Showcasing settlement archaeology in Egypt and Nubia

The last 5 years have been really busy – with fieldwork at Sai and Elephantine, AcrossBorders has illustrated the rich potential of modern settlement archaeology, taking advantage of recent developments in archaeometry and other interdisciplinary fields.

Results from micromorphology, geology, isotope analysis and archaeometry of ceramics and other materials provide much food for thought and illustrate the complex entanglement of cultures in New Kingdom Nubia. Cooking pots are among the most interesting findings as I have just outlined in a German blog post for the Young Academy on derStandard.at.

The closing of the AcrossBorders project is already approaching – to celebrate its success, an interdisciplinary workshop with most of our cooperation partners and many team members will take place next week in Vienna. Hoping for a fruitful discussion of possible future developments related to settlement archaeology in Egypt and Sudan, I am very much looking forward to this event.

AcrossBorders conference – last update

The first participants have already arrived here in Munich, others will come later today – all is set for the 3-days AcrossBorders conference on settlement archaeology in Egypt and Nubia, from 1–3 September, 2017 here in Munich.

Some last-minute changes were necessary – please note the updated program of “From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia.” Manfred Bietak’s paper “Settlements of mixed societies: Tell el-Daba as a case study” had to be re-scheduled to Saturday morning and some small amendments were therefore necessary for the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning session.

Looking much forward to this event and latest research on settlement archaeology in Egypt and Sudan during the New Kingdom!

AcrossBorders’ closing conference “From Microcosm to Macrocosm”

It is my great pleasure to announce the conference “From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia”, to be held from 1–3 September, 2017 in Munich, hosted by Ludwig-Maximilians-University. Thanks to the kindness of the Egyptian Museum and my colleagues there, the venue of the conference is the lecture hall of the Museum. It is the closing event of the ERC project AcrossBorders and will highlight our recent fieldwork on New Kingdom Sai.

The AcrossBorders project has concentrated in the last five years on settlement patterns in Egypt and Upper Nubia in the 2nd Millennium BC: various interactions and mutual influences are attested for these regions which are situated across ancient (Pharaonic Egypt and Kingdom of Kush) and modern (Egypt and Sudan) borders with diverse environmental and cultural preconditions. Much progress has been made in Egyptian and Nubian settlement archaeology in recent years, but further research addressing general aspects of living conditions and the specific coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians is required. Of chief interest are the architecture and structure of the Egyptian towns established in Upper Nubia during the New Kingdom, their social stratification, the local relations of Nubians and Egyptians and the specific material culture.

The conference focuses therefore on 1) individual households of selected sites in Egypt and Nubia. In addition to this microapproach, introducing microhistories of individual sites according to recent fieldwork and archaeometric applications, the event also discusses 2) general patterns and regional developments –thus, the macrocosm of New Kingdom Nubia.

I am extremely delighted that so many colleagues have accepted our invitation – the program covers a large variety of case studies from Egypt and Nubia. Among others, we will welcome as our distinguished guests Abdelrahman Ali (Director General of NCAM), Manfred Bietak (Prof. em. Vienna and PI of the ERC Advanced Grant “The Hyksos Enigma”), Charles Bonnet (Director of the excavations at Kerma/Doukki Gel), Cornelius von Pilgrim (Director of the Swiss Institute Cairo) and Neal Spencer (Keeper of the Department Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum and Director of the Amara West excavations).

Looking very much forward to this closing event here in Munich!

Crossing borders: from Egypt to Nubia

Remains of the ancient town in the southern part of Elephantine Island.

Remains of the ancient town in the southern part of Elephantine Island.

The importance of Elephantine as site with strategic value due to its location just north of the First Nile Cataract is well known. More than forty years of excavations by the joint German-Swiss mission have considerably increased our understanding of this beautiful island in Egypt’s South.

