Summary of week 8, fieldwork season 2017

In week 8 of our current fieldwork season on Sai, we started excavations at sector SAV1 East with a group of workmen. We extended our excavation area towards the southwest, opening a new square labelled Square 4D, hoping to get more remains of the mud brick structures we found last year with in situ-schist pavements.

First day at SAV1 East, with part of the extension Sq. 4D visible.


Making very good progress, we have indeed exposed already a new mud brick wall which is exactly in line with the one in Square 4C! Some of the bricks of this wall are burnt, lots of ash and charcoal were found adjacent to it. Together with a very large proportion of 18th Dynasty bread moulds, I am wondering again – like I did in earlier season – if SAV1 East is connected with the production of bread for the nearby Temple A. The amounts of ceramics are still in general amazing: I processed 112 baskets of pottery from only 5 working days! Dating confirms earlier results: a very good presence of mid-18th Dynasty material, some late 18th Dynasty and few Ramesside sherds, all together with mixed material from later periods up to Ottoman times.

Work in the magazine with registration, drawing of pottery and small finds is progressing very well. This week, Daniela Penzer joined Oliver in making drawings of pottery, Lucia Sedlakova concentrates on objects from the town area.

Regarding new finds, the usual stone tools, clay beads, female figurines and reused sherds came in this week from SAV1 East. Our registrar Meg Gundlach is still mostly occupied with wonderful things from Tomb 26 – more scarabs, more amulets and more gold foil from funerary masks. The beautiful crocodile amulets – now a total of 4, probably all belonging to a female adult buried in the northern part of Chamber 5 – were photographed and described in detail.

In addition, with the re-arrival of Cajetan Geiger, the new chambers and excavated areas of Tomb 26 were completely surveyed and measured.

With the end of our season approaching, Andrea, Marlies and me will now spend a productive Friday in Tomb 26 – aiming to finish documenting it today! An update will follow shortly.

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Summary of week 7, field season 2017

In week 7, we started with post-excavation documentation of the burial of Khnum-mes from Chamber 6. There are two aspects that I got completely wrong during excavation while the objects were still in situ, dusty and not yet clean: the total of 6 “stone vessels” from Chamber 6 are actually made of a different material – they are all in faience! Very nice parallels can be found in neighbouring tombs excavated by our French colleagues.
The second modification concerns Khnum-mes’ title – already when taking out his shabti and the faience vessels, I was a bit irritated by my first reading as “wab-priest”. Well – in the magazine, with good light and together with our registrar Meg Gundlach, it is now clear that Khnum-mes was a master goldworker (nbj and Hrj nbjw). This fits of course perfectly to the association of New Kingdom temple towns in general, and Sai Island in particular, with gold exploitation in Nubia!
His shabti – as well as the heart scarab – are real master pieces and of very high quality – it is definitely the highlight of AcrossBorders’ excavation in SAC5 since 2015.

As reported yesterday, excavation work now focuses in Tomb 26 on Chamber 5 – Andrea and Marlies are busy cleaning and documented a good number of burials; amulets, beads and scarabs as well as funerary masks are the most common finds in addition to pottery – several intact vessels of various sizes, with so-called flower pots as most frequent type.
Most important and actually very fresh news, having spent a productive Friday of work in Tomb 26: I managed to locate the southern and western walls and also the corresponding corners of Chamber 5! This was of prime importance at this stage, but not an easy task, given the poor quality of sandstone and a large amount of debris on the walls. Some white wall plaster is still preserved in situ – exactly like we found it in the main chamber 2. Fortunately, the dimensions of Chamber 5 are now confirmed, with only the north-western corner left to clean.

Furthermore, registration and documentation was continued this week, reaching the “drawing phase”. Oliver Frank Stephan and Julian Putner arrived at the beginning of the week and started immediately with drawings of small finds and pottery vessels, both from the town and Tomb 26.

A last group of team members will arrive next week – the final reinforcement for the grand finale of our last season and 3 weeks of excavation in the town, at SAV1 East.

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Work in progress in Chamber 5, Tomb 26: more bones, pots & some crocodiles

Week 7 of our field season on Sai just ended – and kept us very busy in Tomb 26. After having finished documenting the burial of Khnum-mes and his wife in Chamber 6, we are now concentrating on Chamber 5 – our hidden western chamber, discovered In January. I am delighted that Marlies Wohlschlager arrived earlier this week, working now jointly with Andrea Stadlmayr as the project’s bioarchaeologists on the burials in this part of Tomb 26.

The nicest find from Chamber 5 so far was just taken out today – a small, quite fragile scarab in faience. Its back part has a wonderful decoration pattern showing a lion, a crocodile (which almost looks like a human/prisoner, maybe not a coincidence…) and a snake.

With two amulets in the shape of crocodiles discovered close by at another individual (and, as yet, still left in place), crocodiles seem to have been preferred themes within the funerary equipment of Chamber 5. Since we have not viewed a single living crocodile during this season, really much welcomed!

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Valentine’s day compliments from Tomb 26

In honor of Valentine’s day, we thought we would share with you a tribute worthy of Hathor herself.

SAC5 349
L: 8.4cm
W: 6.1cm
H: 2.1cm

As highlighted earlier this week, the burial of Khnum-mes is a treasure trove of Eighteenth Dynasty funerary goods, a period that emphasized quality and artisanship over quantity. Amongst the assemblage is a large stone heart scarab, shaped as a rather abstract beetle. The opposing side is inscribed with Chapter 30 from the Book of the Dead. Though the name of the owner is rarely incorporated into this text, the proximity to the body and similarities to the associated shabti make the identification certain.

We all know that there are few things more romantic than a dung beetle, this is not just a standard heart scarab. In the gap between the upper register and the curved top, an additional inscription has been added. Clearly in a second hand—and rather scruffy for even the standards of heart scarabs—a dedication to the lady of the house has been scratched into the surface. Unfortunately, the name is less clear and the two horizontal lines encompass a number of options. Thus, though the scarab itself appears to belong to the assemblage of Khnum-mes, the naming of his wife quite probably identifies the female body of the chamber (which seems to have been buried slightly later). A married couple, together for eternity. Love memorialized on a dung beetle.

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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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