Getting ready for week 3 at Elephantine

The second complete week of work here at Elephantine passed by very quickly. Work directed by Cornelius von Pilgrim in House 55 makes very good progress – some interesting new features give fresh food for thoughts about the ground plan and the building phases!
Work in the magazines continues as usual – Meg is busy with the object registration, OIiver is drawing ceramic vessels from House 55. In the last days, he focused on small decorated fragments – Marl clay squat jars, bichrome vessels as well as red splash ware and black rim ware. Processing of the newly excavated pottery is well underway (thanks to the great job of the specialists from Quft!) and so far the results from last year are nicely supported by this fresh material.

In addition, a new micromorphological sampling programme was started this week in House 55. We took 13 samples from various areas in two rooms. We are especially interested in floor deposits and the maintenance of floors, and, of course, general formation processes within the building. The original floors from the earliest phase of use are here of special importance. Taking samples from the well preserved sections here at Elephantine was quite a change to Sai and our sampling there. Whereas at SAV1 West and SAV1 East only little stratigraphy has survived, the perfect preservation of several phases of use of House 55 are over and over again simply amazing!

Looking much forward to week 3 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow and promising new finds and pots.

“Chamber pots” from Elephantine and Sai

Only 3 days have passed since we arrived on Elephantine Island in Egypt. Everything worked out fine and we had a very good start into the season.

Today, I used the day off from fieldwork to work on the pottery database from both Elephantine and Sai. One of the most exciting aspects of this analysis is that we are currently comparing the ceramic data from the New Kingdom town of Sai with the pottery corpus from the contemporaneous settlement at Elephantine.

Among the most important contexts from Sai is of course the material from feature 15. The large amount of intact vessels, their association with seal impressions and the clear stratigraphic sequence makes this cellar a perfect case study.

Unusual vessels from Feature 15, Sai.

Unusual vessels from Feature 15, Sai.

Besides dozens of bowls, plates and beakers, there are also two very unusual vessels from feature 15. They are unique within the pottery corpus of Sai, being heavy deep bowls with a thick flat base and a pronounced outer lip. We nicknamed them “chamber pots” and until today I was not able to find close parallels. Until today! Sitting here on my desk surrounded by all the New Kingdom pottery data from Elephantine, I suddenly remembered a complete pot we documented some years ago which is also unique within the local corpus.

Unusual pot from Elephantine...

Unusual pot from Elephantine…

The copy of the drawing of 37601X/b-29 was labelled as “Nachttopf” in my handwriting… and closely resembles our pots from feature 15! While the piece still has no parallel within the Elephantine material, it clearly compares nicely to the pots from Sai.

Although the functional use of these vessels still poses several questions (which I will leave open for now…any thoughts are of course welcome!), finds like this illustrate the huge potential of AcrossBorders’ approach to compare the Sai pottery corpus in detail with the one from Elephantine. Linking and differentiating Sai and Elephantine is making excellent progress and will of course continue!

On the way to Elephantine, Egypt

The 2016 season on Elephantine Island is approaching and promises exciting results like last year! Meg, Oliver and I are flying today, all eager to get back to House 55 and its rich inventory of small finds and pottery. The 2016 season will concentrates on this material and its comparison with Sai, illustrating the strong links between the First Cataract area and the region of Upper Nubia.

Of course we’ll keep you posted!

Back in Munich

Summer clearly has passed – not only has the weather changed, but also the winter term and the upcoming field season at Elephantine are quickly approaching.

img-20161006-wa0001Some of us have just enjoyed a wonderful trip to sunny Egypt and a reunion in one of the most important Late Period necropolis, the Asasif on the Theban West Bank. In addition to a short study season on the pottery from the South Asasif Conservation Project, we participated at the international conference “Thebes in the First Millennium BC”. With almost 200 participants, more than 40 papers, 2 days of field trips to tombs and Karnak, this conference was a great success! I was especially delighted to meet so many enthusiastic young Egyptian scholars and students, all keen to learn more about the intriguing Kushite and Saite periods in Egypt.

Now back in Munich, we are currently preparing our Elephantine season – switching from Late Period Thebes to New Kingdom Nubia and Aswan.

AcrossBorders Study Day in Munich

With all of the exciting results from current fieldwork in Egypt (Elephantine) and Sai (Sudan), it is time to present AcrossBorders’ most recent research in public. I am delighted that the first “AcrossBorders Study Day” is scheduled for the upcoming Friday, June 17, 1-6 pm. Thanks to the kind support by our colleagues of the Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst, the public lectures will take place in the lecture hall of the museum. Entrance is free and everybody is cordially invited!

