An Update: The Enclosure Wall at SAV1 West

It is a well-established fact that the Pharaonic town of Sai with its fortified town, temple and administrative buildings falls into the category of so-called Egyptian “temple towns”, built during the New Kingdom in Nubia. The substantial mud brick enclosure wall of Sai with a width of more than 4.20 m has been investigated by the late Michel Azim (Azim 1975) in the South and Florence Doyen in the North (cf. Doyen 2009). As was confirmed in both sectors, the wall is equipped with bastions in regular distances. Our current work at SAV1 West aims to deepen the understanding of the layout, outline and construction of the enclosure wall as well as its building phases and periods of destruction.

At the moment – and this is all work in progress! – we were able to expose the outline of the western enclosure wall in the trenches 1 and 2. Its location fits perfectly to what Azim reconstructed as the western border of the Pharaonic town. However, there are still a lot of open questions – especially because of later disturbances and pits, but also due to several building phases within the brick work. In trench 2 we might have encountered a late sub-circular structure of possible Ottoman date, set into the 18th Dynasty enclosure wall. We will try to clarify this next week.

Western half of Square 1 (left) and Square 1W (right) at SAV1 West - overview towards South (Photo: Martin Fera).

Western half of Square 1 (left) and Square 1W (right) at SAV1 West – overview towards South (Photo: Martin Fera).

In the southwestern corner of Square 1, the upper part of the enclosure wall as we exposed it so far is still covered with debris; a large pit filled with mostly Christian pottery was cutting into this area. Similar holes have been dug into the brick work of the enclosure wall at SAV1 North (see Doyen 2009). As was already observed by Azim in the 1970s, the Sai New Kingdom fortification suffered from several destructions, but also restoration phases during its use-life (Azim 1975, 122). A good example of a restoration is the tower construction N2 at SAV1 North which is maybe of Ramesside date (Doyen 2009).

View of the enclosure wall at SAV1West in the front; the other brick walls in the back (looking West).

View of the enclosure wall at SAV1West in the front; other brick walls in the back (looking West).

A later addition to the western outline of the 18th Dynasty wall is now also traceable with our extension towards the west, Square 1W. Within this trench we also located a possible “front wall”, of which we as yet only reached the upper part. It seems as if a secondary construction was set between the New Kingdom brick work – spanning the area from the presumed front wall and the enclosure wall. A layer holding much organic material, charcoal and pottery of a domestic character may indicate that we have found here a small occupation spot, maybe a modest hut or shelter. Its date remains to be established but the pottery points to a Late Christian origin. However, it is intriguing that we also have some Ramesside sherds coming from Square 1W and the western half of Square 1 – comparing nicely to the findings around the tower at SAV1 North. At present, we cannot rule out that our squares are set above one of the bastions of the enclosure wall, maybe following complex building phases – all of this remains to be investigated during the upcoming three weeks of fieldwork at SAV1 West.


Azim 1975 = M. Azim, Quatre campagnes de fouilles sur la Forteresse de Saï, 1970-1973. 1ère partie: l’installation pharaonique, CRIPEL  3, 1975, 1–125.

Doyen 2009 = F. Doyen, The New Kingdom Town on Sai Island (Northern Sudan), Sudan & Nubia 13, 2009, 17–20.

SAV1 West: New extension towards the West

As we have successfully located the mud brick enclosure wall of the New Kingdom town of Sai in our new trenches at SAV1 West, it proofed necessary to add an extension to Square 1.SAI_3899This extension, Square 1W, includes the high slope towards the West of our excavation area, thus reaching outside of the walled New Kingdom settlement – this will enable us not only to understand the Post-New Kingdom depositional processes affecting the town wall better, but eventually also allow some observations on its original construction and composition.

SAI_3890With cleaning the surface of the new trench today, we got already interesting information – whereas the material covering Square 1 was 75% 18th Dynasty in date, the immediately adjacent extension revealed only 8% at its western half and 15% at the eastern half. The majority of the ceramics are rather Post-Meroitic and especially Christian and Ottoman. This nicely seems to illustrate that Square 1W is situated outside the Pharaonic town, whereas Square 1 is located directly above the 18th Dynasty enclosure and comprises occupation deposits from the interior of the town.

