Small steps forward into the terrain of settlement archaeology in Egypt & Nubia

With a splendid evening lecture by Dominique Valbelle, the AcrossBorders workshop “Settlements patterns in Egypt and Nubia” came to an end. I am very grateful to all participants for making it a successful and also very pleasant event! Special thanks go to all AcrossBorders’ team members and the LMU students helping with the organization. The location of the workshop was just perfect – many thanks again to the Egyptian State Museum Munich – and here not only to the first and second directors Silvia Schoske and Arnulf Schlüter, but also to Dietrich Wildung. His special offer of a guided tour through the galleries was much appreciated by all participants – it complemented the programme of the workshop in a perfect way and illustrated the complex and changing relations between Egypt and Nubia/Sudan throughout the millennia.

Most talks were concentrating on settlement architecture and the planning of settlements. Ingrid Adenstedt presented her 3D reconstruction of the Pharaonic town on Sai – from my perspective a very big step forward for a better understanding of the evolution of the site! Florence Doyen shared her by now much advanced assessment of SAV1 North, proposing interesting ideas about the layout and foundation of the town on Sai.

Cornelius von Pilgrim impressed everyone with speaking about the intriguing house 55 on Elephantine island – I really can’t wait for our upcoming field season to go back there and continue sorting out the complex phases of use of this unusual structure!

Amara West and its huge potential were beautifully presented by Neal Spencer – the state of preservation of the mud brick houses is simply amazing. Manfred Bietak closed Day 1 with new observations on the structure and function of the monumental palace of the Middle Kingdom in Bubastis.

Day 2 was opened with a very interesting session dedicated to settlement patterns in Prehistoric times and to the Pre-Kerma and Kerma periods. Elena Garcea presented her work at Khartoum Variant, Abkan and Pre-Kerma sites at Amara West and on Sai – and was able to pose some thought-provoking questions highly relevant also for the historic periods.

Giulia D’Ercole and Johannes Sterba presented their ongoing chemical analyses of Nubian and Egyptian style sherds from Sai. Johannes got huge complements afterwards: “A contribution by a scientist which was completely understandable!” Of course I totally agree.

Recent discoveries in the ceremonial city of Kerma were the topic of Charles Bonnet’s talk – he showed beautiful 3D reconstructions of these very peculiar buildings of an African kind of architecture. Kate Spence used Sesebi as a case study to pose several key questions for our understanding of so-called temple towns. Her assessment that it is crucial to understand the foundation processes of these sites seems especially noteworthy.

Stuart Tyson Smith led us to Tombos, one of the major bounderies between the Nubian and Egyptian realm during the New Kingdom. He focused on a very large, enigmatic building of 18th Dynasty date found in recent excavations. So much more remains to be excavated at this important site at the Third Cataract!

The last afternoon session was dedicated to 18th Dynasty Egypt – the important site of South Abydos, the Ahmose town, was presented by Stephen Harvey. He addressed not only the oracle cult of Ahmose, but also interesting ideas about ancestor’s cult.

The paper by Anna Stevens was the perfect transition to the final discussion: Anna addressed community and sub-communities at Amarna and raised important issues. “How much did the occupants feel they are part of their/a community” would nicely apply to open but crucial questions we have regarding the occupants of Egyptian sites in Kush – all of us working there have found increasing evidence for a complex social stratification and the entanglement of Egyptian and Nubian cultures.

Dominique Valbelle considered a wide range of textual records for the assessment of settlement patterns in Egypt and Nubia – most importantly, she showed us new material from the excavations in Dokki Gel.

Without doubt, the ongoing excavations of the international missions working in Northern Sudan have widened our understanding of the complexity of settlement patterns in Nubia. There is some hope that we will continue in these lines and might also be able to learn more about Egyptian urbanism by taking into accounts the sites located in Kush.

The gold of Kush

Nubia is famous for its rich supply of gold and it is well known that Nubian gold was among the main Egyptian economic interests during a long time span (cf. Vercoutter 1959). During the London colloquium last week, the role of gold for the Egyptian presence in Nubia was discussed again.

