Piecing the town layout further together

As posted recently, some new observations about the town layout of the New Kingdom Sai are possible thanks to AcrossBorders’ archaeological fieldwork on Sai Island from 2013 until 2017. In a short summary, now available for free online, I stressed that our archaeological excavations were complemented with kite aerial photography, structure from motion approaches, terrestrial 3D laser scans, geoarchaeological surveys, micormorphological soil sampling and various archaeometric analyses of diverse materials. Naturallly, much potential derives from this combination of methods and approaches.

The recent 2017 field season on Sai Island provided some answers to both general research questions, e.g. about the occupation of Sai during the 18th Dynasty, but also to more detailed questions like building phases within individual sectors. Excavations in sector SAV1 East resulted in particular in new insights on the layout and function of the New Kingdom town.

Large subterranean storage rooms were unearthed in rooms with schist floors, stressing the role of Sai as Egyptian administrative center during the mid-18th Dynasty. The new cellars (Feature 83 and 85) and corresponding rooms are comparable to the southern sector of the town, excavated by a French Mission in the 1970s and recently re-studied by Ingrid Adenstedt.

Feature 83 and 85 are probably related to the Egyptian stone temple, Temple A, close by. With our new fieldwork, the town map can therefore be updated and fresh remarks on the internal structure are possible.

Highlights of the 2017 season: the New Kingdom town

Besides our very successful work in Tomb 26 with the undisturbed burials from the 18th Dynasty, our final season in the New Kingdom town, excavating both at SAV1 West and SAV1 East, was also very successful.

Another storage installation at SAV1 West… featuring a royal inscription on a re-used stone block!

Excavating the storage pit and cleaning surface area for another cellar – located in the northeastern corner of our excavation square…

Sieving the material from the bottom of the storage pit: undisturbed mid-18th Dynasty context!

New mud brick structures and loads of ceramics from SAV1 West.

Taking micromorphological samples in the “wall street” during “nimiti happy hour”…

Starting work at SAV1 East – aiming to clarify the dimensions of in situ-schist pavement.

Finding more schist – and: one large cellar!

And discovering another large cellar with its vault still in situ…

Fighting against nimiti and time pressure!

Finishing up what was the highlight of all 5 seasons in the Egyptian town on Sai!

Thanks again to all team members – has been a great season!

Short summary of AcrossBorders’ 2017 season on Sai Island

A little hard to believe, but I am almost ready to leave Sudan and return to Munich! 11 weeks since we arrived here in Khartoum, 10 very exciting weeks of fieldwork, lots of new discoveries and much food for thought!
Thanks to the excellent working conditions provided by the local authorities to archaeologists in Sudan, we are able to export samples for scientific analysis – this will allow us to update and check some of our preliminary data from the field further in the next months.

The most important results of this 2017 season are as follows:
At SAV1 West, remaining deposits in Squares 1S and 1SE were investigated. The remains of several small mud brick buildings including one storage pit and one cellar were exposed and stratigraphic information was received from cleaning selected areas, including the “wall street” along the town enclosure. Most importantly, the earliest phase of occupation at SAV1 West seems to be contemporaneous to the one at SAV1 North – and predating the building of the town wall under Thutmose III. Only scarce remains of the early 18th Dynasty occupation at SAV1 West have survived, with the major phase in the mid-18th Dynasty partly superimposing earlier structures.
At SAV1 East, excavation was completed in Square 4C, finding more schist pavements. Other floors and mud bricks of already known structures. An extension was added towards the southwestern part of the site in order to trace a mud brick wall and in situ schist pavement further (new Square 4D, 6.5 x 9m). Within Square 4D, two large cellars were discovered (Feature 83 and Feature 85). Their size (3.3 x 1.8 x 2.00m and 3.7 x 1.5 x 2.05m) and East-West alignment corresponds nicely to the previously excavated structure, Feature 15. While Feature 83, the southern cellar, was disturbed by a pit in its western half down to the bottom, and only had in situ 18th Dynasty vessels left on the pavement in the eastern half, Feature 85 was found with its vault still partly intact.

Work in progress in feature 85.


Tomb 26, discovered in 2015, was completely excavated in 2017. Feature 4, the trench in the north, was cleaned and yielded a number of burials. Chamber 6, the northern burial chamber, held two coffins of which only traces survived in the flood sediments as well as rich burial equipment of Egyptian style: scarabs, faience vessels, pottery vessels and one stone shabti were used as burial goods. Traces of the funerary masks have also survived. According to the inscribed finds and the human remains, the double burial in Feature 6 can be identified as the master of gold workers Khnummose and an anonymous female person. Finally, Feature 5, the chamber located to the west of Chamber 2, yielded 9 adult and 2 infant burials, again with a nice selection of finds comprising scarabs, amulets and pottery vessels as well as few traces of the funerary masks and coffins.

