Piecing the town layout further together

As posted recently, some new observations about the town layout of the New Kingdom Sai are possible thanks to AcrossBorders’ archaeological fieldwork on Sai Island from 2013 until 2017. In a short summary, now available for free online, I stressed that our archaeological excavations were complemented with kite aerial photography, structure from motion approaches, terrestrial 3D laser scans, geoarchaeological surveys, micormorphological soil sampling and various archaeometric analyses of diverse materials. Naturallly, much potential derives from this combination of methods and approaches.

The recent 2017 field season on Sai Island provided some answers to both general research questions, e.g. about the occupation of Sai during the 18th Dynasty, but also to more detailed questions like building phases within individual sectors. Excavations in sector SAV1 East resulted in particular in new insights on the layout and function of the New Kingdom town.

Large subterranean storage rooms were unearthed in rooms with schist floors, stressing the role of Sai as Egyptian administrative center during the mid-18th Dynasty. The new cellars (Feature 83 and 85) and corresponding rooms are comparable to the southern sector of the town, excavated by a French Mission in the 1970s and recently re-studied by Ingrid Adenstedt.

Feature 83 and 85 are probably related to the Egyptian stone temple, Temple A, close by. With our new fieldwork, the town map can therefore be updated and fresh remarks on the internal structure are possible.

Presenting Tomb 26 and other highlights

Almost 2 months have passed since we successfully closed our final season on Sai!

This week is quite busy with presenting our results to different audiences – the SARS Day on Monday in London was great as always, I am really happy about various and mostly very positive feedback!

Tonight, I am going to present the highlights of the 2017 season here in Munich.

This lecture is part of the rich programme organized by the friends of the institute, the Collegium Aegyptium. I will give a brief summary of work in the town and will then focus on Tomb 26. With Chamber 6, the burial of Khnummes and his wife, and especially with the “hidden” Chamber 5 and its 18th Dynasty burials rich of jewelry there is quite something to talk about!

Chamber 5 during the process of excavation; note that, like Chamber 6, it was completly sealed by flood levels.

Looking much forward to this occasion, also because so many team members will be present!

Off to London – SARS meeting 2017

The annual one-day international colloquium of the Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS) will take place at the British Museum in London tomorrow. As usual the programme is very promising, highlighting the current work of British but also international teams in Sudan at different types of sites, dating to diverse periods.

I am honoured to have the possibility to present AcrossBorders’ 2017 season on Sai to the audience – I will start with summarising the work in the town, focusing on the important new data concerning the evolution of the town and its layout. In the second half of my talk I will present our work in Tomb 26 – busy with post-excavation work in the last weeks, I am now able to propose a first preliminary reconstruction of the main phases of use of the tomb. Looking much forward to this opportunity, to meet all of the colleagues and friends and of course hoping for some feedback!

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.

Reconstructing the use-life of Tomb 26

Back in Munich, all of us are busy with post-excavation tasks – updating databases and lists, finalizing reports, maps and 3D models as well as digitalizing original drawings. The latter currently keeps Oliver and Daniela busy – they are digitalizing the pottery drawings from Tomb 26.

The amount of complete pots found in the tomb in 2017 is striking – particularly interesting is a deposit of six so-called flower pots and three dishes in the southeastern corner of Chamber 5. Situated at the feet of the presumed earliest burial within this chamber, these ceramic vessels also include a stone vessel.

Deposit of pottery vessels in Chamber 5.

Flower pots – conical deep bowls with perforated bases – are very common New Kingdom types known from Egypt and Nubia (see, for example, Holthoer 1977, pl. 18; Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. II, pl. 132). Their function is still unclear and was much debated. In Sai, they are both attested in the Egyptian town and cemetery SAC5. The best parallels from a funerary context on the island for our new deposit come from the neighboring Tomb 7, excavated by the French Mission. In the main burial chamber of this tomb, a cluster of vessels was found in the south-east corner, including five flower pots (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. I, 49).

Datable to the early-mid 18th Dynasty, these ceramic vessels are key markers to reconstruct the phases of use within Tomb 26. The current task for understanding its complete use-life is to collect all available information (objects, pottery, stratigraphical information, human remains, C14 dates etc.) and process these data with reference to each other.

References

Holthoer 1977 = Holthoer, Rostislav, New Kingdom Pharaonic Sites. The Pottery, The Scandinavian Joint Expedition to Sudanese Nubia Vol. 5:1, Lund 1977.

Minault-Gout/Thill 2012 = Minault-Gout, Ann / Thill, Florence, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 69, 2 vols., Cairo 2012.

Highlights of the 2017 season: the New Kingdom town

Besides our very successful work in Tomb 26 with the undisturbed burials from the 18th Dynasty, our final season in the New Kingdom town, excavating both at SAV1 West and SAV1 East, was also very successful.

Another storage installation at SAV1 West… featuring a royal inscription on a re-used stone block!

Excavating the storage pit and cleaning surface area for another cellar – located in the northeastern corner of our excavation square…

Sieving the material from the bottom of the storage pit: undisturbed mid-18th Dynasty context!

New mud brick structures and loads of ceramics from SAV1 West.

Taking micromorphological samples in the “wall street” during “nimiti happy hour”…

Starting work at SAV1 East – aiming to clarify the dimensions of in situ-schist pavement.

Finding more schist – and: one large cellar!

And discovering another large cellar with its vault still in situ…

Fighting against nimiti and time pressure!

Finishing up what was the highlight of all 5 seasons in the Egyptian town on Sai!

Thanks again to all team members – has been a great season!

