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…

 

Summary of week 1, fieldwork season 2017

Amazing how time flies by during a fieldwork season – we arrived at Sai one week ago, finished our first week with workmen yesterday. On Wednesday, Cajetan Geiger and Andrea Stadlmayr joined us – Cajetan will be supervising fieldwork starting next week at sector SAV1 West (together with Franziska Lehmann) and Andrea, one of the project’s physical anthropologists, is of course working with me in Tomb 26.

The results of the first week are very satisfying: on arrival, we found Tomb 26 undisturbed, successfully cleaned our re-filling of its shaft and made a first check of the lower, still unexcavated burial chamber. The entrance of this lower chamber was still largely concealed by the trench along the north wall which we did not excavate on its western side in 2016.

Starting with cleaning the northwestern corner of the main burial chamber, we soon were able to trace the outline of this trench, locating its western edge. Excavating the trench was quite a challenge, as many dislocated human bones had to be cleaned and properly documented.

Andrea and Mohammed busy working in the trench along the north wall.

Like last year, we are using SFM documentation for every single surface in order to reconstruct the formation processes within the tomb in detail. Loads of thanks go here to Martin Fera – thanks to his perfect setup in the last seasons and his detailed introduction, the documentation works very well – my photos are not yet as perfect as Martin’s, but it definitly works ;-).

The layers within the trench are mostly flood deposits as well as some collapse from the northern wall and debris. Quite substantial amounts of ceramics were found, all of which are New Kingdom in date.

Dislocated remains of burials in the trench; note the upper edge of the chamber entrance on the north wall.

Yesterday, we were able to trace the western upper edge of the entrance into the lower chamber! This entrance has quite impressive dimensions being extremly wide and we are much looking forward to clean it further and start excavating the chamber itself in the next days, insha’allah.

Work in progress in Tomb 26

The last days were quite busy with ongoing work in Tomb 26. The first task after checking out the new chamber on the lower level, was to clean the northwestern corner of the main chamber. Dense flood levels were covering the floor of the chamber in this area, holding almost no finds, but covering some bone fragments. On an upper level, already excavated in 2016, an almost intact individuum has been found.

One of the particularly interesting features of Tomb 26 is that the southern and western walls were once lined with worked stones and plastered – a collapsed block from this casing was located in the northwestern corner. We will take it out later in this season, hoping to replace it virtually back on the wall by checking the negative voids in the nearby western wall with the block’s dimensions.

The second task, especially in order to allow excavation of the new chamber located below the northern wall, was to trace the western part of the trench along the north wall. This trench was only excavated on its eastern part in 2016 – clearly showing that it once gave access to the lower chamber, but was completely filled with flood levels.

We successfully found the trench on the western side and are currently busy excavating it layer to layer. Like in 2016, a substantial amount of bones and pottery vessels were found – hopefully the ceramics will allow us to date the filling of this access to Tomb 26’s lower chamber.

The western part of the trench along the north wall.

Happy New Year from Sai

Timing turned out just perfect – leaving Khartoum on schedule, we started yesterday our final field season on Sai Island. The first task was to re-open Tomb 26 – removing the filling of its more than 5 m deep shaft was a bit dusty, but worked out very well thanks to our enthusiastic gang of workmen supervised by Hassan Dawd.

And even more perfect: New Year started with re-opening the main chamber of Tomb 26 earlier today. All is in perfect condition, almost no collapse of the ceiling occurred.

We will concentrate on the northwestern corner of the chamber which was not yet completely excavated – and we are all very excited about the new chamber found at a lower level along the north wall in the very last days of the 2016 season. Clearing this chamber of still unknown dimensions will keep us busy this season. I’ve cleared some of its entrance area today, but it is almost completely filled with flood deposits – making a proper assessment what to expect from this new chamber very difficult. However, the six pottery sherds which came today from the entrance area are all New Kingdom in date – interestingly, one seems to be of 19th Dynasty date.

First glance into the new chamber: still unexcavated and full of promises…

Will we maybe be able to re-locate Hornakht’s original burial after all? Just follow our blog for the current field season and our findings in Tomb 26! Although 2017 has just started, the new year is definitely full of exciting prospects :-)!

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!

Tomb 26 on Sai and its challenges

Perfect timing – just before the holidays, Sokar volume 33 is now available – including a short article about excavations and recent finds in Tomb 26. I highlighted the specific challenges we encountered regarding

  • the documentation and excavation of the human remains
  • the stratigraphy
  • the drawing of skeletons and features
  • geodetic survey in the chamber
  • potential of finds and ceramics.

The paper is also the perfect outlook for the upcoming 2017 season on Sai Island – work in Tomb 26 will start already next week insha’allah. Of course we’ll keep you udpated!Julia Budka, Neues zum Pyramidenfriedhof auf Sai, Sokar 33, 2016, 60–67.

