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!

Hidden Highlights 5

Material: Fayence
L: 1.5cm
W: 0.4cm
H: 0.6cm

Though partial, the finger ring SAV1E 2882 is an excellent representation of ancient Egyptian personal adornment. The ring is made from blue fayence molded into the form of a wadjet, broken through the shank (band) and at the opposite connection point with the bezel.  The wadjet (or “Eye of Horus”) motif is amongst the most popular for amulets, produced from the Old Kingdom through the Roman Period. The imagery is taken from the loss (and recovery) of Horus’ own eye in his epic battle against Seth and was seemingly thought to protect the wearer from any and all types of harm.

Like so many aspects of their material cultural, jewelry served a dual function for the Egyptians, being both amuletic and indicative of wealth, rank or social status. Even fayence benefited from this duality, as a material that was widely affordable and admired for its transformative properties. Thus, it is no surprise that fayence is the most common material used for the production of jewelry. Compared to other forms of adornment, finger rings have a relatively late appearance (Middle Kingdom) and would have been widely produced by the settlement of Sai in the Eighteenth Dynasty. Similar rings are known from many New Kingdom sites, but the emergence of the openwork bezel for wadjet rings at this time may indicate SAV1E 2882 holds a humble place amongst its contemporaries.

End of fieldwork in SAV1 West

Week 4 of our 2017 fieldwork season has just ended – Cajetan and Franziska, who did an excellent job in SAV1 West, have left Sai Island this morning to return back home to Germany. We still have 6 weeks of work in front of us, but as scheduled we managed to close fieldwork in sector SAV1 West.

The results are very important and will keep me busy for a bit longer: Cleaning the lowest deposits of stratigraphy in SAV1 West, both in the wall street and in other structures, it became clear that – despite of everything we thought in the last years – we do have an early 18th Dynasty occupation phase here after all!

Having processed not yet all of the ceramics, it is difficult to give an exact date, but for sure we have a phase predating the enclosure wall. Thus, SAV1 West nicely mirrors SAV1 North, the sector excavated by the French Mission between 2008-2012.

In addition to this very important new information concerning the evolution of Egyptian New Kingdom occupation on Sai, we excavated some nice features this season: two new cellars/storage pits, one grind stone emplacement and various remains of the relevant mud brick structures.

SAV1 West, status 2017.

Many thanks again to all team members for making the first half of the season very successful!

Tomb 26 continued to keep us very busy…. More and more parallels to neighboring tombs excavated by our French colleagues become evident, especially to the close-by Tomb 7.

In week 4, we managed to clear the new western chamber (feature 5) down to a level with many in situ vessels and burial remains. As yet, we have cleaned a very nice individual in extended position, lying East-West along the South wall, with his head to the West. We managed to document traces of his funerary mask – one eye has survived and traces of gold foil. Several miniature vessels were placed at the head, a cluster of flower pots at the feet. Both skeleton and vessels were partly covered by the collapse of side walls and roof.

Skull, remains of funerary mask and miniature vessels in chamber 5.

In chamber 6, the lower chamber off from the trench towards the north, I managed to reach a level with very faint traces of wood and blue, white, red and yellow plus black pigments/colors. It seems very likely that we have here a badly decayed wooden coffin – the first bones appeared yesterday!

Work will concentrate in the next weeks on finds, pottery and Tomb 26 – of course we will keep you updated!

New monograph on the New Kingdom town of Sai

I am very proud to announce the publication of AcrossBorders’ first monograph!

The volume just published by the architect Ingrid Adenstedt presents the results of the building research undertaken on Sai Island in 2013 and 2014. It deals with the internal structure of the New Kingdom town at Sai Island, concentrating on the organization of the living space, the architectural outline and features of the individual buildings in the southern part of the site.

