Looking back: 2015 papers and reports

The 2016 season of AcrossBorders on Sai Island has almost begun – we’ll be flying to Khartoum later today.

As kind of a teaser what one can expect from the upcoming work, I’d like to look back at some of the research conducted by AcrossBorders in 2015. Three relevant papers just appeared in the last days/weeks.

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

In this paper, I tried to summarize AcrossBorders field seasons on Sai from 2013 to 2015 in the sectors SAV1 East and SAV1 West – stressing the important new results on Ramesside activities, both in the town area and the cemetery SAC5.

Bichrome Painted Nile Clay Vessels from Sai Island (Sudan), Bulletin de liaison de la céramique égyptienne 25, 2015, 327–337 by Julia Budka

This is a preliminary report on one of my favorite group of pottery vessels : Bichrome painted nile clay jars, commonly attested in Egypt but also in Lower and Upper Nubia. I discussed their form repertoire and the most common decorative motifs; first thoughts about their possible meaning and provenience were presented.

Ein Pyramidenfriedhof auf der Insel Sai, Sokar 31, 2015, 54–65, by Julia Budka

I am very happy that the magazine Sokar with a focus on Egyptian pyramids, allowed some space in the current volume dedicated to SAC5 on Sai and our discovery of tomb 26 and the pyramidion of Hornakht.

Last but not least, the fieldwork report from 2015 is now available and free to download!

Two scarabs from tomb 26

Tomb 26, newly discovered in cemetery SAC5 on Sai Island during AcrossBorders’ field season in 2015, is not yet completely excavated. Our work focused on a careful cleaning of its rectangular shaft – north-south aligned, it measures c. 2.60 x 1.80m with a depth of more than 5.20m. Several flood deposits were exposed and slight differences in the filling material will allow a detailed reconstruction of the use-life of the tomb. Obviously, there were several phases of burials, plundering and abandonment spanning the period from the late 18th Dynasty to Napatan times.

Besides a number of ceramics, including intact vessels, a total of 146 finds was recorded from the shaft filling of tomb 26. The majority are beads in different shapes and made of various materials (jasper, carnelian, faience etc.). The most important objects from the shaft filling are three sandstone fragments giving the name and title of the jdnw of Kush Hornakht who was active during the reign of Ramesses II (Kitchen 1980, 117-118; Budka 2001, 210-212 with further literature).

Several finds indicate a Ramesside burial in tomb 26. Among them there is the scarab SAC5 121, found just above the base of the shaft. This small intact piece made of steatite (17 x 8 x 13 mm) shows on the reverse a seated Maat, a recumbent sphinx with a double-crown and a winged cobra.

SAC5 121a (thumbnail)Parallels are known from the New Kingdom, especially the 19th Dynasty. A nice example was found in Amrit in Syria and is now in the British Museum (BM E48260). To the best of my knowledge, SAC5 121 is the first scarab with this motif found on Sai Island (see Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, pls. 115-118 for other scarabs from SAC5).

SAC5 120a (thumbnail)Another scarab, SAC5 120, of smaller size (12 x 6 x 9 mm) and perhaps also made of steatite, was discovered in the upper levels of the shaft filling of tomb 26. The reading of its reverse is not entirely clear, as is its date. To the left, a mn-sign above an n-sign, above two small signs, perhaps a sun-disc and stroke suggest a reading as “Jmn-Ra”. Is the boat-shaped sign to the right maybe just an irregular version of the j-hieroglyph (reed sign)? Or is it something completely different? Any suggestions are highly welcome! For me, the scarab SAC5 120 seems to post-date the New Kingdom. A number of Napatan vessels from the upper levels of the shaft filling suggest a use of tomb 26 during this period and the scarab might belong to this later phase of burials.

Prior to excavating the burial chamber of tomb 26, it is of course much too early to reconstruct a clear sequence of burials – nevertheless, the interesting material from the shaft allows us a to suggest a complex period of use covering several centuries.


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.

Kitchen 1980 = K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions. Historical and Biographical, Vol. III. Oxford 1980.

Minault-Gout/Thill 2012 = A. Minault-Gout, F. Thill, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5). Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 69. Cairo 2012.

