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.

Feature 15 – another update

Giving a lecture about Sai in Hamburg last week, I had not only the pleasure to meet dear colleagues and friends there (and to have a great Abydos-Berlin-reunion!), but also to spend some time thinking about feature 15.

Feature 15 is definitely the highlight of AcrossBorders’ excavations in SAV1 East and has kept us busy ever since 2013. The large subterranean room (5.6 x 2.2 x 1.2m) was dug into the natural gravel deposit and lined with red bricks. Its filling deposit was very rich in archaeological material: large amounts of charcoal, hundreds of dom-palm fruits, abundant animal bones, c. 100 almost intact ceramic vessels and more than 200 clay sealings. The sealings comprise a large number of royal names (Amenhotep I, Hatshepsut and Thutmose III), a seal of the viceroy Nehi and various floral decorations in a style typical for the Second Intermediate Period.

Feature 15_Seite_1Thanks to the stratigraphic sequence, several phases of use can be reconstructed for feature 15. A dating of these building phases was already proposed in 2015, based on the clay sealings and the ceramics (Budka 2015) – the stages show an interesting correspondence with the building phases of Temple A and its surroundings. Most importantly, a section of wall 44, the western boundary wall of the courtyard of Building A, is set into feature 15, thus definitely later in date and sitting on top of the lowermost deposit of feature 15.

It was therefore clear that feature 15 was already in place before one of the main walls of the courtyard of Building A, wall 44, was built. Only this season in 2016, we removed wall 44 and excavated the deposit below it, exposing the westernmost part of feature 15.

The deposit corresponded to the lower filling of feature 15 east of wall 44. Several fragments of pottery and a clay sealing are especially significant. The small fragment of a mud sealing (SAV1E 203) shows a stamp which contains the name of Mn-xpr-ra (Thutmose III), written vertically and without a cartouche, with a nbw-sign beneath. Two uaeri extend downwards from the disc and face the exterior sides of the stamp. The top of the stamp is not preserved.

Feature 15_Seite_2

The results from the 2016 season therefore nicely support the reconstruction of the building phases from 2015 ‒ Building A was extended in the later phase of the reign of Thutmose III (maybe even under Amenhotep II) and wall 44 was set into feature 15 at this stage.

The study of the complete set of finds discovered in feature 15, currently underway, will contribute to the functional analysis of SAV1 East in general and Building A in particular.

Reference:

Budka 2015 = J. Budka, The Pharaonic town on Sai Island and its role in the urban landscape of New Kingdom Kush, Sudan & Nubia 19, 40–53.

End of Sai Island New Kingdom town season 2016

Time flies by – the town season 2016 was officially closed yesterday and celebrated together with all workmen with a traditional sheep-dinner and party last night!

Week 6 on Sai Island focused on “cosmetic work” at SAV1 East – the complete area was cleaned for the final surface documentation, description of features and drawings.

Final cleaning at SAV1 East.

Final cleaning at SAV1 East.

Specific areas and small features were excavated – most importantly a very interesting part of Square 4C with a newly discovered rectangular storage pit (feature 76) and impressions of two firing places for baking plates within the pavement associated with this feature. This is one of the rare cases were intact, undisturbed contexts from Dynasty 18 were documented at SAV1 East.

The final task at SAV1 East was to fully excavate feature 15. Wall 44, set into the cellar/feature 15, was carefully dismantled step by step, brick by brick. Although I proposed a dating for the building phases of cellar and wall already last year, firm proof was still missing as the deposit below wall 44 was not yet accessible.

Wall 44, set into feature 15, was carefully removed in order to document the western part of feature 15 and the deposit below the wall.

Wall 44, set into feature 15, was carefully removed in order to document the western part of feature 15 and the deposit below the wall.

Having now cleaned the entire feature, my preliminary assessment was strengthened: both the pottery and seal impressions from below wall 44 testify to a dating in the reign of Thutmose III. Thus, wall 44 was built into feature 44 not prior to the mid/late reign of this king – corresponding nicely to the proposed main building phases of Building A.

Sieving the undisturbed contexts in feature 15 was again very successful: a number of artefacts, most importantly seal impressions were found!