There is increasing evidence that the location of the Egyptian New Kingdom sites in the Abri-Delgo-reach as rich gold ore region was important for their function (see Klemm & Klemm 2013, also Darnell 2013, 828). For example, recent work at Sesebi has stressed the importance of gold exploitation for the function of the site (Spence/Rose 2009; Spence et al. 2011). Evidence from Tombos (Stuart T. Smith) and Amara West (Neal Spencer) show a similar picture. Also Sai Island had direct access to gold ores and probably played a role in gold mining of the New Kingdom.

The German geologists Rosmarie and Dieter Klemm gave a very interesting paper in London – and more information can be found in their recent publication “Gold and Gold Mining in Ancient Egypt and Nubia.” According to the Klemms, gold mining expanded during the 18th dynasty to large scale in Nubia. They could trace a significant change in processing and prospecting methods, most importantly “the introduction of the grinding mill to the mining industry in the New Kingdom” (Klemm & Klemm 2013, 9) which allowed the increased exploitation of auriferous quartz vein systems. From their point of view, there is a connection between Ancient Egypt’s gold mining industry in the Abri-Delgo-reach and the New Kingdom temples of the region (Klemm & Klemm 2013, 568-570). And indeed – at all of the sites mentioned, mills and grinding stones suitable for producing quartz powder have been found.

Kushites bringing gold to Egypt, tomb of Viceroy Huy (Thebes)

Kushites bringing gold to Egypt, tomb of Viceroy Huy (Thebes)

Back in 1959, Vercoutter reconstructed the amount of gold coming from Kush in contrast to Wawat according to Egyptian texts (Vercoutter 1959, 135): there is a clear difference, especially during the reign of Thutmose III (also the starting date of the Royal building activity in the region) when much more gold of Wawat was registered. From the time of Amenhotep III onwards, Kush seems to have gained in importance as gold mining area – scenes like the famous representations in the tomb of Viceroy Huy illustrate that gold was an important item sent to Egypt at the end of the 18th Dynasty. Textual evidence implies a decline in gold production in Ramesside time – something we might be able to confirm or modify by future archaeological fieldwork!



Darnell 2013 = John C. Darnell, A Bureaucratic Challenge? Archaeology and Administration in a Desert Environment (Second Millennium B.C.E.), in J.C. Moreno García (ed.), The Administration of Egypt, HdO 104, Leiden 2013, 785-830.

Klemm & Klemm 2013 = Rosemarie Klemm, Dietrich Klemm, Gold and Gold Mining in Ancient Egypt and Nubia. Geoarchaeology of the Ancient Gold Mining Sites in the Egyptian and Sudanese Eastern Deserts, Natural Science in Archaeology, Heidelberg, New York, Dordrecht, London: Springer, 2013

Spence/Rose 2009 = Kate Spence, Pam Rose, Fieldwork at Sesebi, 2009, Sudan & Nubia 13, 2009, 38–46.

Spence et al. 2011 = Kate Spence et al., Sesebi 2011, Sudan & Nubia 15, 2011, 34–39.

Vercoutter 1959 = Jean Vercoutter, The Gold of Kush, Kush 7, 1959, 120-153.

Annual Egyptological Colloquium at the British Museum: Nubia in the New Kingdom

On our way to London: Giulia, Florence and me will be attending scientific events at the British Museum, organized by our British colleagues headed by Neal Spencer. In addition, Veronica Hinterhuber, much waited-for future collaborator of AcrossBorders, will also join us on this occasion from Berlin! And I am especially happy that Huda Magzoub, our inspector from NCAM, kindly accepted an invitation as well and is already waiting for us in London!

Tomorrow we will be busy with two informal workshops, bringing together scholars currently working on New Kingdom sites in Nubia as well as some other colleagues with specific expertise. Giulia will present our pottery samples and I will mainly focus on questions of the early development of Sai at the very beginning of the 18th Dynasty. Huda has prepared a presentation on some nice New Kingdom pot sherds from the Sudan National Museum’s collection, among them an amphora from Sai with an hieratic docket.

Thursday and Friday will be completely occupied by the two-day colloquium “Nubia in the New Kingdom: Lived experience, pharaonic control and local traditions” – a very rich programme focusing on new insights from the latest fieldwork at major settlements and cemeteries in Nubia. Elephantine, Aniba, Amara West, Sai, Sesebi, Dukki Gel, Tombos and other sites will be in the spotlight – temple architecture, settlements, tombs, statues, ceramics and other finds will illustrate the complex picture of the material culture and social identities at Egyptian sites in Nubia during the New Kingdom. Abstracts of the colloquium are available via the British Museum website!

