of Square 4B was proven to be correct: yesterday just before noon, I cleaned the scarce but definitely solid and in situ remains of a very nice schist pavement! It was not easy to find, as it is was literally covered by mud brick debris and is cut off from all four sides!

View on scarce remains of what used to be a schist pavement - cut off on all edges in medieval time.

View on scarce remains of what used to be a schist pavement – cut off on all edges in medieval time.

All in all, with this last puzzle piece, it is now completely clear that our large rooms/magazine areas equipped with the sophisticated schist pavement extended to the west – of much importance for understanding the town plan of Sai.

In terms of pottery, I already shared some excitement about very nice findings from SAV1 West. At SAV1 East, it is less spectacular, but very interesting: still, mostly bread and beer! And all pottery associated so far with the walls and pavements are clearly mid-18th Dynasty in date, most probably Thutmose III.  Our 2016 results therefore nicely back up the work of years 2013-2015.

Since Ken Griffin is back to teaching at Swansea, Meg Gundlach is carrying on with the registration of finds on her own at the moment – assisted by Huda Magzoub for some Munselling, and more assistants will arrive in mid-February. There were a number of really exciting finds this week – animal figurines, female figurines and most importantly the first seal impression of this season from SAV1 East!

After 4 four weeks of excavation, I am very happy with the progress so far and looking much forward to the results of the upcoming week…

Finally: a schist floor found in situ at SAV1 East

Sometimes the greatest finds just come up 30 min before the end of a day… Our week 2 just ended perfectly: finally, after two years of documenting large fragments of schist with plaster at SAV1 East – obviously dismantled pavements of rooms – we located in situ remains of a substantial mud brick wall with abutting plaster and schist!

In the southwestern corner of Square 4C, a large sandstone block caught our attention. It was dumped between mud brick debris; a faded line of brick was soon visible a bit further to the east. Cleaning these bricks today, I realized that they are the last remains of a large wall, running almost north-south, thus with a similar alignment as Building A.

Still attached to the small section of this wall, there is a large plate of schist and lots of plaster. There was no time today to properly clean the area, but the sandstone block is definitely also sitting on this schist pavement!

IMG_7038Of course it is still too early to speculate about the shape, size and function of this room – but the new elaborate schist floor finds its best parallel in the large magazines in the southern part of the New Kingdom town. Very exciting and looking much forward to the upcoming week of fieldwork!

Déjà-vu at SAV1 East: more negative walls?

Being back on an excavation, one quite often has the feeling of never having been away – the same routine again, time flies by… Today was particularly full of déjà-vu at SAV1 East – not only are the nimiti-flies already active as ever, the Gebel Abri the same splendid scenery as always, but there are also strikingly similar findings to the last years.

IMG_6737aIn our new Square 4B, located towards the west of our former area, part of a mudbrick wall was found in situ – however, with the sandy filling next to it and a deep pit in line with it, this all reminds me a lot of earlier finds in other squares. I am quite convinced that the bricks are nothing else than the remains of a substantial wall which was otherwise completely removed in Christian/Ottoman times. Thus, we have probably located another negative wall at SAV1 East!

Maybe a new negative wall in SAV1 East?

Maybe the first traces of a new negative wall in SAV1 East?

Although for once, I would have preferred a standing structure in this sector of the New Kingdom town, I am very happy with the results of the last days. We will be able to trace at least parts of the outline of a seemingly substantial building dating to the 18th Dynasty and investigate its relation to Building A. All in all, our ongoing fieldwork will produce fresh and important information about the internal structure of the town. Of course we’ll keep you posted!

Making progress – post and pre-excavation working steps

Another jour fixe brought most of AcrossBorders’ team members together yesterday – after a very intense summer full of excavations in Egypt (Asasif, Abydos…), lab work (geoarchaeological samples, strontium isotope analysis, mollusks…), data base updates (pottery) & conferences (Florence, Vienna, Athens)!

Currently travelling back and forth between Vienna and Munich, I am very happy that the planned publications by Ingrid Adenstedt (reconstruction of SAV1; architectural report) and Florence Doyen (SAV1 North) are well in time and almost completed. Furthermore, nice first results came up from the strontium isotope analysis!

Within the framework of my FWF START-project, a first set of samples from Sai Island (soil, water, recent and ancient animal bones) were processed, thanks to a cooperation with Thomas Prohaska, at the Department of Chemistry – VIRIS Laboratory of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. Anika Retzmann presented these data at the 3rd Doc Day 2015 in Tulln, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences on Oct. 13. The poster was entitled “Human mobility along the Nile: Preliminary strontium isotope analyses for migration studies in ancient Nubia” and illustrated the Sr isotope ratio of the environmental samples from Sai Island. Very exciting already and I am looking much forward to the next field season and further sampling!