All achievements of this season would not have been possible without great team work – many thanks go to all colleagues and students working in the field and the magazine who coped so well with time pressure and loads of finds, to all of our local workmen who faced together with us at SAV1 East nimiti-attacks which were just as bad as in our first year back in 2013! And of course to our wonderful NCAM representative and inspector Huda Magzoub, as well as to the great house staff, Sidahmed, Osama and Ridda. Last but not least, the dig dog Ramsis and his cute and entertaining off springs brought much comfort in dark black-fly hours!

End of fieldwork on Sai Island

After very intense last days – with severe attacks by nimiti-flies from 6:45 am onwards – and a total of 10 successful weeks, we finished fieldwork on Friday and returned back to Khartoum yesterday. Most of the team has left already this morning; Cajetan and me stay two more days to arrange our export samples and other things.
To be very honest: I am still too tired to write up a proper summary of this simply amazing season! I am also too impressed by all of the finds from the last days – the big cellars we excavated in square 4D at SAV1 East were better preserved than originally thought. Their discovery itself did not come as a surprise – thanks to Martin Fera and his close look on the map of the geophysical survey back in 2011, we were expecting something similar like feature 15.

The two new cellars in Sq. 4D during excavation.


Feature 83, the southern cellar, was exposed first, because it was disturbed by a later pit in its central and western part. The pavement in the eastern part was still preserved and yielded some nice in situ finds of pottery and animal bones.

Cellar 85 with its vault still in place.


Feature 85, situated in the north, however, was much better preserved: at least it was not disturbed by pits from above. Part of its vault is still in place, only its side walls have collapsed and covered the lower part of the cellar. A really amazing find, very unexpected for SAV1 East in general – and very challenging for the very last week of a fieldwork project!
Both new cellars are similar in date and belong to the major Thutmoside building phase at SAV1 East – contemporaneous to Building A. They add important data to the general layout of the town and the functional interpretation of SAV1 East.

For now a big “thank you” to all the brave workmen and the staff working at SAV1 East – including the “magazine guys” who helped us finishing on the very last day, despite of the black flies attacks! When even the workman who never never never wears a mosquito net does ask for one and then does not take it off for one second, you really know that these last weeks were like hell – but with much reward regarding the archaeology of New Kingdom Sai!

Summary of week 8, fieldwork season 2017

In week 8 of our current fieldwork season on Sai, we started excavations at sector SAV1 East with a group of workmen. We extended our excavation area towards the southwest, opening a new square labelled Square 4D, hoping to get more remains of the mud brick structures we found last year with in situ-schist pavements.

First day at SAV1 East, with part of the extension Sq. 4D visible.


Making very good progress, we have indeed exposed already a new mud brick wall which is exactly in line with the one in Square 4C! Some of the bricks of this wall are burnt, lots of ash and charcoal were found adjacent to it. Together with a very large proportion of 18th Dynasty bread moulds, I am wondering again – like I did in earlier season – if SAV1 East is connected with the production of bread for the nearby Temple A. The amounts of ceramics are still in general amazing: I processed 112 baskets of pottery from only 5 working days! Dating confirms earlier results: a very good presence of mid-18th Dynasty material, some late 18th Dynasty and few Ramesside sherds, all together with mixed material from later periods up to Ottoman times.

Work in the magazine with registration, drawing of pottery and small finds is progressing very well. This week, Daniela Penzer joined Oliver in making drawings of pottery, Lucia Sedlakova concentrates on objects from the town area.

Regarding new finds, the usual stone tools, clay beads, female figurines and reused sherds came in this week from SAV1 East. Our registrar Meg Gundlach is still mostly occupied with wonderful things from Tomb 26 – more scarabs, more amulets and more gold foil from funerary masks. The beautiful crocodile amulets – now a total of 4, probably all belonging to a female adult buried in the northern part of Chamber 5 – were photographed and described in detail.

In addition, with the re-arrival of Cajetan Geiger, the new chambers and excavated areas of Tomb 26 were completely surveyed and measured.

With the end of our season approaching, Andrea, Marlies and me will now spend a productive Friday in Tomb 26 – aiming to finish documenting it today! An update will follow shortly.

