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.

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.

The last week of fieldwork at Elephantine

Things have been quite busy, especially for me with travelling back and forth to Germany and a short trip to Luxor last week. Time flies by even faster as usual – not only winter, but also the last days of fieldwork at Elephantine have arrived.

During this season, recording the fresh ceramics from House 55 was conducted in real-time – thus really simultaneously with the excavations, on the same or next day; this is of course extremely helpful for the documentation and some tricky questions regarding the many building phases of the structure. We are also quite up-to-date with drawing ceramics thanks to the efforts of Oliver and Eva. More than 280 drawings were already realized – and some more will be produced of course in the last remaining days.

Meg is busy with registration of finds and also perfectly up-to-date – working in the earliest levels of use and mostly with mud pavements, the amounts of small finds are not any more as large as they used to be from later phases of use of House 55. The majority of finds are still stone tools, lithics and re-used sherds.

All in all, it has been a very successful season and the next days will nicely complement this overall impression.

Pinched rims and incised decoration from the Second Intermediate Period to the New Kingdom

Working currently in the earliest strata of House 55 and especially the foundation levels, a considerable amount of older material came up in the last days (including the small fragment of “gilded ware” from Lower Nubia). Dating these ceramic assemblages is sometimes not easy: Second Intermediate Period style of ceramic production continued well into the 18th Dynasty and often one relies on ware and technique to distinguish between residual pieces and products of the New Kingdom.

That Second Intermediate style was not completely passé by the time of the 18th Dynasty, can be nicely illustrated by a common type of carinated bowls. Of various sizes, both in Marl and Nile clays, these often show wavy lines, sometimes in combination with applied ridges and what Stuart Tyson Smith named “pinched ‘piecrust’ rims” (Smith 2012, 397). This type is commonly associated with the Second Intermediate Period pottery tradition in Egypt; early variants are already attested since the late Middle Kingdom in Egypt and Nubia, but these dishes are more common during the Second Intermediate Period.

As noticed in an earlier post, these carinated bowls – by now they are definitely among my favorite types! – are well attested from both on Elephantine and Sai Island. At both sites, they are known from stratified contexts of the early 18th Dynasty, up to the time of Thutmose III.

Carinated dish with ‘piecrust’ rim and wavy incised lines from House 55.

Carinated dish with ‘piecrust’ rim and wavy incised lines from House 55.

Today, Oliver was drawing some of the early examples from the phases of use of House 55 – almost identical to the ones he already made drawings of on Sai, stressing again the strong links between the two 18th Dynasty settlements currently being investigated by AcrossBorders.

Reference:

Smith 2012 = Stuart Tyson Smith, Pottery from Askut and the Nubian forts, in: Robert Schiestl / Anne Seiler (eds.), Handbook of pottery of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. Volume II: the regional volume, Vienna 2012, 377‒405.

Beneath the golden hill…

 

golden-hillWeek 4 at Elephantine just flew by – probably because of all the big shocking world news, including the very sad loss of one born with a truly golden voice…

Gold and golden are good keywords for one interesting observation during this week. Please note: Other than quite often assumed, Egyptologists are NOT hunting for gold – finding gold during excavations in Egypt and Sudan happens of course sometimes, but fortunately not on a daily basis!

This week, among the usual unspectacular, but very significant, finds like pottery vessels, re-cut sherds, net weights, stone tools, jar stoppers and thousands of broken pottery sherds, a very interesting, glittering sherd caught my attention. It might look not too spectacular for most of you, but it really is something very special!

A "golden" sherd...

This small fragment (3.1x3cm) of a thin-walled jar with flaring rim made in a very fine Nile B2 was found in material below the foundations of House 55. It is covered with a micaceaous slip on both sides, giving the sherd a “golden” appearance. It really glitters in the sun with all the mica contained in its surface slip! Sherds like this are well known – but not from Egypt, but from further South: Kush, the land of gold. Our recently discovered fragment represents the so-called “gilded ware” produced in the Second Cataract forts, recently re-studied by Christian Knoblauch (Knoblauch 2011). This rare, wheel-made Nile clay ware was obviously locally produced in Lower Nubia during the late Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period. Thus, even if it is a residual piece and has nothing to do with the actual phases of use of House 55 we are focusing on, the “golden” sherd is of interest for general connections between Elephantine and Nubia.

Reference:

Knoblauch 2011 = Christian Knoblauch, Not all that glitters: a case study of regional aspects of Egyptian Middle Kingdom pottery production in Lower Nubia and the second cataract, in: Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne 9, 2011, 167‒183.