For a long period Elephantine functioned as base for Pharaonic expeditions to Nubia and as important trading point at Egypt’s southern border (cf., e.g., von Pilgrim 2010). With the so-called reconquest of Nubia, the Egyptian expansion towards the South during the 18th Dynasty, there was an increased demand for the transport of goods, materials and people to and from Upper and Lower Nubia. Elephantine flourished and gained significance during the early New Kingdom and especially in Thutmoside times.

Egyptian officials who participated in expedition and/or military campaigns towards the South had to pass through the First Cataract region. Obviously they spent some time there, at Aswan and Elephantine, before their departure to Nubia as hundreds of rock inscriptions attest (cf. Gasse/Rondot 2007; Seidlmayer 2003).

Further first hand testimony for the presence of these officials comes directly from the settlement of Elephantine – inscribed door jambs attest well-known individuals like viceroy Nehi. Of special interest is the context of these epigraphic sources: living conditions of people like Nehi traceable by the architecture and material culture. For the latter, ceramics are of high significance allowing reconstructing aspects of the daily life like food production and consumption and much more.

Within the framework of AcrossBorders, it is therefore of key importance that the 18th Dynasty pottery from Elephantine provides very close parallels to the corpus excavated at Sai (cf. Budka 2011). Within the next years, a detailed comparison of the two sites is planned and the ceramics form main elements of this study. This week, we just started our 2014 season of documenting and processing pottery at Elephantine thanks to our cooperation with the Swiss Institute Cairo and kindly supported by the German Archaeological Institute.

The focus is on material from the very early to the mid-18th Dynasty: Bauschicht/level 10 at Elephantine corresponds to levels 5-4 and the early phase of level 3 at Sai Island. Thanks to the stratigraphy at Elephantine, where several phases within one building from a certain building level are much better preserved than at Sai, a fine dating of the material from the earliest occupation at both sites seems possible in the near future.

Having just started to work with the material, the close comparisons are striking me once again: the main types of vessels are consistent at both sites and include carinated bowls and dishes, plates, footed bowls, stands, beakers and beer jars, cooking pots, storage jars, water jars as well as decorated jars and Nubian vessels.

Differences can be noted in small details – for example regarding the quantities of certain wares and fabrics or technical features of the finished vessels.  All in all, we have now a considerable amount of data and material and these are supporting my first assessment published in 2011: The comparison between the material from Sai and Elephantine and especially the imported Nile clay and Marl clay vessels at Sai suggest for at least part of the corpus a provenience from the First Cataract area illustrating the importance of Elephantine as trading point and for equipping expeditions and settlements located in the South (Budka 2011, 29) .

References

Budka 2011 = Julia Budka, The early New Kingdom at Sai Island: Preliminary results based on the pottery analysis (4th Season 2010), Sudan & Nubia 15, 23–33.

Gasse/Rondot 2007 = Annie Gasse and Vincent Rondot, Les inscriptions de Séhel, Cairo 2007.

von Pilgrim 2010 = Cornelius von Pilgrim, Elephantine – (Festungs-)Stadt am Ersten Katarakt, in Cities and Urbanism in Ancient Egypt, eds. Manfred Bietak, Ernst Cerny and Irene Forstner-Müller, Vienna 2010, 257–265.

Seidlmayer 2003 = Stephan J. Seidlmayer, New Rock Inscriptions on Elephantine Island, in Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-first Century, Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists Cairo 2000, ed. Zahi Hawass, Vol. 1, Cairo 2003, 441–442.

 

Some impressions from the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies

This year the International Conference for Nubian Studies, a quadrennial event of the International Society of Nubian Studies last held at London in 2010, took place at the University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland from 1st Monday to Saturday 6th of September 2014, organized by Matthieu Honegger. This big conference brings together scholars from all over the world – all those who are interested in the archaeology, history, art and cultural heritage of Nubia and Sudan.

