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.


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)

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!

Arabic Version of the Nubiin Wordlist

One month ago, we presented the open-access, free version of a Short Archaeological Wordlist in English, Sudani Arabic and Nobiin which was compiled by the expert of Nilo-Saharan languages, Helmut Satzinger. This wordlist is one of the by-products of the archaeological fieldwork of the AcrossBorders project on Sai Island.

Today, I am delighted to announce that the Arabic translation of this wordlist is now also online!

Many thanks go here to two very dear friends and colleagues who have worked with me at fieldwork projects in both Sudan and Egypt. Huda Magzoub kindly translated my preface and Helmut’s introduction.

Huda kindly translated our text!

Hassan Ramadan was responsible for the final checks – together with Veronica Hinterhuber who deserves loads of thanks for preparing this new layouted version of the wordlist.

Hassan and Vroni did a great job with the final layout!

Since we hope that this short collection of useful terms in Nubiin will help to deepen one’s understanding of Mahas Nubia, I am quite convinced that the new Arabic version will be well received. Thanks again to everyone involved – alf shukur and órosee!

Agréeskatti Helmut Satzinger!

Every archaeologist working in northern Sudan has experienced this: puzzled looks by Nubian workmen addressed with some obviously un­comprehensive instructions and, vice-versa, confusion because the workmen are speaking something very difficult to understand… well – in the Land of the Mahas people, Nobiin is of course frequently found at archaeological excavations! This may therefore cause quite some problems, especially for excavators used to learn the colloquial language ‘on site’ in various regions, e.g. in Upper Egypt.

With my background of excavating in Egypt since 1997 and starting work on Sai Island in 2011, I quickly noted down as my personal wish to assimi­late new vocabulary necessary for the work in northern Sudan. Back in my first season on Sai, I even had problems with such basics as addressing my beloved and numerous pottery sherds for the workmen because fukhār was not un­derstandable for all.

I am very proud to present today an open-access, free version of a Short Archaeological Wordlist in English, Sudani Arabic and Nobiin which was compiled by a distinguished Egyptological colleague and expert of Nilo-Saharan languages, Helmut Satzinger. This wordlist is one of the by-products of the archaeological fieldwork of the AcrossBorders project on Sai Island. Within the framework of my project, Helmut joined the fieldwork in January to February 2017.

In these weeks, he compiled the wordlist which is hopefully of use for all coming to the beautiful region of Mahas Nubia. As it will be obvious from the start, not all terms used in the archaeological field or the related camp find correlates in Nobiin. Nevertheless, I believe that this short collection of useful terms helps to deepen one’s understanding of the re­gion.

Today is a very special day – last year, we were celebrating Helmut’s birthday with a boat trip to one of the most beautiful islands in the neighbourhood of Sai in Sudan – today, I am proudly presenting the final, layouted version of the wordlist as a small birthday present.

Happy birthday dear Helmut and many thanks again for everything! May there be many more interesting and happy years full of linguistic challenges around Ancient Egyptian, Arabic, Coptic and Nobiin!

New recruitment of AcrossBorders

I am delighted to announce a new recruitment and to welcome a fresh team member of AcrossBorders: Lucia Sedlakova, BA student of LMU Munich, has worked in the field on Sai the last two seasons. She is now joining the team working on pottery and small finds, focusing in particular on the digitalisation of the original drawings and preparation of plates for the final publication.

Lucia has great drawing skills and her beautiful illustrations of various types of small finds from Sai are of high quality.

A very warm welcome and thanks for strengthening AcrossBorders in its final year!





P.S.: I am proud and happy to stress that Lucia’s position in the team was enabled by the successful application of a former team member – Vanessa Becker received a PhD position in my hometown Vienna and is therefore leaving Munich – all the very best and good luck, well deserved!

An early start…

Meeting in Munich today. I’m on the train with my colleague Sayantani Neogi on the way to Stanstead Airport and its 4.45 am. It’s still dark but warm.  I have had 3 hours sleep. It was a little bit stressful because on my way out I couldn’t find a lock for my bicycle which I need to lock my bike at the station in Cambridge or someone will pinch it. Anyway, I found it eventually and very quickly rushed to the station where I only just made the train in time. Sayantani was waiting for me but hiding just to get me back for being late! We travel usually with Ryanair, which takes us to Memmingen although they advertise it as Munich West. It’s actually two hours from Munich. From there we get the bus into Munich city center. We are having a little meeting ourselves anticipating the sort of thing that might come up and reviewing all the things we have been doing since the last time we were in Munich.

We carry out our soil thin section analyses in the McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology, Cambridge University. At the moment we are excited because we have nearly got our hands on the thin sections from the 2016 field season at Sai which are being manufactured by Tonko, our lab technician. We had a go ourselves at hand finishing some of the thin sections, because the perfect thickness is required for good analyses. We love micromorphology! Because we deal with soils which are very soft (unless and until it is a lump of hard clay),  it takes a lot of care and quite some time from taking the samples and transporting them making sure that they remain in one piece. The important thing is to keep the samples in one block to retain the integrity of the sediments. What we are interested in is not just to identify the properties of the sample like the micro-artefacts but also to understand how all the different components relate to each other. We are lucky to be a part of AcrossBorders which is giving us the opportunity to investigate a New Kingdom town. We spend a lot of time at the microscope discussing our observations. Often we are in some disagreement over the interpretation which can be fun for the other people in the lab; however the noise levels aren’t helpful for their concentration.

