Highlights of the 2017 season: the New Kingdom town

Besides our very successful work in Tomb 26 with the undisturbed burials from the 18th Dynasty, our final season in the New Kingdom town, excavating both at SAV1 West and SAV1 East, was also very successful.

Another storage installation at SAV1 West… featuring a royal inscription on a re-used stone block!

Excavating the storage pit and cleaning surface area for another cellar – located in the northeastern corner of our excavation square…

Sieving the material from the bottom of the storage pit: undisturbed mid-18th Dynasty context!

New mud brick structures and loads of ceramics from SAV1 West.

Taking micromorphological samples in the “wall street” during “nimiti happy hour”…

Starting work at SAV1 East – aiming to clarify the dimensions of in situ-schist pavement.

Finding more schist – and: one large cellar!

And discovering another large cellar with its vault still in situ…

Fighting against nimiti and time pressure!

Finishing up what was the highlight of all 5 seasons in the Egyptian town on Sai!

Thanks again to all team members – has been a great season!

Summary of week 5, Tomb 26

We made very good progress working in Tomb 26 this week. Excavation and cleaning continues in the western, “hidden” Chamber 5 and in the northern, lower Chamber 6.

In Chamber 5, the southern third of the chamber has been cleaned, revealing 2 in situ burials in extended position, oriented East-West. The second burial was badly smashed below debris from the roof and partly covered with collapsed plaster. Ceramic vessels and other finds had been placed at both the feet and the head – the most remarkable  new find from this week is a nicely worked heart scarab! This piece is still left in situ, as are all the other finds and human remains – if space allows it, we would like of course a final SFM documentation of all burials in the chamber. A minimum of 4 more burials are still waiting for us!

Chamber 5, note the collapsed plaster.

Chamber 6 is getting more and more exciting! We have finally reached the base of the trench giving access to this chamber – the chamber itself is only 80-100 cm high and with an east-west extension of 220-230 cm quite small. However, and these are the big news from this week, large enough to hold 2 wooden coffins and 2 burials!

Chamber 6 with remains of two burials placed in wooden coffins.

The remains of the coffins, placed with the head to the west, parallel to the side walls, are very fragile – decayed wood, faded plaster remains and traces of blue, white, yellow and red were documented. Best preserved are the head parts of the two coffins. In each of them, the skull is a bit misplaced – possibly because of all the sediment/water floods that filled the chamber until the top.

As already announced earlier this week, a small cluster of miniature vessels and more flower pots were used as burial gifts in Chamber 6. The biggest discovery, however, was made yesterday, just before lunch time: between the two coffin heads, two stone vessels and a broken flower pot appeared a few days ago. While cleaning them and the outline of the northern coffin, I found another object made in stone: a beautiful stone shabti, lying on its side looking towards the northern coffin!

It’s a very high quality product, finding parallels in the 18th Dynasty tombs excavated by the French mission in SAC5. The shabti in Chamber 6 is of course still in place and not completely cleaned, thus the inscription is not yet readable in total. But the name of its owner is already visible and for the AcrossBorders project, it is simply perfect: he is a wab-priest with the name Khnum-mes, thus a very nice indirect reference to the First Cataract region and AcrossBorders’s other working site in Egypt, Elephantine!

The newly discovered shabti of Khnum-mes.

Much to look forward to in the upcoming week! For now, we’re having a well-deserved weekend after a busy week full of excitement and important discoveries.

Much excitement in Chamber 6

Today was quite full of important discoveries in Tomb 26… While Andrea is still working on the nicely preserved in situ-burials in Chamber 5, the new, western “hidden” chamber, I was occupied with the northern, lower Chamber 6 during the last days. We have finally reached the base of the trench giving access to this chamber – with a total of 128 cm depth, it is more or less as deep as expected.
What came somehow as a surprise are the finds inside the chamber. Already yesterday it was clear that we have two extended burials side by side, east-west oriented, head to the west. For the southern one, a small cluster of miniature vessels, nicely placed in a dish was also already known. Two new flower pots appeared yesterday at the feet of the northern individual! Making it now a full dozen of complete flower pots this season so far :-)!

