Palaces in New Kingdom temple towns?

One of the characteristics of the so-called temple towns in Nubia is the presence of so-called governor’s palaces in the south-eastern corner of the walled area. These exceptional, palace-like houses are situated in the vicinity of the stone temples of the individual towns and most probably functioned as headquarter for the local ruler or highest official. In an article recently published, I presented some thoughts based on the evidence from Sai and the so-called palace SAF2, including AcrossBorders’ new results from sector SAV1 East (Budka 2018).

Overview of southern part of the New Kingdom town of Sai, with so-called palace in the background (southeastern corner of town).

I tried to argue that the close relationship of the “palace” and the stone temple for gods becomes very evident on Sai. Obviously, SAF2 was a representative building for the local administration and offi cials like the mayor and the jdnw of Kush. Small details like the non-axial access to the main columned hall and storage installations indicate that in addition to its evocative character as an “Egyptian” building, SAF2 was really used for domestic purposes.

Ingrid Adenstedt has worked on the ground plan and also the 3D reconstruction of SAF2  – she convincingly showed that the building most likely had two storeys (Adenstedt 2016). Her reconstruction was also used in the animations of our recently published short film about the AcrossBorders project.

Reconstruction of SAF2, Ingrid Adenstedt 2016.

What also became evident by the reassessment of the so-called governor’s palaces within Egyptian temple towns in Nubia is the fact that despite of all their common characteristics (location within the town, two storeys, columned central hall etc.), a site specific approach considering the local topography as well as the functional aspects of the site (depending on its date of foundation, its specific situation, the local temples, the surrounding Nubian sites, the hinterland etc.) is essential for our understanding of these palatial buildings of the New Kingdom.


Adensted 2016 = I. Adenstedt, Reconstructing Pharaonic Architecture in Nubia: the case study of SAV1, Sai Island, Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant 3, Vienna 2016.

Budka 2018 = J. Budka, Palaces in so-called Nubian temple towns: A reassessment, in: Manfred Bietak and Silvia Prell (eds.), Ancient Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Palaces. Volume I. Proceedings of the Conference on Palaces in Ancient Egypt, held in London 12th – 14th June 2013, Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant 5, Vienna 2018, 251–273.

New short film about AcrossBorders project

A short film, available both in English and German, has just gone live!

In the film (editing and animations: hertha produziert), our new fieldwork on Sai island is presented, especially the work conducted and recently published in sector SAV1 North. 3D reconstructions by our architect Ingrid Adenstedt illustrate the recent advances in the study of the architecture of New Kingdom towns.

Various analyses of the material remains, especially the ceramics – with my personal favorites, the fire dogs, are highlighted to illustrate the new insights into Sai’s regional and trans-regional networks and its heydays.

Looking much forward to feedback for our video!

AcrossBorders monograph now freely available online

I am delighted that the monograph AcrossBorders I, dedicated to SAV1 North, is now freely available online.
The main focus of the book published in the OREA series Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant by the Austrian Academy of Science Press is the physical remains of SAV1 North: the architecture and material culture, with emphasis on the pottery and small finds.
Datable to the mid- to late 18th Dynasty, the building phase labelled as Level 3 was the heyday at sector SAV1 North, well-attested by several architectural remains with associated finds and pottery, which are all presented in the volume. A summary of thoughts on possible hints about the lifestyle and activities at SAV1 North preserved in the material remains completes AcrossBorders I. All in all, the evidence from SAV1 North underlines the important role Sai plays in understanding settlement patterns in New Kingdom Nubia.
Of course all of us are very much hoping that the openaccess version of the book will be widely used, especially by users without access to Egyptological/archaeological libraries!

An update on Nun bowls from Sai Island

Back in 2015, Sabine Tschorn recorded all Nun bowl fragments from the New Kingdom town on Sai. This unique group of faience vessels is associated with regeneration and fertility and offers some insights into the daily life of 18th Dynasty Sai.

Happy with small, but diagnostic pieces of Nun-bowls from SAV1 West.

I am delighted that her analysis of the Nun bowls is now published (Tschorn 2017). In her paper, Sabine examines the excavated fragments and their distribution in the different sectors of the settlement as well as their diverse decorative motifs and functions. She is able to show that these faience vessels have to be seen in context with the architectural remains – for Sai, it is highly interesting that most fragments come from SAV1 North and SAV1 West, where a substantial amount of storage facilities and cellars was found, located close to the New Kingdom town wall. An association of the Nun bowls with ritual vessels like footed bowls for burning at both sectors might suggest a connection with offerings and libation. All in all, the function of Nun bowls in domestic settlements of the New Kingdom appears to be quite complex – once again stressing that daily life in ancient times also included various activities connected to the ritual and religious sphere (cf. Stevens 2006).