Therefore Julia Budka, our Sudanese Antiquities Inspector of NCAM Huda Magzoub and I travelled from Vienna to Neuchâtel, looking much forward to see friends and colleagues and of course to hear the latest research news. For Huda and me it was the first time being in Switzerland and especially for me also the first attendance to such a large scientific event – over 270 people announced their participation.

View from our hotel illustrating the beauty of the conference's venue.

View from our hotel illustrating the beauty of the conference’s venue.

Distributed over five days, a total of 207 talks in six parallel sessions were scheduled! So you were simply spoilt for choice… Every day started with a main session in the morning dedicated to special topics in the course of history of Nubia (from Prehistory over the Egyptian Presence until the Medieval and Islamic periods). After a long break for lunch the parallel sessions followed in the afternoon. As far as I’m concerned I was mostly interested in the session held on Wednesday, which dealt with the end of Kerma and the Egyptian Presence, where the interesting key lectures were held by Neal Spencer (Egyptian settlements in Northern Sudan), Charles Bonnet (Dokki Gel), Stuart Tyson Smith (colonial entanglements) and Luc Gabolde (royal and divine power among Kushites and Egyptians). In the afternoon session I had to choose between 49 parallel talks (among them the paper by Julia Budka referring to current fieldwork on Sai Island) – not an easy task! Of course also the sessions about Prehistory and Kerma as well as about the Kushite Kingdoms and Medieval and Islamic periods were very worth attending. The end of the conference on Saturday formed the main session focusing on the practice of archaeology and its diffusion with lectures held by Jean-Paul Demoule (Archaeological research in XXIst century), Abdelrahman Ali Mohammed (Salvage Archaeology related to Dams in Sudan) and by Salah eldin Mohammed Ahmed (QSAP).

Apart from the scientific contributions there was some time for social activities and meetings, where we were fortunately very lucky with the weather. Especially noteworthy are the opening reception of the exhibition on Nubia at the Laténium Museum in Neuchâtel or the cocktail at the Palace Du Peyrou and finally the wonderful reception-cruise on the Lake of Neuchâtel.

IMG_20140905_190616 IMG_20140905_200807The last week was, due to the tough time schedule, indeed slightly exhausting, but nevertheless very interesting, highly informative, inspiring and a good chance to get in touch with other scholars and young researchers. I’m looking forward to the next International Conference for Nubian Studies in 2018, then in Paris.

The long-lasting ceramic tradition on Sai Island

It is well known that Sai Island has been occupied by various cultural groups from Palaeolithic times onwards – illustrating the good living conditions and also a favourable strategic position in the Nile valley which resulted in the importance of the site during the Kerma period and the New Kingdom.

The large Kerma cemetery in the southern part of Sai Island.

The large Kerma cemetery in the southern part of Sai Island.

Even if AcrossBorders is focusing on the period of the Egyptian presence on Sai Island, I was always keen to set our ideas and studies into a larger context, the diachronic development of the site throughout the millennia. Therefore I am very happy that Elena Garcea, working since many years on the Prehistory of Sai, was willing to cooperate with my project and we can thus tackle interesting aspects of local and also regional phenomena within a very broad timeframe.

Elena Garcea at work on Sai Island (field season 2013).

Elena Garcea at work on Sai Island (field season 2013).

The perfect opportunity to present some of our ongoing research on pottery production came up with the 14th Congress of the Pan African Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, hosted from July 14-18 by the University of the Witwatersrand at Johannesburg, South Africa.

Elena Garcea, Giulia d’Ercole and myself will speak about “THE SUCCESSFUL ‘RECIPE’ FOR A LONG-LASTING TRADITION: NUBIAN CERAMIC ASSEMBLAGES FROM SAI ISLAND (NORTHERN SUDAN) FROM PREHISTORIC TIMES TO THE NEW KINGDOM PERIOD”.

