An eye for an eye…

As reported, the burials we are currently excavating in Tomb 26 were buried in Egyptian style in wooden coffins – unfortunately, with all the flooding of the chambers little of the wood has survived. We are mostly dealing with “negative” coffins – slightly darker outlines in the flood levels and sometimes decayed wood with traces of pigments. The colors white, blue and yellow are most common – there are also traces of red.
What has survived slightly better, are parts of the funerary masks – and here especially inlays. Already during the French excavations in neighboring tombs in SAC5, eyes of such funerary masks were found (see Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. 1, 166, vol. 2, pl. 88).
In Tomb 26, a very nicely preserved eye pair is associated with the individual whom we can tentatively identify as Khnum-mes thanks to his shabti found last week.

One eye was laying upside-down next to the skull (blue arrow), the other one was found a bit further down the body close to the chest. The first was removed today, in order to continue cleaning the head part of the coffin – and it turned out to be the left one, nicely corresponding to its find location.

Both eyes are perfectly worked – the iris, set into white plaster, is made in a hard, black stone, giving a very natural appearance! Metallic outlines of the eye underline the high quality work of the mask which must have been really stunning when completely preserved.
In addition to Khnum-mes’ funerary mask, we have fragments of at least two more – insha’allah more pieces will turn up in the next days.

Reference
Minault-Gout/Thill 2012 = Minault-Gout, A. and Thill, F. Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5). Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 69. Cairo 2012.

Summary of week 5, Tomb 26

We made very good progress working in Tomb 26 this week. Excavation and cleaning continues in the western, “hidden” Chamber 5 and in the northern, lower Chamber 6.

In Chamber 5, the southern third of the chamber has been cleaned, revealing 2 in situ burials in extended position, oriented East-West. The second burial was badly smashed below debris from the roof and partly covered with collapsed plaster. Ceramic vessels and other finds had been placed at both the feet and the head – the most remarkable  new find from this week is a nicely worked heart scarab! This piece is still left in situ, as are all the other finds and human remains – if space allows it, we would like of course a final SFM documentation of all burials in the chamber. A minimum of 4 more burials are still waiting for us!

Chamber 5, note the collapsed plaster.

Chamber 6 is getting more and more exciting! We have finally reached the base of the trench giving access to this chamber – the chamber itself is only 80-100 cm high and with an east-west extension of 220-230 cm quite small. However, and these are the big news from this week, large enough to hold 2 wooden coffins and 2 burials!

Chamber 6 with remains of two burials placed in wooden coffins.

The remains of the coffins, placed with the head to the west, parallel to the side walls, are very fragile – decayed wood, faded plaster remains and traces of blue, white, yellow and red were documented. Best preserved are the head parts of the two coffins. In each of them, the skull is a bit misplaced – possibly because of all the sediment/water floods that filled the chamber until the top.

As already announced earlier this week, a small cluster of miniature vessels and more flower pots were used as burial gifts in Chamber 6. The biggest discovery, however, was made yesterday, just before lunch time: between the two coffin heads, two stone vessels and a broken flower pot appeared a few days ago. While cleaning them and the outline of the northern coffin, I found another object made in stone: a beautiful stone shabti, lying on its side looking towards the northern coffin!

It’s a very high quality product, finding parallels in the 18th Dynasty tombs excavated by the French mission in SAC5. The shabti in Chamber 6 is of course still in place and not completely cleaned, thus the inscription is not yet readable in total. But the name of its owner is already visible and for the AcrossBorders project, it is simply perfect: he is a wab-priest with the name Khnum-mes, thus a very nice indirect reference to the First Cataract region and AcrossBorders’s other working site in Egypt, Elephantine!

The newly discovered shabti of Khnum-mes.

Much to look forward to in the upcoming week! For now, we’re having a well-deserved weekend after a busy week full of excitement and important discoveries.

Much excitement in Chamber 6

Today was quite full of important discoveries in Tomb 26… While Andrea is still working on the nicely preserved in situ-burials in Chamber 5, the new, western “hidden” chamber, I was occupied with the northern, lower Chamber 6 during the last days. We have finally reached the base of the trench giving access to this chamber – with a total of 128 cm depth, it is more or less as deep as expected.
What came somehow as a surprise are the finds inside the chamber. Already yesterday it was clear that we have two extended burials side by side, east-west oriented, head to the west. For the southern one, a small cluster of miniature vessels, nicely placed in a dish was also already known. Two new flower pots appeared yesterday at the feet of the northern individual! Making it now a full dozen of complete flower pots this season so far :-)!