Besides lab work and databases, we are currently also getting ready for the upcoming season on Elephantine! Work will again focus on the pottery and small finds from House 55 and is scheduled for late October until early December. With the new discovery of feature 15 and its contents at SAV1 East, I am excited to conduct a fresh comparison of aspects of the material culture from Sai and Elephantine during the early to mid-18th Dynasty. Now off to Vienna, we’ll keep you posted!

Small steps forward into the terrain of settlement archaeology in Egypt & Nubia

With a splendid evening lecture by Dominique Valbelle, the AcrossBorders workshop “Settlements patterns in Egypt and Nubia” came to an end. I am very grateful to all participants for making it a successful and also very pleasant event! Special thanks go to all AcrossBorders’ team members and the LMU students helping with the organization. The location of the workshop was just perfect – many thanks again to the Egyptian State Museum Munich – and here not only to the first and second directors Silvia Schoske and Arnulf Schlüter, but also to Dietrich Wildung. His special offer of a guided tour through the galleries was much appreciated by all participants – it complemented the programme of the workshop in a perfect way and illustrated the complex and changing relations between Egypt and Nubia/Sudan throughout the millennia.

Most talks were concentrating on settlement architecture and the planning of settlements. Ingrid Adenstedt presented her 3D reconstruction of the Pharaonic town on Sai – from my perspective a very big step forward for a better understanding of the evolution of the site! Florence Doyen shared her by now much advanced assessment of SAV1 North, proposing interesting ideas about the layout and foundation of the town on Sai.

Cornelius von Pilgrim impressed everyone with speaking about the intriguing house 55 on Elephantine island – I really can’t wait for our upcoming field season to go back there and continue sorting out the complex phases of use of this unusual structure!

Amara West and its huge potential were beautifully presented by Neal Spencer – the state of preservation of the mud brick houses is simply amazing. Manfred Bietak closed Day 1 with new observations on the structure and function of the monumental palace of the Middle Kingdom in Bubastis.

Day 2 was opened with a very interesting session dedicated to settlement patterns in Prehistoric times and to the Pre-Kerma and Kerma periods. Elena Garcea presented her work at Khartoum Variant, Abkan and Pre-Kerma sites at Amara West and on Sai – and was able to pose some thought-provoking questions highly relevant also for the historic periods.

Giulia D’Ercole and Johannes Sterba presented their ongoing chemical analyses of Nubian and Egyptian style sherds from Sai. Johannes got huge complements afterwards: “A contribution by a scientist which was completely understandable!” Of course I totally agree.

Recent discoveries in the ceremonial city of Kerma were the topic of Charles Bonnet’s talk – he showed beautiful 3D reconstructions of these very peculiar buildings of an African kind of architecture. Kate Spence used Sesebi as a case study to pose several key questions for our understanding of so-called temple towns. Her assessment that it is crucial to understand the foundation processes of these sites seems especially noteworthy.

Stuart Tyson Smith led us to Tombos, one of the major bounderies between the Nubian and Egyptian realm during the New Kingdom. He focused on a very large, enigmatic building of 18th Dynasty date found in recent excavations. So much more remains to be excavated at this important site at the Third Cataract!

The last afternoon session was dedicated to 18th Dynasty Egypt – the important site of South Abydos, the Ahmose town, was presented by Stephen Harvey. He addressed not only the oracle cult of Ahmose, but also interesting ideas about ancestor’s cult.

The paper by Anna Stevens was the perfect transition to the final discussion: Anna addressed community and sub-communities at Amarna and raised important issues. “How much did the occupants feel they are part of their/a community” would nicely apply to open but crucial questions we have regarding the occupants of Egyptian sites in Kush – all of us working there have found increasing evidence for a complex social stratification and the entanglement of Egyptian and Nubian cultures.

Dominique Valbelle considered a wide range of textual records for the assessment of settlement patterns in Egypt and Nubia – most importantly, she showed us new material from the excavations in Dokki Gel.

Without doubt, the ongoing excavations of the international missions working in Northern Sudan have widened our understanding of the complexity of settlement patterns in Nubia. There is some hope that we will continue in these lines and might also be able to learn more about Egyptian urbanism by taking into accounts the sites located in Kush.

