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!

End of fieldwork in SAV1 West

Week 4 of our 2017 fieldwork season has just ended – Cajetan and Franziska, who did an excellent job in SAV1 West, have left Sai Island this morning to return back home to Germany. We still have 6 weeks of work in front of us, but as scheduled we managed to close fieldwork in sector SAV1 West.

The results are very important and will keep me busy for a bit longer: Cleaning the lowest deposits of stratigraphy in SAV1 West, both in the wall street and in other structures, it became clear that – despite of everything we thought in the last years – we do have an early 18th Dynasty occupation phase here after all!

Having processed not yet all of the ceramics, it is difficult to give an exact date, but for sure we have a phase predating the enclosure wall. Thus, SAV1 West nicely mirrors SAV1 North, the sector excavated by the French Mission between 2008-2012.

In addition to this very important new information concerning the evolution of Egyptian New Kingdom occupation on Sai, we excavated some nice features this season: two new cellars/storage pits, one grind stone emplacement and various remains of the relevant mud brick structures.

SAV1 West, status 2017.

Many thanks again to all team members for making the first half of the season very successful!

Tomb 26 continued to keep us very busy…. More and more parallels to neighboring tombs excavated by our French colleagues become evident, especially to the close-by Tomb 7.

In week 4, we managed to clear the new western chamber (feature 5) down to a level with many in situ vessels and burial remains. As yet, we have cleaned a very nice individual in extended position, lying East-West along the South wall, with his head to the West. We managed to document traces of his funerary mask – one eye has survived and traces of gold foil. Several miniature vessels were placed at the head, a cluster of flower pots at the feet. Both skeleton and vessels were partly covered by the collapse of side walls and roof.

Skull, remains of funerary mask and miniature vessels in chamber 5.

In chamber 6, the lower chamber off from the trench towards the north, I managed to reach a level with very faint traces of wood and blue, white, red and yellow plus black pigments/colors. It seems very likely that we have here a badly decayed wooden coffin – the first bones appeared yesterday!

Work will concentrate in the next weeks on finds, pottery and Tomb 26 – of course we will keep you updated!

Summary of the 2016 field season on Sai

AcrossBorders’ 2016 mission on Sai Island has just ended after 10 fruitful weeks of excavations and lab work. Excavations were carried out in three areas in the Pharaonic town (SAV1 East, SAV1 West and SAV1 Northeast) and in the New Kingdom cemetery SAC 5.

At SAV1 West, the eastern extension to Square 1S in SAV1 West, labelled as Square 1SE, yielded several small mud brick buildings. Feature 123, extending into Sq. 1S, was completely exposed and was of great interest. Its layout is different from the other structure along the “wall street” and an infant burial came up in its westernmost compartment – probably from a later phase of use, most probable the Christian period. Like proposed in 2015, the earliest phase of occupation at SAV1 West seems to be contemporaneous to the building of the town wall and dates to the mid-18th Dynasty. There is clear evidence for several phases of use within the 18th Dynasty.

At SAV1 East, extensions were added towards the western and southern part of the site (new Squares 4B, 4C and 4B1). Within Square 4, the western part of feature 15, our beloved large subterranean room lined with red bricks, was fully excavated.

Completing excavation in feature 15.

Completing excavation in feature 15.

Pottery and seal impressions found below the wall 44 of Building A set into this cellar proof the dating of the corresponding building phase to the later reign of Thutmose III. Extensions in the new Squares 4B, 4C and 4B1 yielded in situ remains of large mud brick magazines with schist pavements. Several building phases within the 18th Dynasty could be traced, especially of the early and mid-18th Dynasty. All in all, further proof was gathered that sector SAV1 East has much in common and shows many parallels to the southern area of the town, SAV1, excavated by M. Azim in the 1970ties.

To test the assumption that the eastern part of the New Kingdom enclosure wall was running along the sandstone cliff, a 15 x 3 m trench was excavated to the east of the site SAV1 North (called Trench 1 of SAV1 Northeast). Remains of brickwork associated with mid-18th Dynasty pottery can be interpreted as the town enclosure wall and enable us to calculate the Pharaonic town’s exact east-west width.

The test trench in SAV1Northeast.

The test trench in SAV1Northeast with scarce remains of New Kingdom mud bricks.

In addition to the excavation, kite photography of the Pharaonic town and the cemetery was conducted.