Our paper aims to illustrate that in Nubia (Northern Sudan) pottery making has a very ancient tradition with long-lasting aspects of production techniques and raw materials. We will present a comparative study on diverse Nubian ceramic assemblages from Sai Island, covering a period of over 5000 years: from prehistoric times (Khartoum Variant, Abkan and Pre-Kerma) until the New Kingdom period (especially Dynasty 18).

slide 4 archaeometryThe pottery data are presented according to both stylistic and technological aspects, taking into account the entire manufacturing sequence, from the raw material procurement to the firing of the vessels. In order to address the different archaeological questions, macroscopic and analytical approaches have been combined, by means of petrographic (OM) and chemical (XRF and INAA) analyses.[1]

We do believe that the ceramic production reflects aspects of the general development of economic choices and corresponding lifestyles. Much research has still to be undertaken, but the first results, especially deriving from the INAA, are very promising! We are very much looking forward to the conference and in particular to feedback from our colleagues working in different areas of Africa!



[1] We are very grateful to the Center for Earth Sciences of the University of Vienna for its support concerning the petrography (thin sections and OM), especially to Dieter Mader and Claudia Beybel. We also wish to thank the Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics, Vienna for the INAA and here first of all Johannes Sterba who is doing a great job working with our Sai Island samples! For some analyses of the Prehistoric samples we are also very thankful to the Department of Earth and Geoenvironmental Sciences, University of Bari, Italy, especially to Giacomo Eramo and Italo M. Muntoni.

From Abri, Sudan to Asparn, Austria: experimenting with ancient recipes for making pottery

In January, during the 2014 field season, together with Huda Magzoub – our inspector of NCAM – and Erich Draganits – the geologist of the project – we went for a one-day excursion to the pottery workshop in Abri (1). Our purpose was to interview the two modern potters working there and collecting information concerning the manufacturing sequence of the vessels they produce for the people of the village and surroundings.
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Talking with them, we learned they produce every year many kinds of vessels (i.e. large jars for storing the water, cooking pots and vessels for milk production), following a traditional recipe. This recipe,however,will vary according to the specific function and performance of use of the respective vessels.

They explained to us, for example, that for the zir (water storage vessel) they prefer to use  as the raw material a soil collected in the inland, far from the river banks: this soil is less hard and compact compared to the proper Nile silt and therefore more suitable for the production of such large vessels that have to be porous and also light in order to be movable.
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In addition, the modern potters seem partially to differentiate also the tempers they add to the clay: they select intentionally the dung from goat or sheep for the small pots, while the one from donkey is preferable for making larger vessels.

The variables in terms of clayey raw material and tempers we observed in the nowadays pottery production at Abri may explain some minor technological differences we also notice in our New Kingdom assemblage from Sai Island and especially in the organic-rich Nubian fabrics.
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Three full days (26/06-28/06) of experimental archaeology at the “MAMUZ” open-air Museum in Asparn (Lower Austria), organized thanks to the kind cooperation of our colleagues from the University of Vienna (especially the archaeologists and prehistorians responsible for the experimental archaeology class: among others Stefan Eichert, Mathias Mehofer and Hans Reschreiter – the latter with the initial idea for us to join!), were the perfect occasion to test our ideas and impressions, playing a bit with clay and tempers in order to experiment by ourselves the ancient pottery recipes!

One of our experimental projects in Asparn (the other one concentrated on fire dogs and their possible function) was dedicated to the production of small clay test tablets (c. 9 x 9 cm) using different kind of clay and tempers we collected in situ at Sai Island.

As a raw material, we employed two different samples of clay (labelled clay “type A” and “type B”) collected at different locations of the island. As a tempers we used: sand, caliche, charcoal and dung from goat, cow and donkey from Sai Island plus a sample of horse dung from Austria.
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Preparing the temper - dung from donkey.

Preparing the temper – dung from donkey.

We prepared the test tablets following an accurate protocol, taking notes of all the relevant scientific steps: from the preparation of the clayey raw material and tempers (STEP 1) to the production/forming of the tablets (STEP 2) and then to the drying (STEP 3) and the firing (STEP 4) phases.
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Mixing the clay with water.

