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!

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…