Recruitment for the last months of AcrossBorders

Simply too intriguing: Documenting Egyptian vessels from Sai back in 2012.

Sometimes things turn out just right or even perfect: Back in 2012, when an idea for a research project comparing Elephantine and Sai Island first took shape, I was supported in the field by Veronica Hinterhuber – a  friend and colleague from Humboldt-University who joint me already on several seasons in the Asasif, Thebes, Egypt.

Well – now, getting ready for the final months of AcrossBorders, having finished excavations both in Sai and on Elephantine, I am delighted to announce that Veronica came to Munich and started working for the project on December 1! With her broad experience in databases, with Egyptian and Sudanese objects and with editing publications, she will not only support me in finalizing our datasets, but will also engage in the preparation of the next monographs presenting results from the AcrossBorders project, due already in 2018.

A very warm welcome – it has taken some time, but is still simply perfect!

Winter in Egypt, week 3 at Elephantine

Having had a very pleasant visit from Friends of the Egyptian Museum in Munich today, I was just reminded that actually winter has arrived in Europe… Someone told me that it’s even supposed to snow in Munich early next week – well, I’d better not think to much about this… Anyway, I thought I share some pictures of the beauty of Aswan, especially for all of you who are not enjoying the very nice weather here in Egypt!

Week 3 just started, some more days to go before I have to head back to Munich (and will face real winter after all…). We are still focusing on Nubian wares and other pottery vessels; Oliver will be concentrating on pots from the early phases of use of House 55 this week. Lucia has already produced wonderful drawings of the numerous net weights and will continue with female figurines in the next days. Daniela is busy polishing the database and completing some entries. Making very good progress, more to come!

Nubian wares of House 55

This working week at Elephantine just flew by… I am back concentrating on another of my favorite topics within the intriguing House 55: the Nubian wares, comprising both fine wares and household wares, including drinking, serving and storage vessels as well as abundant cooking pots.

Most fascinating about the considerable assemblage of Nubian wares is besides the broad spectrum of forms and types that we find them in all levels of use of House 55 – thus, they are not restricted to the earliest phases from the 17th Dynasty and very early 18th Dynasty, but continue well into Thutmoside times. This also holds true for Kerma Black topped fine ware which is in particular of special importance – and of particular interest for us as we find good parallels in the New Kingdom town of Sai and AcrossBorders’ most recent works there.

My database currently holds 222 Nubian vessels from House 55 – 29 are Black topped fine wares, the well-known beakers, but also dishes, and small cups. Three more boxes full of Nubian sherds are still waiting to be documented, so these numbers will definitely increase in the next days. Detailed statistics and assessments of course have to wait until the very end, but the prospects are already really exciting!

Start of week 2 on Elephantine

It’s almost unbelievable – after four busy years, the excavations in House 55 on Elephantine are really finished! Today, Martin Fera took some last photos with the most recent details, including a newly emptied silo, to be added for the image based modelling of the complete building. Documentation will now focus on ceramics and finds – and the aim is, to have an overview at the end of the season of all materials.

The pottery is already well assessed – more drawings and photos will be produced, but with 2000 vessels in the database, the record is now very strong and representative.

The small finds will still keep us busy for a while – currently c. 3600 objects are in the database, but more are still waiting to be recorded. Today, I focused on some re-used sherds which are attested in a very high number. I am in particular interested in the various types of net weights. Most common in House 55 is type C in the classification by Cornelius von Pilgrim (1996). Currently, 64 net weights were recorded and except for one, all fall into this type. The single other weight is type A, the so-called axe-shape type.

Today’s focus: net weights from re-used sherds.

This dominance of type C net weights, mostly produced from Marl C and Marl A4 sherds, is striking – in particular in comparison with Sai Island. As outlined earlier, type C is quite rare in the new Kingdom town of Sai and definitely outnumbered by type A.

In 2013, I was still very unsecure about the interpretation of this difference – with little material excavated on Sai back then, all might have been accidental. But after five seasons on Sai and four seasons of work on House 44, it is now clear that the original line of interpretation is the most likely one, based on a large set of data from both sites.

As von Pilgrim has proposed (von Pilgrim 1996, 275–278) type C, recycled from pottery sherds, seems to represent the ad hoc product for individual needs. The distribution of net weights at Sai was probably organized at a more formal level than in Elephantine, with imported net weights of type A and only rare cases of versions from re-used sherds. A “centralized system of food production” as reflected in the use of net weights of type A was already suggested by Smith for the Middle Kingdom phase at Askut (Smith 2003, 101) and seems to be supported by the evidence from Sai in close comparison with Elephantine.

Tomorrow will be another busy day, full of net weights, sherds and other interesting traces of activities on 18th Dynasty Elephantine!

References

von Pilgrim 1996 = C. von Pilgrim, Elephantine XVIII. Untersuchungen in der Stadt des Mittleren Reiches und des Zweiten Zwischenzeit, AV 91, Mainz am Rhein 1996.

Smith 2003 = St. T. Smith, Wretched Kush. Ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London and New York 2003.

Back at work on Elephantine

The last excavations of the Swiss Institute Cairo in House 55 on Elephantine will start tomorrow – fieldwork is almost finished and during the last 10 days, Martin Fera and Seta Stuhec produced for AcrossBorders a complete photogrammetric documentation. An image based 3D model will soon be available, allowing a better illustration of the complex situation within the buildings with its multiple installations and various rooms.

House 55 was quite a challenge for SFM documentation.

Martin taking the very last photos this afternoon…

The focus of the 2017 season is again on ceramics, small finds and other objects. Daniela and Lucia are busy documenting objects, Oliver is producing pottery drawings and I am processing the remaining ceramic assemblages from the 46th season on Elephantine (fall 2016 and spring 2017). The focus of all of us is on the early phases of use of House 55. I am currently busy with very interesting material from the long corridor in the entrance area of the building – the amount of Nubian pottery is extremely high and raises various questions. Besides typical Pan grave style cooking pots there is also Kerma Black Topped fine ware present as well as Nubian storage vessels.

3 more busy weeks ahead of us and the final season of work at House 55 looks very promising so far!

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.

Closing the field season at House 55, Elephantine

More than six weeks of excavation in House and study season of finds and ceramics from the building passed by very quickly – we closed a very successful season yesterday.

The results were richer and more informative than expected – for the study of the architecture and building sequences as well as the material culture. More than 25 complete in situ ceramic vessels were documented – together with more than 40.000 sherds in total, they provide a substantial corpus of pottery. In 2016, a total of 350 vessels were drawn by Oliver and Eva. Although the number of objects was not overwhelming (though considerable), the stratified contexts and also the in situ position of some interesting tools and other objects present fantastic data for the early 18th Dynasty.

team-h55-2016_kleinMany thanks to all participants and everybody involved making our work here possible – first of all, of course, to the Swiss Institute and its director Cornelius von Pilgrim. Looking very much forward to processing the rich data we collected and of course to the very final 2017 season at House 55!

More micromorphological samples from House 55

The very good state of preservation of various types of floors, pavements and other deposits in House 55 made it simply essential to start a micromorphological sampling programme. Compared to Sai Island, the variety of deposits from clear phases of use and their state of preservation is much higher.

Today, we took further samples in Room C – a large hall with 3 columns; two of the bases were still found in situ during this season. These bases are not only important for reconstructing the layout of House 55, but were also quite handy during the sampling process.

20161129_070316a20161129_080926aUp to now, we have taken 22 samples from House 55. Some more will follow in the next days, making this set of samples a very representative one for early 18th Dynasty settlement contexts with a complex stratigraphy.

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.