Valentine’s Day Special: An exceptional heart scarab from Sai

Last year on Valentine’s Day, excavations in Tomb 26 on Sai were still ongoing. As Meg Gundlach put it back then “there are few things more romantic than a dung beetle”. Well – exactly! One year later, it’s again time to write about this very special heart scarab, SAC5 349, found next to the skeleton of chief goldsmith Khnummose. Let’s start with a spoiler: no, I still cannot read the name on the heart scarab, there is no complete love story to tell about Khnummose and his wife. But: my assumption that it is possibly the wife’s name on the scarab who was buried next to Khnummose at a slightly later moment still stands, although it remains hypothetical.

The heart scarab of Khnummose’s tomb group is an exceptional example also for other reasons. The general appearance of gold flakes and use of gold for the funerary equipment and jewellery in Tomb 26 is striking and seems to be connected with Khnummose’s profession. Very remarkable, among others, is this beautiful signet ring made of silver and gold found in Chamber 5.

But coming back to the heart scarab: during the process of cleaning it in situ in Chamber 6, very fragile strips of gold came to light.

One piece was clearly attached around the base, other fragments where found close to the head of the scarab.

Possibly there were originally also gold bands across the elytra and at the division of the wing cases; this arrangement finds a close parallel in a Late New Kingdom example now kept at Liverpool – 1977.112.257 is a very nice heart scarab made of green jasper, it still has strips of gold attached.

Heart scarab Liverpool 1977.112.257,

In general, such gold bands on heart scarabs of the New Kingdom are rare – for our example from Sai, I believe that they could attest to Khnummose’s job as chief goldsmith and to the general connection of the island to the gold exploitation in Nubia.

New releases – some papers on Tomb 26 on Sai Island

Having just returned from Sudan and the student excursion, it’s very pleasant to find some new releases on one’s desk – especially because these also comprise papers highlightening the significance of Tomb 26 and especially of the burial of Khnummose on Sai Island.

The following new articles are relevant for AcrossBorders’ work in cemetery SAC5:

Budka, J., Pyramid cemetery SAC5, Sai Island, Northern Sudan: An update based on fieldwork from 2015–2017, Ägypten und Levante 27, 2017, 107‒130.
Budka, J., Das Grab eines Goldschmiedemeisters auf Sai in Obernubien, Sokar 35, 2017, 52-63.
Budka, J., The Tomb of a Master of Gold-workers on Sai Island, Ancient Egypt 18, No. 3, 2017/2018, 14-20.

Within the article published in Ägypten und Levante 27, I tried to reconstruct the complete use-life of Tomb 26, presenting for the first time preliminary results from the pottery analysis.

Please note that all of these articles still have to be regarded as “preliminary” – the final analysis, including the anthropological findings in Tomb 26 and the results from the Strontium Isotope analysis, is already well under way and will be published as another monograph in the series Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant.

On the move again – from Munich to Berkeley

Thanks to the general agreement of cooperation between the University of California, Berkeley and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), I was able to visit the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time!

In June, we enjoyed an inspiring workshop dedicated to “Archaeologies of human mobility and migration” here at the LMU – this past week, we gathered in Berkeley to discuss the theme “On the move” further. My own presentation focused on Tomb 26 – presenting some of the preliminary data from our ongoing analysis of the systematic variation in the isotopic composition of strontium in the environment of Sai and its significance for exploring the origin of people and their migration along the Nile. I also stressed the significance of Khnummose’s shabti: its raw material serpentinite is not local to Sudan, the prime sources are located in Egypt (Wadi Semna and Wadi Atalla); furthermore, name and title of Khnummose were added in a different handwriting, suggesting an “off the shelf” purchase – so we can assume that this shabti, one of AcrossBorders highlights of five years of digging on Sai, was actually an “object on the move”, being produced at a workshop probably located in Egypt (or close to the border).

I am very grateful to all LMU and Berkeley colleagues for these wonderful days both in Munich and Berkeley – especially to the organisers Carline von Nicolai and Benjamin Porter. Loads of thanks go also to Ruth Tringham for a marvellous tour through “her” San Francisco – this was definitely the highlight of my first trip to California!


In the spotlight: Khnummose and other finds

Summer has definitely arrived in Munich, the teaching term has almost ended and our AcrossBorders conference is quickly approaching.

In the last weeks, Khnummose and his tomb at Sai has received quite some attention, see e.g. an article by Owen Jarus on Life Science ( Interestingly, most articles focused on the question whether the people buried in Tomb 26 were mummified or not – I will discuss this issue as well as other aspects at the upcoming Sudantag of the Staatliches Museum für Ägyptische Kunst, July 29.

Some of the general aims and preliminary results by the AcrossBorders project are presented today on the LMU website. With a small photo gallery, the most important aspects of our work on Sai Island are addressed, focusing on the complex relations between Egyptian and Nubians in the New Kingdom.

LMU website, July 24 (screenshot).

Being very proud of and grateful for all the attention paid to Khnummose and other discoveries by AcrossBorders, I am very much looking forward to our upcoming international conference.

Tomb 26 – a short update from the field

As recently highlighted on the “Archäologieblog” at, Tomb 26 really yielded fantastic finds, especially in the current 2017 season.

We have finished clearing Chamber 6 (holding the burial of Khnummose and presumably his wife) and now also Chamber 5. In the latter, all together a minimum of nine adults and two infants (one pre-natal) were buried – with quite rich equipment and nicely preserved, although partly smashed because of the collapsed roof of the chamber.
The best preserved and probably two earliest burials were put in East-West direction (head to the west) in the southern part of the chamber. Probably a male and a female, these two burials resemble the ones discovered in Chamber 6 – remains of the painted wooden coffins, the wooden funerary masks with eye inlays and gold foil applications were found as well as faience scarabs and intact pottery vessels. Most exciting are here four small pottery vessels which were found next to clay lids with human heads – a very charming small sized variant of clay canopic jars!

Some of the finds including pottery “canopic vessels” in the head area of the southernmost burial in Chamber 5.

But the highlight of Chamber 5 is clearly a very nicely worked scarab ring made in gold and silver – still found in situ between the legs of a female individual close to the entrance of the chamber. The quality of it is simply amazing, really the work of a very skilled craftsman – probably a master goldworker…

Not only the highlight from Chamber 5, but one of the most beautiful objects from Tomb 26!

Unfortunately, no personal names have survived from Chamber 5. The pottery and funerary equipment suggests a date in the mid-18th Dynasty, thus very close to Khnummose’s burial – for now, I would therefore like to suggest that at least some of the persons buried in the western Chamber 5 were related to the master gold worker Khnummose. The quality of the finds, especially the jewelry and also the use of gold foil, would definitely seem suitable for a family of gold workers living on Sai during the 18th Dynasty.
Tomb 26 will keep us very busy in the next weeks and months – but for now, loads of thanks go to Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager for their excellent job – alf mabruk, more than well done!