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.

Report of fieldwork 2016 on Sai Island

Having just returned from Elephantine, it’s time to prepare the final fieldwork season on Sai Island, scheduled for January to March 2017. We will finish work in the two sectors within the town area (SAV1 East and SAV1 West) and in the New Kingdom cemetery SAC5 (Tomb 26).

The very successful 2016 season added important information about general aspects of the evolution of Sai Island in Pharaonic times and here especially during its heyday in Thutmoside times. The 2016 report is now available, promising further findings in 2017!

People on Sai – Ramesside Deputies of Kush on Sai Island

Prosopography is about people. With this phrase, I already began my last blog post assessing the social fabric of New Kingdom Sai as it becomes visible through the prosopographical data of its elite necropolis, SAC5. During the last field seasons, a new tomb, T 26, was discovered and excavated there (Budka 2015). At the bottom of its shaft, lintel and door jamb fragments as well as an inscribed sandstone pyramidion were found. The inscription on the latter artefact added another very important person to the prosopographical list of this cemetery: the deputy of Kush Hornakht. He was already known from four inscribed architectural elements coming from the Pharaonic town itself and two others found in Abri and Amara East (Fouquet 1975, Budka 2001, 210-212). Additionally, a door lintel fragment was quite recently discovered in a modern village on Sai showing him together with his wife (Budka 2015). This attestation adds another female entry to the Sai prosopographical list which is quite gender biased in favour of male members of the local society. This is, however, typical for Pharaonic Egypt and Sudan.

Hornakht and his wife (photo: J. Budka).

Hornakht and his wife (photo: J. Budka).

When we consider his archaeological monuments, it becomes clear that the deputy of Kush Hornakht had an office building or residence in the city centre of Sai and a monumental tomb with a pyramid at SAC5. This puts Sai back on the map for a certain administrative presence during Ramesside times, when a little further north at Amara West a new walled town was founded by Sethi I and substantially redeveloped under Ramses II that functioned as the seat of power for the administration of Kush (Spencer/Stevens/Binder 2015). Based on the limited geographical distribution of the monuments of Hornakht in the Amara-Abri-Sai region, Julia Budka has recently argued that Hornakht might be a local born on Sai, who was educated in Egypt and later send back to his hometown to fulfil his administrative duties as agent of the Pharaonic state (Budka 2015). He was, therefore, definitely a direct member of the local social fabric and of considerable social and functional standing. Accordingly, he also chose to be buried in the elite necropolis of his home town in a typical private New Kingdom pyramid tomb.

Hornakht is, however, not the only Ramesside deputy of Kush known from Sai. In 1843, Richard Lepsius came across two door jambs with the cartouche of Thutmosis III. Both had the subsequently added image of an official with his titles and name on their inside. They read “overseer of all priests of all gods” and “deputy of Kush Usermaatrenakht” (Lepsius 1913, 226). In 1954, a possible fragment of one of these door jambs could be recovered (Vercoutter 1956, 76). Based on his basilophorous name, Usermaatrenakht might also be considered an official of non-Egyptian descent (Nubian?) in the service of the Pharaonic state in Upper Nubia (cf. Schulman 1990). The presence of two Ramesside deputies of Kush on Sai is, therefore, of interest for understanding the social and political importance of the town in the 19th Dynasty in the region. At Amara West, however, several other individuals with the title of “deputy (of Kush)” are – next to viceroys and other local officials – known from the town and the cemetery (Spencer 1997; Spencer/Binder 2015). All these individuals equally attest to the particular prominence of Amara West in Ramesside times in the region and in Upper Nubia in general.

Bibliography:

Budka 2001: J. Budka, Der König an der Haustür. Die Rolle des ägyptischen Herrschers an dekorierten Türgewänden von Beamten im Neuen Reich, Veröffentlichungen der Institute für Afrikanistik und Ägyptologie der Universität Wien 94, Beiträge zur Ägyptologie 19, Wien.

Budka 2015: J. Budka, Ein Pyramidenfriedhof auf der Insel Sai, in: Sokar 31, 54-65.

Fouquet 1975: A. Fouquet, Deux Hauts-Fonctionnaire du Nouvel Empire en Haute-Nubie, in: CRIPEL 3, 127-140.

Lepsius 1913: K. R. Lepsius, Denkmäler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien. Text Bd. 5, hrsg. von Edouard Naville, bearbeitet von Walter Wreszinski, Leipzig.

Schulman 1990: A. R. Schulman, The Royal Butler Ramessesami’on. An Addendum, in: CdE, 65, 12-20.

Spencer 1997: P. Spencer, Amara West I. The architectural report, EES 63, London.

Spencer/Binder 2015: N. Spencer, M. Binder, Amara West 2015 (week 6): a familiar character appears. URL: https://blog.amarawest.britishmuseum.org/2015/02/21/amara-west-2015-week-6-a-familiar-character-appears/ (last accessed: July 4th, 2016).

Spencer/Stevens/Binder 2015: N. Spencer, A. Stevens & M. Binder, Amara West. Living in New Kingdom Nubia, London.

Vercoutter 1956: J. Vercoutter, New Egyptian texts from the Sudan, in: Kush 4, 66-82.

Late Ramesside use of Tomb 26

Post-excavation processing of all the data from tomb 26 is ongoing and we’re making good progress. It became clear already in 2015 that the use-life of Tomb 26 where the pyramidion of the Deputy of Kush Hornakht was found is very complex. All of the major phases of use of elite cemetery SAC5 are reflected in the objects and ceramics from Tomb 26: mid to late 18th Dynasty, 19th Dynasty, Late Ramesside, Pre-Napatan and Napatan (see Thill 2006-2007). Scarabs, stone vessels, pilgrim flasks and complete ceramic vessels are particularly significant.

Bild1Today, I would like to focus on a large, almost intact amphora found along the north wall of burial chamber 1 in Tomb 26. It was solidly stuck in several layers of dense flood deposits, lying partly lower than remains of individuals in this area which are therefore likely to be younger (or not in place/re-deposited). However, some human bones appeared also below the amphora. The vessel which finds good parallels in both Egypt and Nubia is therefore significant for the relative dating of some of the interments in Tomb 26. Unfortunately, it was found almost isolated. Two broken simple dishes with a red rim and round base were found next to it, on its southern side between the human remains. These vessels correspond to the dating of the amphora itself: the Late Ramesside period (Dynasty 20, see Aston 2004).

Tomb 26 AmphoraAlmost no material from Dynasty 20 is known from the New Kingdom town of Sai – in order to understand the possible end of the New Kingdom occupation on the island, cemetery SAC5 and here also Tomb 26 are therefore of great importance.

References

Aston 2004 = David A. Aston, Amphorae in New Kingdom Egypt, Egypt and the Levant 14, 2004, 175–213.

Thill 2006-2007 = Florence Thill, Les réoccupations “(pré)napatéennes” dans la cimetière égyptien 8B5/SAC5 de Sai, in: Mélanges offerts à Francis Geus, CRIPEL 26, 2006-2007, 353–369.