Ramesside blue-painted pottery from Sai Island

One of the most interesting results of the 2014 and 2015 field seasons on Sai is the presence of early Ramesside material within the town. A number of pottery sherds from SAV1 West are datable to the 19th Dynasty – among them there are examples of the famous Blue-painted ware.

Blue painted pottery is among the best known wares from Ancient Egypt. Its main characteristics are the blue colour, a large range of decorative, mostly floral motives, fancy shapes, a rather short lifespan (approximately 1430-1140 BC, from the mid-18th Dynasty until late Ramesside times). The key finding places of blue painted pottery are urban centres and capitals like Thebes, Memphis, Amarna and Gurob. New excavations at settlement and temple sites as well as in cemeteries and cultic centres (e.g. at Qantir, Saqqara, South Abydos, Umm el-Qaab, and Elephantine) have produced additional material that underscores a much broader distribution and also a great variability in use (cf. Budka 2008, Budka 2013).

Blue-painted sherds from SAV1 West chiefly feature linear patterns comparable to the material at Qantir (Aston 1998, 354-419) and can consequently be dated to the Ramesside period. They also find close parallels at Umm el-Qaab/Abydos and Elephantine, again originating from the 19th Dynasty (Budka 2013).

Fragments of an early 19th Dynasty blue-painted vessel from SAV1 W with linear decoration.

Fragments of an early 19th Dynasty blue-painted vessel from SAV1 W with linear decoration.

A particular interesting piece is a fragment from the shoulder (or neck?) of a large vessel – it was found in an area of Square 1 in SAV1 West, where we recorded a sequence of archaeological levels from the early 19th dynasty down to the mid-18th Dynasty.

The small fragment of a blue-painted amphora with vertical grooves and its context.

The small fragment of a blue-painted amphora with vertical grooves and its context.

The blue-painted pottery fragment shows a special style of decoration: vertical grooves or the fluting of a zone around the neck and/or shoulder. This style is rare at Amarna (Rose 2007, 28-29), but well known from Ramesside contexts at Qantir (Aston 1998, 414), Saqqara, Thebes and Elephantine (Budka 2013). The famous amphora MFA 64.9 with applied decoration and a lid also falls into this group. Similar ornamental vessels were recently discovered at Elephantine.

All of the blue-painted fragments with fluting found in stratified contexts on Elephantine can be associated with the 19th Dynasty, most likely with the reigns of Seti I and Ramesses II. I would propose a similar date for the small fragment from Sai – this corresponds also to its stratigraphic find position in SAV1 West.

Future fieldwork in SAV1 West will hopefully help to contextualise this significant piece further.


Aston 1998 = D.A. Aston, Die Keramik des Grabungsplatzes Q I. Teil 1, Corpus of Fabrics, Wares and Shapes (Forschungen in der Ramses-Stadt. Die Grabungen des Pelizaeus-Museums Hildesheim in Qantir-Pi-Ramesse 1), Mainz 1998.

Budka 2008 = J. Budka, VIII. Weihgefäße und Festkeramik des Neuen Reiches von Elephantine, in G. Dreyer et al., Stadt und Tempel von Elephantine, 33./34./35. Grabungsbericht, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäolog­ischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo 64, 2008, 106–132.

Budka 2013 = J. Budka, Festival Pottery of New Kingdom Egypt: Three Case Studies, in Functional Aspects of Egyptian Ceramics within their Archaeological Context. Proceedings of a Conference held at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, Cambridge, July 24th – July 25th, 2009, ed. by Bettina Bader & Mary F. Ownby, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 217, Leuven 2013, 185–213

Rose 2007 = P. Rose, The Eighteenth Dynasty Pottery Corpus from Amarna, Egypt Exploration Society Excavation Memoir 83, London 2007.


Sai during the 19th Dynasty: a brief update and outlook

A remarkable object, SAV 002, of possible 19th Dynasty date from Sai Island was already discussed in this blog – it seems to present some kind of door sealing with a cartouche stamp of [Men]-maat-Ra (Seti I), finding close parallels at Amara West.