The so-called temple towns of Nubia in the New Kingdom

Temple towns, also known as fortified towns, are a special phenomenon according to studies dealing with settlement patterns and urbanism in ancient Nubia during the New Kingdom. In most cases the published works in question are general overviews, introductions or entries in encyclopediae concerning the archaeology of ancient Egypt. Following these studies, Egyptian stone temples as well as enclosure walls were major features of New Kingdom settlements in Nubia, like Sai Island. Because of these two major elements such sites are typically called temple towns or fortified towns (e.g. Heidorn 1999; Welsby 2001; Bard 2007; for actual fortresses and military bases in New Kingdom Egypt see Morris 2005).

Presumed layout of the New Kingdom town of Sai after Azim 1975.

Presumed layout of the New Kingdom town of Sai after Azim 1975.

Kemp was one of the very first scholars, who dealt with these special settlement structures and presented the then almost generally accepted model of how a fortified town in Nubia has to look like (Kemp 1972a). The design of the towns is assumed to have been fairly uniform and they were enclosed with a mud brick wall as a rule. The internal structure was basically dominated by three types of building: a stone temple of characteristic Egyptian design as well as domestic and administrative mud brick buildings, including the civil government residence (Kemp 1972a: 653). As references Kemp cited only the settlements at Amara West and Sesebi, reflecting the restricted state of knowledge and publication back in the 1970ties.

At present, we know much more about settlements and towns founded or being reoccupied in the New Kingdom in Nubia – all of which received the designation of a temple town. Most probably the labelling is solely based on the existence of a temple. None of the authors seem to respect the other features postulated by Kemp. Furthermore, from the published works, it is impossible to say how many of these sites have been labelled as a temple town, as the opinions range from only three temple towns (Welsby 2001, Bard 2007) to 28 (Zibelius-Chen 2013)! Another contentious issue is the motivation for its development: was this due to political and religious factors (as proposed, e.g.  by Morkot 1993, 2001; Spence 2004; Bard 2007 and Zibelius-Chen 2013) or to purely economical ones (Trigger 1965; Kemp 1972a, 1972b; Heidorn 1999)?

As one can see there is much potential for a new consideration of the topic of the so-called temple towns starting with a fresh evaluation of Kemps model from 1972 considering the current state of research to the general question how a city or town has to look like for the Egyptians in Egypt and in turn in Nubia (the so-called town problem, e.g. Bietak 1979). Special attention has also to be given to the question whether some or even all of the refurbished and reoccupied Middle Kingdom-fortresses have been taken into account speaking about New Kingdom temple towns, like obviously Zibelius-Chen is doing (Zibelius-Chen 2013).

View of part of the New Kingdom Town SAV1 at Sai.

View of part of the New Kingdom Town SAV1 at Sai.

Especially Sai Island is one of the most interesting settlements among the potential temple towns or fortified towns as it was the first newly established town founded most probably by Ahmose. With all of its strategic advantages, Sai served as a bridgehead during the further expansion into Nubia (Davies 2005). As recent fieldwork has clearly illustrated, we are far away from understanding the complete layout and development of the New Kingdom town of Sai. How did the very early town founded by the Egyptians look like? Was there a predecessor for the Egyptian Amun temple built by Thutmose III? All of these questions are currently investigated by AcrossBorders.

Thus Sai fits perfectly into my envisaged PhD-Thesis at Humboldt-University Berlin briefly summarized here and I am very happy and grateful to Julia Budka, not only for her supervision of my PhD, but also for giving me the great opportunity to work as a PhD-researcher in her fantastic project. I am very pleased to have joined the AcrossBorders team!


Bard, Kathryn A. 2007. An introduction to the archaeology of Ancient Egypt. Malden, Mass: Blackwell Publ.

Bietak, Manfred 1979. Urban archaeology and the ‘town problem’ in ancient Egypt, in: Kent R. Weeks (eds.), Egyptology and the social sciences. 5 studies. Cairo: American Univ. in Cairo Press. 97–144.

Davies, Vivian W. 2005. Egypt and Nubia. Conflict with the Kingdom of Kush, in: Catharine H. Roehrig (ed.), Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. New York, 49-56

Heidorn, Lisa A. 1999. Nubian towns and temples, in: Kathryn A. Bard & Steven Blake Shubert (eds.), Encyclopedia of the archaeology of ancient Egypt. London, New York: Routledge.   579–583.

Kemp, Barry J. 1972a. Fortified towns in Nubia, in: Peter J. Ucko & Ruth Tringham, et al. (eds.), Man, settlement and urbanism. Proceedings of a meeting of the Research Seminar in Archaeology and Related Subjects held at the Institute of Archaeology, London University. Gloucester. 651–656.