Highlights of the 2017 season: Tomb 26

Starting with post-excavation analyses and organizing all data collected during our weeks on Sai Island, the many highlights and working steps in Tomb 26 can be nicely illustrated by a selection of photos:

Start of work in Trench 4 along the North wall.

More and more human remains…

Entrance to Chamber 6 is getting cleaned! First finds and bones appear below the entrance, all covered and sealed by mud deposits.

Oh yes… remains of coffins in Chamber 6!

Highlight of this season – Khnummose’s beautiful stone shabti!

And his fabulous heart scarab…

This niche is not a niche but another chamber – start of work in Chamber 5!

Dense “occupation” in Chamber 5 and lots of complete pots!

Not only the highlight from Chamber 5, but one of the most beautiful objects from all of Tomb 26!

Finishing up documentation in Chamber 5…

Short summary of AcrossBorders’ 2017 season on Sai Island

A little hard to believe, but I am almost ready to leave Sudan and return to Munich! 11 weeks since we arrived here in Khartoum, 10 very exciting weeks of fieldwork, lots of new discoveries and much food for thought!
Thanks to the excellent working conditions provided by the local authorities to archaeologists in Sudan, we are able to export samples for scientific analysis – this will allow us to update and check some of our preliminary data from the field further in the next months.

The most important results of this 2017 season are as follows:
At SAV1 West, remaining deposits in Squares 1S and 1SE were investigated. The remains of several small mud brick buildings including one storage pit and one cellar were exposed and stratigraphic information was received from cleaning selected areas, including the “wall street” along the town enclosure. Most importantly, the earliest phase of occupation at SAV1 West seems to be contemporaneous to the one at SAV1 North – and predating the building of the town wall under Thutmose III. Only scarce remains of the early 18th Dynasty occupation at SAV1 West have survived, with the major phase in the mid-18th Dynasty partly superimposing earlier structures.
At SAV1 East, excavation was completed in Square 4C, finding more schist pavements. Other floors and mud bricks of already known structures. An extension was added towards the southwestern part of the site in order to trace a mud brick wall and in situ schist pavement further (new Square 4D, 6.5 x 9m). Within Square 4D, two large cellars were discovered (Feature 83 and Feature 85). Their size (3.3 x 1.8 x 2.00m and 3.7 x 1.5 x 2.05m) and East-West alignment corresponds nicely to the previously excavated structure, Feature 15. While Feature 83, the southern cellar, was disturbed by a pit in its western half down to the bottom, and only had in situ 18th Dynasty vessels left on the pavement in the eastern half, Feature 85 was found with its vault still partly intact.

Work in progress in feature 85.


Tomb 26, discovered in 2015, was completely excavated in 2017. Feature 4, the trench in the north, was cleaned and yielded a number of burials. Chamber 6, the northern burial chamber, held two coffins of which only traces survived in the flood sediments as well as rich burial equipment of Egyptian style: scarabs, faience vessels, pottery vessels and one stone shabti were used as burial goods. Traces of the funerary masks have also survived. According to the inscribed finds and the human remains, the double burial in Feature 6 can be identified as the master of gold workers Khnummose and an anonymous female person. Finally, Feature 5, the chamber located to the west of Chamber 2, yielded 9 adult and 2 infant burials, again with a nice selection of finds comprising scarabs, amulets and pottery vessels as well as few traces of the funerary masks and coffins.

All achievements of this season would not have been possible without great team work – many thanks go to all colleagues and students working in the field and the magazine who coped so well with time pressure and loads of finds, to all of our local workmen who faced together with us at SAV1 East nimiti-attacks which were just as bad as in our first year back in 2013! And of course to our wonderful NCAM representative and inspector Huda Magzoub, as well as to the great house staff, Sidahmed, Osama and Ridda. Last but not least, the dig dog Ramsis and his cute and entertaining off springs brought much comfort in dark black-fly hours!

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!

Tomb 26 – a short update from the field

As recently highlighted on the “Archäologieblog” at DerStandard.at, Tomb 26 really yielded fantastic finds, especially in the current 2017 season.

We have finished clearing Chamber 6 (holding the burial of Khnummose and presumably his wife) and now also Chamber 5. In the latter, all together a minimum of nine adults and two infants (one pre-natal) were buried – with quite rich equipment and nicely preserved, although partly smashed because of the collapsed roof of the chamber.
The best preserved and probably two earliest burials were put in East-West direction (head to the west) in the southern part of the chamber. Probably a male and a female, these two burials resemble the ones discovered in Chamber 6 – remains of the painted wooden coffins, the wooden funerary masks with eye inlays and gold foil applications were found as well as faience scarabs and intact pottery vessels. Most exciting are here four small pottery vessels which were found next to clay lids with human heads – a very charming small sized variant of clay canopic jars!

Some of the finds including pottery “canopic vessels” in the head area of the southernmost burial in Chamber 5.


But the highlight of Chamber 5 is clearly a very nicely worked scarab ring made in gold and silver – still found in situ between the legs of a female individual close to the entrance of the chamber. The quality of it is simply amazing, really the work of a very skilled craftsman – probably a master goldworker…

Not only the highlight from Chamber 5, but one of the most beautiful objects from Tomb 26!


Unfortunately, no personal names have survived from Chamber 5. The pottery and funerary equipment suggests a date in the mid-18th Dynasty, thus very close to Khnummose’s burial – for now, I would therefore like to suggest that at least some of the persons buried in the western Chamber 5 were related to the master gold worker Khnummose. The quality of the finds, especially the jewelry and also the use of gold foil, would definitely seem suitable for a family of gold workers living on Sai during the 18th Dynasty.
Tomb 26 will keep us very busy in the next weeks and months – but for now, loads of thanks go to Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager for their excellent job – alf mabruk, more than well done!