One of the days where the wind was strong enough for Martin and his kite!

One of the days where the wind was strong enough for Martin and his kite!

A geoarchaeological survey in the vicinity of the New Kingdom town site and to the south of Gebel Abri was successfully undertaken (January 30 to February 19). This survey took the form of hand auger profiles, as well as opportunistic prospection of exposed and available sections and quarry outcrops. Furthermore, the micromorphological sampling programme was continued, focusing on the 18th Dynasty occupation in SAV1 East, but also testing some deposits in SAV1 West.

Both pottery and objects were processed in 2016, documented by photos and drawings and described in the Filemaker database with currently more than 4600 entries. The focus was on the new material from SAV1 East and SAV1 West ‒ over 400 finds have been registered and photographed. One of the numerous highlights is a scarab (SAV1E 1595) from the floor of a newly exposed room towards the west of Building A.

Large amounts of the newly excavated pottery were processed in sherd yards at the sites (430 baskets from SAV1West, 615 baskets from SAV1 East). A substantial amount of pottery sherds were documented by drawing – the focus was here – due to publication responsibilities – on SAV1 North.

Michaela busy drawing pottery sherds.

Michaela busy drawing pottery sherds.

Work also continued in 2016 in the large New Kingdom cemetery SAC 5 (February 13 to March 11) in Area 2, focusing on tomb 26 discovered in 2015. This tomb was found looted at the beginning of the season – the backfilling of the shafts were taken out during May 2015, the burial chamber was entered and some deposit along the south wall towards the east of the chamber was removed, but the damage was not severe. Excavation work focused on the cleaning of the deposit in the burial chamber (feature 2) – a minimum of 10 individuals were documented from different levels reflecting the long time-span of use of the tomb from the mid/late 18th Dynasty to the Napatan era, comprising Ramesside and Pre-Napatan burials. The burial chamber was completely excavated and emptied.

Final cleaning work & taking measurements in the burial chamber of tomb 26.

Final cleaning work & taking measurements in the burial chamber of tomb 26.

In a large part of area 2 towards the south and east of tomb 26, a complete surface cleaning was conducted, providing proof that this sector of the cemetery is void of tombs, possibly stressing an elaborate position and the high importance of tomb 26.

Work in the surroundings of tomb 26.

Work in the surroundings of tomb 26.

All in all, the new information provided by the latest, very sucessful field season of AcrossBorders will allow us to 1) contextualise further the setting of the Pharaonic town within the landscape during New Kingdom times; 2) elaborate the city map of the Pharaonic town; 3) improve the stratigraphic sequence in all sectors; 4) connect the findings in the town with fresh evidence from the cemetery SAC5.

Making progress – post and pre-excavation working steps

Another jour fixe brought most of AcrossBorders’ team members together yesterday – after a very intense summer full of excavations in Egypt (Asasif, Abydos…), lab work (geoarchaeological samples, strontium isotope analysis, mollusks…), data base updates (pottery) & conferences (Florence, Vienna, Athens)!

Currently travelling back and forth between Vienna and Munich, I am very happy that the planned publications by Ingrid Adenstedt (reconstruction of SAV1; architectural report) and Florence Doyen (SAV1 North) are well in time and almost completed. Furthermore, nice first results came up from the strontium isotope analysis!

Within the framework of my FWF START-project, a first set of samples from Sai Island (soil, water, recent and ancient animal bones) were processed, thanks to a cooperation with Thomas Prohaska, at the Department of Chemistry – VIRIS Laboratory of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. Anika Retzmann presented these data at the 3rd Doc Day 2015 in Tulln, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences on Oct. 13. The poster was entitled “Human mobility along the Nile: Preliminary strontium isotope analyses for migration studies in ancient Nubia” and illustrated the Sr isotope ratio of the environmental samples from Sai Island. Very exciting already and I am looking much forward to the next field season and further sampling!

Besides lab work and databases, we are currently also getting ready for the upcoming season on Elephantine! Work will again focus on the pottery and small finds from House 55 and is scheduled for late October until early December. With the new discovery of feature 15 and its contents at SAV1 East, I am excited to conduct a fresh comparison of aspects of the material culture from Sai and Elephantine during the early to mid-18th Dynasty. Now off to Vienna, we’ll keep you posted!