Kemp, Barry J. 1978. Imperialism and Empire in the New Kingdom Egypt (c. 1575-1087 B.C.), in: Peter Garnsey & C. R. Whittaker (eds.), Imperialism in the ancient world. The Cambridge University research seminar in ancient history. Cambridge classical studies. Cambridge [Eng.], New York: Cambridge University Press. 7–57.

Morkot, Robert G. 1993. Economic and cultural exchange between Kush and Egypt. London. Unpublished PhD thesis.

Morkot, Robert G. 2001. Egypt and Nubia, in: Susan E. Alcock (eds.), Empires. Perspectives from archaeology and history. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press. 227–251

Morris, Ellen F. 2005. The architecture of imperialism: military bases and the evolution of foreign policy in Egypt’s New Kingdom. Probleme der Ägyptologie 22. Leiden: Brill.

Trigger, Bruce 1965. History and settlement in lower Nubia. Yale University publications in anthropology 69. New Haven: Dept. of Anthropology.

Welsby, Derek A. 2001. Nubia, in: Donald B. Redford (eds.), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt 2. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. 551–557.

Zibelius-Chen, Karola 2013. Nubien wird ägyptische Kolonie, in: Steffen Wenig & Karola Zibelius-Chen (eds.), Die Kulturen Nubiens – ein afrikanisches Vermächtnis. Dettelbach: Röll. 135–155.

We Proudly Present: AcrossBorders’ First Ph.D. Student

Starting with today, our team is further strengthenedJördis: Jördis Vieth has signed her contract for the next three years as researcher of AcrossBorders. She is well known to those who have followed our blog during the fieldwork in January to March – being one of the heroines fighting nimiti, wind & more!

I am very happy to have managed to bring Jördis in – not only as temporary field staff member but now enlarging the core team of my project! Being acquainted with her since 2006, I had plenty of time to get to know her as a person, both in the class room and on excavations in Egypt (Abydos), and as a very promising and highly motivated young colleague.

It was in particular her MA thesis which impressed me much: She wrote about “Egyptian Palace architecture in the New Kingdom” (original title: “Ägyptische Palastarchitektur des Neuen Reichs”) – a very difficult topic which she re-assessed meticulously and with new ideas, challenging some of the established terminology for settlement architecture in Egypt. With this excellent thesis, which received the highest grade at Humboldt University Berlin, Jördis is perfectly qualified to join AcrossBorders. She will primarily focus on the character of the fortified town of Sai Island, including the site into her envisaged PhD thesis about the so-called temple towns of Nubia in the New Kingdom. Jördis will conduct her PhD at Humboldt University Berlin and I am proud and honored acting as one of her supervisors to-be. Lots of aspects of settlement archaeology and the character of the Egyptian sites in Nubia during the New Kingdom are still little understood – with the ongoing fieldwork at Sai Island (and neighboring sites) and AcrossBorders’ focus on reconstructing the material world and its parameters, there is much potential: a study like Jördis is going to undertake seems timely and important.

Conference on Königsideologie at Prague

Getting ready to travel this afternoon to Prague for the 7. Tagung zur Königsideologie (June 26-28 2013). The Conference is hosted by Charles University in Prague and dedicated to “Royal versus Divine Authority. Acquisition, Legitimization and Renewal of Power”. A heterogeneous group of international scholars will tackle this highly interesting subject from diverse perspectives and for different time periods – from the Early Dynastic to Roman times with a number of papers on the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Both the programme and the abstracts are available online:

Budka Prague Nubia 2013 2506 Folie 1

My own paper is entitled “The Egyptian “re-conquest of Nubia” in the New Kingdom – some thoughts on the legitimization of Pharaonic power in the South”.  Much has been written about the so-called “re-conquest of Nubia” during the early New Kingdom. Thanks to current fieldwork in both Egypt and Nubia, our state of knowledge has markedly improved in the last years, but nevertheless the details of this period of Egyptian campaigns against the South are still not firmly established. Recent work by the French Sai Island Archaeological Mission (Lille 3 University) and AcrossBorders on Sai Island has produced new evidence for the establishment of Pharaonic administration in Upper Nubia. Taking Sai Island and the evolution of its fortified town with a small sandstone temple as a case study, this paper will re-examine the evidence for Egyptian authority in Upper Nubia during the 18th Dynasty. The viceregal administration, gods and temples and royal cult are the focal points of the presentation.

I am very much looking forward to the conference and to a hopefully vivid discussion – after all, my paper is based on work in progress; future fieldwork in Sudan – at Sai Island, but also important sites like Sesebi, Tombos and Dukki Gel – will hopefully improve our current state of knowledge.