In a paper just published in Egitto et Vincino Oriente 37, 2014 (Budka 2015), I stated in relation to this piece: “Future fieldwork might allow a better understanding of the relations between Sai and Amara West in the early Ramesside period – SAV 002 and its parallels from Amara West can be regarded as important hints for contemporaneous administrative activities at both sites.”

Writing this back in summer 2014, I was of course not expecting to see this hope for further evidence coming true already in the very next season!

Although we are far away from understanding the complete picture, the 2015 field season provided multiple proof for the presence of early Ramesside officials and corresponding activities on Sai:

1)      At SAV1 West, a back-filling in the Northeastern corner of Square 1 could be dated to the early 19th Dynasty. It covers the remains of a small oven room where several phases of use were documented. Obviously the room was built during the mid-18th Dynasty and in use until the late 18th Dynasty – the Ramesside material implies a possible abandonment of the structure.

2)      Scattered ceramics datable to the Ramesside period were also found at SAV1 East – in disturbed contexts above Building A.

3)      Finally, SAC5 has yielded both worked stones and ceramics datable to the 19th Dynasty. Two new inscribed monuments of the jdnw n Kush Hornakht are especially relevant – this high official was active during the reign of Ramesses II, well attested by monuments found especially in Abri and Sai.

The new finds allow us to tentatively assume that the stela set up by Seti I on Sai which was discovered during the early French excavations (Vercoutter 1972; el-Saady 2011), is much more than random evidence, but actually reflects the ongoing importance of Sai as (some kind of) Egyptian administrative centre. Field research in both Sai and Amara West will continue to provide more and more pieces to reconstruct this complex puzzle.


Budka 2015 = J. Budka, The New Kingdom in Nubia: New results from current excavations on Sai Island, Egitto e Vicino Oriente 37, 2014 [2015], 55-87.

el-Saady 2011 = H. el-Saady, Egypt in Nubia during the Reign of Seti I, in M. Collier, S. Snape (ed.), Ramesside Studies in Honour of K.A. Kitchen, Bolton 2011, 433-437.

Vercoutter 1972 = J. Vercoutter, Une campagne militaire de Séti en Haute Nubie. Stèle de Saï S. 579, «Revue d’Égyptologie» 24, 1972, 201-208.

AcrossBorders’ first public appearance in Munich







With our move from Vienna to Munich and all the logistic and administrative things of the last weeks, Sai Island seems like ages ago, but in reality only 5 weeks have passed since we left Sudan! Especially because of this sensed long distance, I am very happy that Sudan and archaeological work there is the focus of an upcoming event here in Munich. Tomorrow’s lecture event dedicated to Sudan in the Egyptian Museum Munich is also the perfect opportunity to present AcrossBorders’ most recent results to an audience in our new German home. I am very grateful for this chance to introduce my project and to talk about latest findings, new questions and planned tasks. Fieldwork within the New Kingdom town of Sai in 2014 and 2015 will be the focus, but I will also mention our newly discovered tomb in cemetery SAC5.

To illustrate the potential of tomb 26, I will show some of the nice complete pottery vessels from the shaft bottom. Together with the marl clay pilgrim flasks and amphorae, one almost complete stone vessel, SAC5 212, was found in the southeastern corner.

Stone vessel SAC5 212 found at the bottom of the shaft of tomb 26.

Stone vessel SAC5 212 found at the bottom of the shaft of tomb 26.

This clustering opposite of the entrance to the burial chamber already suggested that the finds are remains of a burial which was removed from the chamber and left in the shaft during one of the phases of reuse (or possibly plundering?). One finding from the burial chamber supports the assumption that the remains on the shaft bottom were originally deposited in the chamber: A small rim fragment of the almost complete stone vessel SAC5 212 was discovered in the debris just inside the burial chamber.

Post-excavation processing was unfortunately slowed down because of the transfer of the project, but I am positive that we will soon have results from the ongoing studies of the ceramics, small finds, landscape and micromorphology!

AcrossBorders 2015: looking back at a fruitful season

Thanks to the great help and support by our Sudanese colleagues, everything was arranged in the last days here in Khartoum and a set of samples is waiting to be exported; Martin and me are flying out early tomorrow morning – as the last team members of AcrossBorders’ 2015 field season.

