Finally: a schist floor found in situ at SAV1 East

Sometimes the greatest finds just come up 30 min before the end of a day… Our week 2 just ended perfectly: finally, after two years of documenting large fragments of schist with plaster at SAV1 East – obviously dismantled pavements of rooms – we located in situ remains of a substantial mud brick wall with abutting plaster and schist!

In the southwestern corner of Square 4C, a large sandstone block caught our attention. It was dumped between mud brick debris; a faded line of brick was soon visible a bit further to the east. Cleaning these bricks today, I realized that they are the last remains of a large wall, running almost north-south, thus with a similar alignment as Building A.

Still attached to the small section of this wall, there is a large plate of schist and lots of plaster. There was no time today to properly clean the area, but the sandstone block is definitely also sitting on this schist pavement!

IMG_7038Of course it is still too early to speculate about the shape, size and function of this room – but the new elaborate schist floor finds its best parallel in the large magazines in the southern part of the New Kingdom town. Very exciting and looking much forward to the upcoming week of fieldwork!

Déjà-vu at SAV1 East: more negative walls?

Being back on an excavation, one quite often has the feeling of never having been away – the same routine again, time flies by… Today was particularly full of déjà-vu at SAV1 East – not only are the nimiti-flies already active as ever, the Gebel Abri the same splendid scenery as always, but there are also strikingly similar findings to the last years.

IMG_6737aIn our new Square 4B, located towards the west of our former area, part of a mudbrick wall was found in situ – however, with the sandy filling next to it and a deep pit in line with it, this all reminds me a lot of earlier finds in other squares. I am quite convinced that the bricks are nothing else than the remains of a substantial wall which was otherwise completely removed in Christian/Ottoman times. Thus, we have probably located another negative wall at SAV1 East!

Maybe a new negative wall in SAV1 East?

Maybe the first traces of a new negative wall in SAV1 East?

Although for once, I would have preferred a standing structure in this sector of the New Kingdom town, I am very happy with the results of the last days. We will be able to trace at least parts of the outline of a seemingly substantial building dating to the 18th Dynasty and investigate its relation to Building A. All in all, our ongoing fieldwork will produce fresh and important information about the internal structure of the town. Of course we’ll keep you posted!

Fire dogs and food preparation on Sai

Among the most interesting functional vessel types found in the New Kingdom town of Sai are so-called fire dogs, currently studied by Nicole Mosiniak.

The common assumption is that these vessels were used to hold a cooking pot over a fire. In 2014, thanks to the cooperation and help of the University of Vienna and the NHM, we conducted one experimental project on fire dogs at the “MAMUZ” open-air Museum in Asparn (Lower Austria).

We had several questions we wanted to investigate, first of all the way of manufacture of the fire dogs and their possible function(s). All in all, our experiments showed that cooking is possible with copies of the Ancient Egyptian devices – but it is still not a very convincing way of preparing food, thus Nicole is still taking into consideration also other possible uses respectively a multi-functional use.

Our modern copies of ancient fire dogs holding a cooking pot above the fire place in Asparn.

Our modern copies of ancient fire dogs holding a cooking pot above the fire place in Asparn.

This year, an interesting new find came up in SAV1 East. From this sector, until 2014 only five fire dogs were documented – except for one all from surface layers and thus without proper context. This should change during the 2015 season while excavating feature 15.

Feature 15 is a subterranean room located in the central courtyard of Building A. It is of rectangular shape and once had a vaulted roof. Feature 15 is lined with red bricks and red bricks also form the pavement of the structure.

Ashy deposits, large amounts of charcoal, hundreds of dome-palm fruits and abundant animal bones with traces of burning, suggest that feature 15 might have been used as a room for food preparation. Among more than 80 almost intact vessels, mostly plates and dishes, beakers, storage jars and pot stands, there was also a fragment of a fire dog.

Drawing of fire dog fragment from feature 15 (Oliver Frank Stephan).

Drawing of fire dog fragment from feature 15 (Oliver Frank Stephan).

SAV1W P163 has a rim diameter of c. 16 cm and shows traces of burning on several spots. It is the first fire dog found on Sai from a sealed context dating to the early-mid 18th Dynasty. Although its function is not explicit, the associated finds from feature 15 might point towards a use within food preparation and here as support for cooking pots. However, it should be noted that only one cooking pot was found in feature 15.

All in all, the fresh finds from feature 15 stress that the large number of fire dogs from Sai might result from a quite complex use of these devices which is still not completely understood.

AcrossBorders 2015: looking back at a fruitful season

Thanks to the great help and support by our Sudanese colleagues, everything was arranged in the last days here in Khartoum and a set of samples is waiting to be exported; Martin and me are flying out early tomorrow morning – as the last team members of AcrossBorders’ 2015 field season.