Mixing the clay with water.

All in all, 17 test tablets were realized of which: eight were produced using the clay “type A” in combination with the different set of tempers and eight using the clay “type B” with the same tempers (for each series one tablet was made only with clay). In addition, a further tablet was realized with clay “type B” by adding a larger amount of dung from donkey.

Clay type A and dung from goat.

Clay type A and dung from goat.

Vera and Nicole forming the tablets.

Vera and Nicole forming the tablets.

The tablets were weighted during the production and then after the drying and the firing to check how much water they lost.

Our test tablets.

Our test tablets.

Our next step will consist in analyzing them by iNAA and also in preparing thin sections to be studied under the microscope!

Looking forward for the results, we already learned a lot from this experience and had so much fun working together!

Many thanks go first of all again to our colleagues and to all students of the experimental archaeology class of the University of Vienna, to Vera and Ludwig Albustin who have been of invaluable help in preparing the clay and much more! Thanks also to the AcrossBorders’ team: Julia Budka, Nicole Mosiniak, Jördis Vieth and Arvi Korhonen. We did a great team job, sharing for three days the joys and also the pains of being potters!

Having fun in Asparn...

Having fun in Asparn…

The hard life of a potter...

The hard life of a potter…

(1) A comparable excursion was already done by our colleagues working at Amara West – the pottery specialists Marie Millet and Michela Spartaro also used the valuable information provided by the modern potters and included modern clay samples into their scientific analysis. See the recent paper: M. Spataro, M. Millet & N. Spencer, The New Kingdom settlement of Amara West (Nubia, Sudan): mineralogical and chemical investigation of the ceramics, in: Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 2014, esp. fig. 4 (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12520-014-0199-y).

An Update: The Enclosure Wall at SAV1 West

It is a well-established fact that the Pharaonic town of Sai with its fortified town, temple and administrative buildings falls into the category of so-called Egyptian “temple towns”, built during the New Kingdom in Nubia. The substantial mud brick enclosure wall of Sai with a width of more than 4.20 m has been investigated by the late Michel Azim (Azim 1975) in the South and Florence Doyen in the North (cf. Doyen 2009). As was confirmed in both sectors, the wall is equipped with bastions in regular distances. Our current work at SAV1 West aims to deepen the understanding of the layout, outline and construction of the enclosure wall as well as its building phases and periods of destruction.

At the moment – and this is all work in progress! – we were able to expose the outline of the western enclosure wall in the trenches 1 and 2. Its location fits perfectly to what Azim reconstructed as the western border of the Pharaonic town. However, there are still a lot of open questions – especially because of later disturbances and pits, but also due to several building phases within the brick work. In trench 2 we might have encountered a late sub-circular structure of possible Ottoman date, set into the 18th Dynasty enclosure wall. We will try to clarify this next week.

Western half of Square 1 (left) and Square 1W (right) at SAV1 West - overview towards South (Photo: Martin Fera).

Western half of Square 1 (left) and Square 1W (right) at SAV1 West – overview towards South (Photo: Martin Fera).

In the southwestern corner of Square 1, the upper part of the enclosure wall as we exposed it so far is still covered with debris; a large pit filled with mostly Christian pottery was cutting into this area. Similar holes have been dug into the brick work of the enclosure wall at SAV1 North (see Doyen 2009). As was already observed by Azim in the 1970s, the Sai New Kingdom fortification suffered from several destructions, but also restoration phases during its use-life (Azim 1975, 122). A good example of a restoration is the tower construction N2 at SAV1 North which is maybe of Ramesside date (Doyen 2009).

View of the enclosure wall at SAV1West in the front; the other brick walls in the back (looking West).

View of the enclosure wall at SAV1West in the front; other brick walls in the back (looking West).