Looking back, it’s a challenge to summarize these ten weeks in the field on Sai Island. The 2015 field season resulted in various important insights and added valuable information about the evolution of the Pharaonic town of Sai Island and its development from the early 18th Dynasty to the Ramesside era. The four most important results can be briefly summarized as follows:

(1)     The features unearthed in the southern part of SAV1 East pre-date “Building A” and probably belong to the early 18th Dynasty. With feature 57, a terrace wall set against the natural gravel deposit, affinities to the building technique of the Kerma culture – dry-stone walls with galus/earth– can be noted. All in all, these southern remains mirror our findings in 2013 and can be interpreted as the northern extensions of the area excavated by Michel Azim around temple A. A dating to the very early New Kingdom (Ahmose? Amenhotep I?) is most likely.

Early 18th Dynasty remains along the southern edge of SAV1 East; including the terracing wall feature 57.

Early 18th Dynasty remains along the southern edge of SAV1 East; including the terracing wall feature 57.

(2)     “Building A” at SAV1 East provides a close parallel to the so-called residence SAF2 in the southern part of the Pharaonic town, probably also regarding its function. For the first time, large sets of seal impressions were discovered in the Pharaonic town of Sai, allowing reconstructing patterns of the Egyptian administration in Upper Nubia. The recent finds illustrate very well the importance of Sai as administrative centre during the time of Thutmose III, but probably already during the reign of Hatshepsut.

(3)     The earliest phase of occupation within the town enclosure at SAV1 West is contemporaneous to the building of the town wall and dates to the mid-18th Dynasty. There is clear negative evidence for an early 18th Dynasty presence at the site. It has to be highlighted that we also have hints for Ramesside activities at SAV1 West.

Nothing predating the town enclosure was found in SAV1 West - the earliest exposed structures are contemporaneous to the town wall.

Nothing predating the town enclosure was found in SAV1 West – the earliest exposed structures are contemporaneous to the town wall.

(4)     More New Kingdom tombs are still unexcavated in the southern part of the major pyramid cemetery SAC5 – this is clearly illustrated by tomb 26. The findings in tomb 26 testify that there were burials during the 19th Dynasty – of high officials like the jdnw of Kush Hornakht. This is of great importance for understanding the relationship between Sai and Amara West in this era and might be of historical significance for Upper Nubia in a broader sense.

The shaft of tomb 26 yielded a lot of interesting finds attesting to a multiple use!

The shaft of tomb 26 yielded a lot of interesting finds attesting to a multiple use!

Once again I would like to thank everybody who contributed to this very successful 2015 season – all international team members, all colleagues from NCAM and especially our inspector Huda Magzoub who did a fantastic job as usual, all of the house staff (Sidahmed, Abdelfatah, Osama, Moatez and Ahmed), the field staff and of course the local communities on Sai. Looking much forward to the post-excavation processing of this rich set of data, samples and finds and of course to the next season 2016!


The success of the 2015 season was only possibly with great team work!

Tracing Ramesside burials in SAC 5

Since a few days we have the confirmation that the burial chamber of tomb 26 opens to the north. Today, the excavation of the shaft was completed, reaching a depth of more than 5.20 m.

Cleaning remains on top of the shaft base of tomb 26.

Cleaning remains on top of the shaft base of tomb 26.

The filling material of the shaft was highly interesting – especially in the lowest level just above the shaft base, two scarabs, a number of complete vessels as well as some stones (pieces of architecture) were found. Three nicely decorated, complete Marl clay pilgrim flasks are especially noteworthy, found together with other pottery vessels (especially storage vessels) and one complete stone vessel.

Three almost complete Pilgrim flasks were found together against the east wall of the shaft.

Three almost complete Pilgrim flasks were found together against the east wall of the shaft.

Since these finds were clustering along the eastern wall of the shaft and in particular in the southeastern corner, the most likely explanation is that remains of a burial were removed from the chamber in the north and left in the shaft during one of the phases of reuse (or possibly plundering?).

