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!

On the way to Elephantine, Egypt

The 2016 season on Elephantine Island is approaching and promises exciting results like last year! Meg, Oliver and I are flying today, all eager to get back to House 55 and its rich inventory of small finds and pottery. The 2016 season will concentrates on this material and its comparison with Sai, illustrating the strong links between the First Cataract area and the region of Upper Nubia.

Of course we’ll keep you posted!

People on Sai – Thoughts on the New Kingdom Prosopography of the Elite Necropolis SAC5

Prosopography is about people. This statement emphasises the importance of prosopography as a specific means of shedding light onto the social fabric and historical development of ancient and modern population groups. In our case, this society is the people of Sai during the New Kingdom. Prosopography in its broadest sense can be defined as “the investigation of the common background characteristics of a group of actors in history by means of a collective study of their lives” (Stone 1971). However, we can only tackle certain aspects of people’s lives using ‘prosopography’ due to the nature of the data from Pharaonic Egypt. Despite this shortcomings, what really matters are the questions we ask in order to understand lives and the social fabric based on prosopographical data. As for New Kingdom Sai, texts and monuments with names and titles of individuals from the island itself or with links to the Pharaonic town constitute the basis for a prosopographical ‘sociography’, i.e. an assessment and discussion of the social fabric of the town and its population.

Fig. 01

Fig. 01

Cemeteries of Pharaonic towns in both Egypt and Nubia represent certain parts of the local society. Within the New Kingdom funerary landscape of Sai, that consists of three burial grounds (SAC1, SAC4 and SAC5; Fig. 01), it is only cemetery SAC5 that yielded texts and objects with prosopographical data (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, esp. 403-418). Both the architecture of the tombs with chapels and pyramids and single or multi-chambered subterranean structures and the remains of the funerary object assemblages allow us to call SAC5 the elite necropolis of New Kingdom Sai. The question of whether the individuals interred here were ‘Egyptian’ or ‘Nubian’ is not of special concern for our endeavour. The fact, that they were buried here, is proof that they belonged to the local community regardless of their origin or ethnicity.

At present, 26 elite tombs are excavated at SAC5. An assessment of their archaeological as well as prosopographical ‘yield’ (Fig. 02) shows that the use life of this cemetery spans most of the New Kingdom from mid-18th Dynasty to later Ramesside and even beyond to Napatan times. The title and name-bearing small-finds among the funerary assemblages are the typical objects also found in other elite New Kingdom cemeteries in Nubia, especially shabtis, heart scarabs and heart scarab pectorals. Architectural elements from the tomb chapels and pyramids preserve information on the interred persons, too. In tomb T 2, five male members of the New Kingdom Sai society are attested. Three of them – Merimose, Hui and Ky-iri – are local priests, although there is no indication of the cult they were attached to. The letter-scribe Horemheb is part of the administrative sphere of the town responsible for its correspondence. The objects from tomb T 8 bear witness to two further local priests. In tomb T 3, an intriguing faience plaque with the name of Ramessesnakht, viceroy of Nubia under Ramesses IX, came to light. The burial with this sealing plaque is not considered to belong to the viceroy himself. It might rather belong to a local member of the late Ramesside administration of Nubia who was given this plaque as a token of loyalty during his lifetime. However, Ramessesnakht’s tomb is not known.

Fig. 02

Fig. 02

Tomb 5 is of special importance for the upper end of the social fabric of the Pharaonic town. Based on the names and titles from a heart scarab, a shabti and a faience vase, it belonged to a family of local mayors. While the other tombs from SAC5 provided ‘only’ scribes and priests, we encounter here the highest municipal representatives of Pharaonic state agency in New Kingdom Sai, the city governors Ipy and Neby. Both date to the mid-18th Dynasty and might be father and son, since the mayoral office is regularly transmitted like this in the New Kingdom. The exact familial relation of the songstress Henut-aat (or Henut-taui) to both Ipy and Neby is unclear. Her title, however, puts her in a rather high female elite stratum as well. One of the tomb owners, Neby, even seems to be identical with the mayor and director Neby attested further north at the Tanjur rapids in the Batn el-Hajar with three rock inscriptions (Hintze/Reineke 1989, 170-177; Fig. 03 after Hintze/Reineke 1989, 235). His territorial radius even went well beyond the confines of the town.

Fig. 03

Fig. 03

Mayors or city governors are typical for all New Kingdom towns and cities in Egypt and Nubia. A recent assessment of the distribution of New Kingdom mayoral tombs has shown, that they are in most cases buried in the elite necropoleis of the city which they administered (Auenmüller 2011; Fig. 04). This typological trait can also be seen with Ipy and Neby and their interment in tomb 5 at SAC5. However, there is another mid-18th Dynasty mayor of Sai attested. This Ahmose installed two statues of himself at Thebes (Bologna KS 1823) and Karnak (CG  42047) respectively. Both statues indicate his special relations to Thebes or even a Theban origin. He therefore might be the first mayor of the newly established colonial town, sent to Sai under Thutmose III. Although Ahmose’s tomb is not known, it is generally assumed that his funeral took place at Thebes, his home town and place of belonging. By contrast, Ipy and Neby seem to represent the second generation of local administrators who lived on Sai for some time, identified themselves with the town, were parts of its social fabric and finally chose to be buried here.

