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 week 3, fieldwork season 2017

Having just started week 4 of the 2017 fieldwork season, it’s time to briefly summarize the last week of work in Tomb 26 and in SAV1 West.

In Tomb 26, lots of things changed… The trench in front of the lower burial chamber still keeps us busy – we finally have now an almost complete skeleton still in place. But we still don’t know how much deeper the trench continues. The silt filling is partly void of finds, partly full of bones and also includes some pottery sherds.

Andrea busy cleaning the new, almost intact skeleton in the trench.

A big surprise waited for us in the northwestern corner of the main chamber. I started cleaning there at the very beginning of this season. Already in 2016, a feature in this corner was described as “niche” – obviously a small opening into the western wall, with collapsed stones making an assessment of its size difficult. Well – this small niche is now another chamber, measuring ca. 3.3×3.4m – and actually a “hidden chamber”! Cleaning the entrance area and removing all the collapsed stone from the roof, it became clear that the worked stones lining the western wall of the main chamber hide the second chamber situated further west! Since all was once plastered, the new chamber was once obviously nicely concealed.

Cleaning the new chamber was hard work – it was filled until the top with dense flood levels.

We have almost finished removing the debris, having reached more flood levels with some bones and pottery – at present, it seems that only little remains of burials have survived – however, for the ground plan and general understanding of Tomb 26, this is all very exciting! And we can say already that this new chamber was also plastered – remains were found on the collapsed roof and on one part where we have reached the chamber floor.

Work in SAV1 West is also progressing were well – we managed to finish excavating the extension to Square 1SE to the east which was necessary because of the new cellar found in week 2. Only little in situ mud brick structures have survived – but we will be able to put together ground plans of some nice domestic structures. Besides the cellar, a storage pit and a possible grind stone emplacement were found.

Registration of finds is continuing – our favorite piece of week 3 was a tiny miniature net-weight! Its small size becomes very evident when compared side by side with an axe-head shaped net-weight of regular size.

Furthermore, to round up a very productive week with lots of new finds, we had a perfect Friday trip to Kawa and a wonderful tour by Derek Welsby through town and cemetery – the warm welcome by our British colleagues was very much appreciated!

Last, but definitely not least, I am more than happy that my dear friend and distinguished Viennese colleague Helmut Satzinger joined us yesterday. Timing could not be better: we had the possibility to celebrate today his birthday with a small boat trip – unfortunately without seeing crocodiles, but with plenty of nimiti ;-)!

Summary of week 2, fieldwork season 2017

The second week of AcrossBorders’ fieldwork at Sai just ended. Work is making very good progress, although – as usual in archaeology – there were quite some unexpected developments and finds we had to adapt to.

At SAV1 West, the goal of this week was to investigate unexcavated parts of Square 1SE, the northeastern and southeastern corner. After 2 days, we were a little bit disappointed – almost no mud brick architecture was preserved, all New Kingdom bricks were ripped out during the substantial digging activity here in Christian and Medieval times until the natural ground surface. Thus hopes were limited, when we started cleaning a pile of collapses bricks around a very large stone in the southeast corner. It came as a big surprise that the dumped stone was 1) our first royal hieroglyphic inscription from SAV1 West! and 2) sitting on top of a mud-lined storage installation still largely intact.

The block is a re-used sandstone lintel with horizontal lines of hieroglyphs – it was recut to an almost round shape and the only hieroglyphs surviving are “nTr nfr nb xaw” – the royal name to follow was of course disturbed… Given all the known inscribed lintels from Sai, it is likely that we have here the badly disturbed inscription of Thutmose III or Amenhotep II.

Especially with the new storage installation, the southeastern corner thus turned out to be really exciting! Cleaning of the pit will continue next week – there were already some very nice finds, see below.

