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.

A modified Egyptian cooking pot from SAV1 West?

Work is progressing well in SAV1 West – occupational deposits and new sections of walls with several phases of use datable to the mid and late 18th Dynasty have been exposed in the last days. The ceramics are very exciting – a large percentage of Egyptian marl clay wares, considerable amounts of painted wares and a very good state of preservation.

One context was especially interesting and I would like to share first impressions, hoping for some feedback at this early stage of processing. The stratigraphic unit in question comprises the last level of debris covering a small mudbrick structure in the south-eastern corner of Square 1SE. Because of its preservation, it is very likely that the pottery represents the original inventory that was shifted/mixed when the late antique pitting in the area occurred, cutting down to the original layers.

154 diagnostic sherds attest to a late 18th Dynasty date. 12 % of these diagnostics were Nubian cooking pots with clear traces of use (their surface is smoked and soothed) – mostly with basketry impression and one single piece with incised decoration. Except that this is quite a high amount of Nubian pottery, all is consistent with the findings in SAV1 West so far. Most of the Nubian cooking ware in the New Kingdom town of Sai features basketry patterns, whereas coarse incised patterns with diagonally cut lines below the rim (very common at Elephantine and mostly associated with the Pangrave culture) is less common.

Snapshot from the field: the pencil marks the unique sherd in question; below are some of the Nubian sherds.

Snapshot from the field: the pencil marks the unique sherd in question; below are some of the Nubian sherds.

What makes the context in Square 1SE special is one rim sherd: An Egyptian Nile clay cooking pot occurs side by side with the Nubian ones – basically, something which is not unusual, but already well attested at SAV1 West. Imported, authentic Egyptian wheel-made cooking pots and locally made examples thrown on the wheel are used side by side with Nubian-style products in New Kingdom Sai and were found in all sectors in the Pharaonic town (SAV1 North, SAV1 East and SAV1 West).

But: this authentic Egyptian cooking pot (produced in and imported from Egypt) is not smoked (so maybe was not yet used?), but displays a very unusual feature. Below its rim, there are several diagonally arranged black lines – definitely painted/drawn. With these strokes, the Egyptian cooking pot resembles Nubian style variants with incised decoration. So-called hybrid styles – Nubian surface treatments on otherwise Egyptian pottery vessels – are well attested at Sai, other Nubian sites and also Elephantine. But is this also the case with the unique piece in question? Did the “artist” of these black lines wanted to show that something is missing on this pot? Was it a spontaneous idea of someone familiar with the incised cooking ware? Or are these lines really to be interpreted as decoration, to fuse Nubian cooking tradition with the Egyptian style? Since the authentic Egyptian cooking pots are made and fired in Egypt, it was of course not possible to apply pre-firing incised decoration on them like on the Nubian ones and the hybrid forms at Elephantine. On the other hand, we have a number of locally produced Egyptian style cooking pots on Sai – and none of them shows incised decoration…

Much food for thought and a lot of open questions – but at the end of a long working day with much routine work and processing, findings like these are inspiring and give fresh ideas and much energy!

End of the 2015 season on Elephantine Island

Six weeks of excavation and study season passed by very quickly – we closed the work on House 55 at Elephantine yesterday, preparing to fly back home tomorrow.

The results are very satisfying ‒ both the new information gained from the continued excavation by Cornelius von Pilgrim and the new data from the studied material ‒ and support the special importance of House 55 as extraordinary building within the New Kingdom town of Elephantine. Meg Gundlach did a great job in object registration, assisted by Mona el-Azab, Oliver Frank Stephan and Eva Hemauer managed to get more than 350 drawings of complete vessels and diagnostic pieces done!

A preliminary macroscopic classification of the Nubian wares from House 55 was conducted by Giulia D’Ercole. Four main groups of fabrics were distinguished and – other than at Sai Island – the corpus here at the border of Egypt is clearly dominated by fine-medium and medium wares dung and/or chopped straw tempered.
I personally concentrated on processing the pottery from this season and the one from last year – more than 41.000 sherds passed through my fingers in the last weeks, including over 12.500 diagnostic pieces. The latter comprised almost 2000 Nubian sherds – quite a substantial amount which will be further assessed in the next season.

In less than a month we will be already working on the other island currently under investigation by AcrossBorders – the 2016 season on Sai Island is approaching and promises similar exciting results like our work at Elephantine.

For now, many thanks to all participants and everybody involved making our work here possible – Ma’a Salama and looking much forward to the 2016 season in House 55!

