Time flies by, also during the Covid-19 crisis – one of the small advantages of cancelled archaeological fieldwork in Egypt and Sudan is that there is more time to process old data and publish these accordingly.
I am proud to announce that we just submitted a book manuscript about Tomb 26 on Sai Island which will be hopefully printed later this year. This book is the final publication of Tomb 26, its architecture and material culture, including chapters on geology, human remains, scientific analyses and a compilation of the material discovered. As part of this publication, we prepared two sets of supplementary data which are already freely available via Open Data LMU:
Furthermore, I am happy to inform that the AcrossBorders 2 volume is now available online (free open access provided via the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press). Hoping that this new access to important data from our excavations on Sai Island, including raw data, will be useful to many around the world – more will follow soon and we keep you posted.
As we are still busy in preparing data from our project for publication, I am delighted that a brand-new study on materials from the AcrossBorders excavation on Sai was just published: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352409X20303412.
Kate Fulcher and me present results of the analysis of paints found in ceramic sherd palettes from the New Kingdom town using polarised light microscopy and infrared spectroscopy. The study revealed red and yellow ochres, Egyptian blue, calcite, gypsum, anhydrite, and the bright white huntite – all pigments from the standard Egyptian repertoire. Some residues were analysed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and were identified as Pistacia sp. resin, probably for use as incense.
As you can see here on this distribution map and read in our publication, ceramic palettes with traces of paint were especially common in the sector SAV1 West. A total of 26 finds, including five not analysed for the published study, shows quite interesting distribution patterns with a number found in the so called ‘wall street’, thus adjacent to the town enclosure of Sai. The majority were found in the ceramic-rich debris covering the small domestic structures east of the enclosure (Structures A-F). I am still working on the total quantities of incense burners and footed bowls from SAV1 West – they were very common among the ceramics and these statistics will then complement the observations on the palettes. For now, we offered as an interpretation of the palettes, considering their intriguing clustering along the town enclosure, that these are associated with producing plaster and paint for decorating mud brick buildings.
Very intriguing is another find we present in the new article: A dark organic substance from a vessel found in Tomb 26 was analysed using a second GC-MS method and was shown to be bitumen. This is extremely exciting since it is one of the earliest identifications of the use of bitumen in a funerary context in the ancient Nile Valley!
I hope many of you enjoy reading this new publication – for me, it was a great pleasure to work together with Kate and to benefit from the interdisciplinary exchange. Like it happens very often, scientific analysis did not only provide interesting data and results, but especially offered new ideas for discussion and opened up possible future lines of research.
Kate Fulcher, Julia Budka, Pigments, incense, and bitumen from the New Kingdom town and cemetery on Sai Island in Nubia,Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports,Volume 33,2020,https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102550. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352409X20303412)
One of the main tasks of the AcrossBorders project was investigating the New Kingdom population and answering questions about not only the individual lifestyles, but also the origin of the persons. Were the people who lived in the New Kingdom Egyptian town on Sai and were buried in the pyramid cemetery SAC5 Egyptians, or Nubians – or rather a mix of both and the evidence of ‘cultural’ respectively ‘biological’ entanglement?
I am very proud to announce that our paper on the application of strontium isotopes to investigate cultural entanglement in Sai and its surroundings is now out and published (Retzmann et al. 2019)! The main author is Anika Retzmann and many thanks go of course to her and the complete team of authors!
isotopes were applied to identify possible ‘colonialists’ coming from Egypt within
the skeletal remains retrieved from Tomb 26 of the pharaonic cemetery SAC5 on
Sai Island. Tooth enamel of nine individuals including the Overseer of
Goldsmiths Khummose and his presumably ‘wife’, dating from the 18th
Dynasty, were investigated to gain information whether these individuals were
first generation immigrants from Egypt or indigenous members of the local
population inhabiting the area of Sai Island.
The local strontium
signal on Sai Island during the New Kingdom was derived from archaeological
animal samples (rodent, sheep/goat, dog and local mollusc shells, all dating
from the New Kingdom) in agreement with local environmental samples (paleo
sediments and literature Sr isotope value of Nile River water during the New
As you can read in more detail in the article: the strontium values suggest that all people buried in Tomb 26 are members of the local population. A striking outcome, since the tomb, the tomb equipment, the personal names and titles are all clearly ‘Egyptian’.