Thanks to the support of my FWF START project, the paper by Sabine has been published with full open access and will hopefully stimulate further research about an intriguing object group of the New Kingdom.


Stevens, A. 2006. Private Religion at Amarna. BAR International Series 1587. Oxford.

Tschorn, S. 2017. Nun-Schalen aus der Stadt des Neuen Reiches auf der Insel Sai, Ägypten und Levante 27, 431–446

New releases – some papers on Tomb 26 on Sai Island

Having just returned from Sudan and the student excursion, it’s very pleasant to find some new releases on one’s desk – especially because these also comprise papers highlightening the significance of Tomb 26 and especially of the burial of Khnummose on Sai Island.

The following new articles are relevant for AcrossBorders’ work in cemetery SAC5:

Budka, J., Pyramid cemetery SAC5, Sai Island, Northern Sudan: An update based on fieldwork from 2015–2017, Ägypten und Levante 27, 2017, 107‒130.
Budka, J., Das Grab eines Goldschmiedemeisters auf Sai in Obernubien, Sokar 35, 2017, 52-63.
Budka, J., The Tomb of a Master of Gold-workers on Sai Island, Ancient Egypt 18, No. 3, 2017/2018, 14-20.

Within the article published in Ägypten und Levante 27, I tried to reconstruct the complete use-life of Tomb 26, presenting for the first time preliminary results from the pottery analysis.

Please note that all of these articles still have to be regarded as “preliminary” – the final analysis, including the anthropological findings in Tomb 26 and the results from the Strontium Isotope analysis, is already well under way and will be published as another monograph in the series Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant.

Recruitment for the last months of AcrossBorders

Simply too intriguing: Documenting Egyptian vessels from Sai back in 2012.

Sometimes things turn out just right or even perfect: Back in 2012, when an idea for a research project comparing Elephantine and Sai Island first took shape, I was supported in the field by Veronica Hinterhuber – a  friend and colleague from Humboldt-University who joint me already on several seasons in the Asasif, Thebes, Egypt.

Well – now, getting ready for the final months of AcrossBorders, having finished excavations both in Sai and on Elephantine, I am delighted to announce that Veronica came to Munich and started working for the project on December 1! With her broad experience in databases, with Egyptian and Sudanese objects and with editing publications, she will not only support me in finalizing our datasets, but will also engage in the preparation of the next monographs presenting results from the AcrossBorders project, due already in 2018.

A very warm welcome – it has taken some time, but is still simply perfect!

Khartoum study season: Working on 3D models of selected finds

After busy days working on pottery and small finds from the town, we are now focusing in our current study season at NCAM in Khartoum on the objects from Tomb 26. In addition to drawings and photographs for future publications, we will document some objects with Structure From Motion to capture also their 3D structure. The three most important pieces in this respect are the beautiful signet ring from Chamber 5, a real masterpiece of jewelry, as well as the stone heart scarab and the shabti who both belonged to Khnummose.

Cajetan Geiger was already responsible for all the SFM documentation during the 2017 field season at Sai, continuing our site specific technique Martin Fera established back in 2014. Cajetan now set up a very nice “in-door” installation for objects in 3D and thanks to our new full-frame camera the results from Image Based modelling should be of highest quality! I am very keen to see these new 3D models of the highlights of AcrossBorders’ work on Sai – and will of course share them, just keep track of our blog posts during the next 8 days ;-)!

New release & much progress in Vienna

Wow – what a week already! We’ve been busy working on the photogrammetric processing of digital images from Sai and generating 3D data. Thanks to the kind support of OREA, Cajetan Geiger can not only use our two fieldwork laptops, but also a PowerPC workstation here in Vienna. It’s simply amazing how much faster the processing is with this and we’re making great progress.

Our current focus is on generating maps and 3D models from Tomb 26, especially from the various situations in Chamber 5 and Trench 4. Cajetan is also doing his best in fulfilling my last-minute wishes for illustrations to be used at the conference next week in Munich!

