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!

Geoarchaeology from Sai Island, 2016

What a geoarchaeological season it was! We haven’t gotten over it as yet and can foresee a year of excitement in the lab(s). No, we did not have quite a romantic relationship with the nimitis who were just starting to cuddle up with us when we left the place. Instead it was a season of fun involving sampling from within the trenches to better understand the use of space and site formation processes, of provenancing the sandstones found within the Pharaonic town and locating the New Kingdom sandstone quarry and overall placing the 18th Dynasty remains in their environmental context.

One of the main focuses of this year’s fieldwork was directed on locating the source of building stone for the New Kingdom stone buildings. In this respect, we had received helpful assistance by Prof Klemm and Rosemarie Klemm. A detailed survey was carried out both within and outside the island. No quarry site from Pharaonic times, however, was found outside the island, in the vicinity of the sandstone outcrops of Gebel Abri. On the other hand, several quarries in the sandstones were identified adjacent to the New Kingdom town itself!

With the Klemms 1When scrutinised more carefully with Professor Klemm’s long experience of Pharaonic sandstone quarries, analogous chisel marks have now been identified on the sandstone outcrops of the quarries and on the blocks of stones used in the temple. Here, we would like to thank Martin Fera for lending us his geological hammer, about which we would ALL somehow manage to forget from time to time, thus creating much commotion, laughter and fun amidst our fieldwork.

Sandstone quarry with New Kingdom chisel marks 1This year’s survey also produced further suggestion about the Pharaonic harbour or landing ground in the adjacent alluvial platform when rock-cut features for tying ship ropes were found at least at two places. In addition, rock cut steps bearing chisel marks identical to those of the temple have also been identified.

In addition, six boreholes were dug towards the western side of the Pharaonic town. This has revealed no trace of an extramural settlement where sampled. 4.5mts of hand auger 1A thorough landscape survey has also been undertaken to understand the nature of the deposits, especially towards the northern part of the island. This has enabled us to collect data to develop a surface map of the vicinity of the town. Along with the data from the hand auger profiles, exposed sections, soil micromorphology and the surface map, a better understanding of the site setting and geomorphology of the location can be integrated within the GIS for various purposes.

The grass is always green on the other side. Now that we are back at home in the dark and cold, we are longing for some sunshine and clear sky like that of Sai. Knowing that is not a possibility at the moment, we are at least happy that we have a good load of micromorphological and petrographical samples to analyse through in the coming months.

Some geoarchaeology in and around Sai Island

It is somewhat unusual when you are just 150cms tall, a female with a different skin colour, wearing uncommon attire, do not speak the language and are moving around alone in the desert with a knife and a hammer. Infrequent passersby in their cars or on their donkeys stop by and ask you whether you are lost or not! Well, that exactly what had happened when I, a geoarchaeologist, had been working in and around the New Kingdom temple Town of Sai Island. I joined the AcrossBorders team during the field season of 2015 and what an interesting season it had been!

I undertook geoarchaeological survey in the vicinity of the site. I was mostly assisted in the field by Hassan Dawd, a local from the island and since many years one of the best workmen assisting in the field. Not only did he take a keen interest in digging holes as per my instructions, but was of utmost help in keeping the dreadful date flies (called nimiti in Sudan) away by burning donkey dung, so as to allow me to concentrate in my job. Well, in that respect I can point out that the donkeys have also been very supportive. I was also occasionally assisted in the field by various other team members namely Miranda Semple and Martin Fera.

Test pitting and hand augering going on in the alluvial platform adjacent to the site.

Test pitting and hand augering going on in the alluvial platform adjacent to the site.

During the 2015 field season at Sai, I was assigned with objectives of placing the archaeological site in its environmental context, to understand the nature of any surface preparation prior to the establishment of the settlement, provenance of sandstones found within the Pharaonic town, potential sandstone quarry locations and to shed light on any possible harbour/landing ground on the island during the period concerned. To try to have some answers for these objectives I conducted test pitting, hand auger profiles (I somehow tend to relate this Dutch auger with a magic-wand; not only there is a visual similarity but also this can create absolute magical interpretation out soil profiles) and of course looked out for exposed and available sections and quarry pits. At each profile loci, the stratigraphy was located, recorded and photographed and old land surfaces sampled as appropriate. Three types of samples were taken: intact soil block samples for micromorphological analysis, small bulk samples for physical characterisation (pH, particle size analysis, organic content using loss-on-ignition, multi-element analysis) and sand-stone blocks for petrographic analysis.

Six profiles were recorded from the landscape survey and seven sets of soil block and bulk samples were collected. In addition, from Profile 9 in SAV1 N, two sets if soil block and bulk samples were collected from below the contact zone of the anthropogenic sediments and natural soil. Besides these, thirty-nine rock samples have been collected for further scientific analysis from different sandstone outcrops of the island and from on-site debris. These outcrops are mainly at Jebel Adou and the village of Adou, where at least 4-5 quarry places (unsure of the period of quarrying though) have been marked. The aim behind collecting sandstones from on-site debris was to provenance their sources by characterising their mechanical and chemical properties.

 Remains of sandstone quarrying at Sai Island.

Remains of sandstone quarrying at Sai Island.

Now I very much look forward to process all these samples and to have a rich pool of data. My sincere thanks to Julia all the other team members for making work so easy. We will keep you updated about our geoarchaeological findings.