During two field campaigns in 2013 and 2014, the southern part of the settlement (SAV1), excavated by a French team in the 1950s and 1970s (see Azim 1975), was revisited and newly assessed, including a survey with a 3-D laser scanner as well as a building analysis. The results of this work are now being presented in the new publication. Next to a detailed description and building-historical assessment of the individual structures, the building remains are illustrated by manifold plans and 3-D reconstructions.

This volume is the first of a series of monographs as outcome of the START and ERC project AcrossBorders, and the architecture of SAV1 can serve as a sound basis for a deeper understanding of settlement patterns in Sai during the 18th Dynasty. The reassessment of SAV1, the southern part of the New Kingdom town of Sai Island, has produced several new results, which are relevant for a better understanding of the town layout.

I hope that the high efforts, meticulous and beautiful plans and 3-D reconstruction by Ingrid Adenstedt will be not only recognized, but will fulfil their desired outcome: to illustrate as one specific case study living conditions in respect to domestic space and Egyptian architecture in New Kingdom Nubia.

Reference:

Azim 1975 = M. Azim, Quatre campagnes de fouilles sur la Forteresse de Saï, 1970–1973. 1ère partie: l’installation pharaonique, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 3, 1975, 91–125.

Summary of week 2, fieldwork season 2017

The second week of AcrossBorders’ fieldwork at Sai just ended. Work is making very good progress, although – as usual in archaeology – there were quite some unexpected developments and finds we had to adapt to.

At SAV1 West, the goal of this week was to investigate unexcavated parts of Square 1SE, the northeastern and southeastern corner. After 2 days, we were a little bit disappointed – almost no mud brick architecture was preserved, all New Kingdom bricks were ripped out during the substantial digging activity here in Christian and Medieval times until the natural ground surface. Thus hopes were limited, when we started cleaning a pile of collapses bricks around a very large stone in the southeast corner. It came as a big surprise that the dumped stone was 1) our first royal hieroglyphic inscription from SAV1 West! and 2) sitting on top of a mud-lined storage installation still largely intact.

The block is a re-used sandstone lintel with horizontal lines of hieroglyphs – it was recut to an almost round shape and the only hieroglyphs surviving are “nTr nfr nb xaw” – the royal name to follow was of course disturbed… Given all the known inscribed lintels from Sai, it is likely that we have here the badly disturbed inscription of Thutmose III or Amenhotep II.

Especially with the new storage installation, the southeastern corner thus turned out to be really exciting! Cleaning of the pit will continue next week – there were already some very nice finds, see below.

In the northeastern corner, a deep sandy pit, filled at the bottom with mud brick collapse was already excavated in 2016. We wanted to check the bottom of it and there came again a surprise: part of a rectangular brick wall enclosing a lower mud feature of rectangular shape sitting against the natural pebble was found! The only suitable explanation for this feature is the entrance opening to a large subterranean cellar – but of course excavation of this exciting find is not possible because we are directly in the corner of the square.

I really wonder why all of the nice cellars in SAV1 West and SAV1 East are found in baulks or corners of our excavation squares ;-)!

Well, so we had to re-adapt our plans and started an extension towards the east in order to be able to properly excavate the new cellar from the top. This will keep us busy next week!

Objects deriving from SAV1 West were registered as usual by Meg Gundlach. Among the most interesting finds is the head of a female figurine (of a type very common also at Elephantine) and a very nice cauroid bead from the small storage pit in the southeastern corner of Square 1SE.

Female figurine SAV1W 1735.

Cauroid bead SAV1W 1736.

Work in Tomb 26 made very good progress as well – we had several layers of very dense clusters of bones, all in all probably remains of 4 or 5 individuals. Cleaning and documenting them takes much time. Yesterday, I reached a level of 38 cm thickness completely void of human remains – it’s a solid accomplishment of flood levels with very little pottery fragments and still continues.

At present, we have cleaned a depth of 72 cm below the entrance to the chamber in the north – we still have not reached the bottom of the trench and hope to do this in the upcoming week.