Most important, however, is that I was able to clean something just a bit west of the cranium of the southern individual which allows only one interpretation: fragile plaster remains and faded wood, but clearly the outline of the top part of an anthropoid coffin!

The coffin was nicely flanked by pottery and stone vessels – in addition to the vessels placed in the dish to its south, it had two more stone vessels and one (or two) pottery vessels (guess what shape? of course flower pots again!) just north of the head part.

Although the state of preservation of the bones is rather low, Chamber 6 has already produced many important finds and rich insights for the early use of Tomb 26!

A possible foundation deposit at SAV1 West?

The highlight among the finds from the 2014 season, recently presented in Sokar 28 (Budka 2014), is for sure SAV1W 532: A mud object of oval shape, representing a cartouche (11.4 x 6.1 x 3.4 cm). This oval plaque bears incised hieroglyphs on the front, giving, as it seems, the name and epithet of a god. The deity is a falcon-god, possibly Horus, Horakhty or even Hauron – the group of signs in front of the god, most likely an epithet, is unfortunately still unclear to me. The other signs might be read in a very playful writing as “Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands, numerous in beauty”. “Lord of the Thrones of the Two Lands” is a well-known epithet for Amun, Amun-Ra and Horakhty.

The find spot of SAV1W 532 in square 2, SAV1 West.

The find spot of SAV1W 532 in square 2, SAV1 West.

SAV1W 532 with its incised hieroglyphic cartouche reminds one of the stamped bricks attested from the early 18th Dynasty onwards. However, it held most probably a symbolic character. It was found in the sandy pit cutting the enclosure wall in Square 2 at SAV1 West – it is possible that it once belonged to a foundation deposit for the town enclosure. Comparable cartouche-shaped plaques are regularly found in foundation deposits in Egypt, but most often in other materials (faience or stone) and smaller in size. According to Weinstein (1973, 94), cartouche-shaped plaques are new additions to foundation deposits in the mid 18th Dynasty (Thutmose IV/Amenhotep III). This could be of significance for the possible connection of SAV1W 532 with the town enclosure and its dating – at present, all is in favour to date the foundation of this wall as not prior to the reign of Thutmose III.

The only foundation deposits attested in Upper Nubia for town walls have been found at Sesebi (Thill 1997, 115 with further references) – at Sai itself, several deposits came to light in the foundations of Temple A.

SAV1W 532 finds a close parallel in the fragmented piece SAV1W 031, also from the sandy area in Square 2, and of comparable cartouche shape with incised hieroglyphic signs. Further exploration of the area in the upcoming season might allow us to contextualize these intriguing finds and to date them more accurately.

Overview of eastern part of Square 2 with remains of the town enclosure wall.

Overview of eastern part of Square 2 with remains of the town enclosure wall.


Budka 2014 = J. Budka, Neues zur Tempelstadt der 18. Dynastie auf Sai Island (Nordsudan) – Ergebnisse der Feldkampagne 2014, Sokar 28, 2014, 28–37.

Thill 1997 = F. Thill, Les premiers dépôts de fondation de Saï, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 17/2, 1997, 105–117.

Weinstein 1973 = J. Weinstein, Foundation deposits in Ancient Egypt, Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania 1973.

A fragmented stela from SAV1 West

One of the highlights of this season at SAV1 West is a small fragment of a private sandstone stela, SAV1W 590. Unfortunately it is without proper archaeological context being a surface find which Martin Fera discovered south of Square 1, more or less in line with the town enclosure.