Fig. 04

Fig. 04

Further titles and names are attested through funerary stelae and shabtis. However, due to the rather fragmented state they are less informative. They nevertheless show that SAC5 in its original state must have been a very well equipped funerary landscape for the local elite. This was further stressed by AcrossBorders’ discovery of a new tomb, tomb T 26 (Budka 2015). This new monument yielded the pyramidion of a very important person: the deputy of Kush Hornakht, who flourished in the 19th Dynasty. He and his elite colleagues that are also – or especially – known from the area of the town will be subject of some future blog posts.

A summarising look back at the Sai SAC5 prosopography allows for some comments: Although the data is quite fragmented, it displays both religious and administrative personnel of the town. Both domains, temple and administration, are typically represented by officials in New Kingdom town cemeteries in Egypt and Nubia (cf. esp. Soleb: Schiff-Giorgini 1971). Of high importance for and within the town’s social fabric are the two 18th Dynasty mayors Ipy and Neby. They belonged to the Egyptian elite that came or was sent south to Nubia to act as municipal agents of the Pharaonic state on Sai. Exceptional, however, is the attestation of the deputy of Kush Hornakht, who we know was active in the 19th Dynasty. His person provokes further thoughts on the role of Sai as administrative centre and urban fabric in Upper Nubia during Ramesside times.

Bibliography:

Auenmüller 2011: J. Auenmüller, Individuum – Gruppe – Gesellschaft – Raum. Raumsoziologische Perspektivierungen einiger (provinzieller) HA.tj-a Bürgermeister des Neuen Reiches, in: G. Neunert, K. Gabler & A. Verbovsek (eds.), Sozialisationen: Individuum – Gruppe – Gesellschaft, GOF IV/51, Wiesbaden 2011, 17-32.

Budka 2015: J. Budka, Ein Pyramidenfriedhof auf der Insel Sai, in: Sokar 31, 2015, 54-65.

Hintze/Reineke 1989: F. Hintze & W. F. Reineke, Felsinschriften aus dem sudanesischen Nubien, Publikation der Nubien-Expedition 1961-1963, Band 1, Berlin 1989.

Minault-Gout/Thill 2012: A. Minault-Gout & F. Thill. Sai II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire SAC5, FIFAO 69, Cairo 2012.

Schiff-Giorgini 1971: M. Schiff-Giorgini, Soleb II. Les necropoles, Florence 1971.

Stone 1971: L. Stone, Prosopography, in: Daedalus 100, No. 1, 1971, 46-79.

From Sai Island to the First Cataract with love

A perfect day is about to end – on our day off from work, we had an excellent trip to Soleb, Gebel Dosha and Sedeigna. These sites never fail to amaze me anew on each visit in the last years! Gebel Dosha with its great rock inscriptions and splendid view is definitely one of my favourite places in Upper Nubia. I was very pleased that also the newcomers of the team seemed to enjoy the wonderful setting!

Photo shooting at Gebel Dosha.

Photo shooting at Gebel Dosha.

Re-visiting the site and its inscriptions today just fitted perfectly to one of the recent finds from our work at Sai, so far probably the highlight of the cemetery season: Earlier this week, a lovely steatite scarab was found in the burial chamber of tomb 26.

SAC5 279 aSAC5 279 (15 x 10 x 7 mm) is simply beautifully made. Its decorated side can be associated with one of the main themes of our project: AcrossBorders, working both at Sai Island in Sudan and Elephantine Island in Egypt, is focusing on all kinds of references and connections between the First Cataract area and the region of Sai. The scarab SAC5 279, like some inscriptions from Gebel Dosha we saw today, is referring to gods from the First Cataract region – in this case to the female deities of the triad of the First Cataract (Khnum, Satet and Anuket). On SAC5 279, Satet is sitting to the left, Anuket to the right – the goddesses are facing each other, with an ankh sign on the knee. A “mr” sign and the “aA”-hieroglyph flank the goddesses and I would translate the complete set as “much beloved by Satet and Anuket.”

The First Cataract triad was in general very popular in Lower Nubia, and in Upper Nubia as well – but in the case of rock inscriptions like at Gebel Dosha and scarabs like SAC5 279 from Sai one might very well speculate that the owners/producers had actual bonds with the area around Aswan and were “crossing borders” during their lifetime, referring to gods from their hometown in delicate moments.

The batteries are definitely recharged after this great Friday and we are all ready for week 9 and more fascinating finds with complex meanings!

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!