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!

In focus: Tomb 26 & a re-union in Vienna

AB036588

In Tomb 26, March 2016. Photo: Martin Fera.

Andrea Stadlmayr, Marlies Wohlschlager and I were busy working in Tomb 26 earlier this year. The season has been very successful – yielding nice finds like scarabs, a Base Ring II juglet and a number of other complete ceramic vessels. As physical anthropologists, Andrea and Marlies are focusing on the human remains from the tomb. A minimum of 10 individuals were documented from different levels. These skeletal remains are, despite of a rather poor state of preservation, highly interesting for key questions of AcrossBorders related to the occupants of Sai during the New Kingdom. We know that there were several phases of use of Tomb 26 – based on the stratigraphy and pottery we are currently trying to establish a sequence.

Photo: Martin Fera.

Photo: Martin Fera.

Today, in order to plan the next season with a special focus on the documentation and processing of the skeletal remains, we had a very productive meeting here in Vienna. The physical anthropology is conducted within my FWF START project, hosted by OREA of the ÖAW. We are grateful for support from the NHM and the cooperation with VIRIS Laboratory of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences for the strontium isotopic analysis.

Looking at the documentation from Tomb 26 earlier today, and especially on the 3d models by Martin Fera, it was almost like being there again. Looking very much forward to the upcoming season 2017 and a re-union at the site!

Late Ramesside use of Tomb 26

Post-excavation processing of all the data from tomb 26 is ongoing and we’re making good progress. It became clear already in 2015 that the use-life of Tomb 26 where the pyramidion of the Deputy of Kush Hornakht was found is very complex. All of the major phases of use of elite cemetery SAC5 are reflected in the objects and ceramics from Tomb 26: mid to late 18th Dynasty, 19th Dynasty, Late Ramesside, Pre-Napatan and Napatan (see Thill 2006-2007). Scarabs, stone vessels, pilgrim flasks and complete ceramic vessels are particularly significant.

Bild1Today, I would like to focus on a large, almost intact amphora found along the north wall of burial chamber 1 in Tomb 26. It was solidly stuck in several layers of dense flood deposits, lying partly lower than remains of individuals in this area which are therefore likely to be younger (or not in place/re-deposited). However, some human bones appeared also below the amphora. The vessel which finds good parallels in both Egypt and Nubia is therefore significant for the relative dating of some of the interments in Tomb 26. Unfortunately, it was found almost isolated. Two broken simple dishes with a red rim and round base were found next to it, on its southern side between the human remains. These vessels correspond to the dating of the amphora itself: the Late Ramesside period (Dynasty 20, see Aston 2004).

Tomb 26 AmphoraAlmost no material from Dynasty 20 is known from the New Kingdom town of Sai – in order to understand the possible end of the New Kingdom occupation on the island, cemetery SAC5 and here also Tomb 26 are therefore of great importance.

References

Aston 2004 = David A. Aston, Amphorae in New Kingdom Egypt, Egypt and the Levant 14, 2004, 175–213.

Thill 2006-2007 = Florence Thill, Les réoccupations “(pré)napatéennes” dans la cimetière égyptien 8B5/SAC5 de Sai, in: Mélanges offerts à Francis Geus, CRIPEL 26, 2006-2007, 353–369.

Some complete pots from tomb 26

After cleaning the shaft of tomb 26 in 2015, its burial chamber kept us busy during this season – not only were there plenty of human remains for Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager, several nice objects like four scarabs and one stone pilgrim flask, but also complete ceramic vessels!

This markedly contrasts with our findings from last year, where bits and pieces were found in the shaft and only some complete vessels at the bottom of the shaft.
Earlier in the 2016 season, our Sudanese trainee from NCAM, Roa, did a great job in joining sherds from the bottom of the shaft with ones from the topmost debris coming from the chamber. Altogether, there was plenty of evidence for several phases of use, plundering and re-use of tomb 26– spanning a long period from the mid/late 18th Dynasty, the Ramesside period to Pre-Napatan and Napatan times!

Excavating the burial chamber in 2016, we were lucky enough to find several intact vessels – most interesting is an assemblage of two slender bottles along the southern wall in the southwest corner.

Cleaning the vessels in the southwestern corner.

Cleaning the vessels in the southwestern corner.

One of them seems to bear a “killing hole”. Close to them, just at the skull of the individual lying there on his back, was a complete Base Ring II jug – a very nice import from Cyprus!

The small intact BR II jug.

The small intact BR II jug.

Another really lovely vessel is a complete zir found along the north wall of the chamber. It was filled with the sediment of the chamber and also yielded foot/leg parts of an infant whose body was found close by.

The intact zir from tomb 26.

The intact zir from tomb 26.

Post-excavation processing of all the data from tomb 26 has just begun – the ceramics will be of prime importance to narrow down the specific phases of use and re-use!