Squat jars, zir vessels and other finds at Elephantine

Among the highlights from week 3 at Elephantine are several complete vessels from room A in House 55. The pottery database of all New Kingdom ceramics comprises now a total of 12257 entries, 1599 coming from House 55. Amazing is the large number of 247 complete or almost complete vessels from the building — many were found in the cellars of House 55, but also as piles of pots left in corners of various rooms.

squat-jars

One of the vessels from the latest phase of use of House 55 which was left behind and found last year is a large Marl A2 squat jar, 45602G/a-4. Only the rim and part of the shoulder is fragmented, otherwise this painted jar is completely preserved. It is of Thutmoside date, finds many parallels at other sites in Egypt, and – most important for us – also in the New Kingdom town of Sai. SAV1W P233, found in a cellar in SAV1 West, is also a Marl A2 squat jar and almost of the exact shape like the Elephantine vessel, especially its rim base. The decoration is slightly different, also illustrating the variability of decoration patterns of this type of vessel which had its heyday under Thutmose III.

Further complete vessels from House 55 are large zir vessels – as pointed out earlier, these are mostly of Marl A4 variants. Nile clay versions are less common, but also present, comparing nicely to the corpus of storage vessels from Sai.

Finds from this season from House 55 are mostly re-used sherds, grind stones and other stone tools; clay figurines are also present in small numbers as are lids and stoppers. Similar to the pottery, both parallels and differences are notable comparing these finds with the corpus from Sai Island New Kingdom town.

Week 4 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow, will focus on the documentation of the many complete vessels from this season and on further object registration.

Getting ready for week 3 at Elephantine

The second complete week of work here at Elephantine passed by very quickly. Work directed by Cornelius von Pilgrim in House 55 makes very good progress – some interesting new features give fresh food for thoughts about the ground plan and the building phases!
Work in the magazines continues as usual – Meg is busy with the object registration, OIiver is drawing ceramic vessels from House 55. In the last days, he focused on small decorated fragments – Marl clay squat jars, bichrome vessels as well as red splash ware and black rim ware. Processing of the newly excavated pottery is well underway (thanks to the great job of the specialists from Quft!) and so far the results from last year are nicely supported by this fresh material.

In addition, a new micromorphological sampling programme was started this week in House 55. We took 13 samples from various areas in two rooms. We are especially interested in floor deposits and the maintenance of floors, and, of course, general formation processes within the building. The original floors from the earliest phase of use are here of special importance. Taking samples from the well preserved sections here at Elephantine was quite a change to Sai and our sampling there. Whereas at SAV1 West and SAV1 East only little stratigraphy has survived, the perfect preservation of several phases of use of House 55 are over and over again simply amazing!

Looking much forward to week 3 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow and promising new finds and pots.

“Chamber pots” from Elephantine and Sai

Only 3 days have passed since we arrived on Elephantine Island in Egypt. Everything worked out fine and we had a very good start into the season.

Today, I used the day off from fieldwork to work on the pottery database from both Elephantine and Sai. One of the most exciting aspects of this analysis is that we are currently comparing the ceramic data from the New Kingdom town of Sai with the pottery corpus from the contemporaneous settlement at Elephantine.

Among the most important contexts from Sai is of course the material from feature 15. The large amount of intact vessels, their association with seal impressions and the clear stratigraphic sequence makes this cellar a perfect case study.

Unusual vessels from Feature 15, Sai.

Unusual vessels from Feature 15, Sai.

Besides dozens of bowls, plates and beakers, there are also two very unusual vessels from feature 15. They are unique within the pottery corpus of Sai, being heavy deep bowls with a thick flat base and a pronounced outer lip. We nicknamed them “chamber pots” and until today I was not able to find close parallels. Until today! Sitting here on my desk surrounded by all the New Kingdom pottery data from Elephantine, I suddenly remembered a complete pot we documented some years ago which is also unique within the local corpus.

Unusual pot from Elephantine...

Unusual pot from Elephantine…

The copy of the drawing of 37601X/b-29 was labelled as “Nachttopf” in my handwriting… and closely resembles our pots from feature 15! While the piece still has no parallel within the Elephantine material, it clearly compares nicely to the pots from Sai.

Although the functional use of these vessels still poses several questions (which I will leave open for now…any thoughts are of course welcome!), finds like this illustrate the huge potential of AcrossBorders’ approach to compare the Sai pottery corpus in detail with the one from Elephantine. Linking and differentiating Sai and Elephantine is making excellent progress and will of course continue!