A wide range of topics will be presented by team members working on various tasks within the project – fresh results from the fieldwork season 2016 on Sai Island including the GIS based documentation and 4D models, New Kingdom prosopography, aspects of the material culture and general thoughts on New Kingdom temple towns as well as new ideas about the New Kingdom landscape on Sai and data based on the micromorphological sampling programme will be discussed.

Looking much forward to this lecture day and to a reunion with fieldwork team members & friends of AcrossBorders!

Programme AcrossBorders Study-day1

65 days ago still in the field, now ready for publication: an example for post-excavation working steps

Post-excavation work is keeping us very busy at the moment in Munich, the summer term has also started with teaching and exams. Among the priorities of current tasks is the digitalization of pottery drawings in order to prepare publication-ready illustrations. These days, it was the turn of a very thought-provoking group of vessels: Egyptian cooking pots. One of these vessels is of particular interest.

A large fragment of a cooking pot from Square 4B was among my favourite finds from SAV1 East during the 2016 field season. The vessel, SAV1E P179, found still filled with ashy deposits, was sitting next to the remaining parts of a mud brick wall.

IMG_8133a1Close by, another highlight, SAV1E 1595, a small steatite scarab, was discovered. Both finds, the cooking pot and the scarab, are coming from a room to the west of Building A – traces of pavements and various deposits allow reconstructing several phases of use in the early/mid-18th Dynasty.

Coming back to the cooking pot SAV1E P179: After documenting the vessel in its original find position, we removed it and the content was sieved for further analyses. The cooking pot itself was put on the “priority list” for drawing – Daniela did a great job in Sai, and now in the office with our interactive multi-touch pen display.

P1010385a

SAV1E P179 gives really significant evidence: stratigraphically datable to the Thutmoside period, it finds close parallels at Elephantine in Upper Egypt. It is a typical example of a wheel-made, authentic Egyptian cooking pot. It was made in a very sandy Nile clay variant which was presumably produced at Elephantine/in the Aswan region – this cooking pot was therefore shipped from Egypt to Sai!

CP SAV1East

Whereas storage vessels and amphorae are commonly transported along the Nile, it is quite remarkable that also cooking pots were transported for long distances to places outside of Egypt. Imported cooking pots allowed Egyptian-style cooking in Sai during the early to mid-18th Dynasty. Obviously authentic cooking pots were considered to be important like SAV1E P179 illustrates. Our ongoing processing of the data suggests that this gradually changed in the course of the 18th Dynasty – the degree of dependence of Sai from Egypt became different and the local production of wheel-made pottery was introduced/increased.

The pottery from Sai Island New Kingdom town promises fascinating insights into the complex and developing microcosm of the site attesting to a co-existence of Egyptian and Nubian elements – we will work hard to decipher as much as possible in the next months.

A modified Egyptian cooking pot from SAV1 West?

Work is progressing well in SAV1 West – occupational deposits and new sections of walls with several phases of use datable to the mid and late 18th Dynasty have been exposed in the last days. The ceramics are very exciting – a large percentage of Egyptian marl clay wares, considerable amounts of painted wares and a very good state of preservation.

One context was especially interesting and I would like to share first impressions, hoping for some feedback at this early stage of processing. The stratigraphic unit in question comprises the last level of debris covering a small mudbrick structure in the south-eastern corner of Square 1SE. Because of its preservation, it is very likely that the pottery represents the original inventory that was shifted/mixed when the late antique pitting in the area occurred, cutting down to the original layers.

154 diagnostic sherds attest to a late 18th Dynasty date. 12 % of these diagnostics were Nubian cooking pots with clear traces of use (their surface is smoked and soothed) – mostly with basketry impression and one single piece with incised decoration. Except that this is quite a high amount of Nubian pottery, all is consistent with the findings in SAV1 West so far. Most of the Nubian cooking ware in the New Kingdom town of Sai features basketry patterns, whereas coarse incised patterns with diagonally cut lines below the rim (very common at Elephantine and mostly associated with the Pangrave culture) is less common.

Snapshot from the field: the pencil marks the unique sherd in question; below are some of the Nubian sherds.

Snapshot from the field: the pencil marks the unique sherd in question; below are some of the Nubian sherds.

What makes the context in Square 1SE special is one rim sherd: An Egyptian Nile clay cooking pot occurs side by side with the Nubian ones – basically, something which is not unusual, but already well attested at SAV1 West. Imported, authentic Egyptian wheel-made cooking pots and locally made examples thrown on the wheel are used side by side with Nubian-style products in New Kingdom Sai and were found in all sectors in the Pharaonic town (SAV1 North, SAV1 East and SAV1 West).