Summary of week 7, field season 2017

In week 7, we started with post-excavation documentation of the burial of Khnum-mes from Chamber 6. There are two aspects that I got completely wrong during excavation while the objects were still in situ, dusty and not yet clean: the total of 6 “stone vessels” from Chamber 6 are actually made of a different material – they are all in faience! Very nice parallels can be found in neighbouring tombs excavated by our French colleagues.
The second modification concerns Khnum-mes’ title – already when taking out his shabti and the faience vessels, I was a bit irritated by my first reading as “wab-priest”. Well – in the magazine, with good light and together with our registrar Meg Gundlach, it is now clear that Khnum-mes was a master goldworker (nbj and Hrj nbjw). This fits of course perfectly to the association of New Kingdom temple towns in general, and Sai Island in particular, with gold exploitation in Nubia!
His shabti – as well as the heart scarab – are real master pieces and of very high quality – it is definitely the highlight of AcrossBorders’ excavation in SAC5 since 2015.

As reported yesterday, excavation work now focuses in Tomb 26 on Chamber 5 – Andrea and Marlies are busy cleaning and documented a good number of burials; amulets, beads and scarabs as well as funerary masks are the most common finds in addition to pottery – several intact vessels of various sizes, with so-called flower pots as most frequent type.
Most important and actually very fresh news, having spent a productive Friday of work in Tomb 26: I managed to locate the southern and western walls and also the corresponding corners of Chamber 5! This was of prime importance at this stage, but not an easy task, given the poor quality of sandstone and a large amount of debris on the walls. Some white wall plaster is still preserved in situ – exactly like we found it in the main chamber 2. Fortunately, the dimensions of Chamber 5 are now confirmed, with only the north-western corner left to clean.

Furthermore, registration and documentation was continued this week, reaching the “drawing phase”. Oliver Frank Stephan and Julian Putner arrived at the beginning of the week and started immediately with drawings of small finds and pottery vessels, both from the town and Tomb 26.

A last group of team members will arrive next week – the final reinforcement for the grand finale of our last season and 3 weeks of excavation in the town, at SAV1 East.

Hidden Highlights 5

Material: Fayence
L: 1.5cm
W: 0.4cm
H: 0.6cm

Though partial, the finger ring SAV1E 2882 is an excellent representation of ancient Egyptian personal adornment. The ring is made from blue fayence molded into the form of a wadjet, broken through the shank (band) and at the opposite connection point with the bezel.  The wadjet (or “Eye of Horus”) motif is amongst the most popular for amulets, produced from the Old Kingdom through the Roman Period. The imagery is taken from the loss (and recovery) of Horus’ own eye in his epic battle against Seth and was seemingly thought to protect the wearer from any and all types of harm.

Like so many aspects of their material cultural, jewelry served a dual function for the Egyptians, being both amuletic and indicative of wealth, rank or social status. Even fayence benefited from this duality, as a material that was widely affordable and admired for its transformative properties. Thus, it is no surprise that fayence is the most common material used for the production of jewelry. Compared to other forms of adornment, finger rings have a relatively late appearance (Middle Kingdom) and would have been widely produced by the settlement of Sai in the Eighteenth Dynasty. Similar rings are known from many New Kingdom sites, but the emergence of the openwork bezel for wadjet rings at this time may indicate SAV1E 2882 holds a humble place amongst its contemporaries.

Hidden Highlights 4

Material: Clay   L: 5.7cm; W:4.1cm; H:4.3cm

SAV1E 851 initially presents itself as a somewhat challenging figurine. Rather crudely shaped out of clay, the shape is elongated with one rounded and one broken end. With a little imagination it is possible to visualize this object as the rear end of an animal.  This creature must certainly be recumbent as the smooth preserved bottom precludes the attachment of legs. Unfortunately, the surface of the area where a potential tail may attach is damaged. Though the shape is vague, the prominently incised decoration is quite remarkable. Two lines of incised dots run across the back (one forming the edge of break), a common design of body adornment on the rudimentary style of clay female figurines which are frequently found within the New Kingdom settlement of Sai.

In addition to the dotted lines, the left flank bears a lotus petal and the right a butterfly, motifs typically found on the well-known faience hippos of the Middle Kingdom. The combination of the shape and the distinctive decoration means that this (previously) unremarkable lump of clay must be a hippo!

As the largest indigenous animal in Egypt, the hippopotamus was memorialized in art from the Predynastic Period onwards. Commonly associated with the protective qualities of the goddess Taweret or the chaotic forces of Seth, the hippo motif finds a home in both the private and public spheres. As such, representations may include either the composite form of the deity or the animal itself. Zoomorphic figurines are known in a range of materials and like SAV1E, clay hippos are attested also in the New Kingdom settlements of Amarna and Lisht.

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!

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!