In the northeastern corner, a deep sandy pit, filled at the bottom with mud brick collapse was already excavated in 2016. We wanted to check the bottom of it and there came again a surprise: part of a rectangular brick wall enclosing a lower mud feature of rectangular shape sitting against the natural pebble was found! The only suitable explanation for this feature is the entrance opening to a large subterranean cellar – but of course excavation of this exciting find is not possible because we are directly in the corner of the square.

I really wonder why all of the nice cellars in SAV1 West and SAV1 East are found in baulks or corners of our excavation squares ;-)!

Well, so we had to re-adapt our plans and started an extension towards the east in order to be able to properly excavate the new cellar from the top. This will keep us busy next week!

Objects deriving from SAV1 West were registered as usual by Meg Gundlach. Among the most interesting finds is the head of a female figurine (of a type very common also at Elephantine) and a very nice cauroid bead from the small storage pit in the southeastern corner of Square 1SE.

Female figurine SAV1W 1735.

Cauroid bead SAV1W 1736.

Work in Tomb 26 made very good progress as well – we had several layers of very dense clusters of bones, all in all probably remains of 4 or 5 individuals. Cleaning and documenting them takes much time. Yesterday, I reached a level of 38 cm thickness completely void of human remains – it’s a solid accomplishment of flood levels with very little pottery fragments and still continues.

At present, we have cleaned a depth of 72 cm below the entrance to the chamber in the north – we still have not reached the bottom of the trench and hope to do this in the upcoming week.

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…

 

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!

Squat jars, zir vessels and other finds at Elephantine

Among the highlights from week 3 at Elephantine are several complete vessels from room A in House 55. The pottery database of all New Kingdom ceramics comprises now a total of 12257 entries, 1599 coming from House 55. Amazing is the large number of 247 complete or almost complete vessels from the building — many were found in the cellars of House 55, but also as piles of pots left in corners of various rooms.

squat-jars

One of the vessels from the latest phase of use of House 55 which was left behind and found last year is a large Marl A2 squat jar, 45602G/a-4. Only the rim and part of the shoulder is fragmented, otherwise this painted jar is completely preserved. It is of Thutmoside date, finds many parallels at other sites in Egypt, and – most important for us – also in the New Kingdom town of Sai. SAV1W P233, found in a cellar in SAV1 West, is also a Marl A2 squat jar and almost of the exact shape like the Elephantine vessel, especially its rim base. The decoration is slightly different, also illustrating the variability of decoration patterns of this type of vessel which had its heyday under Thutmose III.

Further complete vessels from House 55 are large zir vessels – as pointed out earlier, these are mostly of Marl A4 variants. Nile clay versions are less common, but also present, comparing nicely to the corpus of storage vessels from Sai.

Finds from this season from House 55 are mostly re-used sherds, grind stones and other stone tools; clay figurines are also present in small numbers as are lids and stoppers. Similar to the pottery, both parallels and differences are notable comparing these finds with the corpus from Sai Island New Kingdom town.

Week 4 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow, will focus on the documentation of the many complete vessels from this season and on further object registration.

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.

Hidden Highlights 1: SAV1W 1677

In the course of every season at Sai we find a lot of great material culture that never appears in the blogs, either in the form of the weekly highlights or themed object posts. Some of these things are rare and beautiful. Some of them are weird and wonderful. So, we thought we would start a series of posts to showcase some of our favorite finds of the season. Hopefully you love them as much as we do!

Findspot: SAV1W Material: Fired Ceramic Dimensions: 91x29x73mm

Findspot: SAV1W
Material: Fired Ceramic
Dimensions: 91x29x73mm

Here at Sai we are no strangers to figurines. In fact, there are nearly one hundred entries in the database classified as figurines, most often zoomorphic. Of this large collection, none are quite like SAV1W 1677…

SAV1W 1677 is the head portion of a larger animal figurine. The eyes are represented by small points of clay pulled out from the head. Between the eyes are nine incised lines, which look very much like the mane of a horse. The elongated mouth and nose of the figurine are also rather equine. Horse figurines are well known within our corpus, with many already featured here on the blog.

