FROM POT TO DRAWING

Teaching theoretical and practical aspects of pottery processing (by Oliver Frank Stephan & Giulia D’Ercole)

Winter can be quite long and relatively boring in Munich, especially when compared to the time in the field and the spectacular recent discoveries coming day after day from Tomb 26 on Sai Island.

However, in Munich winter is also the time for teaching and for the annual winter semester AcrossBorders classes on practical archaeology. Following the successful experience of last year, we organized the second edition of the ‘AcrossBorders classes on Grabungsarchäologie’ for the students at LMU this current semester.

The main topic of this year was pottery, in all its forms, beginning with the theoretical aspects on ceramic and ending with the principal methodologies for pottery documentation and processing. Classes started in December with the first introductive lecture on Dec 8th, at which Julia Budka gave the students a comprehensive introduction on the theoretical aspects of pottery, with particular reference to the importance of pottery for dating structures and archaeological contexts.

In the following classes, students received a summary on Egyptian ceramics and the Vienna system, which is an essential tool for categorizing and macroscopically assessing different types of wares and clays. Oliver Frank Stephan, now on Sai Island for his fifth excavation season with AcrossBorders, illustrated to the students the main manufacturing techniques known in Egypt. He also discussed the different methods adopted by ancient Egyptian potters for firing their vessels and further presented the different styles of decoration, e.g. paintings, slips, incised wavy lines or applications. Finally, Giulia D’Ercole informed the students on the potential of recent archaeometric and technological methodologies for studying pottery, with reference to some of the principal analytical approaches used by archaeologists: petrographic, mineralogical and chemical laboratory analyses. The first series of classes ended with a theoretical lecture on pottery drawing.

The second step of this pottery-seminar was a two-day full immersion practical class, held in January at our project-office. With the students, we repeated and settled some of the main topics of our theoretical classes. Then the practical part started: each student was equipped with the materials we use for drawing pottery in the field and could experience in person how fascinating but challenging it can be to draw authentic ancient sherds! At the end of the day, with our helping hand and their excellent endurance – combined with the typical enthusiasm of the beginner – they were able to create very nice drawings!

We closed our practical class with some other important processing steps that need to be done on excavation and in the office after the field season. These include photographic documentation of potsherds and small finds (e.g. scarabs or shabtis) and of course the digitalization of the drawn pots, making them ready for publication or further studies.

To sum up, the class was highly useful for both the students and us. They learned more about the importance of pottery in archaeological contexts and how to deal with it, theoretically and especially practically, by working “face to face” with original ceramic material from Sudan. We also had the nice opportunity to share our knowledge with others and hopefully pass on a bit of our passion towards pottery, sherds and lots of drawings.

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Summary of week 6, field season 2017

Week 6 in Tomb 26 focused on the very nicely equipped burial of Khnum-mes in Chamber 6. Documenting it was getting more and more challenging – it is directly next to the northern wall of the chamber, leaving little space cleaning its northern side and for taking photos for Structure From Motion surface models…

Stone shabti of Khnum-mes in situ.


In addition to his nicely painted coffin and funerary mask and the high-quality stone shabti, Khnum-mes has four stone vessels, two of which are inscribed with his name!

A large-sized scarab just came up yesterday, resting outside the southern side of the now decayed coffin, not yet fully exposed. But like the shabti, this piece is very nicely made and will hopefully give us the name of the deceased. Palaeographic comparisons might even allow some judgement whether these two pieces of mid-18th-Dynasty elite funerary equipment were made in the same workshop…
The second burial in Chamber 6 remained anonymous so far. It had some pottery vessels as burial gifts as well as a nice collection of miniature stone and pottery vessels! Together with Khnum-mes, Chamber 6 yielded a total of 6 stone vessels – quite a considerable amount.