Most important, however, is that I was able to clean something just a bit west of the cranium of the southern individual which allows only one interpretation: fragile plaster remains and faded wood, but clearly the outline of the top part of an anthropoid coffin!

The coffin was nicely flanked by pottery and stone vessels – in addition to the vessels placed in the dish to its south, it had two more stone vessels and one (or two) pottery vessels (guess what shape? of course flower pots again!) just north of the head part.

Although the state of preservation of the bones is rather low, Chamber 6 has already produced many important finds and rich insights for the early use of Tomb 26!

End of fieldwork in SAV1 West

Week 4 of our 2017 fieldwork season has just ended – Cajetan and Franziska, who did an excellent job in SAV1 West, have left Sai Island this morning to return back home to Germany. We still have 6 weeks of work in front of us, but as scheduled we managed to close fieldwork in sector SAV1 West.

The results are very important and will keep me busy for a bit longer: Cleaning the lowest deposits of stratigraphy in SAV1 West, both in the wall street and in other structures, it became clear that – despite of everything we thought in the last years – we do have an early 18th Dynasty occupation phase here after all!

Having processed not yet all of the ceramics, it is difficult to give an exact date, but for sure we have a phase predating the enclosure wall. Thus, SAV1 West nicely mirrors SAV1 North, the sector excavated by the French Mission between 2008-2012.

In addition to this very important new information concerning the evolution of Egyptian New Kingdom occupation on Sai, we excavated some nice features this season: two new cellars/storage pits, one grind stone emplacement and various remains of the relevant mud brick structures.

SAV1 West, status 2017.

Many thanks again to all team members for making the first half of the season very successful!

Tomb 26 continued to keep us very busy…. More and more parallels to neighboring tombs excavated by our French colleagues become evident, especially to the close-by Tomb 7.

In week 4, we managed to clear the new western chamber (feature 5) down to a level with many in situ vessels and burial remains. As yet, we have cleaned a very nice individual in extended position, lying East-West along the South wall, with his head to the West. We managed to document traces of his funerary mask – one eye has survived and traces of gold foil. Several miniature vessels were placed at the head, a cluster of flower pots at the feet. Both skeleton and vessels were partly covered by the collapse of side walls and roof.

Skull, remains of funerary mask and miniature vessels in chamber 5.

In chamber 6, the lower chamber off from the trench towards the north, I managed to reach a level with very faint traces of wood and blue, white, red and yellow plus black pigments/colors. It seems very likely that we have here a badly decayed wooden coffin – the first bones appeared yesterday!

Work will concentrate in the next weeks on finds, pottery and Tomb 26 – of course we will keep you updated!

Summary of week 3, fieldwork season 2017

Having just started week 4 of the 2017 fieldwork season, it’s time to briefly summarize the last week of work in Tomb 26 and in SAV1 West.

In Tomb 26, lots of things changed… The trench in front of the lower burial chamber still keeps us busy – we finally have now an almost complete skeleton still in place. But we still don’t know how much deeper the trench continues. The silt filling is partly void of finds, partly full of bones and also includes some pottery sherds.

Andrea busy cleaning the new, almost intact skeleton in the trench.

A big surprise waited for us in the northwestern corner of the main chamber. I started cleaning there at the very beginning of this season. Already in 2016, a feature in this corner was described as “niche” – obviously a small opening into the western wall, with collapsed stones making an assessment of its size difficult. Well – this small niche is now another chamber, measuring ca. 3.3×3.4m – and actually a “hidden chamber”! Cleaning the entrance area and removing all the collapsed stone from the roof, it became clear that the worked stones lining the western wall of the main chamber hide the second chamber situated further west! Since all was once plastered, the new chamber was once obviously nicely concealed.

Cleaning the new chamber was hard work – it was filled until the top with dense flood levels.

We have almost finished removing the debris, having reached more flood levels with some bones and pottery – at present, it seems that only little remains of burials have survived – however, for the ground plan and general understanding of Tomb 26, this is all very exciting! And we can say already that this new chamber was also plastered – remains were found on the collapsed roof and on one part where we have reached the chamber floor.

Work in SAV1 West is also progressing were well – we managed to finish excavating the extension to Square 1SE to the east which was necessary because of the new cellar found in week 2. Only little in situ mud brick structures have survived – but we will be able to put together ground plans of some nice domestic structures. Besides the cellar, a storage pit and a possible grind stone emplacement were found.