To make it short: our results are simply exciting, tie in nicely with similar research at Tombos and Amara West – and will be of great importance also for my new DiverseNile project. More information on the complex coexistence and biological and cultural entanglement of Egyptians and Nubians during the New Kingdom are urgently needed. In this respect, we will continue to investigate the isoscape in my new concession – I am very happy that the successful team who did this for Sai will be again involved! The MUAFS area will provide new data from soil, water, molluscs and of course animal bones and human teeth which will allow us to place the data from Sai in a broader context. The periphery of Sai and Amara West, our Attab to Ferka region, also has rich potential to check the validity of our present strontium analysis.
al. 2019 = Anika Retzmann, Julia Budka, Helmut Sattmann, Johanna Irrgeher,
Thomas Prohaska, The New Kingdom population on Sai Island: Application of Sr
isotopes to investigate cultural entanglement in ancient Nubia, Ägypten und
Levante 29, 2019, 355–380
Wow, what a story – I still have problems to believe it but seven years after AcrossBorders I was now awarded with an ERC Consolidator Grant!
My second trip to Brussels on October 15 this year clearly benefited from my experiences in 2012. I chose the same hotel, felt therefore quite confident, knowing my way around and recognizing the relevant buildings. And after the interview, which was of course an ordeal in many respects, despite of the very kind panel members, I rewarded myself with a delicious, indeed heavenly pizza and a pint of enchanting Duvel. This is my insiders tip for all future invited applicants: make your trip to Brussels at least a culinary success and enjoy!
new project is a simple extension and continuation of AcrossBorders, I was
asked by the panel. Well no – certainly not – within DiverseNile, we will address
one of the crucial challenges about Bronze Age Nubia, the question of what lies
between the known urban centres and the elite cemeteries like Sai Island. Does
the concept of ‘cultural entanglement’ with its current elite bias also work
for the periphery? The new grant is not only a huge chance for me to consolidate
my career and to conduct another five years of cutting-edge research in Sudan, but
it is also a big step forward for Giulia, Veronica, Cajetan as former
AcrossBorders team members! Working as a team (and of course we will be
enforced by newcomers), we will push our research in northern Sudan to a next
will be conducted within the general framework of the MUAFS project and more information
will soon be available here: https://www.sudansurvey.gwi.uni-muenchen.de/index.php/erc-project-diversenile/
I would be
delighted if those of you who followed the AcrossBorders blog will also take an
interest in DiverseNile.
The PhD thesis by Jördis Vieth, submitted in 2018 at LMU Munich, dealing with the so called Egyptian temple towns in Nubia, is now available online for free: https://edoc.ub.uni-muenchen.de/24988/1/Vieth_Joerdis.pdf Hope the excellent work of one of the former AcrossBorders team members gets appreciated in the field!
My week here at Elephantine passed by very quickly. Despite of all the work, I also had the chance and pleasure to enjoy the beauty of this place and of the landscape at the First Cataract.
More ceramic material from House 55 is now processed – my pottery database holds currently almost 2400 pieces from the structure, including 350 Nubian sherds. Of particular interest are painted and imported wares as well as functional vessels. The latter allow a close comparison with the material we excavated in the last years within the New Kingdom town of Sai in Sudan.
In general, the functional ceramics from House 55 at Elephantine compare very well with the Sai material. Despite of close parallels regarding the general corpus and the vessel types, I have suggested that a distinct difference applies to the use of Marl or Nile clay for functional vessels (Budka 2018). This can be illustrated by spinning bowls, but also the so-called fish dishes (‘Schaelbecken’), pot stands and zir vessels.
The class of spinning bowls is quite interesting – these are dishes with two handles attached to the interior of the base. The handles are used for wetting linen fibers during spinning. Such spinning bowls are frequently attested in Egyptian settlements like Amarna and Elephantine (where also other evidence for textile working is found).
As of today, I have recorded 15 pieces of spinning bowls from House 55 in detail, some of them in a very good state of preservation. More were found in fragmented state and are not considered in my database. 50% of the recorded material was made in Marl clay, 50% in Nile clay. This proportion between Marl and Nile clays differs considerably with the evidence from Sai – although only a small number of spinning bowls were found there within the New Kingdom town, almost all of them are made from Nile clay and were most likely locally produced for demand at the site. Almost no Marl clay spining bowls were imported from Egypt.
All in all, my short stay here at Elephantine was extremely productive and important for working out further details of comparisons between the pottery corpora from Sai and Elephantine.
Julia Budka 2018. Pots & People: Ceramics from Sai Island and
Elephantine, in: Julia Budka und Johannes Auenmüller (eds.), From Microcosm to Macrocosm. Individual
households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia, Leiden, 147‒170.