A later addition to the western outline of the 18th Dynasty wall is now also traceable with our extension towards the west, Square 1W. Within this trench we also located a possible “front wall”, of which we as yet only reached the upper part. It seems as if a secondary construction was set between the New Kingdom brick work – spanning the area from the presumed front wall and the enclosure wall. A layer holding much organic material, charcoal and pottery of a domestic character may indicate that we have found here a small occupation spot, maybe a modest hut or shelter. Its date remains to be established but the pottery points to a Late Christian origin. However, it is intriguing that we also have some Ramesside sherds coming from Square 1W and the western half of Square 1 – comparing nicely to the findings around the tower at SAV1 North. At present, we cannot rule out that our squares are set above one of the bastions of the enclosure wall, maybe following complex building phases – all of this remains to be investigated during the upcoming three weeks of fieldwork at SAV1 West.

References:

Azim 1975 = M. Azim, Quatre campagnes de fouilles sur la Forteresse de Saï, 1970-1973. 1ère partie: l’installation pharaonique, CRIPEL  3, 1975, 1–125.

Doyen 2009 = F. Doyen, The New Kingdom Town on Sai Island (Northern Sudan), Sudan & Nubia 13, 2009, 17–20.

Crossing Borders, Encounters with “Old Friends”

One of the aims of AcrossBorders is identifying human behaviour of specific individuals under different circumstances – some persons have left textual records at both Sai and on other sites. As prominent example, Nehi, viceroy of Kush under Thutmose III, is well attested at Sai, Elephantine and also elsewhere.

One of the door jambs of Nehi, reused as treshold in the New Kingdom town

One of the door jambs of Nehi, reused as treshold in the New Kingdom town

Nehi’s monuments illustrate that mobility of administrative staff and officials is not a modern phenomenon, but was also common in Pharaonic Egypt. During the New Kingdom there is both archaeological and textual evidence that officials had temporary living quarters in different parts of Egypt as well as in Nubia. In addition, statues, stelae, shrines and in particular rock inscriptions allow tracing Egyptian officials at more than one site.

Having spent the last three days in the beautiful region of Aswan, I had the chance to think about the busy lives of the protagonists of the complex Pharaonic administration during the New Kingdom. Egyptian officials who participated in expedition and/or military campaigns towards the South had to pass through Aswan and Elephantine. Obviously they spent some time there before their departure to Nubia as hundreds of rock inscriptions attest.

Bild1 sehel

The island of Sehel is covered with hundreds of rock graffiti, a majority originating from the New Kingdom

Most importantly, I enjoyed the reunion with viceroy Nehi at Aswan – we visited Elephantine where a doorjamb of him was found and one of his most beautiful statues is kept today at the Nubian Museum in Aswan (a kneeling statue holding a sistrum).

In the upcoming years, AcrossBorders will try to tackle questions like: how did Egyptian officials like Nehi experience their job-related mobility and especially their assignments to specific sites, in our case to Sai island? Was a mission outside of Egypt more/less desirable/prestigious? Can we find differences in the ancient reception of staying in the frontier region of the First Cataract or in Nubia proper?

New Kingdom Temples and more in Khartoum

IMG_6197After our long trip but successful trip from the North to Khartoum yesterday, we enjoyed a very nice visit to the National Museum at Khartoum today – the museum is a real treasure box full of Sudan’s rich cultural heritage and antiquities!

IMG_6091For the “Newcomers” Joerdis, Sebastian, Nicole and Vicky it was the first time to look at the fantastic collection, Giulia took the opportunity to get some Egyptological background information.

Besides the splendid objects on display, stretching in time from the Paleolithic Period to the Medieval time and more recent periods, we spend much time in the 18th Dynasty temples of Buhen, Semna and Kumma as they compare in some respects nicely to Temple A on Sai. The Egyptian New Kingdom presence in Nubia – our daily topic on Sai Island during the past nine week – was thus highlighted in a perfect way. I am very happy that despite the exhaustion of the past days the remaining team members were still so enthusiastic in sight of these monuments and that many questions came up!