Thutmoside officials and royal building activity in Nubia

The fortified town of Sai Island saw its heyday during the reign of Thutmose III – this was confirmed and well-illustrated by our recent excavation in SAV1 East and the discovery of Building A, possibly contemporaneous to both Temple A and the buildings with an orthogonal layout in the Southern part of the town, including the governor’s residence.

The major sanctuary on Sai, the Amun temple labelled Temple A and built by viceroy Nehi under Thutmose III, had several building phases, recently presented by Jean-François Carlotti (Carlotti 2011-2012).  Carlotti has stressed similarities of Temple A at Sai with the temples of Semna and Kumma.

The temple of Kumma in its modern surrounding.

The temple of Kumma in its modern surrounding.

Interestingly, the major building phases of these temples, nowadays open for visitors in the garden of the National Museum of Antiquities in Khartoum, are also associated with Thutmose III. Like on Sai, the involvement of viceroy Nehi is attested who followed a royal decree to build the monuments.

One inscription and a representation of Nehi have survived in Semna (Caminos 1998, 38-40, panel 10). At Kumma, evidence for one of the predecessors of Nehi, viceroy Senny is preserved.

Viceroy Senny, temple of Kumma.
Viceroy Senny, temple of Kumma.

It is well known that the supervision of building activities was one of the major tasks of the viceroy of Kush as highest official of the Nubian administration (cf. Zibelius-Chen 2013, 140-146). What is still unclear and debated is whether (and if for how long) the viceroys stayed in Nubia – this will be investigated by AcrossBorders in the upcoming years with Sai Island as prime case study. From the late 18th Dynasty onwards, the office of a deputy of the viceroy is attested, soon being divided as jdnw n KAS and jdnw n WAwAt. Two deputies of the viceroy were thus responsible for Lower and Upper Nubia, maybe indicating that their superior himself was mainly residing in Egypt proper and could rely on loyal representatives in Nubia.

Many temples in Nubia have been found without any evidence of settlement remains in the surroundings – this is probably due to the state of preservation of mud brick buildings and does not indicate an isolation of religious buildings in the area. Only in the case of the so-called temple towns (Sai Island falls amongst others in this category), temples can be interpreted within their ancient context of administrative buildings and storage facilities. Possible residential quarters for viceroys of Kush are attested during the 18th Dynasty primarily at Aniba and possibly Faras. At Semna, inscriptions of viceroys with domestic origin, indicating a residence at the site, are only attested from the Ramesside period, thus post-dating the Thutmoside temple (see Budka 2001, 87). The abundant evidence for Nehi and other viceroys of the Thutmoside era (e.g. Usersatet, see Thill 2011-2012, 285) at Sai Island strongly suggests a temporary residence of these officials at the site – details of which remain to be assessed taking into account the complex archaeology of the New Kingdom town of Sai.


Budka 2001 = J. Budka, Der König an der Haustür. Die Rolle des ägyptischen Herrschers an dekorierten Türgewänden von Be­a­m­ten im Neuen Reich, Beiträge zur Ägyptologie 19, Vienna 2001.

 Caminos 1998 = R. Caminos, Semna-Kumma I. The Temple of Semna, Archaeological Survey of Egypt 37th Mem., EES, London 1998.

Carlotti 2011-2012 = J.-F. Carlotti, II. L’architecture du temple A et ses modifications, 36-47, in: M. Azim/J.-F. Carlotti, Le temple à de l’île de Saï et ses abords, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 29, 2011-2012, 11–63.

Thill 2011-2012 = F- Thill, Statuaire privée égyptienne de Saï, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 29, 2011-2012, 253-295.

Zibelius-Chen 2013 = K. Zibelius-Chen, Nubien wird ägyptische Kolonie, in: St. Wenig/K. Zibelius-Chen (eds.), Die Kulturen Nubiens – ein afrikanisches Vermächtnis, Dettelbach 2013, 135-155.

Visit to Sesebi

On our day off (Friday), we managed to realise a trip to Sesebi. Sesebi is like Sai one of the important Egyptian sites of the New Kingdom in Upper Nubia and currently under excavation by the joint expedition of the University of Cambridge and the Austrian Archaeological Institute Cairo, directed by Kate Spence and Pamela Rose.

IMG_0516We very much appreciated the warm welcome by Pamela Rose and her splendid tour through the site! Congratulations to the results of this season, really excellent work! It’s wonderful to exchange so closely with other colleagues and to connect our own research with comparable investigations at other sites.