World of the living, world of the dead

One of the main goals of AcrossBorders is to improve our under­standing of the population on Sai Island during the New Kingdom and to explore the nature of the coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians. Who were the occupants of the newly founded town in the 18th Dynasty as far as their cultural identity is concerned ‒ Egyptians, Egyptianized Nubians or a mix of both?

Archaeological studies dealing with ethnicity, groups and identity have markedly increased in recent decades (cf. Brather 2004; Gramsch 2009). In Egyptian/Nubian archaeology, some studies have addressed aspects of cultural and ethnical identities (e.g. Meskell 1999; Meskell 2001; Smith 2003). The site of Tombos in Upper Nubia can be mentioned as a ready parallel for studies of biological identities of people buried there (Buzon 2006, 2008) and for a complex social diversity according to the material culture (Smith 2003). Recent studies at Amara West attempt to distinguish between Nubian and Egyptian features within the town (Spencer 2010). Ethnicity has also been addressed with regards to domestic evidence at Askut (Smith 1995).

View of SAC5 from the North.

View of SAC5 from the North.

On Sai Island, the two main cemeteries of the New Kingdom are located south of the town and were labelled as SAC5 and SACP1. Future work of AcrossBorders can now rely on a substantial monograph on SAC5 recently published: Anne Minault-Gout and Florence Thill, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), FIFAO 69, Cairo 2012. Sai IIThis second monograph on the work of the French Archaeological Mission on Sai Island presents in detail results of the exploration in the cemetery, which already began in the 1970s. SAC5 is of major importance as it was in use for a long period of time, covering the New Kingdom as well as the pre-Napatan period (the so called Third Intermediate Period in Egypt). Its rock-cut tombs with mostly pyramidal superstructures find close parallels in Nubia (e.g. at Soleb, Amara West and Aniba), but also in Egypt (e.g. in the Theban necropolis).

Saï II (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012) is highly recommended to all interested in New Kingdom Nubia! The volume offers detailed descriptions of 24 excavated tombs, referring to architecture, finds, ceramics and interrelationships between graves as well as to the inhabitants of Sai during the New Kingdom. The mortuary evidence from SAC5 strongly supports the findings from the New Kingdom town that there was a complex community of Egyptians and Nubians on Sai Island.  


Brather, S. 2004: Ethnische Interpretation in der frühgeschichtlichen Archäologie: Geschichte, Grund­lagen und Alternativen, Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der germanischen Altertums­kunde 42, Berlin.

Buzon, M. R. 2006: Biological and Ethnic Identity in New Kingdom Nubia. A Case Study from Tombos, Current Anthropology 47.4, 683–695.

Buzon, M. R. 2008: A Bioarchaeological Perspective on Egyptian Colonialism in the New Kingdom, JEA 94, 165–182.

Gramsch, A. 2009: Die Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen: Überlegungen zum Kulturwandel, in A. Zeeb-Lanz (ed.), Krisen – Kulturwandel – Kontinuitäten. Zum Ende der Bandkeramik in Mitteleuropa. Bei­träge der internationalen Tagung in Herxheim bei Landau (Pfalz) vom 14.–17. 06. 2007, Inter­nationale Archäologie. Arbeitsgemeinschaft, Symposium, Tagung, Kongress 10, Rahden/Westf., 9–25.

Meskell, L. 1999: Archaeologies of Social Life. Age, Sex, Class et cetera in Ancient Egypt, Oxford.

Meskell, L. 2001: Archaeologies of Identity, in I. Hodder (ed.), Archaeological Theory Today, Cambridge, 187–213.

Minault-Gout, A./Thill, F. 2012: Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), FIFAO 69, Cairo.

Smith, S. T. 1995: Askut in Nubia. The economics and ideology of Egyptian imperialism in the second millennium B.C., Studies in Egyptology, London/New York.

Smith, S. T.  2003: Wretched Kush. Ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London/New York.