Last steps in recording Faience vessels from Sai Island, New Kingdom town

Time flies by – only some months ago, we were working in the magazine of Sai Island documenting the different groups of objects. Sabine Tschorn had the special task to focus on faience vessels form the New Kingdom town. Most of the vessels within this group represent Nun- or marsh-bowls, frequently depicting marsh scenes with fishes, lotus plants and other motifs.

Sabine just came for a few days to Munich – in order to discuss things, to finalise small details of the drawings and records. We are in particular focusing on the distribution of the faience vessels – most of them were found in SAV1 North and SAV1 West and seem to be of late 18th Dynasty date. Adding the stratigraphical information and context as well as the data from the associated pottery will hopefully allow Sabine the fine-dating of some of the fragments.

ST 2015Looking much forward to the outcome of these days of checking and adding post-excavation data!

“Groovy” stone objects from Pharaonic settlements

Since I joined AcrossBorders, my main focus of research has been the object studies from settlement sites in Egypt and Sudan. During the first months I have been reading through excavation reports from different settlement sites e.g. Amarna, Elephantine, Memphis, Qantir, Tell el-Retaba in Egypt and Amara-West, Askut, Sesebi and of course Sai in Sudan. The focus of interest was especially laid on New Kingdom objects such as tools and instruments (e.g. hammers, pounders, mortars, grinding stones, scrapers, weights and cosmetic palettes), personal adornments (e.g. pearls and amulets), household items (e.g. mud stoppers, sealings and furniture), figurines and statuettes, stone and faience vessels and different kind of other small objects such as models, games and scarabs. Whilst I have been reading the excavation reports I have simultaneously been building a structured literature database (using also Citavi like for our general reference database) organized according to different settlement sites and object categories. This preparation should help me in categorizing and contextualizing the objects to be found in upcoming excavation seasons at Elephantine.

Meanwhile I have been also looking at the small finds & objects database from previous excavations (2008-2014) at Sai and comparing that material with those found at the other settlement sites in Egypt and Sudan (see Budka & Doyen 2012-2013, 182-188 for more details). As I come from Finland where fishing is a common hobby, a few objects caught my special attention – more about the connection of these objects and fishing further below. The discussion of these objects here does not present a final and complete conclusion but should be seen more as an input for a debate.

Object SAV1N/0601 (© SIAM)

Object SAV1N/0601 (© SIAM)

The two here presented objects are described as follows. The first object SAV1N/0601 is a fragment of a rectangular piece of sandstone (7.4 x 8.4 x 3.1 cm) with rounded corners on one end. The peculiarity of this object are the two carved parallel grooves – one deeper than the other and running through the whole object surface getting slightly narrower the closer it gets to the broken edge. The second object SAV1N/2031 is also a sandstone fragment (8.2 x 7.3 x 4.1 cm) with a smooth surface. Along the surface of this object there are also two grooves. They are not running parallel but crossing each other oblong. These objects do not make out an exception in the material as there are other sandstone objects with similar characteristics e.g. SAV1N/0415, SAV1N/1432, SAV1N/1728, SAV1N/2174, SAV1N/1767 and SAV1N/2387.

Object SAV1N/2031 (© SIAM)

Object SAV1N/2031 (© SIAM)

While some of the objects cannot be dated because they come from unstratified/mixed contexts in SAV1 North, others are well attributable to the 18th Dynasty. SAV1N/2031 was found in a late phase of (re-)use of house N12, SAV1N/2174 can be associated with its prime use, dating to Thutmoside times (see Budka & Doyen 2012-2013, 176-177 and 182). Functional aspects of these objects, presumably of New Kingdom date, are not straightforward. I came across a broad variety of possible interpretations.

The first parallel comes from Tell el-Retaba, a major Dynastic-period site in Northern Egypt. In the excavation report about the New Kingdom remains (18th and 19th Dynasties) appears one sandstone object labelled as “whetstone” (Rzepka et. al. 2012-2013, 267-268, Figures 34 and 35). This flat rectangular piece of sandstone (7.3. x 7.4. x 3.4 cm) is complete in preservation, with numerous narrow grooves on the surface. According to the excavators these grooves are the result of the stone being used as a tool sharpener (Rzepka et. al. 2012-2013, 268, footnote 41 with further parallels). Though which tools were sharpened, is not discussed.

