Update from week 2, Sai Island

Just a quick update from the last few days of fieldwork: Work was successfully re-started at SAV1 West, concentrating on the mud brick structures to the east of the town enclosure. The amount of pottery unearthed is very substantial – 46 baskets of pottery in 3 days! The majority is mid-18th Dynasty in date, confirming nicely our assessment from last season.

In addition, Tomb 26 still keeps us very busy – what looked like dislocated human remains in the trench in front of the new chamber, actually turned out to be slightly twisted and moved, but almost complete individuals. The state of preservation of the bones is – like last year – very bad and cleaning is extremely time-consuming. However, with a minimum of three new “inhabitants” of Tomb 26, the trench along the northern wall yielded much more than we originally expected! One of the skeletons is just lying directly below the entrance to the chamber which is filled with deposit until the ceiling…

 

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!

Pinched rims and incised decoration from the Second Intermediate Period to the New Kingdom

Working currently in the earliest strata of House 55 and especially the foundation levels, a considerable amount of older material came up in the last days (including the small fragment of “gilded ware” from Lower Nubia). Dating these ceramic assemblages is sometimes not easy: Second Intermediate Period style of ceramic production continued well into the 18th Dynasty and often one relies on ware and technique to distinguish between residual pieces and products of the New Kingdom.

That Second Intermediate style was not completely passé by the time of the 18th Dynasty, can be nicely illustrated by a common type of carinated bowls. Of various sizes, both in Marl and Nile clays, these often show wavy lines, sometimes in combination with applied ridges and what Stuart Tyson Smith named “pinched ‘piecrust’ rims” (Smith 2012, 397). This type is commonly associated with the Second Intermediate Period pottery tradition in Egypt; early variants are already attested since the late Middle Kingdom in Egypt and Nubia, but these dishes are more common during the Second Intermediate Period.

As noticed in an earlier post, these carinated bowls – by now they are definitely among my favorite types! – are well attested from both on Elephantine and Sai Island. At both sites, they are known from stratified contexts of the early 18th Dynasty, up to the time of Thutmose III.

Carinated dish with ‘piecrust’ rim and wavy incised lines from House 55.

Carinated dish with ‘piecrust’ rim and wavy incised lines from House 55.

Today, Oliver was drawing some of the early examples from the phases of use of House 55 – almost identical to the ones he already made drawings of on Sai, stressing again the strong links between the two 18th Dynasty settlements currently being investigated by AcrossBorders.

Reference:

Smith 2012 = Stuart Tyson Smith, Pottery from Askut and the Nubian forts, in: Robert Schiestl / Anne Seiler (eds.), Handbook of pottery of the Egyptian Middle Kingdom. Volume II: the regional volume, Vienna 2012, 377‒405.

Squat jars, zir vessels and other finds at Elephantine

Among the highlights from week 3 at Elephantine are several complete vessels from room A in House 55. The pottery database of all New Kingdom ceramics comprises now a total of 12257 entries, 1599 coming from House 55. Amazing is the large number of 247 complete or almost complete vessels from the building — many were found in the cellars of House 55, but also as piles of pots left in corners of various rooms.

squat-jars

One of the vessels from the latest phase of use of House 55 which was left behind and found last year is a large Marl A2 squat jar, 45602G/a-4. Only the rim and part of the shoulder is fragmented, otherwise this painted jar is completely preserved. It is of Thutmoside date, finds many parallels at other sites in Egypt, and – most important for us – also in the New Kingdom town of Sai. SAV1W P233, found in a cellar in SAV1 West, is also a Marl A2 squat jar and almost of the exact shape like the Elephantine vessel, especially its rim base. The decoration is slightly different, also illustrating the variability of decoration patterns of this type of vessel which had its heyday under Thutmose III.

Further complete vessels from House 55 are large zir vessels – as pointed out earlier, these are mostly of Marl A4 variants. Nile clay versions are less common, but also present, comparing nicely to the corpus of storage vessels from Sai.

Finds from this season from House 55 are mostly re-used sherds, grind stones and other stone tools; clay figurines are also present in small numbers as are lids and stoppers. Similar to the pottery, both parallels and differences are notable comparing these finds with the corpus from Sai Island New Kingdom town.

Week 4 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow, will focus on the documentation of the many complete vessels from this season and on further object registration.

“Chamber pots” from Elephantine and Sai

Only 3 days have passed since we arrived on Elephantine Island in Egypt. Everything worked out fine and we had a very good start into the season.

Today, I used the day off from fieldwork to work on the pottery database from both Elephantine and Sai. One of the most exciting aspects of this analysis is that we are currently comparing the ceramic data from the New Kingdom town of Sai with the pottery corpus from the contemporaneous settlement at Elephantine.

Among the most important contexts from Sai is of course the material from feature 15. The large amount of intact vessels, their association with seal impressions and the clear stratigraphic sequence makes this cellar a perfect case study.

Unusual vessels from Feature 15, Sai.

Unusual vessels from Feature 15, Sai.

Besides dozens of bowls, plates and beakers, there are also two very unusual vessels from feature 15. They are unique within the pottery corpus of Sai, being heavy deep bowls with a thick flat base and a pronounced outer lip. We nicknamed them “chamber pots” and until today I was not able to find close parallels. Until today! Sitting here on my desk surrounded by all the New Kingdom pottery data from Elephantine, I suddenly remembered a complete pot we documented some years ago which is also unique within the local corpus.

Unusual pot from Elephantine...

Unusual pot from Elephantine…

The copy of the drawing of 37601X/b-29 was labelled as “Nachttopf” in my handwriting… and closely resembles our pots from feature 15! While the piece still has no parallel within the Elephantine material, it clearly compares nicely to the pots from Sai.

Although the functional use of these vessels still poses several questions (which I will leave open for now…any thoughts are of course welcome!), finds like this illustrate the huge potential of AcrossBorders’ approach to compare the Sai pottery corpus in detail with the one from Elephantine. Linking and differentiating Sai and Elephantine is making excellent progress and will of course continue!