Sieving the undisturbed contexts in feature 15 was again very successful: a number of artefacts, most importantly seal impressions were found!

Excavations in test trench 1 in the new area SAV1 Northeast continued in week 6 as well – and the results are very promising: a substantial mud brick structure of mid-18th Dynasty date was discovered! Very likely the eastern enclosure wall of Sai city, enabling us to upgrade the town map!

Work in progress in test trench 1, SAV1 Northeast.

Work in progress in test trench 1, SAV1 Northeast.

A more concise summary of the town season will follow – for now I would like to thank the team members who have already left the island (Jördis Vieth, Klara Sauter and Adrian de Vries): the data collected in the last weeks are extremely rich and will keep us very busy for a while!

First clay sealings from SAV1 East!

After a short mid-season break, we continued today with some of our workmen at SAV1 East and SAV1 West – our cellars are keeping us busy.

Work at feature 15 continues...

Making good progress with feature 15…

The results from feature 15 are especially interesting: yesterday, I had the chance to sort the material sieved on Thursday – and, as I was very much hoping for, a quite considerable number of clay sealings came up! At least on 25 pieces a part of the seal impression is still preserved – including royal names, exciting and highly relevant!

Sieving of important contexts continues, promising more finds and especially seal impressions!

Sieving of important contexts continues, promising more finds and especially seal impressions!

Today, thanks to the help of our washing man, I was now able to check the dating of the pottery from the context the clay sealings were found. Of course, this is for now just a preliminary assessment!

Hundreds of sherds from feature 15 have been washed already and are waiting to be processed.

Hundreds of sherds from feature 15 have been washed already and are waiting to be processed.

Both ceramics and sealings cover a quite large time frame – ranging from the late Second Intermediate Period to Thutmoside times. At least two seals give the name of Thutmose III (Men-kheper-Ra) – this fits perfectly to the previously assumed building date of Building A and feature 15 based on the ceramics – both on the sherds from the last season and the newly excavated material. However, just in the last bag of the sieved material I checked today another seal impression came up: unfortunately broken in its upper part, the lower part of the scarab clearly reads “…-Maat-nb” – so probably this refers to no one else than Amenhotep III, Neb-Maat-Re! As of yet, the pottery does not support such a late date… Amenhotep III is however well attested on Sai Island and plenty of pottery excavated this season from SAV1 West is datable to his reign.

New finds and new questions – hopefully we’ll soon be able to say more!

Summary of the 2014 field season

Almost ready to leave Sudan tonight, it’s time to sum up the last 9 weeks here in the field. All of the envisaged tasks and sub-projects within the framework of AcrossBorders have been successfully carried out: excavations at SAV1 East and at the new site SAV1 West; documentation of the architecture at SAV1 North and processing of finds and pottery from all sectors of the New Kingdom town. Furthermore the 3D Laser Scanning of the New Kingdom Town was conducted by Robert Kalasek and Ingrid Adenstedt, Giulia d’Ercole continued her sampling of ceramics from the town for iNAA and petrographic studies, Konstantina Saliari started to work on the animal bones, coming from sector SAV1 North and Erich Draganits carried out geoarchaeological investigations, providing interesting results about the natural sourroundings of the New Kingdom town.

SAI_0217At SAV1 East much progress has been made in 2014 to understand the outline of the major structure, “Building A”. Its date to the mid 18th Dynasty was confirmed; we now know that it extends further to the norSAI_0712th and to the west. Schist pavements and mud pavements have been noted and especially the western part with small interior walls resembles closely the front rooms of SAF2, the so-called governor’s residence in the southern part of the Pharaonic town – nicely fitting to our preliminary assessment of the building.

However, some of our previous assumptions had to be revised. This holds in particular true for feature 15 – its western part was exposed in Square 4. In 2013, we interpreted this rectangular feature, lined with red bricks on the interior, as an intrusive structure of Post-Pharaonic date and of unclear function. The new findings in 2014 now change the picture a bit: Feature 15 has a minimum extension of 5.6 m West-East and 2.2. m North-South.

To be excavated in 2015: Feature 15 in SAV1 East.