Another parallel comes from the Ramesside workshops at Qantir. In her impressive monograph about the stone- and metalworking tools and instruments Silvia Prell presents a variety of stone objects for grinding, rubbing and polishing the end-products (“Werkstück”) and whetting and sharpening of metal tools as also arrowheads e.g. made of bone (Prell 2011, 44-72). One of the characteristics of the “Schleifsteine” is that they mainly consist of quartzite. They were in general used as tools to work on the surfaces of the end-products. In contrast, the objects (“Wetzsteine” = whetstone) to sharpen metal tools consist mainly of sandstone (Prell 2011, 48). Some of the whetstones from Qantir possess grooves as found at Tell el-Retaba and Sai (Prell 2011, 48 and 52-53). As an example the complete conserved trapezoid whetstone Kat-Nr. 166 (5.5 x 5.1 x 2.2 cm) possess one clearly recognizable groove (Prell 2011, 51, Plate 05 and Catalogue p. 180). Left to this groove there is probably the mark of a second one. Silvia Prell states that the choice of sandstone for whetting and sharpening of metal tools such as knives and adze is not accidental; sandstone is well suitable for this purpose (Prell 2011, 48, 50 and 52). However, no remains of bronze or copper rust were found inside the grooves at Qantir. According to Prell the grooves seem not to be carved intentionally but originate from the constant whetting of metal tools on one place (Prell 2011, 52).

The last parallel presented here comes from recent excavations at Amarna. A group of sandstone objects are labelled as sanders to smoothen wooden surfaces (Kemp & Stevens 2010, 437-441). One sandstone object 37185 (9.4 x 6.7 x 2.3 cm) with a smooth but irregular surface has two shallow grooves (Kemp & Stevens 2010, 437, Figure 22.10 and Plate 22.7). The excavators interpret these grooves as result of extracting sand grains from the object; sandstone was imported to Amarna as it was not locally accessible (Kemp & Stevens 2010, 437-438). A similar interpretation is given to explain the narrow grooves on a travertine grinding-block (Kemp & Stevens 2010, 422, Figure 22.5 and Plate 22.5).

So coming back to the objects from Sai: Could they be whetstones for sharpening metal tools, stone pieces to extract sand grains or may the marks even be left overs of cutting stone? Above, I started this excursus mentioning a possible connection of these objects to fishing; what do I mean with that? As a child I was sometimes fishing with people who really knew what they were doing, so to say experts in their hobby. At that time I learned how to sharpen fishing hooks. Of course you can do this with just a flat whetstone. However, much easier is to take a special whetstone with a prior made groove and to grind the hook in that groove back and forth changing the angle at times. This is the reason why my interest was especially caught on these objects.

This analogy and hypothesis is of course a bit adventurous. The objects themselves do not give any clear evidence for their usage. As mentioned above they come from various contexts at settlement sites, mostly houses and workshops. Is the occurrence of these objects a phenomenon of a horizontal usage or are they scattered finds across time? As presented above, such objects are attested in New Kingdom settlement contexts in Egypt. The analysis of the function of these objects remains a tricky one. If we take into account that as yet, no fishing hooks have been found in New Kingdom contexts at Sai, the ground for the interpretation of these objects in connection with fishing hooks is clearly thin (bronze and copper alloy hooks for fishing are well attested from New Kingdom settlement contexts, see e.g. hooks in the MMA from Lisht North, accession number 09.180.748, 09.180.750 and 09.180.764 for smaller ones 1.9-4.1 cm and 22.1.954 for a bigger one 8.1 cm, though from the cemetery).  It is worth mentioning that the Pharaonic town of Sai has yielded evidence for fishing by large numbers of net weights.

Whetstones for sharpening fishing hooks require intentionally made grooves, therefore the grooves should be examined in more detail. Different kinds of grooves for different kinds of tools? The fishing hook hypothesis would of course exclude the possibility that the grooves were the result of sharpening, e.g. knives and adzes. I am not an expert in sharpening blades, but I think it is much more effective to hold a blade parallel to a stone and moving it along the surface than in an angle where it cuts the stone. In that case, sharpening should not result in any grooves (Prell 2011, 48-52; Kemp & Stevenson 2010, 443-444 for whetstones without grooves). If the stones were used as row material for the production of sand grains (as proposed for pieces from Amarna), it raises the question for what purpose?

So this excursus about “groovy” stone objects has actually put more questions into light than answers. Anyhow, if documented and examined accurately, they are a valuable source of information about life in settlements in ancient times.