Probably the most important finds so far are two sandstone fragments with the name and title of the jdnw of Kush Hornakht. This official of the Egyptian administration in Upper Nubia is already well attested from Sai Island and was active during the reign of Ramesses II. Several of the vessels from the shaft of tomb 26 are datable to the 19th Dynasty, suggesting that the inscribed pieces actually belonged to one of the burial phases. Of course everything has to wait until we checked also the burial chamber and understand the complete picture of tomb 26 and its complex use life, but for now it is possible to say that we found traces of early Ramesside burials in SAC 5. This is extremely exciting and opens much room for new thoughts about the importance of Sai during the Nineteenth Dynasty and its relation to the now flourishing site of Amara West.

The New Kingdom town of Sai: end of week 4

It has been a very busy and challenging week – very hot and loads of biting nimiti-flies in the first half, now a bit cooler and windy. Giulia D’Ercole, Huda Magzoub and me went to Kerma for our very successful pottery workshop, bringing together a number of colleagues working at other New Kingdom sites. During the two days we were gone from Sai, Martin Fera, Stefanie Juch and Jördis Vieth supervised the cleaning of SAF2, the so-called governor’s residence. Despite the splendid results of the Laser Scanning Campaign in 2014, we were aiming for a better understanding of this key building in the southern part of the town, especially its pavements. Ingrid Adenstedt, presently busy working from back home in Vienna, will include our new SFM model from this season for her general reconstruction of the Pharaonic remains in the town area.

Martin Fera - fighting nimiti and taking SFM photographs of SAF2.

Martin Fera – fighting nimiti and taking SFM photographs of SAF2.

In the magazine, Giulia was busy collecting new samples for our iNAA analysis – the current focus is on what we assume to be Egyptian Nile clay wares, produced in Egypt and imported to Sai. We sampled already a number of cooking pots in 2014 – now various types of dishes, plates and small beakers will be tested.

Ken Griffin and Meg Gundlach continued their fantastic job of organizing the storage of finds after the registration of each object – everything from small faience beads to re-used sherds, figurines, curious wooden objects, abundant stone tools to architectural pieces.

At SAV1 East, work focused on Square 4 and 4a. As reported in an earlier post, we found new sections of walls in this southern part of the area. Today a large area still covered with what seems to be an early 18th Dynasty pavement was unearthed in the southwestern corner. We are very exciting about this good state of preservation and will continue in this part of SAV1 East in the upcoming week!

New sections of mud brick walls and remains of a nice pavement in the western part of SAV1 East.

New sections of mud brick walls and remains of a nice pavement in the western part of SAV1 East.

At SAV1 West, Martin Fera and Stefanie Juch focused on the eastern half of Square 1S. In the last two days, we managed to join this new trench with Square 1, excavated in 2014 by removing the latters southern baulk according to its stratigraphy. The deposits and findings in both squares closely resemble each other and allow to a much better understanding of the occupation phases within the town.

Present status of eastern halfs of Square 1 and Square 1S in SAV1 West.

Present status of eastern half of Square 1 and Square 1S in SAV1 West.

At present, the dating of the exposed mud brick structures sitting on stratigraphic layers and cut by later pits is still unclear – there are hints for a date much later than the 18th Dynasty. However, checking today’s pottery from Square 1, there was quite a pleasant surprise: the uppermost filling, still covering what seems to be the early occupation (with several phases), yielded a significant amount of early 19th Dynasty sherds! This is extremely exciting! We know of course about activities under Seti I on Sai, but until today these were scattered and fragmented finds, archaeological proof of a continuous occupation is still lacking…  Much potential and many open questions for our next week of work!

Furthermore, during this week Miranda Semple, the project’s micromorphologist, started sampling with a focus on SAV1 West. Especially promising are samples from the small “wall street” running along the town enclosure wall potentially highlighting daily activities such as waste but also giving information about the maintenance of the street etc.

Simultaneously with the excavation, the first micromorphological samples were taken this week.

Simultaneously with the excavation, the first micromorphological samples were taken this week.

Samples from inside the newly exposed buildings will complement these street remains and hopefully help us to understand the very complex formation processes at SAV1 West.

Sayantani Neogi, the project’s geoarchaeologist, was very busy these days with research on the sandstone cliff along the eastern side of the town and the question of a possible landing place during the New Kingdom. Her first observations are already highly interesting and important for reconstructing the past landscape.

All in all, the first four weeks of AcrossBorders’ 2015 field season were extremely productive and have yielded significant new data – confirming results from the last seasons, but also giving room to new thoughts and innovative lines of research.