“Settlement patterns in Egypt & Nubia”: Workshop in Munich, 29-30 June

AcrossBorders focuses 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.

To provide a platform for the scientific exchange and discussion of ongoing research, AcrossBorders will hold a workshop at the end of June. Thanks to the kind support by my colleagues in the Egyptian Museum Munich, the event will take place in the museum. Bringing together all of AcrossBorders’ cooperation partners and other distinguished colleagues working on settlement sites in Egypt and Nubia, the upcoming 2-day workshop in Munich will focus on recent fieldwork at key sites like Elephantine, Amara West, Sesebi and Sai Island. Diverse evidence and new findings relevant for establishing standards of living at the respective towns will be discussed. The programme comprises a range of interesting topics, covering a time span from the Neolithic period to the New Kingdom and introducing current research from Bubastis in the North to Kerma in the South.

Budka Summary titlePresentations about Sai by AcrossBorders researchers will start the event: Giving an overview of three field seasons, I will present, among others, feature 15 and its implications for understanding the evolution of the fortified town of Sai. Ingrid Adenstedt will show her latest results working on the town map of Sai. Area SAV1 North is the focus of the research conducted by Florence Doyen. Giulia D’Ercole and Johannes Sterba will cross the bridge from Prehistory to the New Kingdom and show some of their results of iNAA on ceramics from Sai.

I am especially delighted that Charles Bonnet and Dominique Valbelle will join us for the workshop – the highlight of the event will be an evening lecture by Dominique Valbelle on Tuesday evening. This lecture is open to the public and will be followed by a reception at the Institute for Egyptology.

Looking much forward welcoming all colleagues and discussing settlement archaeology here in Munich!

Vaults, pavements, pots and sealings: closing the New Kingdom town season

6 weeks have passed since we started work in SAV1 East and SAV1 West – today, we managed to finish the final tasks in the field and with the coming week we will move to the New Kingdom cemetery SAC5; work in the cemetery will keep us busy until the end of the 2015 season. Of course processing of finds and pottery from the town season will continue – the amount of finds was very impressive this season!

Martin Fera and Stefanie Juch finished documentation at SAV1 West – the cellar discovered in the last days of fieldwork in week 5 was successfully cleaned – its vault was still partly preserved.

IMG_4021a

Very nice small finds and a good collection of pottery were found in it – all datable to the 18th Dynasty. At the moment, a mid (to possibly late) 18th Dynasty date is most likely. All in all, SAV1 West yielded in 2015 both new features and more parallels to sector SAV1 North. Loads of useful data to deepen our understanding of domestic architecture and daily activities in 18th Dynasty Sai!

At SAV1 East, Feature 15 almost seemed like a never-ending story – but we managed to finish its excavation today! A very nice red brick pavement was reached in a depth of 1.20 m, still partly covered with a mud floor.

IMG_3859a

Dozens of intact vessels were found on this pavement and in the deposit above it, together with a substantial amount of clay sealings, small finds like figurines, gaming pieces, stone tools and faience beads. A large number of charcoal and numerous bones (often burnt) imply an association with food preparation respectively consumption. Besides work in the cemetery, processing of finds and ceramics from feature 15 will be one of the main goals of the upcoming 4 weeks. This structure is definitely of key importance for many aspects of living in a “temple town” like Sai Island.

Update of the research on the so-called temple towns in New Kingdom Nubia

In the last few months I was very busy with the review of the literature so far published  concerning especially the New Kingdom architectural remains which the Egyptians left on their way from north to south during the so-called conquest of Nubia and afterwards.

I commenced this task from a chronological point of view: with the “reoccupation” of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom fortresses between the First and Second Cataract. The common sense in Egyptological publications is that the Egyptians reused the Middle Kingdom fortresses such as e.g. Kuban, Ikkur, Aniba, Uronarti and Semna as staging posts at the beginning of the conquest and afterwards also as residential areas sometimes with the feature of an newly built Egyptian stone temple (säve-söderbergh 1941; Trigger 1976); Adams 1977; Bard 2007; Heidorn 1999). One point of the thesis is to clarify whether these fortress settlements played a role in the development of the temple towns as kind of ancestors or if the latter is a peculiar type of settlement specific for New Kingdom Nubia.