Budka, J. & Doyen, F.
2012-2013           Living in New Kingdom towns in Upper Nubia – New evidence from recent excavations on Sai Island, Ägypten und Levante XXII/XXIII, 167–208.

Kemp, B. J. & Stevens, A. K.
2010      Busy lives at Amarna. Excavations in the main city (Grid 12 and the house of Ranefer, N49.18), Vol. II: The objects, Excavation memoir 91, London.

Prell, S.
2011      Einblicke in die Werkstätten der Residenz. Die Stein- und Metallwerkzeuge des Grabungsplatzes Q I, Die Grabungen des Pelizaeus-Museums Hildesheim in Qantir-Piramesse, Forschungen in der Ramses-Stadt 8, Hildesheim.

Rzepka, S., Nour el-Din, M. et al.
2012-2013           Egyptian mission rescue excavations in Tell el-Retaba. Part 1: New Kingdom remains, Ägypten und Levante XXII/XXIII, 253–288.

Faunal remains from Sai Island, New Kingdom town: Pigs at SAV1 North

In the last months, a total number of 492 faunal remains were identified and analyzed from the New Kingdom town of Sai Island. The identification and analysis of species was carried out on Sai Island during the field season 2014 and it was continued in Vienna (Austria) at the Museum of Natural History (1st Zoological Department, Archaeozoology) and at the Department of Palaeontology (University of Vienna). My sincere thanks go therefore to the Sudanese Authorities (NCAM and especially our inspector Huda Magzoub) and also to Dr. Erich Pucher and Dr. Karl Kunst for their constant support here in Vienna!

The bone deposits derive from SAV1 North within the New Kingdom town of Sai, from three levels numbered from 5 to 3, datable to the 18th Dynasty (see Budka and Doyen 2013). Human intervention related to butchery techniques has been detected on the faunal remains from all levels investigated.

Diagram 1: Distribution of mammals and birds from Sai Island, SAV1 North according to the Number of Identified Specimens (NISP) for levels 3-5. The prevalent species are mainly sheep/goats and cattle, but with some differences from level 5 to 3.

Diagram 1: Distribution of mammals and birds from Sai Island, SAV1 North according to the Number of Identified Specimens (NISP) for levels 3-5. The prevalent species are mainly sheep/goats and cattle, but with some differences from level 5 to 3.

The faunal composition demonstrates the prevalence of domesticated mammal species at SAV1 North (Diagram 1). However, the very limited number of bones available from good archaeological contexts (levels 5-3) has to be stressed ‒ the material did not allow statistical processing and all results are of a tentative character based on a restricted corpus of faunal remains. Yet, I do believe that there is rich potential in the study of the animal bones from the New Kingdom town area of Sai, especially with the new stratified material from recent excavations as in SAV1 West, still waiting for analysis. Today, I would like to present some first data concerning one of the interesting species among the attested mammals: the pig (Sus scrofa f. domestica).

Pigs are recorded at a relatively higher percentage, after sheep/goat, at level 5, but a reduction follows at level 4. The profile changes at level 3, where the number of the bones is again increasing.

Pigs correspond to 8 bones from level 5, 10 from level 4 and 55 from level 3.  As it is illustrated in Diagram 1, they are found at a relatively high percentage at level 5. Evidence from level 4 demonstrates that cattle and caprine prevail, whereas pigs are found in a smaller number. Pigs remain just the third prevalent species at level 3, although the total number of bones is higher.

For level 5 and the small number of bones, the skeletal part distribution is not well understood. A small amount of vertebrae, humerus and dentes are noted for this level. Dentes, tarsals and pelvis have mainly survived from level 4. More remains have been recovered from level 3. Mandibles prevail (14.5%) followed by humerus (10.9%), costae (9%), radius (7.2%) and pelvis (7.2%).  Smaller bones (carpals, tarsals, and phalanges) lack completely.

The analysis of the age profile shows that the vast majority of the material coming from level 3 belongs to individuals between 1 and 2.5 years. Some of them are younger than 1 year and only in one case up to 3.5 years. The dental examination confirms the young age for the majority of the animals (16 months). Level 4 presents mainly individuals younger than 2-3 years and in one case older than 3.5 years. From level 5 only one individual is recorded, which seem to be younger than 1 year.

The butchery marks recorded on pigs are mainly related to disarticulation and portioning.