Update from week 2, Sai Island

Just a quick update from the last few days of fieldwork: Work was successfully re-started at SAV1 West, concentrating on the mud brick structures to the east of the town enclosure. The amount of pottery unearthed is very substantial – 46 baskets of pottery in 3 days! The majority is mid-18th Dynasty in date, confirming nicely our assessment from last season.

In addition, Tomb 26 still keeps us very busy – what looked like dislocated human remains in the trench in front of the new chamber, actually turned out to be slightly twisted and moved, but almost complete individuals. The state of preservation of the bones is – like last year – very bad and cleaning is extremely time-consuming. However, with a minimum of three new “inhabitants” of Tomb 26, the trench along the northern wall yielded much more than we originally expected! One of the skeletons is just lying directly below the entrance to the chamber which is filled with deposit until the ceiling…

 

Happy New Year from Sai

Timing turned out just perfect – leaving Khartoum on schedule, we started yesterday our final field season on Sai Island. The first task was to re-open Tomb 26 – removing the filling of its more than 5 m deep shaft was a bit dusty, but worked out very well thanks to our enthusiastic gang of workmen supervised by Hassan Dawd.

And even more perfect: New Year started with re-opening the main chamber of Tomb 26 earlier today. All is in perfect condition, almost no collapse of the ceiling occurred.

We will concentrate on the northwestern corner of the chamber which was not yet completely excavated – and we are all very excited about the new chamber found at a lower level along the north wall in the very last days of the 2016 season. Clearing this chamber of still unknown dimensions will keep us busy this season. I’ve cleared some of its entrance area today, but it is almost completely filled with flood deposits – making a proper assessment what to expect from this new chamber very difficult. However, the six pottery sherds which came today from the entrance area are all New Kingdom in date – interestingly, one seems to be of 19th Dynasty date.

First glance into the new chamber: still unexcavated and full of promises…

Will we maybe be able to re-locate Hornakht’s original burial after all? Just follow our blog for the current field season and our findings in Tomb 26! Although 2017 has just started, the new year is definitely full of exciting prospects :-)!

Egyptian cooking pots from New Kingdom Sai

A paper dealing with Egyptian cooking pots from contexts of the early to mid-18th Dynasty within the New Kingdom fortified town of Sai has just appeared in the new volume of Bulletin de liaison de la céramique égyptienne (Budka 2016).

As highlighted earlier on this blog, cooking pots are of particular interest for AcrossBorders and our research about cultural identities and Nubian vs. Egyptian lifestyle.

In all sectors recently excavated in the New Kingdom town, authentic Egyptian wheel-made cooking pots imported from Egypt as well as and locally made examples thrown on the wheel appear side by side with Nubian-style products (hand-made pots with basketry impression or incised decoration). The authentic Egyptian cooking pots from Sai Island are manufactured either in a sandy version of a Nile clay B2 or a variant of a Nile clay E of the Vienna System – both probably of Upper Egyptian origin.

In the BCE paper, I tried to argue that Egyptian cooking pots of the 18th Dynasty are not only a highly interesting class morphologically, but also one of the key vessel groups to illustrate the sometimes quite close relationship between the Egyptian wheel-thrown tradition and the Nubian hand-made ceramic production.

Reference

Budka 2016 = Julia Budka, Egyptian cooking pots from the Pharaonic town of Sai Island, Nubia, Bulletin de liaison de la céramique égyptienne 26, 2016, 285‒295.

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!

More micromorphological samples from House 55

The very good state of preservation of various types of floors, pavements and other deposits in House 55 made it simply essential to start a micromorphological sampling programme. Compared to Sai Island, the variety of deposits from clear phases of use and their state of preservation is much higher.

Today, we took further samples in Room C – a large hall with 3 columns; two of the bases were still found in situ during this season. These bases are not only important for reconstructing the layout of House 55, but were also quite handy during the sampling process.

20161129_070316a20161129_080926aUp to now, we have taken 22 samples from House 55. Some more will follow in the next days, making this set of samples a very representative one for early 18th Dynasty settlement contexts with a complex stratigraphy.