Being already perfectly happy with all of this progress and productive atmosphere, this Viennese success week was yesterday topped by the release of AcrossBorders first monograph! After all of the work we invested in this volume, I am very proud to have the finished product now in my hands. Many thanks go to all who were deeply involved in this book – first of all Florence Doyen, Meg Gundlach and Oliver Frank Stephan.

AcrossBorders I is dedicated to SAV1 North, the sector situated along the northern enclosure wall. It was excavated between 2008 and 2012 by the Sai Island Archaeological Mission (directed in the field by Florence Doyen) and processed within the framework of AcrossBorders. The principal focus of the book is the physical remains of SAV1 North: the architecture and material culture, with emphasis on the pottery and small finds.

Timing of both the new publication and our data processing here in Vienna is just perfect, especially in regards of the upcoming conference!

AcrossBorders in retrospect

Those were the days – back in 2013 we had our first season on Sai Island, starting work at sector SAV1 East. The outlines of Building A were discovered, exciting finds in the southern part of our squares allowed us to date the earliest remains in this area to the very early New Kingdom. Among the highlights were pots from the early 18th Dynasty, found in situ in a small storage bin.

Continuous excavations until this spring season 2017 brought to light further evidence supporting this original interpretation. It is well timed that a substantial volume on “Nubia in the New Kingdom” was just published – edited by Neal Spencer, Anna Stevens and Michaela Binder these proceedings of a conference in London 2013 bring together the latest results and a large variety of finds dating to the New Kingdom, unearthed in northern Sudan. I am proud that also AcrossBorders’ work on Sai Island is represented in this splendid and important volume – an overview about “Life in the New Kingdom town of Sai Island: some new perspectives” summarizes the potential of the first season back in 2013 in SAV1 East – and illustrates among others the significant find of the storage bin with its in situ pots.

Since 2013, I regularly wrote a blog post “summer break” in August, announcing vacation and a short break from our various tasks including blogging – well, those were the days… 2017 is a bit different – with the closing conference “From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia”, to be held from 1–3 September, 2017 in Munich, we are all very busy and time for vacation is limited. Travelling between Vienna and Munich, we are especially involved in the anthropological findings in Tomb 26 and the GIS applications of our documentation; the digital landscape models of Sai are getting prepared and all will be presented at the conference.

Perfectly timed is now the release of a video produced by the FWF high lightening our main research questions and most important discoveries on Sai. For those of you who have missed photos and reports about the nimiti flies in the last months – I am convinced that the video will make up for this: beautiful shots of SAV1 East, the one and only nimiti paradise ;-).

AcrossBorders’ closing conference “From Microcosm to Macrocosm”

It is my great pleasure to announce the conference “From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia”, to be held from 1–3 September, 2017 in Munich, hosted by Ludwig-Maximilians-University. Thanks to the kindness of the Egyptian Museum and my colleagues there, the venue of the conference is the lecture hall of the Museum. It is the closing event of the ERC project AcrossBorders and will highlight our recent fieldwork on New Kingdom Sai.

The AcrossBorders project has concentrated in the last five years on settlement patterns in Egypt and Upper Nubia in the 2nd Millennium BC: various interactions and mutual influences are attested for these regions which are situated across ancient (Pharaonic Egypt and Kingdom of Kush) and modern (Egypt and Sudan) borders with diverse environmental and cultural preconditions. Much progress has been made in Egyptian and Nubian settlement archaeology in recent years, but further research addressing general aspects of living conditions and the specific coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians is required. Of chief interest are the architecture and structure of the Egyptian towns established in Upper Nubia during the New Kingdom, their social stratification, the local relations of Nubians and Egyptians and the specific material culture.

The conference focuses therefore on 1) individual households of selected sites in Egypt and Nubia. In addition to this microapproach, introducing microhistories of individual sites according to recent fieldwork and archaeometric applications, the event also discusses 2) general patterns and regional developments –thus, the macrocosm of New Kingdom Nubia.

I am extremely delighted that so many colleagues have accepted our invitation – the program covers a large variety of case studies from Egypt and Nubia. Among others, we will welcome as our distinguished guests Abdelrahman Ali (Director General of NCAM), Manfred Bietak (Prof. em. Vienna and PI of the ERC Advanced Grant “The Hyksos Enigma”), Charles Bonnet (Director of the excavations at Kerma/Doukki Gel), Cornelius von Pilgrim (Director of the Swiss Institute Cairo) and Neal Spencer (Keeper of the Department Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum and Director of the Amara West excavations).

Looking very much forward to this closing event here in Munich!