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The 13th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics (EMAC) in Athens

Back again in Munich ‒ after three dense and highly inspiring days fully dedicated to the archaeometric study of pottery and ceramic materials at the 13th European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics (EMAC) held in the Acropolis Museum in Athens from Sep. 24-26.
Fall has definitively arrived and the EMAC meeting successfully closed a very fruitful conference summer season, started in June with the AcrossBorders workshop “Settlements patterns in Egypt and Nubia” at the Egyptian State Museum in Munich ̶ and continued over the summer with the International Congress of Egyptology (ICE) in Florence and the International Congress for Young Egyptologists (ICYE) in Vienna.
Since I am not an Egyptologist and unfortunately not even so young anymore, I happily represented, as the archaeometric ceramic specialist in our team, the AcrossBorders project at the 13th EMAC in Athens with a poster co-authored by Julia Budka, Elena Garcea and Johannes Sterba. The title of our poster was: “Discrimination of Nile clay ceramic ware by geochemistry: three case studies from Sai Island (Northern Sudan)”.

The entrance of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, venue of the EMAC 2015.

The entrance of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, venue of the EMAC 2015.

This was the third time I personally attended the European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics (EMAC) which has already a fairly long tradition. The first EMAC took place in Rome in 1991 with the aim of gathering together different scholars working on ceramics in the Mediterranean regions.
Over the last three decades, the European Meeting on Ancient Ceramics (EMAC) has become established as an important international forum in the field of ancient ceramics with a particular attention to the development of new scientific methodologies and laboratory techniques applied to the study of ceramic materials.
Nowadays, the geographical focus of the EMAC is not restricted anymore just to the Mediterranean regions, but the topics of the conference have been greatly extended and include also several different European and non-European countries.
Also the time frame of the conference topics is always very broad, ranging from the early pottery productions dated to Prehistory till more recent evidences and case studies from the Iron Age up to Roman, Medieval and post-Medieval times.
However, what represents to me the principal reason for interest in this conference is the exceptional condition of having gathered together in the same room so many specialists working on archaeometry and ceramics either with a background as archaeologists, or as hard scientists in the fields of petrography, mineralogy, chemistry and geology.

More than 200 abstracts were submitted in this last EMAC 2015 of which 197 were accepted and allocated either to poster or oral sessions.
The scientific committee did a great job in organizing both the poster and the talks by following a dual policy in the definitions of the sessions ̶ on one hand organized according to the main topics (i.e. methodology, raw materials, pyrotechnical ceramics, building materials etc.), and on the other hand according to chronological and geographical criteria.

The auditorium hall in the Acropolis Museum.

The auditorium hall in the Acropolis Museum.

For the session “Methodology”, two very useful talks regarded the application of the portable XRF- analyser to archaeological ceramics: what is the good, the bad and reality about (by A.M.W Hunt and R.J. Speakman) and which are the new prospects for the archaeological studies (by M. Daszkiewicz et al.). Highly interesting was also the talk given by some colleagues from Vienna (A. Kern, T. Ntaflos and D. Arnitz) about the “Experimental verification of calcite dependent temperature determination”. Material of AcrossBorders from Sai Island was mentioned in the co-authored paper by I. Hein et al. on “Patron recognition with Gabor filter and K-nearest neighbor algorithm applied to archaeological ceramic materials.”

Several stimulating talks were also presented in the session “Early pottery production and mobility”, among them I want to point out the one by S. Amicone, P. Quinn et al. regarding the study of late Neolithic and early Calcolithic communities in the Balkans and the one given by M. Dikomitou-Eliadou, V. Kilikoglou et al. about the earliest cooking pots traditions in Cypro.

The poster session was simply spectacular both for the variety of topics, chronological and geographical contexts presented and for the beautiful sunny open-air setting in the garden of the British School at Athens. Moreover, a parallel virtual session provided a complementary platform for the poster presentations.

Open-air poster session at the British School in Athens.

Open-air poster session at the British School in Athens.


I was pleasantly surprised to see how both Egypt and Sudan were very well represented in several posters and through different ages.
Our poster (P-016) in the session “Raw material” presented three patterns of variability recognized in the composition of both raw clay material and tempers in Nile clay ceramics from Sai Island, by means of chemical (INAA) and petrographic (OM) analyses.
The results, organized in three distinct blocks, included 1) a diachronic analysis of the Nubian-style handmade wares from Prehistory till the New Kingdom age, 2) a comparison between the Nubian-style and the Egyptian-style New Kingdom ceramics and 3) a comparison between the Egyptian-style and the Real Egyptian imported New Kingdom wares.