But: this authentic Egyptian cooking pot (produced in and imported from Egypt) is not smoked (so maybe was not yet used?), but displays a very unusual feature. Below its rim, there are several diagonally arranged black lines – definitely painted/drawn. With these strokes, the Egyptian cooking pot resembles Nubian style variants with incised decoration. So-called hybrid styles – Nubian surface treatments on otherwise Egyptian pottery vessels – are well attested at Sai, other Nubian sites and also Elephantine. But is this also the case with the unique piece in question? Did the “artist” of these black lines wanted to show that something is missing on this pot? Was it a spontaneous idea of someone familiar with the incised cooking ware? Or are these lines really to be interpreted as decoration, to fuse Nubian cooking tradition with the Egyptian style? Since the authentic Egyptian cooking pots are made and fired in Egypt, it was of course not possible to apply pre-firing incised decoration on them like on the Nubian ones and the hybrid forms at Elephantine. On the other hand, we have a number of locally produced Egyptian style cooking pots on Sai – and none of them shows incised decoration…

Much food for thought and a lot of open questions – but at the end of a long working day with much routine work and processing, findings like these are inspiring and give fresh ideas and much energy!

End of the 2015 season on Elephantine Island

Six weeks of excavation and study season passed by very quickly – we closed the work on House 55 at Elephantine yesterday, preparing to fly back home tomorrow.

The results are very satisfying ‒ both the new information gained from the continued excavation by Cornelius von Pilgrim and the new data from the studied material ‒ and support the special importance of House 55 as extraordinary building within the New Kingdom town of Elephantine. Meg Gundlach did a great job in object registration, assisted by Mona el-Azab, Oliver Frank Stephan and Eva Hemauer managed to get more than 350 drawings of complete vessels and diagnostic pieces done!

A preliminary macroscopic classification of the Nubian wares from House 55 was conducted by Giulia D’Ercole. Four main groups of fabrics were distinguished and – other than at Sai Island – the corpus here at the border of Egypt is clearly dominated by fine-medium and medium wares dung and/or chopped straw tempered.
I personally concentrated on processing the pottery from this season and the one from last year – more than 41.000 sherds passed through my fingers in the last weeks, including over 12.500 diagnostic pieces. The latter comprised almost 2000 Nubian sherds – quite a substantial amount which will be further assessed in the next season.

In less than a month we will be already working on the other island currently under investigation by AcrossBorders – the 2016 season on Sai Island is approaching and promises similar exciting results like our work at Elephantine.

For now, many thanks to all participants and everybody involved making our work here possible – Ma’a Salama and looking much forward to the 2016 season in House 55!

IMG_6153_klein

From Leipzig to Munich: A Decision Made Because of Perfect Perspectives

Hello, it’s me. I was wondering if after all these DIGS you’d like to meet…

Oliver Frank Stephan, Master of Arts in Egyptology with a thesis that dealt with wooden face fragments of (mostly) Late Period coffin-lids from the Egyptian Museum (Georg Steindorff) of Leipzig University. After finishing my masters in Leipzig, I quickly decided to take part in Julia Budka’s AcrossBorders project…

So hello from the other side… introducing myself after one fruitful year, looking back at four excavations in Egypt and Sudan: a huge amount of drawn pottery, a lot of experience and some new perspectives.

I had my first season on Elephantine for seven weeks from 18 October to 06 December 2014. My task was to draw pottery sherds and complete vessels from House 55. The current excavation of this intriguing building conducted by Cornelius von Pilgrim allows a very detailed analysis of material dating to the early and mid-18th Dynasty. Here the focus is on a functional analysis of the ceramics found at Elephantine as an important settlement in southern Egypt, at the border to Nubia. AcrossBorders is joining Cornelius von Pilgrim’s ongoing work on Elephantine, with Julia focusing her research also on the relations with Egyptian settlements in Nubia, especially Sai Island.

Before I joined Julia’s project, I worked with New Kingdom pottery and Old Kingdom stone vessels at Leipzig University for the first time. My first season on Elephantine showed me the broad variety of pottery: big and small dishes, bowls of different sizes, squat jars, cups, pilgrim flasks, beakers, flower pots, amphoras, zirs, beer jars, baking dishes, bread moulds and many more. Some of those were really challenging but with much practice I can now deal with all of those types of pottery.

For me, the most interesting thing about pottery is not only their shapes or use, but also the details of the production process. While drawing pottery you develop an understanding of their creation and it’s quite special to see that you can put your own fingers in ancient fingerprints which the potters left on the vessels. With every fingerprint I get more excited to get additional information out of these „pots“.