With kith and kin…

Having just read an intriguing article by Stuart Thyson Smith (Smith 2013), I would like to share some thoughts about the inhabitants of Egyptian sites in Nubia during the New Kingdom.

Talking about the range of people typically present in fortresses, Smith rightly states (2013, 269): “Fortress inhabitants usually included both women and children, who are typically neglected in favor of the adult men who performed the more obvious military, political and economic roles associated with these specialized communities.” Data from cemeteries and texts illustrate the presence of women and children in the communities of fortresses and fortified towns. Archaeological evidence from the settlements themselves provides further clues towards understanding the complex composition of the population. Smith presents his careful assessment of the demography, gender and ethnicity at Askut and stresses several aspects of identity issues in archaeology.

Interaction with local peoples is probably attested by the presence of Nubian ceramics at the major Egyptian sites – especially by Nubian cooking ware which could be connected with Nubian women. However, pottery and the coexistence of Egyptian and Nubian types and wares are not straightforward to explain but could reflect various aspects, e.g. a temporary or local fashion or indeed the cultural identity of their users. It becomes even more challenging to find traces of children in the archaeological record. Smith (2013, 274-275) has stressed useful ethnographic parallels and mentions gaming pieces as possible children’s toys and several productive activities like pottery making where children were probably involved.

Very much in line with Smith’s work, AcrossBorders is currently testing the potential of the analysis of material culture to inform for the question of a ‘Nubian’ or ‘Egyptian’ lifestyle within a New Kingdom fortified town like Sai. The identity of the occupants is central to this investigation and must include the complete population which was much more complex and dynamic than just adult men sent from Egypt.

Besides the archaeological finds like pottery and small finds from settlements, a group of inscribed door lintels and door jambs from Egyptian houses provides valuable information. Female persons are mentioned by names and titles on these monuments, indicating their real presence at the specific sites (Budka 2001, 74-75). One door jamb discovered during the 32nd season of the joint mission of the German Archaeological Institute Cairo and the Swiss Institute Cairo at Elephantine is particularly interesting: It belongs to a Ramesside official with the name of Hori (Budka and von Pilgrim 2008). His wife Nofret-irj is mentioned on another door jamb from Elephantine and a seated double statue of the couple is now kept in the Louvre, Paris (A 68).

Statue of Hori & Nofret-irj, Louvre A68.

Statue of Hori & Nofret-irj, Louvre A68.

In this particular case we know, that Hori was coming from Thebes and lived in Elephantine for a certain time span. Common sense tells us that it is unlikely that officials like Hori went to their short-term contracts outside of their hometown without their families: They would have brought already existing wives and children with them. This is also supported by numerous rock inscriptions and stelae in the area of the First Cataract and in Nubia. At Sai Island, a Ramesside door lintel shows a seated couple as house owners; names and titles of wives of officials during the 18th Dynasty are still lacking from this kind of monument but might be unearthed in the future.

In conclusion, besides the very likely fact that Egyptian officials sent to Nubia in the New Kingdom found new partners (including indigenous Nubians) there and started a family in towns like Sai, we should not forget the possibility that men on duty were also accompanied by their already existing family. Individual choices whether an Egyptian wife and children came along on a short-term mission are likely and might become more visible with further work on the complete set of data from settlement sites.


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

Budka and von Pilgrim 2008 = J. Budka and B. von Pilgrim 2008. V. Bauteile des Wohnsitzes einer thebanischen Beamtenfamilie in Elephantine, in: G. Dreyer et al., Stadt und Tempel von Elephantine. 33./34./35. Grabungsbericht, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo 64, 2008, 88–97.

Smith 2013 = St. T. Smith, The Garrison and Inhabitants: A View from Askut, in: F. Jesse and C. Vogel (eds.), The Power of Walls – Fortifications in Ancient Northeastern Africa, Köln 2013, 269–291

Seti I at Sai Island?

During our 2014 field season on Sai Island, working in the New Kingdom town, we also devoted some time to re-organize the finds from the early French exploration of the town under Jean Vercoutter, now stored in the magazine of the French digging house. There are beautiful and important highlights among them complementing our recent findings at SAV1 East and SAV1 West.

