Pigments, incense and bitumen from New Kingdom Sai

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.

Distribution of ceramic palettes from SAV1 West.

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.

Reference:

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)

Tracing the New Kingdom population on Sai Island

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!

Strontium 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 Kingdom era).

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’.

Khnummose and the other persons buried in Tomb 26 belonged to the local population of Sai

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.

Reference

Retzmann et 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

Moving beyond AcrossBorders with a new ERC Consolidator Grant

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!

Second ERC 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!

Whether my 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 level.

DiverseNile 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.

New publication

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!

More details about the pottery from House 55

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).

Example of a spinning bowl from House 55.

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.

Reference

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.

Busy with Egyptian and Nubian pottery from House 55

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.

Back at Elephantine – recording of ceramics from House 55

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 AcrossBorders.

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!

Article on experiments of animal dung as fuel for cooking just published

I am very proud to announce the publication of a joint article about “The question of fuel for cooking in ancient Egypt and Sudan” in the current issue of Experimental Archaeology. It’s the outcome of my practical class in experimental archaeology at Asparn 2018 and it gives an overview of our tests and possible future lines of research. Since AcrossBorders investigated the lived realities of people on Sai during the New Kingdom, this small sub-project is highly relevant.

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!

Exciting news – new archaeological project in Sudan starts

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.

Location of new concession area in Sudan

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.

Logo of the new MUAFS project

References:

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).

Another reunion in Vienna – preparing Tomb 26 for final publication

The winter term is about to start in Munich, but I took the opportunity of the period still free of teaching obligations to spend some time in Vienna for different meetings and especially for get-togethers with former and also future team members for my work in Sudan.

Especially productive and full of positive memories was yesterday’s reunion with AcrossBorders’ physical anthropologists, Andrea Stadlmayer and Marlies Wohlschlager.

Andrea and Marlies have already published first insights on the burials within Tomb 26 – available online as part of our recently published book “From Microcosm to Macrocosm”. But the complete data from Tomb 26 will be published as a monograph in Vienna, in one of the OREA series by the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press. Yesterday, we discussed the general outline of this book and very soon talked already about exciting details about the New Kingdom interments of Khnummose and others in Tomb 26. There is still a lot of work to do, but we’re all very much looking forward to this task, bringing together results of three seasons of fieldwork with plenty of data from post-excavation processing.

Insha’allah the book on Tomb 26 will already be available next year – compiling all kinds of data from the excavation, the objects, the architecture to the human remains, C14 dates and strontium isotope analysis and thus highlightening the tomb’s significance for understanding New Kingdom Sai.