After my first experiences in drawing and understanding early New Kingdom pottery I planned to go to Sudan from 12 February till 15 March 2015. On Sai Island I noticed many similarities to the Elephantine material and got even more confident in dealing with pottery, seeing the importance of how easy it can be to date with the analysis of pottery (cf. Budka, J., “The early New Kingdom at Sai Island: Preliminary results based on the pottery analysis (4th Season 2010),” Sudan & Nubia 15, 2011, 23-33). Those who are following this blog already know about Feature 15 from Sai Island. From here, there was a huge quantity of complete and almost complete vessels which I drew during four weeks in Sudan.

As you can see, it’s hard to stop your interest in pottery, so I decided to assist Julia for another four weeks in Luxor with the South Asasif Conservation Project (SACP) by Elena Pischikova. The main task was to draw most of the complete vessels from TT 391 of Karabasken, which came from Area I (the courtyard of TT 391) and Room IA (a burial chamber in the north wall of the courtyard) while Julia was processing and analysing the diagnostic sherds for the database (cf. Budka, J., Pottery from the tomb of Karakhamun, in Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis, Thebes. Karakhamun (TT 223) and Karabasken (TT 391) in the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, ed. by Elena Pischikova, Cairo 2014, 247–262). To sum up this site, I’d like to give a short overview of the vessel types I worked with: conical beakers, pot stands, large storage vessels, small two handled cooking pots, oil jars containing a black and oily substance and goldfish bowls. Most of this material is dating to Ptolemaic period and it is an excellent experience to work in a funerary context, as well as a different time period (but you will hear more about this from me later…).

Now I am again on Elephantine, working on New Kingdom pottery, with exciting shapes and types of vessels. Work started 26 October and will end 5 December. There are a few days of work left and I surely will enjoy every minute dealing with my special friends.

P1000641 smallMy enthusiasm and my will to get more into pottery and dating with it is now at an all-time high. I am looking forward to upcoming seasons here on Elephantine, Sai and Asasif. That’s why I can happily announce that I will move to Munich at the end of January 2016 to extend my knowledge of the intricacies of pottery.

Fishing for more details of 18th Dynasty contexts

We are already well into week 3 here at Elephantine. Reinforcement from Munich reached us – Giulia D’Ercole and Mona Elazab joined us yesterday. Giulia is concentrating on the petrographic assessment of the Nubian fabrics in comparison to Sai Island. Mona is assisting Meg Gundlach in the object registration while Eva Hemauer and Oliver Frank Stephan are still busy drawing ceramic vessels.

Two groups of vessels are of special interest besides the Nubian wares. First, the intriguing fire dogs – with a recent find from today, we are now up to 4 pieces directly associated with house 55. Compared to Sai Island, this is of course an almost ridiculous small amount. However, the total number of fire dogs from all early-mid 18th dynasty levels at Elephantine only comes up to 9! So actually the amount of fire dogs found in our building is quite significant within the local context. And since excavation of house 55 continues, there might even be more fire dogs waiting for us!

The second group of vessels are the so called “fish dishes” which kept us busy both at Sai and here at Elephantine in the past years. One of my first ideas was that the preference for Nile silt “fish dishes” on Sai Island compared to Marl clay version indicate that the “real” Egyptian Marl B/E trays were frequently reproduced in Nubia – and for this local material (Nile silt) was used. However, already last year things got more complicated: from site SAV1 West, a large number of Marl “fish dishes” were unearthed falling into exactly the same types as known at Elephantine, currently being studied for house 55.

Today, I just a very nice fragment of a Nile “fish dish” on my desk – coming from house 55 and closely resembling the Sai pieces – in ware, technique, shape and decorative pattern. Checking the pottery database, it surprised me a bit that from 19 “fish dishes” documented so far in house 55, 6 are made in Nile clay. For all 18th Dynasty layers and a total of 33 “fish dishes” only 9 were made in Nile clay. Thus, if one checks the proportions between Nile and Marl “fish dishes” not just on Elephantine, but takes the specific example of house 55 it becomes clear that the Nile versions were also quite frequent (31 %). The general preference for Marl clay is of course persistent for “fish dishes” at Egyptian sites (see e.g. https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/museums/2014/03/21/pottery-project-guest-blog-the-enigmatic-fish-dishes-of-the-petrie-museum/).

All in all, the current study of the material from house 55 nicely illustrates the rich potential of a focused analysis of finds from one specific context, especially if these data are at a later stage compared to other contexts on the site-level and, if possible, even on a more regional scale like we are aiming for with our study.