Still to be completly excavated in 2015: Feature 15 in SAV1 East.

Its western wall is set against the natural pebble in Square 4 – the top part of which is covered with an 18th Dynasty mud floor. The Southern wall of feature 15 is still preserved to a height of 55 cm and the bottom edge has not yet been reached! So it is much deeper than we originally thought! The complete western part of the structure is still covered with very loose back filling of gravel, mud bricks and ceramics. Interestingly, the ceramics deriving from the newly exposed sections of the walls of feature 15 are all consistently mid 18th Dynasty in date – thus, contemporary with the other walls and features of Building A. All in all, the present working hypothesis is that feature 15 represents a New Kingdom storage installation of a rectangular shape, with a vaulted roof located below the floor level of Building A. It is therefore most probably a cellar, set against and dug into the natural gravel. Excavation of feature 15 will continue in the next season.

SAV1 West proofed extremely interesting and rewarding – even if it took us four weeks to clean sandy fillings of pits and later disturbances. As already reported, we found the New Kingdom town wall and also remains of the occupation within the town. Towards the east of the enclosure wall, thus inside the city, large amounts of sandy backfilling of pits and collapsed mud bricks had first to be removed, but then we reached a level in the Eastern half of the Square where in situ New Kingdom structures are visible!

A view into the "wall street" in Square 1 with promising deposits and structures to the East.

A view into the “wall street” in Square 1 with promising deposits and structures to the East.

Several floor levels and ashy layers attest to a multi-period use of small mud brick buildings orientated along the “wall street” of the western edge of the town, resembling very much the findings in SAV1 North.

Based on my analysis of the ceramics, the mud brick structures and remains in Square 1 of SAV1 West seem to originate from the mid until the late 18th Dynasty. No material earlier than Thutmose III was found, seemingly providing a terminus ante quem non for the building of the town wall and the visible structures belonging to the interior occupation. But of course this will have to be clarified by excavation next year! What we can say now is that there are several phases of use and the early 18th Dynasty is as yet missing.

SAV1 West: 1000ds of diagnostic pottery sherds from the 18th Dynasty are still waiting for detailed processing!

SAV1 West: 1000ds of diagnostic pottery sherds from the 18th Dynasty are still waiting for detailed processing!

In addition to the Pharaonic building phases, we spend much energy to carefully document the Post-Pharaonic formation processes at SAV1 West. This resulted in a better understanding of the later destruction and also the re-use of the town wall. The destruction happened mostly in (early) Christian time, additions and secondary structures seem to have been added later, partly using the taken out brick work. With the findings of walls in Square 1W, we can trace a continuous use of small shelters set against the ancient wall – they must have been in use over a certain period – details must await a coming ceramic analysis.

To conclude, the 2014 field season resulted in very important insights and added information about the evolution of the Pharaonic town of Sai Island. Especially the period of the mid 18th Dynasty, of the reigns of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II, marked a major remodelling of the site; the material remains illustrate a prosperous heyday of Sai as on of the important administrative centres of Upper Nubia, thus corresponding with the textual sources.

Nehi at Elephantine

Nehi, Viceroy of Kush under Thutmose III, is a well-known figure of the Egyptian administration in Dynasty 18 (see e.g.  Leblanc 2009). He was responsible for building several temples in Lower and Upper Nubia, also the Amun temple at Sai, located just south of our excavation area SAV1 East.

My special interest for Nehi goes back to 1998 and my first participation in the joint German-Swiss mission at Elephantine. Like other officials of the Egyptian administration of Nubia, Nehi left several records and monuments in the area of the First Cataract: in particular stelae and rock inscriptions, records which I always thought have a peculiar “personal” touch – they invoke the illusion of getting close to those persons of the past, to some of their activities and thoughts, to almost grasp them as individuals.

It was one of the very joyful moments of my early career when a great topic as MA thesis was proposed to me in the dig house at Elephantine. And one of the stars of this thesis was no one else than Nehi!