As usual on excavations, time flies by. I was busy in the last days with drawings of important pottery vessels from House 55. The importance can be of different character: 1) completely preserved vessel and thus significant for the corpus of shapes and pottery types; 2) chronologically interesting piece and of significance for the ceramic phases and their fine-dating and 3) functionally relevant vessels including so-called hybrid vessels illustrating the intermingling of Nubian and Egyptian pottery making tradition on the island.
I had a bit
of all three main categories during the last days, besides some very nice
imports found in House 55, coming from the Levant and Cyprus, as well as a
unique sherd of the famous Tell el-Yahudiya ware.
Among my favourites are the Nubian sherds from House 55. The Nubian cooking pots are mostly of Pan-Grave style with incised decoration, but a minority of the cooking vessels shows basketry impression and is very similar to pieces from Sai. Within the fine ware, Kerma Black Topped cups and beakers dominate, sometimes with the silvery band on the outside characteristic of the Kerma Classique period. Today, I made a drawing of a very nice Black Topped beaker and was able to reconstruct its complete outline.
Besides making drawings, I am busy with material excavated in the 26th and 27th seasons in House 55, thus more than 20 years ago. Among other interesting pieces, today I had the sixth piece of a so-called fire dog on my table. These fire dogs continue to fascinate me – especially since my work at Sai. At Elephantine, almost 50% of the ones found in 18th Dynasty levels are coming from House 55! But the small number is completely different to the large amount of fire dogs we found within the New Kingdom town of Sai Island. Research about the proper functional use of these devises thought to hold cooking pots above the fire will have to continue.
After finishing the successful 2019 season of the Ankh-Hor Project at Luxor, in the Asasif, I am now back in Egypt, at Aswan, working at Elephantine Island on the processing of material from House 55.
Due to a
number of reasons it’s just a very short season, but I am very happy to
concentrate again on the very interesting ceramics from the workshop building
excavated in the last years by the Swiss Institute in close cooperation with
I will focus on the early 18th Dynasty ceramic material and here also on the Nubian wares from House 55 – this nicely ties in with my new MUAFS project and our recent discoveries between Attab and Ferka. Work will start tomorrow – very excited and an update will follow shortly!
In the scientific article, we present all the results of our temperature measurements. For the measurements of the cooking pot we used a Colemeter WT700 Infrared Thermometer and a digital Type K Thermocouple, the latter especially for the fire and the pot filling.
We briefly mention also our test with a fire dog and horse dung as fuel – which also turned out as very successful!
All in all, the dung fires provide nice conditions for keeping good cooking temperatures – and this for a considerable long time, while preventing the fast cooling off of the fireplaces compared to our tests using wood only. This seems to be especially beneficial for dishes with long cooking or braising time like legumes, porridge and cereals. Of interest for future experiments would be, among others, to test a mixture of fuels and to trace the actual cooking activities in Bronze Age Egypt and Nubia further.
Looking very much forward to the upcoming experiments in Asparn 2019, many thanks go for now to my great team of co-authors and supporters!
I am very proud to announce that fieldwork in my new concession in Sudan will commence next week! Based on the results of the AcrossBorders project, NCAM very kindly offered me a new concession area in northern Sudan. I chose to stay within the general area of Abri and thus we decided on the strip along the Nile between Attab and Ferka.
Exciting new perspectives
The new Munich University Attab to Ferka Survey
Project (MUAFS) will start with a survey of the general area, which can be
regarded as “periphery” to two of the main Egyptian centers of the region, to Amara
West and Sai Island. We were able to plan our work extensively because the area
was already surveyed and published by André Vila in the 1970s, resulting in the
discovery of rich multi-period sites comprising both settlement and funerary
remains (from Paleolithic to Medieval times). All of these sites need to be
revisited and in particular checked in regards of dating. In the future, we
will conduct excavations at selected sites, resulting without doubts in fresh
data for the long dureé approach of the project.
The new project is again hosted by the LMU Munich and is funded by LMU Munich‘s Institutional Strategy LMUexcellent within the framework of the German Excellence Initiative and the Adele Hartmann Programme for Julia Budka. I am very much looking forward to this exciting new tasks and I am very grateful that many of the commendable team members of AcrossBorders also joined me for MUAFS – this continuity will enable us to work most efficiently from the start.
Those of you who followed the progress of the AcrossBorders project over the years – again many many thanks for your interest! and please check out our work within the MUAFS project via the new blog which is now live. We will be posting news from the field, starting with next week.
Vila, André, La prospection archéologique de la Vallée du Nil, au Sud de la Cataracte de Dal (Nubie Soudanaise), Paris 1976-1977 (for our concession: volumes 3-6).