Looking back, it’s a challenge to summarize these ten weeks in the field on Sai Island. The 2015 field season resulted in various important insights and added valuable information about the evolution of the Pharaonic town of Sai Island and its development from the early 18th Dynasty to the Ramesside era. The four most important results can be briefly summarized as follows:

(1)     The features unearthed in the southern part of SAV1 East pre-date “Building A” and probably belong to the early 18th Dynasty. With feature 57, a terrace wall set against the natural gravel deposit, affinities to the building technique of the Kerma culture – dry-stone walls with galus/earth– can be noted. All in all, these southern remains mirror our findings in 2013 and can be interpreted as the northern extensions of the area excavated by Michel Azim around temple A. A dating to the very early New Kingdom (Ahmose? Amenhotep I?) is most likely.

Early 18th Dynasty remains along the southern edge of SAV1 East; including the terracing wall feature 57.

Early 18th Dynasty remains along the southern edge of SAV1 East; including the terracing wall feature 57.

(2)     “Building A” at SAV1 East provides a close parallel to the so-called residence SAF2 in the southern part of the Pharaonic town, probably also regarding its function. For the first time, large sets of seal impressions were discovered in the Pharaonic town of Sai, allowing reconstructing patterns of the Egyptian administration in Upper Nubia. The recent finds illustrate very well the importance of Sai as administrative centre during the time of Thutmose III, but probably already during the reign of Hatshepsut.

(3)     The earliest phase of occupation within the town enclosure at SAV1 West is contemporaneous to the building of the town wall and dates to the mid-18th Dynasty. There is clear negative evidence for an early 18th Dynasty presence at the site. It has to be highlighted that we also have hints for Ramesside activities at SAV1 West.

Nothing predating the town enclosure was found in SAV1 West - the earliest exposed structures are contemporaneous to the town wall.

Nothing predating the town enclosure was found in SAV1 West – the earliest exposed structures are contemporaneous to the town wall.

(4)     More New Kingdom tombs are still unexcavated in the southern part of the major pyramid cemetery SAC5 – this is clearly illustrated by tomb 26. The findings in tomb 26 testify that there were burials during the 19th Dynasty – of high officials like the jdnw of Kush Hornakht. This is of great importance for understanding the relationship between Sai and Amara West in this era and might be of historical significance for Upper Nubia in a broader sense.

The shaft of tomb 26 yielded a lot of interesting finds attesting to a multiple use!

The shaft of tomb 26 yielded a lot of interesting finds attesting to a multiple use!

Once again I would like to thank everybody who contributed to this very successful 2015 season – all international team members, all colleagues from NCAM and especially our inspector Huda Magzoub who did a fantastic job as usual, all of the house staff (Sidahmed, Abdelfatah, Osama, Moatez and Ahmed), the field staff and of course the local communities on Sai. Looking much forward to the post-excavation processing of this rich set of data, samples and finds and of course to the next season 2016!

IMG_4208a

The success of the 2015 season was only possibly with great team work!

End of week 2: more bricks and finds

Time flies by even faster during excavations… we just closed the second week of fieldwork in Pharaonic town of Sai in the sectors SAV1 West and SAV1 East – after some ice-cold days at the beginning of the week, the conditions are now perfect and still almost completly nimiti-free.

According to our time plan, we managed to verify the state of preservation of the town enclosure wall in the western part of our new trench at SAV1 West.

Trench 1 South, SAV1 West on day 1 of the 2015 season.

Trench 1 South, SAV1 West on day 1 of the 2015 season.

The picture has markedly changed since work started: the outline of both the original brick work and the later destruction/pitting are now clearly visible.

Trench 1 South at the end of week 2 of the 2015 season.

Trench 1 South at the end of week 2 of the 2015 season.

Work will focus on the eastern half of Trench 1 South in the upcoming week – very promising in situ remains of mud brick buildings are already visible.

At SAV1 East, we are concentrating on Building A. Good progress was made in finding the continuation of already known walls as well as new sections of the western part of the building.

Work at SAV1 East concentrates on the foundations of Building A.

Work at SAV1 East concentrates on the foundations of Building A.

 

Registration, processing and recording of pottery, stone tools and other finds also continued – the amount of finds is considerable and will keep us very busy in the upcoming weeks!

 

Sand, debris and bricks: New sections of negative walls from SAV1 East

At SAV1 East, excavation of the large building complex, Building A, is ongoing, supervised by Jördis Vieth and Huda Magzoub. Previous work has enabled us to make comparisons of this complex with the governor’s residence in the southern part of the town. Building A dates to the mid-18th Dynasty.