Coffee breaks and lunches, of course based on local delicious Greek specialities, offered the opportunity for informal talks and meetings with new and old colleagues from different countries.
Finally, I took a bit of time for sightseeing and for discovering the city ̶ there is simply no chance to avoid archaeology in Athens: the whole city is plenty of wonderful archaeological buildings and museums you cannot escape.

View of the Acropolis 1

“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!

Home game: presenting AcrossBorders in Vienna

I was fortunate to present AcrossBorders at several conferences in the last two years (Prague, London, Neuchâtel), as well as on the occasion of invited guest lectures, e.g. in Khartoum, Münster, Göttingen, Warsaw, Swansea and Pisa. Having for the first time a home game in Vienna (19/11/2014, 5:30 pm) is very much appreciated – especially because it gives all current (and a number of future) team members plus Viennese friends and colleagues the chance to join the presentation tomorrow.

Budka_Spannungsfeld 1911The paper will focus on results of our field work from 2013 to 2014 in the areas SAV1 East and SAV1 West. New insights about the environmental setting, the outline and internal structure of the Pharaonic town will be summarised. Selected finds, including highlights of the 2014 season, and the most important object groups will be discussed.

As mentioned earlier (and elsewhere), objects of Egyptian type dominate the material assemblage at Sai and find many parallels at Egyptian sites in both Egypt and Nubia. Interestingly, the artefacts and ceramics testify to an obvious coexistence between Egyptians and Nubians, from the foundation of the town in the early Dynasty 18 through the remainder of the New Kingdom. During my lecture, I will give some examples, e.g. hybrid forms of pottery, Nubian style female figurines and the small number of hieratic dockets on vessels.Budka_Spannungsfeld 1911a

An outline of our planned work in the upcoming season will end this short summary of AcrossBorders’ fieldwork in 2013 and 2014 – I am very excited that the 2015 season is approaching and will give us more to think about!

The long-lasting ceramic tradition on Sai Island

It is well known that Sai Island has been occupied by various cultural groups from Palaeolithic times onwards – illustrating the good living conditions and also a favourable strategic position in the Nile valley which resulted in the importance of the site during the Kerma period and the New Kingdom.

The large Kerma cemetery in the southern part of Sai Island.

The large Kerma cemetery in the southern part of Sai Island.

Even if AcrossBorders is focusing on the period of the Egyptian presence on Sai Island, I was always keen to set our ideas and studies into a larger context, the diachronic development of the site throughout the millennia. Therefore I am very happy that Elena Garcea, working since many years on the Prehistory of Sai, was willing to cooperate with my project and we can thus tackle interesting aspects of local and also regional phenomena within a very broad timeframe.

Elena Garcea at work on Sai Island (field season 2013).

Elena Garcea at work on Sai Island (field season 2013).

The perfect opportunity to present some of our ongoing research on pottery production came up with the 14th Congress of the Pan African Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, hosted from July 14-18 by the University of the Witwatersrand at Johannesburg, South Africa.

Elena Garcea, Giulia d’Ercole and myself will speak about “THE SUCCESSFUL ‘RECIPE’ FOR A LONG-LASTING TRADITION: NUBIAN CERAMIC ASSEMBLAGES FROM SAI ISLAND (NORTHERN SUDAN) FROM PREHISTORIC TIMES TO THE NEW KINGDOM PERIOD”.

Our paper aims to illustrate that in Nubia (Northern Sudan) pottery making has a very ancient tradition with long-lasting aspects of production techniques and raw materials. We will present a comparative study on diverse Nubian ceramic assemblages from Sai Island, covering a period of over 5000 years: from prehistoric times (Khartoum Variant, Abkan and Pre-Kerma) until the New Kingdom period (especially Dynasty 18).

slide 4 archaeometryThe pottery data are presented according to both stylistic and technological aspects, taking into account the entire manufacturing sequence, from the raw material procurement to the firing of the vessels. In order to address the different archaeological questions, macroscopic and analytical approaches have been combined, by means of petrographic (OM) and chemical (XRF and INAA) analyses.[1]

We do believe that the ceramic production reflects aspects of the general development of economic choices and corresponding lifestyles. Much research has still to be undertaken, but the first results, especially deriving from the INAA, are very promising! We are very much looking forward to the conference and in particular to feedback from our colleagues working in different areas of Africa!



[1] We are very grateful to the Center for Earth Sciences of the University of Vienna for its support concerning the petrography (thin sections and OM), especially to Dieter Mader and Claudia Beybel. We also wish to thank the Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics, Vienna for the INAA and here first of all Johannes Sterba who is doing a great job working with our Sai Island samples! For some analyses of the Prehistoric samples we are also very thankful to the Department of Earth and Geoenvironmental Sciences, University of Bari, Italy, especially to Giacomo Eramo and Italo M. Muntoni.