Work in the western Chamber 5 makes very good progress thanks to the efforts by Andrea. However, the situation in the northern part is very difficult. A minimum of 5, possibly more, individuals are buried there below debris, very close to each other and partly superimposing another – a real challenge for cleaning and very time consuming!
Some nice finds were already made in this part of Chamber 5 – a small crocodile amulet and a scarab; more are to be expected in the upcoming week!

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An eye for an eye…

As reported, the burials we are currently excavating in Tomb 26 were buried in Egyptian style in wooden coffins – unfortunately, with all the flooding of the chambers little of the wood has survived. We are mostly dealing with “negative” coffins – slightly darker outlines in the flood levels and sometimes decayed wood with traces of pigments. The colors white, blue and yellow are most common – there are also traces of red.
What has survived slightly better, are parts of the funerary masks – and here especially inlays. Already during the French excavations in neighboring tombs in SAC5, eyes of such funerary masks were found (see Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. 1, 166, vol. 2, pl. 88).
In Tomb 26, a very nicely preserved eye pair is associated with the individual whom we can tentatively identify as Khnum-mes thanks to his shabti found last week.

One eye was laying upside-down next to the skull (blue arrow), the other one was found a bit further down the body close to the chest. The first was removed today, in order to continue cleaning the head part of the coffin – and it turned out to be the left one, nicely corresponding to its find location.

Both eyes are perfectly worked – the iris, set into white plaster, is made in a hard, black stone, giving a very natural appearance! Metallic outlines of the eye underline the high quality work of the mask which must have been really stunning when completely preserved.
In addition to Khnum-mes’ funerary mask, we have fragments of at least two more – insha’allah more pieces will turn up in the next days.

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

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Summary of week 5, Tomb 26

We made very good progress working in Tomb 26 this week. Excavation and cleaning continues in the western, “hidden” Chamber 5 and in the northern, lower Chamber 6.

In Chamber 5, the southern third of the chamber has been cleaned, revealing 2 in situ burials in extended position, oriented East-West. The second burial was badly smashed below debris from the roof and partly covered with collapsed plaster. Ceramic vessels and other finds had been placed at both the feet and the head – the most remarkable  new find from this week is a nicely worked heart scarab! This piece is still left in situ, as are all the other finds and human remains – if space allows it, we would like of course a final SFM documentation of all burials in the chamber. A minimum of 4 more burials are still waiting for us!

Chamber 5, note the collapsed plaster.

Chamber 6 is getting more and more exciting! We have finally reached the base of the trench giving access to this chamber – the chamber itself is only 80-100 cm high and with an east-west extension of 220-230 cm quite small. However, and these are the big news from this week, large enough to hold 2 wooden coffins and 2 burials!

Chamber 6 with remains of two burials placed in wooden coffins.

The remains of the coffins, placed with the head to the west, parallel to the side walls, are very fragile – decayed wood, faded plaster remains and traces of blue, white, yellow and red were documented. Best preserved are the head parts of the two coffins. In each of them, the skull is a bit misplaced – possibly because of all the sediment/water floods that filled the chamber until the top.

As already announced earlier this week, a small cluster of miniature vessels and more flower pots were used as burial gifts in Chamber 6. The biggest discovery, however, was made yesterday, just before lunch time: between the two coffin heads, two stone vessels and a broken flower pot appeared a few days ago. While cleaning them and the outline of the northern coffin, I found another object made in stone: a beautiful stone shabti, lying on its side looking towards the northern coffin!

It’s a very high quality product, finding parallels in the 18th Dynasty tombs excavated by the French mission in SAC5. The shabti in Chamber 6 is of course still in place and not completely cleaned, thus the inscription is not yet readable in total. But the name of its owner is already visible and for the AcrossBorders project, it is simply perfect: he is a wab-priest with the name Khnum-mes, thus a very nice indirect reference to the First Cataract region and AcrossBorders’s other working site in Egypt, Elephantine!

The newly discovered shabti of Khnum-mes.

