Summary of week 1, fieldwork season 2017

Amazing how time flies by during a fieldwork season – we arrived at Sai one week ago, finished our first week with workmen yesterday. On Wednesday, Cajetan Geiger and Andrea Stadlmayr joined us – Cajetan will be supervising fieldwork starting next week at sector SAV1 West (together with Franziska Lehmann) and Andrea, one of the project’s physical anthropologists, is of course working with me in Tomb 26.

The results of the first week are very satisfying: on arrival, we found Tomb 26 undisturbed, successfully cleaned our re-filling of its shaft and made a first check of the lower, still unexcavated burial chamber. The entrance of this lower chamber was still largely concealed by the trench along the north wall which we did not excavate on its western side in 2016.

Starting with cleaning the northwestern corner of the main burial chamber, we soon were able to trace the outline of this trench, locating its western edge. Excavating the trench was quite a challenge, as many dislocated human bones had to be cleaned and properly documented.

Andrea and Mohammed busy working in the trench along the north wall.

Like last year, we are using SFM documentation for every single surface in order to reconstruct the formation processes within the tomb in detail. Loads of thanks go here to Martin Fera – thanks to his perfect setup in the last seasons and his detailed introduction, the documentation works very well – my photos are not yet as perfect as Martin’s, but it definitly works ;-).

The layers within the trench are mostly flood deposits as well as some collapse from the northern wall and debris. Quite substantial amounts of ceramics were found, all of which are New Kingdom in date.

Dislocated remains of burials in the trench; note the upper edge of the chamber entrance on the north wall.

Yesterday, we were able to trace the western upper edge of the entrance into the lower chamber! This entrance has quite impressive dimensions being extremly wide and we are much looking forward to clean it further and start excavating the chamber itself in the next days, insha’allah.

AcrossBorders 2015: the fieldwork season approaches

In a few days, the first group of team members of AcrossBorders will be on the way back to Sudan. We will travel via Khartoum to Sai Island and will start our third season on January 1 (insha’allah). As in the previous seasons, AcrossBorders will focus on the New Kingdom on the large island of Sai. We plan to work in different sectors within the town area and to renew work in the New Kingdom cemetery SAC5.

The 2015 fieldwork will concentrate on the continuous excavation at SAV1E and SAV1W in the New Kingdom town, the new excavation of presumed tombs in cemetery SAC 5 and the documentation of already excavated material from SAV1N, SAV1E and SAV1W (sorting and recording of the material in the courtyard and working room).

One of the main goals of the project is to improve our under­standing of the population on the island and to explore the nature of the coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians. A comparison between the material culture from the Egyptian style cemetery and the Egyptian town will be highly relevant in this respect; human remains will offer multiple aspects for analytical research, especially for studies of biological identities.

SAV1 East

Continued fieldwork in the site to the east of the Pharaonic town, labelled SAV1E, investigated for the first time in 2013, is planned for 2015. The orthogonal structure called “Building A” was largely exposed; we aim to finish the complete excavation of this important complex of the mid-18th Dynasty. Contemporaneous to the excavations, the pottery will be studied.

SAI_1887SAV1 West

New fieldwork in a site to the west of the Pharaonic town, labelled SAV1W, was started in 2014. The western enclosure wall was traced in two squares and brick work datable to the 18th Dynasty exposed. Very promising New Kingdom deposits have been noticed within the town, to the east of the enclosure wall – several phases for these structures are visible in sections of Post-Pharaonic pits. This interesting area of 18th Dynasty occupation will be the focus of the 2015 season. Contemporaneous to the excavations, the pottery will be studied. Work will also focus on a detailed study of the stone tools from SAV1W by Silvia Prell.

Sector SAV1 West.

Sector SAV1 West.

SAC 5

In 2011, a geophysical survey was conducted in the area of the most important New Kingdom cemetery of Sai, SAC5 to the South of the Pharaonic town. We plan to excavate unexplored tombs visible on the magnetometric map of the cemetery, starting with the surroundings of tombs 14 and 15 in the southern part of the cemetery. Our work will include besides the study of the architecture, finds and human remains Structure-From-Motion techniques to create a 3D model of the cemetery and especially of the newly exposed tombs.

The New Kingdom cemetery SAC 5 to the south of the Pharaonic town (view from the north).

The New Kingdom cemetery SAC 5 to the south of the Pharaonic town (view from the north).

I am especially happy that Florence Thill (Lille University) will join us during the excavations in the cemetery and will offer her expertise based on her previous work in SAC 5.

Other tasks

This year, the team will be strengthened by two geoarchaeologists, Miranda Semple and Sayantani Neogi. They will build upon the geological survey conducted in 2014 and will focus on questions of the location and nature of the ancient harbour and the ancient stone quarries. Furthermore, they will collect samples to investigate the micromorphology of the Pharaonic town, focusing on formation processes and cultural activities. It is planned that they will compare the different excavation areas (SAV1N, SAV1W and SAV1E as well as SAV1) to each other. Environmental and climatic settings and changes during the New Kingdom will be focal points in the next years – being investigated by surveying, drilling and test pits.