Spencer, N. 2010: Nubian architecture in an Egyptian town?, Sudan & Nubia 14, 15–24.

Bread Moulds from SAV1E: An Update

The numerous fragments of bread moulds we discovered this year at SAV1E have already been mentioned.

Selection of fragmented bread moulds from SAV1E.

Selection of fragmented bread moulds from SAV1E.

Several hundreds of fragments were found 2013, outnumbering the very small amount of less than a dozen from five years of excavations at SAV1N considerably. It seems logical to assume that this frequent appearance of bread at SAV1E is connected with the neighbourhood to Temple A, located just 30 meters towards the South.


This might also be supported by the fact that a larger amount of bread moulds came to light in the southern part of SAV1E, especially in Square 2B.

Helen Jacquet-Gordon has published a “Tentative Typology of Egyptian Bread Moulds” in 1981.

Bread Moulds Type D: Fig 5 of Jacquet-Gordon 1981.

Bread Moulds Type D: Fig 5 of Jacquet-Gordon 1981.

Our moulds from SAV1E (and the small number from SAV1N) correspond to her type D – New Kingdom versions of tall, tube-like shape. They are in general very slender with rounded bases – but a prolongation at the bottom appears as well, sometimes with a kind of button-base, but more often with a marked point at the base.

The exterior of the vessels is often very asymmetrical – they are handmade, formed around an inner core/mould, resulting in irregularly shaped direct rims (cf. Rose 2007: 143). The dimensions of the bread moulds from SAV1E vary, but most are between 20-30 cm in height with a diameter of around 5-6 cm.

Field drawings of some of the bread mould fragments from SAV1E.

Field drawings of some of the bread mould fragments from SAV1E.

As Jacquet-Gordon has shown very clearly, this type of bread mould is associated predominantly with New Kingdom temple sites (1981: 19-20), but occasionally also found in tombs and at settlement sites like Amarna (Rose 2007: 143, 288, HC2) and Elephantine. In the case of the latter, very small amounts appear in strata of the New Kingdom and it cannot be ruled out that they are connected with the local temples of Khnum and Satet.

It has to be stressed that a later variant of bread mould type D, labelled by Jacquet-Gordon as type E, is frequently found at Napatan and Meroitic sites in Sudan (e.g. at Kerma, Gebel Barkal, Kawa, Sanaam and Tabo). These moulds are characterised by a more flared shape and a larger mouth diameter, usually less tall than types D. The elongated point of the bases of this type of mould seems to be directly related to the pointed bases of the New Kingdom variants as illustrated at SAV1E. The date of the latter as 18th Dynasty is nevertheless certain as they find close parallels in stratified material at Elephantine (personal observation) and also at Tombos (Edwards 2011: 78, Fig. 3.32). The moulds at Tombos were found in the fill of an 18th Dynasty tomb (TMB005/1) just next to the famous tomb of Siamun (TMB005), recently excavated by Stuart Thyson Smith (see Smith 2003). Interestingly, from the 18th Dynasty tombs on Sai Island, the small number of ceramic objects identified as bread moulds are of a distinctly different form, more closer to Jacquet-Gordon’s type E (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, Part I: 339, Part II: 136, Pl. 130).

All in all, the large quantities of bread moulds found in 2013 at SAV1E might enable us in the future to reassess in more detail the development of New Kingdom types down to Napatan and Meroitic times, with a special focus of potential local variations in Upper Nubia.

References cited:

Edwards, D. N. 2011. The Third-Second Millennia BC. Kerma and New Kingdom Settlements, in: A. Osman/D.N. Edwards, The Archaeology of a Nubian Frontier. Survey on the Nile Third Cataract, Sudan, Bristol, 59-87.

Jacquet-Gordon, H. 1981. A Tentative Typology of Egyptian Bread Moulds, in: Do. Arnold (ed.), Studien zur Altägyptischen Keramik, SDAIK 9, Mainz am Rhein, 11-24.

Minault-Gout, A./Thill, F. 2012. Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), FIFAO 69, Cairo.

Rose, P. 2007. The Eighteenth Dynasty Pottery Corpus from Amarna, EES, 83rd Excavation Memoir, London.

Smith, St.T. 2003. Wretched Kush. Ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London and New York.