Registration of finds is continuing – our favorite piece of week 3 was a tiny miniature net-weight! Its small size becomes very evident when compared side by side with an axe-head shaped net-weight of regular size.

Furthermore, to round up a very productive week with lots of new finds, we had a perfect Friday trip to Kawa and a wonderful tour by Derek Welsby through town and cemetery – the warm welcome by our British colleagues was very much appreciated!

Last, but definitely not least, I am more than happy that my dear friend and distinguished Viennese colleague Helmut Satzinger joined us yesterday. Timing could not be better: we had the possibility to celebrate today his birthday with a small boat trip – unfortunately without seeing crocodiles, but with plenty of nimiti ;-)!

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.

Work in progress in Tomb 26

The last days were quite busy with ongoing work in Tomb 26. The first task after checking out the new chamber on the lower level, was to clean the northwestern corner of the main chamber. Dense flood levels were covering the floor of the chamber in this area, holding almost no finds, but covering some bone fragments. On an upper level, already excavated in 2016, an almost intact individuum has been found.

One of the particularly interesting features of Tomb 26 is that the southern and western walls were once lined with worked stones and plastered – a collapsed block from this casing was located in the northwestern corner. We will take it out later in this season, hoping to replace it virtually back on the wall by checking the negative voids in the nearby western wall with the block’s dimensions.

The second task, especially in order to allow excavation of the new chamber located below the northern wall, was to trace the western part of the trench along the north wall. This trench was only excavated on its eastern part in 2016 – clearly showing that it once gave access to the lower chamber, but was completely filled with flood levels.

We successfully found the trench on the western side and are currently busy excavating it layer to layer. Like in 2016, a substantial amount of bones and pottery vessels were found – hopefully the ceramics will allow us to date the filling of this access to Tomb 26’s lower chamber.

The western part of the trench along the north wall.

Happy New Year from Sai

Timing turned out just perfect – leaving Khartoum on schedule, we started yesterday our final field season on Sai Island. The first task was to re-open Tomb 26 – removing the filling of its more than 5 m deep shaft was a bit dusty, but worked out very well thanks to our enthusiastic gang of workmen supervised by Hassan Dawd.

And even more perfect: New Year started with re-opening the main chamber of Tomb 26 earlier today. All is in perfect condition, almost no collapse of the ceiling occurred.

We will concentrate on the northwestern corner of the chamber which was not yet completely excavated – and we are all very excited about the new chamber found at a lower level along the north wall in the very last days of the 2016 season. Clearing this chamber of still unknown dimensions will keep us busy this season. I’ve cleared some of its entrance area today, but it is almost completely filled with flood deposits – making a proper assessment what to expect from this new chamber very difficult. However, the six pottery sherds which came today from the entrance area are all New Kingdom in date – interestingly, one seems to be of 19th Dynasty date.

First glance into the new chamber: still unexcavated and full of promises…

Will we maybe be able to re-locate Hornakht’s original burial after all? Just follow our blog for the current field season and our findings in Tomb 26! Although 2017 has just started, the new year is definitely full of exciting prospects :-)!

Off to Sudan

Every year again… The holidays are just over and the first team members are getting ready to start the next season on Sai Island, Sudan. Meg, Franziska and me are flying to Khartoum tonight, hoping to reach the island later this week.

Not everything is like every year though – it’s going to be our final closing season on Sai Island, I am very much looking forward to finishing excavations in SAV1 West, SAV1 East and of course in Tomb 26.

It will be for sure exciting and splendid sun-settings like every year will make life with the nimiti-flies endurable.

We will of course share nimiti- and nimiti-free-moments with you and will keep you posted about AcrossBorders final Sai Island season 2017!

Tomb 26 on Sai and its challenges

Perfect timing – just before the holidays, Sokar volume 33 is now available – including a short article about excavations and recent finds in Tomb 26. I highlighted the specific challenges we encountered regarding

  • the documentation and excavation of the human remains
  • the stratigraphy
  • the drawing of skeletons and features
  • geodetic survey in the chamber
  • potential of finds and ceramics.

The paper is also the perfect outlook for the upcoming 2017 season on Sai Island – work in Tomb 26 will start already next week insha’allah. Of course we’ll keep you udpated!Julia Budka, Neues zum Pyramidenfriedhof auf Sai, Sokar 33, 2016, 60–67.