Mandibula of a pig from Level 4.

Mandibula of a pig from Level 4.

Proximal part of a humerus from Level 4.

Proximal part of a humerus from Level 4.

To conclude, pigs recovered at SAV1 North were slaughtered at the optimum age for meat consumption. The very rare cases of older pigs could be related with the needs of reproduction. It is noteworthy that as far as we know pigs in Nubia are mainly connected with Egyptian presence. For instance, the pyramid tomb G301 at Cemetery D of Amara West (19th Dynasty) brought to light a neonate piglet from the western chamber (Binder et al. 2011, 53). On the other hand, pigs have not been found at Kerma in the town or cemeteries (see the studies by L. Chaix, e.g. 1988 and the extensive list of publications available at

In New Kingdom Egypt, pig is among the most numerous species killed for meat and a preference for young animals is traceable in settlements (see e.g. at Amarna, Kemp 2012, 219-220).

It can be very tentatively suggested that the presence of pigs in the earliest level 5 at SAV1 North corresponds to the analysis of the ceramics from the same contexts: The material is New Kingdom in date and Egyptian in character, supporting the assessment that a Pharaonic settlement was founded on the island very early in the 18th Dynasty (cf. Budka 2011; Budka and Doyen 2013).

For now, only some preliminary tendencies for the faunal material from the New Kingdom town of Sai have been outlined. The low amount of the material studied so far has to be taken in consideration, implying that the results might significantly change during the next campaigns. However, the case study of the pig remains from SAV1 North illustrates that the study of the faunal remains from Sai will significantly contribute to the interpretation of the character of the site during the 18th Dynasty.


Binder et al. 2011 = M. Binder, N. Spencer & M. Millet, Cemetery D at Amara West: the Ramesside period and its aftermath, British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 16, 2011, 47–99.

Budka 2011 = J. Budka, The early New Kingdom at Sai Island: Preliminary results based on the pottery analysis (4th Season 2010), Sudan & Nubia 15, 23–33.

Budka and Doyen 2013 = J. Budka & F. Doyen, Living in New Kingdom towns in Upper Nubia – New evidence from recent excavations on Sai Island, Ägypten & Levante 22/23, 2012/2013, 167–208.

Chaix 1988 = L. Chaix, Cinquième note sur la faune de Kerma (Soudan). Campagnes 1987 et 1988. In C. Bonnet et al., Les fouilles archéologiques de Kerma (Soudan), Genava, n.s. 36, 1988, 27–29.

Kemp 2012 = B. Kemp, The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Amarna and its people, Cairo 2012.



Research on the New Kingdom settlement on Sai Island prior to AcrossBorders

Back in the summer of 2012, a joint paper by Florence Doyen and me was submitted to Egypt & Levant (Vienna), focusing on recent excavations on Sai Island within the area of the New Kingdom town.FotoÄ-L22-23

We are very happy that this paper has now been published, being part of a major double-volume of the peer-reviewed journal, covering reports from Tell el-Daba and other Nile delta sites as well as various chronological studies and research concentrating on the archaeology of the Levant.

Our article gives a hopefully useful overview of the history of research on Sai up to 2012, focusing on the recent work by the Sai Island Archaeological Mission (SIAM) of Charles-de-Gaulle – Lille 3 University (UMR 8164 HALMA-IPEL), France.[i] It aims to illustrate the rich potential of the site and its importance for the history of Upper Nubia. The preliminary assessments of the ceramics and architecture from SAV1 North, undertaken in 2011-2012, allow a better understanding of the evolution of the town. As one of the major results of the 2012 SIAM season, the fortified wall in SAV1 North can be dated to the reign of Thutmose III. Until now, there is no enclosure wall attested prior to this king who is well known as being responsible for the heyday of Pharaonic Sai.

SIAM did undertake important steps forward to a closer understanding of Sai Island during the 18th Dynasty – and today, AcrossBorders continues this path with new excavations and detailed assessments, focusing on the material culture and the intriguing mix of life styles at the site.

Full reference of the article:

Julia Budka & Florence Doyen, Living in New Kingdom towns in Upper Nubia – New evidence from recent excavations on Sai Island, Ägypten & Levante 22/23, 2012/2013, 167–208.

[i] Other than stated in the editor’s preface (p. 14-15), the study has nothing to do with my ERC Starting Grant nor the FWF START project – it rather summarizes the status quo from which the new projects were launched.

