Presenting Tomb 26 and other highlights

Almost 2 months have passed since we successfully closed our final season on Sai!

This week is quite busy with presenting our results to different audiences – the SARS Day on Monday in London was great as always, I am really happy about various and mostly very positive feedback!

Tonight, I am going to present the highlights of the 2017 season here in Munich.

This lecture is part of the rich programme organized by the friends of the institute, the Collegium Aegyptium. I will give a brief summary of work in the town and will then focus on Tomb 26. With Chamber 6, the burial of Khnummes and his wife, and especially with the “hidden” Chamber 5 and its 18th Dynasty burials rich of jewelry there is quite something to talk about!

Chamber 5 during the process of excavation; note that, like Chamber 6, it was completly sealed by flood levels.

Looking much forward to this occasion, also because so many team members will be present!

Off to London – SARS meeting 2017

The annual one-day international colloquium of the Sudan Archaeological Research Society (SARS) will take place at the British Museum in London tomorrow. As usual the programme is very promising, highlighting the current work of British but also international teams in Sudan at different types of sites, dating to diverse periods.

I am honoured to have the possibility to present AcrossBorders’ 2017 season on Sai to the audience – I will start with summarising the work in the town, focusing on the important new data concerning the evolution of the town and its layout. In the second half of my talk I will present our work in Tomb 26 – busy with post-excavation work in the last weeks, I am now able to propose a first preliminary reconstruction of the main phases of use of the tomb. Looking much forward to this opportunity, to meet all of the colleagues and friends and of course hoping for some feedback!

New thoughts on layout and planning of New Kingdom town of Sai

My paper with the title “Crossing Borders: Settlement Archaeology in Egypt and Sudan” has just been published in the latest volume of Near Eastern Archaeology (Vol. 80, No. 1, March 2017, pp. 14-21), see https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5615/neareastarch.80.1.0014?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents.

Based on the fresh data from AcrossBorders’ excavations on Sai Island between 2013 and 2017, this paper presents the current state of knowledge regarding the evolution of the New Kingdom town of Sai.  Its potential for general aspects of settlement archaeology in New Kingdom Egypt and Kush are highlighted. New evidence for a landing place in the early Eighteenth Dynasty as well as fresh information about the Thutmoside temple town are presented.

Screenshot of 3D model of the New Kingdom town of Sai, overbuilt by the Ottoman fortress in the south. View from the south. Illustration by Martin Fera.

Furthermore, I try to argue that AcrossBorders’ excavation results suggest some new thoughts about the development of this town with its orthogonal city map: despite of its obvious urban planning as a royal foundation, the site of Sai also illustrates dynamic aspects of Egyptian towns which must have been very common. These aspects reflect local microhistories and show common deviations from what we consider as “standard types” in both architecture and material culture.

These first thoughts highlighted in the NEA paper will be followed further by still ongoing archaeometric, micromorphological and other analyses of various materials as well as the final assessment of the excavation results in sectors SAV1 East and SAV1 West.

Reconstructing the use-life of Tomb 26

Back in Munich, all of us are busy with post-excavation tasks – updating databases and lists, finalizing reports, maps and 3D models as well as digitalizing original drawings. The latter currently keeps Oliver and Daniela busy – they are digitalizing the pottery drawings from Tomb 26.

The amount of complete pots found in the tomb in 2017 is striking – particularly interesting is a deposit of six so-called flower pots and three dishes in the southeastern corner of Chamber 5. Situated at the feet of the presumed earliest burial within this chamber, these ceramic vessels also include a stone vessel.

Deposit of pottery vessels in Chamber 5.

Flower pots – conical deep bowls with perforated bases – are very common New Kingdom types known from Egypt and Nubia (see, for example, Holthoer 1977, pl. 18; Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. II, pl. 132). Their function is still unclear and was much debated. In Sai, they are both attested in the Egyptian town and cemetery SAC5. The best parallels from a funerary context on the island for our new deposit come from the neighboring Tomb 7, excavated by the French Mission. In the main burial chamber of this tomb, a cluster of vessels was found in the south-east corner, including five flower pots (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. I, 49).

Datable to the early-mid 18th Dynasty, these ceramic vessels are key markers to reconstruct the phases of use within Tomb 26. The current task for understanding its complete use-life is to collect all available information (objects, pottery, stratigraphical information, human remains, C14 dates etc.) and process these data with reference to each other.

References

Holthoer 1977 = Holthoer, Rostislav, New Kingdom Pharaonic Sites. The Pottery, The Scandinavian Joint Expedition to Sudanese Nubia Vol. 5:1, Lund 1977.

Minault-Gout/Thill 2012 = Minault-Gout, Ann / Thill, Florence, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 69, 2 vols., Cairo 2012.

Highlights of the 2017 season: Tomb 26

Starting with post-excavation analyses and organizing all data collected during our weeks on Sai Island, the many highlights and working steps in Tomb 26 can be nicely illustrated by a selection of photos:

Start of work in Trench 4 along the North wall.

More and more human remains…

Entrance to Chamber 6 is getting cleaned! First finds and bones appear below the entrance, all covered and sealed by mud deposits.

Oh yes… remains of coffins in Chamber 6!

Highlight of this season – Khnummose’s beautiful stone shabti!

And his fabulous heart scarab…

This niche is not a niche but another chamber – start of work in Chamber 5!

Dense “occupation” in Chamber 5 and lots of complete pots!

Not only the highlight from Chamber 5, but one of the most beautiful objects from all of Tomb 26!

Finishing up documentation in Chamber 5…

Khartoum – Munich – Vienna

One week ago, I was still enjoying my last days in Sudan, recovering from the nimiti-flies in Khartoum.

Scenic view of one of the masterpieces at the Khartoum National Museum at night.


Back in Munich, things have been very busy – I am very proud that one of our student assistants, Daniela, just passed her MA defensio with distinction – with a work on New Kingdom cooking pots, highlighting material from Sai and Elephantine. Well done indeed!

Another very pleasant event was a meeting organized by my colleague Philipp Stockhammer – bringing ERC grantees within the field of archaeology from several countries together, celebrating 10 years of ERC and thinking about future collaborations.

ERC grantees brought together by P. Stockhammer at the LMU.


Now back in Vienna, we just had a very fruitful meeting today, dedicated to my FWF START project, especially the strontium isotope analyses. A beautiful spring day is the perfect setting for this reunion!

View from my Viennese office…


With all the fresh data from our 2017 season, organizing the next working steps and the diverse analyses will keep us busy for quite some time…

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 :-)!