Much to look forward to in the upcoming week! For now, we’re having a well-deserved weekend after a busy week full of excitement and important discoveries.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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Summary of week 3, fieldwork season 2017

Having just started week 4 of the 2017 fieldwork season, it’s time to briefly summarize the last week of work in Tomb 26 and in SAV1 West.

In Tomb 26, lots of things changed… The trench in front of the lower burial chamber still keeps us busy – we finally have now an almost complete skeleton still in place. But we still don’t know how much deeper the trench continues. The silt filling is partly void of finds, partly full of bones and also includes some pottery sherds.

Andrea busy cleaning the new, almost intact skeleton in the trench.

A big surprise waited for us in the northwestern corner of the main chamber. I started cleaning there at the very beginning of this season. Already in 2016, a feature in this corner was described as “niche” – obviously a small opening into the western wall, with collapsed stones making an assessment of its size difficult. Well – this small niche is now another chamber, measuring ca. 3.3×3.4m – and actually a “hidden chamber”! Cleaning the entrance area and removing all the collapsed stone from the roof, it became clear that the worked stones lining the western wall of the main chamber hide the second chamber situated further west! Since all was once plastered, the new chamber was once obviously nicely concealed.

Cleaning the new chamber was hard work – it was filled until the top with dense flood levels.

We have almost finished removing the debris, having reached more flood levels with some bones and pottery – at present, it seems that only little remains of burials have survived – however, for the ground plan and general understanding of Tomb 26, this is all very exciting! And we can say already that this new chamber was also plastered – remains were found on the collapsed roof and on one part where we have reached the chamber floor.

Work in SAV1 West is also progressing were well – we managed to finish excavating the extension to Square 1SE to the east which was necessary because of the new cellar found in week 2. Only little in situ mud brick structures have survived – but we will be able to put together ground plans of some nice domestic structures. Besides the cellar, a storage pit and a possible grind stone emplacement were found.

Registration of finds is continuing – our favorite piece of week 3 was a tiny miniature net-weight! Its small size becomes very evident when compared side by side with an axe-head shaped net-weight of regular size.

Furthermore, to round up a very productive week with lots of new finds, we had a perfect Friday trip to Kawa and a wonderful tour by Derek Welsby through town and cemetery – the warm welcome by our British colleagues was very much appreciated!

Last, but definitely not least, I am more than happy that my dear friend and distinguished Viennese colleague Helmut Satzinger joined us yesterday. Timing could not be better: we had the possibility to celebrate today his birthday with a small boat trip – unfortunately without seeing crocodiles, but with plenty of nimiti ;-)!

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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.

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Hidden Highlights 4

Material: Clay   L: 5.7cm; W:4.1cm; H:4.3cm

SAV1E 851 initially presents itself as a somewhat challenging figurine. Rather crudely shaped out of clay, the shape is elongated with one rounded and one broken end. With a little imagination it is possible to visualize this object as the rear end of an animal.  This creature must certainly be recumbent as the smooth preserved bottom precludes the attachment of legs. Unfortunately, the surface of the area where a potential tail may attach is damaged. Though the shape is vague, the prominently incised decoration is quite remarkable. Two lines of incised dots run across the back (one forming the edge of break), a common design of body adornment on the rudimentary style of clay female figurines which are frequently found within the New Kingdom settlement of Sai.

In addition to the dotted lines, the left flank bears a lotus petal and the right a butterfly, motifs typically found on the well-known faience hippos of the Middle Kingdom. The combination of the shape and the distinctive decoration means that this (previously) unremarkable lump of clay must be a hippo!

As the largest indigenous animal in Egypt, the hippopotamus was memorialized in art from the Predynastic Period onwards. Commonly associated with the protective qualities of the goddess Taweret or the chaotic forces of Seth, the hippo motif finds a home in both the private and public spheres. As such, representations may include either the composite form of the deity or the animal itself. Zoomorphic figurines are known in a range of materials and like SAV1E, clay hippos are attested also in the New Kingdom settlements of Amarna and Lisht.

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