Fig 2 smallHowever, it is clear that these features have been grossly exaggerated for this figurine—the snout itself is 60mm in length! Furthermore, rather than the rounded muzzle of a horse, here the snout flares out and the end surface is concave. No incised details for either the nostrils or mouth have been added. Unfortunately the surface is slightly burnt, so it is not possible to tell if additional details were also added in paint.

Thus, it may be that this creature only shares equine features and is not intended to portray a realistic horse. Perhaps it is simply a creation living only in the mind of the artisan. And being on an island, isn’t it possible that their fictional creatures are river dwellers?  Could this in fact be evidence of a local Nile monster? The Nubian Nessy!?

 

Summary of week 5 at Sai Island, Pharaonic town

As planned, excavations at SAV1 West have come to an end after 5 weeks. At SAV1 East, there are still small things to do – first of all, the final cleaning in feature 15, the large cellar which yielded numerous clay sealings and complete pottery vessels in 2015. The westernmost part of the structure was left unexcavated last year.

At SAV1 West, work focused during this week on feature 123, a very interesting, but still obscure structure with several building phases. In the surroundings of feature 123, remains of occupation deposits and some pavements were documented.

Feature 123 had several building phases and experienced modifications during its lifespan.

Feature 123 had several building phases and experienced modifications during its lifespan.

We also returned to Square 1NW – located in the norther western part of SAV1 West, first opened in 2014 and covering an area in front of the enclosure wall, outside of the Pharaonic town. Interesting remains of mud brick structures and floor levels were observed and will be documented in the upcoming week – hopefully we will be able to add information to the layout of the western façade of the 18th Dynasty enclosure wall – and the later reuse of this area outside of the town.

With the arrival of Sean Taylor and Sayantani Neogi, some micromorphologial samples were taken in SAV1 West and SAV1 East. Complementing our digital landscape model based on kite photography by Martin Fera, Sean and Sayantani also started augering in the western part of the site in order to understand the ancient topography within the context of the New Kingdom town.

Work at SAV1 East focused on the extension towards the northwest – Square 4B1 yielded not only in situ schist fragments and fragmentary walls, but also a very nice sandstone column.

Overview of Square 4B1 in SAV1 East with a sandstone column close to the in situ-remains of the schist pavement. Note the differences in levels!

Overview of Square 4B1 in SAV1 East with a sandstone column close to the in situ-remains of the schist pavement. Note the differences in levels!

Some areas at SAV1 East with 18th Dynasty deposits in Squares 4B and 4C like the one below the in situ baking plate will be excavated in the upcoming week (the deposit has already been sampled for micromorphology).

Finally, we opened a new test trench in the northern part of the town area, just above the sandstone cliff (labelled SAV1 Northeast) – the aim is to check whether an eastern enclosure wall is traceable in this area or not. We are still just below the surface, but some remains of bricks and a promising sandy area were already revealed. Interestingly, Ramesside sherds were present among the ceramics.

Of course, work on the pottery and objects continued simultaneously with the excavation. From SAV1 West, 430 baskets of pottery were processed in 2016! But this is beaten by SAV1 East which yielded a total of 610 baskets… in retrospect, really amazingly large numbers of ceramics! Thanks to these amounts, the phasing and corpus from both sectors are now well established.

Our registrar Meg Gundlach was very busy with a considerable number of finds in the last week – one of the highlights from the town excavation in 2016 is definitely the scarab SAV1 East 1595. I was lucky to find it myself while cleaning the floor in one of the rooms attached to feature 51 in SAV1 East. The scarab beetle itself, made from steatite (12 x 16 mm), has been hacked off, leaving just the decoration on the back. A crudely carved winged cobra/vulture holds a shen-ring with her talons, protecting an empty cartouche in front of her.

SAV1E 1595a combined (thumbnail)Week 6 will allow documenting and describing the excavated features in more detail; and we will also start our landscape survey in the area to the south of Gebel Abri. Very excited about the upcoming tasks and happy with the results so far!