Clay figurines from the Pharaonic town

Spending some days in Berlin, I just had the pleasure to meet Nicole and Julia – this season’s registrars of objects who did a great job on Sai! Reviewing the database and object drawings, I’d like to share some thoughts on animal figurines we encounter in the Pharaonic town of Sai.

At all three sites currently investigated by AcrossBorders – SAV1 North, SAV1 East and SAV1 West, mould-made animal figurines, especially of horses, have been found in the upper levels and in mixed fillings of pits cut into the Pharaonic brick work. They are of Medieval date and complement the small corpus of human figurines from the same period.

In addition, all excavation areas have yielded small, hand-modelled clay figurines of humans and in particular of quadrupeds. The clay is usually poorly fired and most figurines are only fragmentary preserved. There are a few rams attested, but the majority represents cattle. As of now, 8 bull figurines have been found at SAV1 North, 1 piece at SAV1 East and 3 figurines at SAV1 West.

Pencil drawing of one of the new figurines from SAV1 West.

Pencil drawing of one of the new figurines from SAV1 West.

The cattle figurines seem to be of 18th Dynasty date and the question arises whether they fall into the well attested Nubian tradition to value cattle highly – especially because the clay figurines might indicate household religious practice and cattle played an important role in Nubian religion (Smith 2003, 133). The prominence of Nubian cattle survived the Kerma kingdom, the animals had a key significance for the Egyptians during the New Kingdom. Our small clay figurines find ready parallels at several sites in Nubia, for example at Quban (Emery and Kirwan 1935, fig. 33) and Askut (Smith 2003, 135, fig. 5.32). At Sai, a particularly well preserved piece was discovered in the so-called governor’s residence, SAF2, during French excavation in the 1970s.

Cattle figurine from the so-called governor's residence.

Cattle figurine from the so-called governor’s residence.

I do hope that upcoming work at SAV1 West will allow us to contextualise the group of cattle figurines in more detail and to confirm their date as New Kingdom. With future finds, we will then be able to continue thinking about the symbolic value and function of these simple but very appealing representations of important animals.

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References

Emery and Kirwan 1935 = W. B. Emery and L.P. Kirwan, The Excavations and Survey between Wadi es-Sebua and Adindan 1929-1931, 2 vols., SAE, Mission archéologique de Nubie 1929-1934, Cairo 1935.

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

Excursion to Abri: comparing ancient and modern pottery traditions

The scientific analyses of the first set of samples from the last Field Season (SIAM Mission 2013) are almost concluded in Vienna and the preliminary processing of the data has already shown some very interesting and intriguing results.
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During the current season my main task is primarily selecting new ceramic specimens for the next analyses – having a large set of samples appears extremely important especially for the chemical results in order to improve the statistical reliability of the data! Beside many different New Kingdom wares (Egyptian and Local Nile clays, Nubian fabrics, Marl clays and Imports from Canaan, the Levant and the Oases) from the excavation areas SAV1 North, East and West within the Pharaonic town, we selected also some modern traditional ceramics to be used as comparative samples for the ancient production.

For this reason we went to the near-by city of Abri last week: Huda, our inspector of NCAM, and also Erich joined me – as a geologist Erich is also interested in seeing where the modern potters collect the raw material for their vessels.
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Not so far away from the centre of the village and from the area of the market there is in fact an intact ceramic workshop where a family of modern potters (‘bagadra’) still produce different kind of vessels according to a traditional recipe handed down from one generation to another!

Potters Abri Potter at the wheel small

Thanks to Huda (for this occasion our personal interpreter!) we had the unique opportunity to interview the potters and to ask them about their job, the function of the vessels and the manufacturing process!
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The pots are wheel-made (on a slow wheel), even though the upper part of the vessel is sometimes finished by coiling. Before the firing, they are put for 2-3 days upside down in the sand and then left some more days under the sun till they become completely dry.

Over 50 vessels are produced and then sold to Abri, Sai, Ernetta and even to Khartoum every month! This production consists mainly in large jars (zir) used for containing and keeping cool water,  but they also make smaller vessels (e. g. milk/mish jars), cooking pots (hala), flower pots, incense burners and so on!
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In addition, what appears really interesting is that the potters seem partially to differentiate their ‘recipe’ (in terms of choice of clayey raw material and tempers), according to the specific function and the performance required by the vessel!

We learnt a lot from this conversation and we came back home very inspired bringing with us some nice ceramic pieces kindly offered by the potters – they have been already documented and will be soon submitted for the next laboratory analyses!

SAI_4721Abri sample