An update from work on the pottery database

The last week has been mainly devoted to registering site photos, object photos and working on the various databases, especially the ones dedicated to small finds and pottery.

As noted earlier, the appearance of fire dogs was very remarkable at the new site SAV1 West. At present 21 pieces have been registered in 2014, making up 10 % of the 209 diagnostics from Square 1 currently in the database. 8 “legs” or “ears” have been found, 12 fragments of the lower part and 1 “nose”, all of which show some traces of burning.

Example of a "leg" of a fire dog from SAV1 West.

Example of a “leg” of a fire dog from SAV1 West.

Fragment of the lower part of a fire dog from SAV1 West.

Fragment of the lower part of a fire dog from SAV1 West.

Most of the pieces come from the eastern half of the square, especially from the substantial layer of debris covering the New Kingdom mud brick structures. It remains to be investigated whether we can associate the fire dogs with the use-life of these remains. All in all, SAV1 West seems to mirror the situation at SAV1 North – after five years of excavation 126 fire dogs have been unearthed in this northern area of the Pharaonic town. In contrast, only 5 fragments of fire dogs have been found in two seasons (2013 and 2014) at SAV1 East.

In total, the corpus of fire dogs from the New Kingdom town of Sai comprises with the new finds from 2014 more than 150 pieces – a very large amount and strikingly different  from other known New Kingdom settlements. For example, my pottery database of the material from Elephantine in Egypt, currently a total of 11002 pieces, only includes 15 fire dogs, thus less than 0.1 %! This seems to be especially relevant because other than this special ceramic type, both vessel types and quantities from 18th Dynasty Elephantine compare very nicely to the corpus from Sai Island. It seems logical to assume that the considerable quantity of fire dogs from Sai is connected with their functional use on the island – a use which still has to be verified! At the moment, it is striking that both sites yielding fire dogs in large numbers, SAV1 West and SAV1 North, are immediately adjacent to the city wall and comprise what seems to be suburban domestic architecture, maybe of a workshop-like character.

I am very much looking forward to the outcome of the ongoing research of Nicole Mosiniak about the fascination yet still very puzzling fire dogs!

The least complicated dogs on Sai Island...

The least complicated dogs on Sai Island… Photo: N. Mosiniak 2014.

Post-excavation working steps in Vienna

Back in Vienna, all of us are engaged with several tasks, most of them of course connected with the field season 2014.

I am still busy with finalising reports and accounts, hoping to finish the administrative aftermath of the season as soon as possible!

Giulia is particularly occupied as we brought a large number of ceramics samples to Vienna, thanks to the kind permission of NCAM. Two sets of new samples are already prepared for iNAA – Johannes Sterba and his colleague at the Atominstitut have been most efficiently as usual! Tomorrow we have an appointment at the Geozentrum in order to arrange the next thin sections – we are in particular focusing this time on Nubian fine wares (Black topped cups and beakers) and Egyptian wheel-made cooking pots. The latter are most likely real Egyptian products in a very sandy Nile E variant – of course this macroscopic assessment has to be checked by petrographic and chemical analysis.

Ceramic samples from Sai selected for thin sections.

Ceramic samples from Sai selected for thin sections.

Jördis is currently updating our literature database – a number of very important articles have been published recently. Especially stimulating and a must-read for all interested in Nubian archaeology is the special new issue of the Journal of Ancient Egyptian Interconnections! A particular inspiring paper by Neal Spencer on “Creating and Re-Shaping Egypt in Kush: Responses at Amara West” corresponds nicely to AcrossBorders’ focus and aims.

The literature database is growing - counting already more than 750 entries!

The literature database is growing – counting already more than 800 entries!

Nadia is working on the samples of animal bones we took from Sai to Vienna – it’s a nice collection from SAV1 North, from Levels 5-3, thus datable to Dynasty 18.

SAV1 North is also the prime task for Florence – she is currently integrating her new data about the architecture gathered at the site in February with the previous documentation from earlier years.

Elke has started again with digitalising new pottery drawings and Daniela is helping me with the database of the small finds – focusing on the new objects from SAV1 West and reworking some of the photographs.

Preparing photos in reduced scale for the object database.

Preparing photos in reduced scale for the object database.

It’s hard to believe that we left Sai Island already more than a month ago – but all the data collected there will keep us busy during the next months!