Budka 2001 Taf 3a

Door jamb of Nehi from Elephantine (Budka 2001, pl. 3a)

As monument per  se the unpublished object I had to deal with might not seem extremely interesting: it is a surface find from the kom of the ancient town of Elephantine, a sandstone block measuring 35 x 21 x 12 cm. It has a partly faded vertical column with hieroglyphs at its front side and can be identified as lower part of a left doorjamb (Budka 2001, 69; 107, cat. 1). Within the Egyptian settlement architecture made in mud bricks, architectural features like column bases and door elements were regularly executed in stone.

The text identifies the former owner of the building to which the jamb belonged: King’s son, overseer of the southern foreign lands, Nehi!

The importance of this small piece derives from its parallels – especially at Aniba and at Sai Island. Most probably these door frames belonged to administrative buildings and magazines attesting among others the adoration for king Thutmose III. Nehi as the highest official of the Nubian administration demonstrated his loyalty to the king, combining it with the worship of Egyptian gods.

At Elephantine, the stone block by Nehi may attest a temporary residence for the viceroy: the island was an important site to organize expeditions to the South and to count and distribute goods and more.

Further monuments by Nehi discovered at Elephantine are: a splendid sistrophorous statue JE 39749 (now kept at the Nubian Museum at Aswan) and a stela found close to the temple of Satet.

Stela of Nehi from Elephantine (Dreyer 1987, pl. 17c)

Stela of Nehi from Elephantine (Dreyer 1987, pl. 17c)

On this stela only the representation of Nehi adoring Amun-Ra-Kamutef has survived – the ithyphallic god was chiseled out during the Amarna age (Dreyer 1987, 113-14, pl. 17c).

What interests me most about Nehi and other officials of his time is to try to use all archaeological data available to reconstruct patterns of their past living conditions. The similarities in the architecture and stone monuments found at sites like Elephantine, Aniba and Sai Island are striking and this official line of record would propose few differences between these places. But does this picture change if we take un-inscribed records like ceramics, objects and other materials like animal bones and organic remains into consideration? A detailed assessment of the New Kingdom town of Sai and a close comparison with Elephantine might provide some answers – tracking Nehi by his inscribed monuments is one thing, trying to contextualize these records and establish aspects of their environment goes one step further. I am confident that our research within the framework of AcrossBorders will get us closer to understand the living conditions of viceroy Nehi and his contemporaries.

 

References

Budka 2001 = Julia Budka. Der König an der Haustür, Die Rolle des ägyptischen Herrschers an dekorierten Türgewänden von Beamten im Neuen Reich, Vienna 2001.

Dreyer 1987 = Günter Dreyer, X. Ausgewählte Kleinfunde, in Werner Kaiser et al., Stadt und Tempel von Elephantine, 13./14. Grabungsbericht, MDAIK 43, 1987, 107-114.

Leblanc 2009 = Christian Leblanc 2009. Nehy, prince et premiere rapporteur du roi, in I. Regen & F. Servajan (eds.), Verba manent, Recueil d’etudes dédiées à Dimitri Meeks par ses collègues et amis, Montpellier 2009, 241-251.

Paper in current issue of “Sokar”

The table of content of the current issue of the German journal “Sokar” is online, it will appear in print by mid July. Sokar 26 features my paper in German with the title “Die 18. Dynastie auf Sai Island (Nordsudan) – neue Puzzlesteine als Ergebnisse der Feldkampagne 2013“ (The 18th Dynasty on Sai Island – new bits and pieces as results of the 2013 field season). This well-illustrated paper (13 colour figures!) summarizes the most important outcomes of our recent work at SAV1East. I explain the discovery of Building A and its significance for our understanding of the general layout of the town – highlighting also the prominent position held by Sai Island during the mid 18th Dynasty in Upper Nubia. Besides further confirmation that the New Kingdom town at the island was founded at the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty, the 2013 excavations at SAV1East revealed a marked development and heyday of the site during the time of Thutmose III/Amenhotep II.

I can’t wait to hold the current Sokar in hands – especially because of a number of other very interesting articles, including another paper on Ancient Sudan – Angelika Lohwasser presents her recent assessment of Sanam.

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: http://egyptologie.ff.cuni.cz/?req=doc:konference&lang=en

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.

References

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.