Furthermore, I am very happy to welcome Frits Heinrich (archaeobotanist) and Jaime van der Heul from Groningen University as external experts – they will conduct archaeobotanical research and will take relevant samples in different areas of the town.

Without doubt another busy season is waiting for us – with renewed work in the cemetery, there will be fresh challenges and for sure a lot of new material. Thanks to all of the support by our Sudanese friends and colleagues and of course due to the joint efforts of all team members, I am more than confident that the results will be amazing and the 2015 season again very productive and highly interesting.

Looking much forward to travel to Sudan and wishing all team members & friends of AcrossBorders very happy holidays and a perfect start into 2015!

New Year Sai

World of the living, world of the dead

One of the main goals of AcrossBorders is to improve our under­standing of the population on Sai Island during the New Kingdom and to explore the nature of the coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians. Who were the occupants of the newly founded town in the 18th Dynasty as far as their cultural identity is concerned ‒ Egyptians, Egyptianized Nubians or a mix of both?

Archaeological studies dealing with ethnicity, groups and identity have markedly increased in recent decades (cf. Brather 2004; Gramsch 2009). In Egyptian/Nubian archaeology, some studies have addressed aspects of cultural and ethnical identities (e.g. Meskell 1999; Meskell 2001; Smith 2003). The site of Tombos in Upper Nubia can be mentioned as a ready parallel for studies of biological identities of people buried there (Buzon 2006, 2008) and for a complex social diversity according to the material culture (Smith 2003). Recent studies at Amara West attempt to distinguish between Nubian and Egyptian features within the town (Spencer 2010). Ethnicity has also been addressed with regards to domestic evidence at Askut (Smith 1995).

View of SAC5 from the North.

View of SAC5 from the North.

On Sai Island, the two main cemeteries of the New Kingdom are located south of the town and were labelled as SAC5 and SACP1. Future work of AcrossBorders can now rely on a substantial monograph on SAC5 recently published: Anne Minault-Gout and Florence Thill, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), FIFAO 69, Cairo 2012. Sai IIThis second monograph on the work of the French Archaeological Mission on Sai Island presents in detail results of the exploration in the cemetery, which already began in the 1970s. SAC5 is of major importance as it was in use for a long period of time, covering the New Kingdom as well as the pre-Napatan period (the so called Third Intermediate Period in Egypt). Its rock-cut tombs with mostly pyramidal superstructures find close parallels in Nubia (e.g. at Soleb, Amara West and Aniba), but also in Egypt (e.g. in the Theban necropolis).

Saï II (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012) is highly recommended to all interested in New Kingdom Nubia! The volume offers detailed descriptions of 24 excavated tombs, referring to architecture, finds, ceramics and interrelationships between graves as well as to the inhabitants of Sai during the New Kingdom. The mortuary evidence from SAC5 strongly supports the findings from the New Kingdom town that there was a complex community of Egyptians and Nubians on Sai Island.  

References

Brather, S. 2004: Ethnische Interpretation in der frühgeschichtlichen Archäologie: Geschichte, Grund­lagen und Alternativen, Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der germanischen Altertums­kunde 42, Berlin.

Buzon, M. R. 2006: Biological and Ethnic Identity in New Kingdom Nubia. A Case Study from Tombos, Current Anthropology 47.4, 683–695.

Buzon, M. R. 2008: A Bioarchaeological Perspective on Egyptian Colonialism in the New Kingdom, JEA 94, 165–182.

Gramsch, A. 2009: Die Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen: Überlegungen zum Kulturwandel, in A. Zeeb-Lanz (ed.), Krisen – Kulturwandel – Kontinuitäten. Zum Ende der Bandkeramik in Mitteleuropa. Bei­träge der internationalen Tagung in Herxheim bei Landau (Pfalz) vom 14.–17. 06. 2007, Inter­nationale Archäologie. Arbeitsgemeinschaft, Symposium, Tagung, Kongress 10, Rahden/Westf., 9–25.

Meskell, L. 1999: Archaeologies of Social Life. Age, Sex, Class et cetera in Ancient Egypt, Oxford.

Meskell, L. 2001: Archaeologies of Identity, in I. Hodder (ed.), Archaeological Theory Today, Cambridge, 187–213.

Minault-Gout, A./Thill, F. 2012: Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), FIFAO 69, Cairo.

Smith, S. T. 1995: Askut in Nubia. The economics and ideology of Egyptian imperialism in the second millennium B.C., Studies in Egyptology, London/New York.

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

Spencer, N. 2010: Nubian architecture in an Egyptian town?, Sudan & Nubia 14, 15–24.