Studying relevant publications it became clear that the evidence of the so often mentioned reoccupation and renovation of the forts in the New Kingdom is rather hard to find. Also the meaning and usage of this obviously exchangeable description of reusing of the forts attracted my attention. It is not in any case clear if the authors really differentiate in general between undertaken renovation in the course of the reoccupation or the restoration of the defensive fortifications (e.g. Emery 1965; Trigger 1976; Adams 1977; Bard, 2007; Heidorn 1999). Of course it makes a difference concerning the nature of the settlement to speak of reoccupied or refortified settlements. Thus I searched intensively in the old excavation reports and publications for any hint of New Kingdom construction activity in the Middle Kingdom forts (like Emery & Kirwan 1935; Steindorff 1937; Randall-MacIver & Woolley 1911; Emery etal. 1979; Dunham & Janssen 1960; Dunham 1967). But unfortunately in most cases there is only little building activity or material post-dating the Middle Kingdom mentioned, because the main focus lies on the primary architecture and remains. Another issue in this respect is in general the dating of the late Middle Kingdom and/orSecond Intermediate Period material: it still remains unclear whether some of the fortresses have been still occupied during the Intermediate Period or not.

What I can say by now is that serious reconstruction and restoration of the fortifications only took place at Aniba and Buhen, where it is proofed by archaeological evidence. In contrast, because of absence of archaeological evidence, Semna seems not to have been refortified as always stated in the literature (Reisner 1929a; Säve-Söderbergh 1941; Adams 1977; Bard 2007; Heidorn), but indeed reoccupied, attested by the presence of a New Kingdom temple and cemetery (Reisner 1929b; Dunham & Janssen 1960). Another observation I made concerns the fortress of Askut near the Second Cataract. Excavation work was conducted there in the 1960ies by Badawy and the excavated material was reinvestigated by S. T. Smith in the 1990ies (Badawy 1964; Badawy 1968; Smith 1995; Smith 2003). They plausible ascertained a New Kingdom occupation phase at Askut, but still this fortress is often neglected in general studies concerning the New Kingdom occupation phase in Nubia (e.g. Emery 1965; Trigger 1976; Adams 1977; Bard, 2007; Heidorn).

Further and detailed studies are necessary to give an answer to the development-issue of the temple towns and to the dating-issue of the maybe continuously settled or indeed reoccupied fortresses. But the fresh evaluation and reconsideration of the literature shows by now some interesting first results.

Bibliographie

Adams, W. Y. 1977      Nubia. Corridor to Africa, London.

Badawy, A. 1964      Preliminary report on the excavations by the University of California at Askut, Kush 12, 47–56.

Badawy, A. M. 1968      A history of Egyptian Architecture. The Empire (the New Kingdom), Berkely.

Bard, K. A. 2007      An introduction to the archaeology of Ancient Egypt, Malden, Mass.

Dunham, D. 1967      Uronarti, Shalfak, Mirgissa: excavated by George Andrew Reisner and Noel F. Wheeler, Second cataract forts 2, Boston.

Dunham, D. & Janssen, J. J. 1960      Semna, Kumma, Second cataract forts 1, Boston.

Emery, W. B. 1965      Egypt in Nubia, London.

Emery, W. B. & Kirwan, L. P. 1935      The excavations and survey between Wadi es-Sebua and Adindan 1929 – 1931., Mission Archéologique de Nubie 1929 – 1934, Cairo.

Emery, W. B., Smith, H. S. & Millard, A. 1979      Excavations at Buhen. The archaeological report, Excavation memoir 49, London.

Heidorn, L. A. 1999      Nubian towns and temples, 579–583, in: Bard, K. A. & Shubert, S. B. (Hrsg.), Encyclopedia of the archaeology of ancient Egypt, London, New York.

Randall-MacIver, D. & Woolley, L. 1911      Buhen, Eckley B. Coxe Junior expedition to Nubia 7, Philadelphia.

Reisner, G. A. 1929a    Ancient Egyptian forts at Semna and Uronarti, Bulletin of the Museum of Fine Arts 27, 64–75.

Reisner, G. A. 1929b    Excavations at Semna and Uronarti, Sudan notes and records 12.

Säve-Söderbergh, T. 1941      Ägypten und Nubien: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte altägyptischer Aussenpolitik, Lund.

Smith, S. T. 1995      Askut in Nubia. The economics and ideology of Egyptian imperialism in the second millennium B.C, Studies in Egyptology, London, New York.

Smith, S. T. 2003      Wretched Kush. Ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian empire, London, New York.

Steindorff, G. 1937      Aniba. Mission Archéologique de Nubie 1929 – 1934. 2, Glückstadt.

Trigger, B. 1976      Nubia under the pharaohs, Ancient peoples and places 85, London.