I’m now in a rather expensive cafe in Stanstead Airport. The amount of people catching airplanes seems to be growing every month, so it’s hard to find a seat while the Gate information is released. There it is, Gate 29. Must dash. We’ve arrived in Memmingen and now to get the bus to Munich which takes about one and half hours. Hope I don’t fall asleep…… will update later!

Start of year 2 at LMU Munich

With April 2016, the second year of AcrossBorders with the LMU Munich as host institution has started! Having just returned from fieldwork and our various home bases, we are all very happy about the new location of AcrossBorders’ office. After almost one year struggling with a “temporary solution”, we are now located in the centre of Munich, within a range of less than 1 km to the Institute of Egyptology and the Egyptian Museum, thus very close to relevant libraries and our colleagues. Life and work should now be much easier – insha’allah!


I am also delighted that Meg Gundlach, our registrar since 2015, has now officially joined AcrossBorders as PostDOC team member. She will concentrate on the analysis and publication of the small finds from our excavations at Sai and Elephantine. Luckily, there’s currently perfect spring weather – thus a very warm welcome to Meg in every respect: Servus in Minga und herzlich willkommen im Team!

Special mid-season thanks

Currently in our 4th week of fieldwork, we unfortunately had to say already good-bye to two of our team members who travelled back to Khartoum today: Kenneth Griffin, a Lecturer in Egyptology at Swansea University, was here as an external expert. As last year, Ken was, together with Meg Gundlach, registering all of our objects – quite a task with the numerous finds from SAV1 East and SAV1 West (apologies that there were yet no new seals Ken loves so much – hopefully we’ll find some in the next weeks :-)).
Being very grateful to Ken who did a great job as always, I would also like to express my thanks to Swansea University and all the colleagues who enabled him to join AcrossBorders again – much appreciated!

The second person who left us today after a productive stay was a newcomer to the project: Roa Abdelazim joined us as a trainee from NCAM – coming for the first time in her life to Sai Island!

Our two happy NCAM pottery ladies: our inspector Huda helping Roa with all the pottery fragments.

Our two happy NCAM pottery ladies: our inspector Huda helping Roa with all the pottery fragments.

Being interested and specialised in conservation, Roa spent 2 of her 3 weeks on Sai working on the pottery from tomb 26. With amazing results! The sherds from the lowest shaft filling and the uppermost layers of the chamber nicely match and she was able to reconstruct 8 almost complete vessels, among it a very nice Marl clay amphora. I am confident that we will find more matching pieces during the next weeks.

One of the vessels Roa was able to reconstruct out of small fragments!

One of the vessels Roa was able to reconstruct out of small fragments!

I am very thankful to Roa and I hope she enjoyed her stay – despite the nimiti and our very limited skills in Arabic conversation – as much as we were happy to have her here!

Hope to welcome both, Ken and Roa, soon again – next season insha’allah!

Reinforcement for the study of the New Kingdom prosopography of Sai

With a few days delay – having just returned from Egypt – it’s my great pleasure to introduce a new team member of AcrossBorders: Johannes Auenmüller joined the project with October 1. I am especially delighted, knowing him since many years from Berlin and because Johannes brings much experience in settlement archaeology, having been a member of the mission at Elephantine Island and currently working also at Amara West.

Johannes will soon introduce his work on this blog, but here are some brief information about his vita: he studied Egyptology, Classical Archaeology and Proto- and Prehistoric Archaeology at Free University Berlin. Johannes obtained his master’s degree with a study about the sociology of Egyptian elite tomb imagery in the Old Kingdom. He was then awarded a scholarship of the Berlin Cluster of Excellence TOPOI for his doctoral dissertation that aims at describing and understanding the territoriality and space-related identity of the Egyptian elite of the New Kingdom. Afterwards he conducted archaeological and archaeometric research funded by the Fritz-Thyssen-Stiftung on a unique object ensemble of casting moulds for producing god’s figures of bronze at the Egyptian Museum of Bonn University. Since April 2015 he is Research Associate at the Institute of Egyptology and Coptology of Münster University where he is responsible for the coordination of the research centre ‘Old Sudan‘. In the context of his position within AcrossBorders he will be working on the New Kingdom prosopography of Sai and environs.

Johannes also held several lectureships at the universities of Berlin, Leipzig and Bonn. Alongside his long-run archaeological work in Austria, he was moreover member of the excavation teams at Elephantine Island and Dahshur in Egypt. At present, his archaeological work focuses on the pharaonic town Amara West in Sudan where he is member of the excavation project of the British Museum London.

We are all delighted to welcome Johannes as new team member of AcrossBorders in Munich and are much looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.

New administrative support for AcrossBorders

I am very happy to introduce a new team member of AcrossBorders: Stephanie Plank started today her new job as team assistant. Her responsibilities include providing administrative support to the PI, planning and scheduling team meetings and helping with communication and correspondence. First of all, Stephanie will be busy with the accounts and financial management, helping me to prepare financial reports to the ERCEA.

20150901_124132_resized-1We are all were thankful – financial and administrative tasks need much time and require special knowledge we as scientists cannot offer at a very high level! But first of all, we are happy to have found among more than 35 applicants a new team member who is not only interested in numbers, but also in the scientific aspects of the project and its international team! Looking much forward to a fruitful collaboration!