Like last year, we are currently finding large numbers of schist (amphibolite) fragments in the western part of SAV1 East. Because many of these fragments are still coated with gypsum/plaster we think that this part of Building A was once equipped with a nice schist pavement.

Plan of SAV1 East with Building A highlighted. The arrow marks our present working area.

Plan of SAV1 East with Building A highlighted. The arrow marks our present working area.

Most exciting about this week’s work in Square 4 is the confirmation of traces visible on the geophysical survey map from 2011: we have located another “negative” wall of Building A – obviously the continuation of its major wall in the south, running roughly east-west. Some of the bricks are still left in place, but most of the material has been taken out as it was the case with the other walls of the structure. However, the remains are sufficient to confirm once again the dating and they will enable us to reconstruct the ground plan of Building A in its southwestern corner.

Newly exposed area of Building A: note the sandy trench marking the "negative wall" and the bricks still in situ.

Newly exposed area of Building A: note the sandy trench marking the “negative wall” and the bricks still in situ.

Negative walls and foundation trenches of Building A

Work was resumed at sector SAV1 East – this season we are focusing on Square 4. The aim is to understand the respective part of Building A, especially the wall 34, its foundation bed 33 and the adjacent floor pavements.

IMG_1401aToday, work continued in the foundation trench 33, exposing more of 18th Dynasty mud bricks. However, most of the bricks were removed in antiquity. The filling material of the trench mainly contains pottery from Late Christian times and also some Ottoman sherds. The 18th Dynasty ceramics can be dated to Thutmoside times, corresponding to our previous assessments of the dating of Building A.

SAV1 East, Square 4. In the front the newly exposed bricks in  foundation bed 33.

SAV1 East, Square 4. In the front the newly exposed bricks in foundation bed 33.

As observed in the last years, SAV1 East yielded already after a few days of excavation a considerable number of bread moulds. This is one of the distinctive features of this sector within the New Kingdom town – markedly different from SAV1 North and also SAV1 West.

Pavements and floors at SAV1 East

View of part of the brick pavement in the governor's residence.

View of part of the brick pavement in the governor’s residence.

Different types of floor coatings, layers and pavements are well known from the southern part of the Pharaonic town of Sai examined by Michel Azim in the 1970ties. For example, the central room of the so-called governor’s residence has a splendid and very nicely preserved brick pavement. Some of the magazines show schist floors of which large pieces are still in place, together with a thick layer of gypsum. Similar schist floors have been recently excavated at Amara West, also within the context of storage rooms in the Rameside town.

Magazine with schist floor still in place.

Magazine with schist floor still in place.

At Sai, SAV1 East with its large building complex, Building A, resembles in some aspects the southern part of the town and especially the area of the governor’s residence. During excavation in 2014 a large amount of schist fragments were found (according to our geologist, Erich Draganits, the correct term for this type of stone is amphibolite). Very often these fragments are still coated with gypsum/plaster – direct evidence that they have been used to cover parts of a building, most likely the floor. The schist fragments came to light from both, directly below the modern surface above remains of mud floors and, in larger numbers, from fillings of large pits cutting into the New Kingdom structures. It is therefore likely that a former schist pavement has been destroyed in antiquity and the plates were broken and dislocated.

Overview of Southern half of Square 3 - note the schist fragments in the southern baulk, within the filling of pit 46.

Overview of southern half of Square 3 – note the schist fragments in the southern baulk, within the filling of pit 46.

All in all, 330 fragments were recovered from the western edge of Square 3 and Square 4 at SAV1 East. They would cover an area of approximately 3 square meters (not calculating spaces between the individual plates), indicating that either just a small area of the entrance rooms of Building A was equipped with this special paving or that much has been lost and we only found a very small percentage.

The first interpretation seems more likely as actually 3 square meters fit perfectly to the area where the highest concentration of schist fragments was discovered: between feature 40, a small interior wall running East-West, and feature 36, the main North-South wall in Squares 3 and 4, running parallel to the Eastern side of Building A as exposed in 2013.

    Southwestern corner of Square 3: between features 40, 36 and 46 the highest concentration of schist plates was found (Digital surface model: M. Fera 2014).

Southwestern corner of Square 3: between features 40, 36 and 46 the highest concentration of schist plates was found (Digital surface model: M. Fera 2014).

Some mud pavement remains have also survived – maybe they originally were the lower bedding for the schist plates; towards the south, pit 46 cuts off the New Kingdom remains.

Even if Building A has been badly damaged and its present state of preservation is largely restricted to the foundations, the elaborate schist floor somewhere in the western part of the structure underlines its high quality of building technique and important status comparable to the governor’s residence.