It was a very nice coincidence that while I was just working on one particular puzzling piece we received a visit by the Amara West team directed by Neal Spencer (British Museum). I was keen on showing them this object as it seemed to have links to Amara West and the founder of this temple town, Seti I – and it came even better: they had just found something very similar during the current fieldwork!

Chiara Salvador wrote a very interesting post about the Amara object with several pictures.

The piece of mud with impressions of cartouche shaped stamps from SAF5.

The piece of mud with impressions of cartouche shaped stamps from SAF5.

The Sai object nicely compares to the one from Amara West – unfortunately both are fragmented and parts are missing, leaving some room for doubts and discussion. It is a piece of mud with an almost triangular section, two flat surfaces at the back and a front side showing impressions of large cartouche shaped stamps. According to the French digging diary it was found together with a second fragment on December 16 1973 in the Northwestern corner of a structure labelled SAF5 in the southern part of the Pharaonic town. Unfortunately further information about the find context is not available.

Overview of the general find spot of the mud fragment: SAF5 in the New Kingdom town.

Overview of the general find spot of the mud fragment: SAF5 in the New Kingdom town.

The building complex SAF5 is still not well understood – it obviously had several building phases and its present state is very fragmented, especially on the western side, having been largely flattened during Ottoman times. Vercoutter proposed a function as door sealing for the stamped piece and this seems indeed the most likely interpretation, corresponding to what our colleagues from Amara West assume for their pieces. It is definitely not a stamped mud brick, but a flattened piece of mud with several stamp impressions on one side, one above the other (only the lower edge of the cartouche is preserved of the upper stamp) and a peculiar, almost rectangular impression on one of the back sides.

Like at Amara, the impression on SAV002 has only survived in the upper part: The sun disk (Ra) is clearly readable as well as a seated goddess Maat, with a feather on her head, holding an ankh-sign in front of her. The lower part of the cartouche stamp is missing – excactly as for the Amara West piece, it could have been Maat-[ka]-ra (Hatshepsut), [Neb]-maat-Ra (Amenhotep III) or [Men]-maat-Ra (Seti I). Hatshepsut is not yet attested on Sai Island, leaving Amenhotep III and Seti I as the more likely candidates. Amenhotep III was very active on Sai, work continued in his name at the temple for Amun-Re (Temple A), attested by inscribed blocks and other evidence. Seti I is known to have founded Amara West as administrative center of Kush, possibly shifting activities from Sai towards the new neighbouring site. Two stelae refer to military activites of the king in Nubia – one from Amara West and the other was set up in Sai where it was discovered during the early French excavations (Vercoutter 1972; el-Saady 2011)! The Abri-Delgo reach with its rich mineral resources, especially gold, was for sure of interest to Seti. The Nauri decree mentiones an as yet unidentified fortress of the king of whom building activity is also attested at Sesebi (cf. el-Saady 2011: 436). As the Sai stela indicates, it is unlikely that the island was completly abandoned during the early 19th Dynasty. At present we do have little evidence for occupation– a small number of ceramics from the town and some objects from the cemeteries date to the early 19th Dynasty, most probably to the reigns of Seti I and Ramesses II.

The relation between Sai and Amara West in the early Ramesside period are essential open questions of our current research – connecting finds from old and new excavations at both sites has much potential and promises new insights in the upcoming years!

All in all, especially considering the exciting new finds at Amara West, I do think that reconstructing the mud impression on the piece from SAF5 as Men-Maat-Ra, thus Seti I, is the most probable solution. Further interpretation and contextualizing the royal stamp from SAF5 must await future work, both in the field and the magazine, and continuous cooperation with the team currently re-excavating the Ramesside center of Kush .


el-Saady 2011 = Hassan el-Saady, Egypt in Nubia during the Reign of Seti I, in: Mark Collier/Steven Snape (eds.), Ramesside Studies in Honour of K.A. Kitchen, Bolton 2011, 433-437

Vercoutter 1972 = J. Vercoutter, Une camapagne militaire de Séti en Haute Nubie. Stèle de Saï S. 579, in: RdE 24, 1972, 201-208, pl. 17.