Stele SAV1WjpgThis interesting piece (10.6 x 11.2 cm with a width of 3.4 cm), the upper part of a round-topped small stela, was decorated in raised relief of quite good quality. The lunette shows the common motif of a so-called shen-ring flanked by two udjat eyes. Below the right udjat eye, facing left, the presumed donor of the stela is represented: He is wearing a shoulder long wig and is offering a libation to persons facing him. Only the lotus flower held by the first seated person on the left is preserved – it was probably a female family member, maybe the mother of the donor.  However, in the 18th Dynasty the lotus as an attribute is also well attested for men. For example, a fragmented sandstone stela discovered in the elite New Kingdom cemetery at Sai shows a seated couple, with the man holding a lotus flower next to a woman embracing him (T16S21, see Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, Sai II, p. 162, p. 84).

All in all, the upper part of our sandstone stela displays a scene commonly associated with funerary stelae – a son, taking the role of a funerary priest, offering to family members, in most cases to his deceased parents. A nice complete example of this general theme is the round-topped limestone stela British Museum EA 280.

According to the stylistic features of hair and costume of the donor, I would suggest the mid 18th Dynasty as most likely date for the stela from SAV1 West. Closely similar are representations of persons on stelae originating from the reigns of Thutmose III and especially Amenhotep II – for example the stela of viceroy Usersatet offering to Thoth, now in the British Museum (EA 623).

Stele SAV1W590 detail

The anonymous donor of SAV1W 590

Regrettably, no text has survived on our piece identifying the offering person by name – we can safely assume that it was one of the officials working and living on Sai, and maybe even getting a tomb and burial here. What must remain open for now is whether the small stela from SAV1 West depicts an Egyptian official (born in Egypt and temporarly stationed in Nubia) or rather an “Egyptianized” family member of the elite indigenous clans who are known to have played an important role in Upper Nubia during the New Kingdom. The missing lower part of SAV1W 590 may have held some text and thus give additional information – maybe we will be lucky enough to relocate it next year!

Drawing ceramics from Sai Island, New Kingdom Pharaonic town: One of the masterpieces

Additionally to processing the find from our current excavations at SAV1 East and SAV1 West, we continue, like in 2013, documenting material which was excavated in SAV1 North in the last years by Florence Doyen.

Nicole, Julia andDSC_5023 Elke have been very busy in the last weeks and I would like to present one of the masterpieces. This unique fragment also nicely illustrates why detailed drawings of pottery vessels are simply necessary in additions to photos: technical and morphological details, the general shape and also the outline of decorative patterns can be best clarified with a drawing in 1:1.

Rhyton SAV1N

Pencil drawing of decorated rhyton SAV1N N/C 1205.

The important piece recently documented with an accurate drawing by Nicole is a lower part of a decorated rhyton, covered in a red slip and burnished, made in a very fine Nile B (SAV1N N/C 1205). The area around the perforated bottom of this vessel is painted in black with floral elements. Just above these lotus flowers a register with figural painting is still partly visible. According to the remains it seems to be a scene in the marshes: a striding male figure is carrying something with a pole set on his shoulder. Maybe the hanging objects are large fishes? Nicole is still not completly convinced and I must admit that her nice drawing also raised some doubts for my interpretation.

As I have stressed in an earlier post, rhytons like N/C 1205 had the character of luxury items in 18th Dynasty Egypt, the vessel shape being characteristically Aegean. Our small masterpiece from SAV1 North is an Egyptian copy in Nile clay of a Late Minoan IA rhyton.

End of week 4 of fieldwork at Sai Island, New Kingdom Town

During this week, we made good progress at both sites currently under investigation of the Pharaonic town of Sai, at SAV1 West and SAV1 East.


Work in progress at SAV1 West, 30/01/2014.

The brick work at SAV1 West was cleaned of the loose debris – we now have the substantial remains of the New Kingdom fortification exposed. The subsidiary, secondary adjacent wall was also found as proceeding further towards the North – as was the so-called “front wall”. Of the latter, we just cleaned today debris towards the west – the dismantled mud bricks are presumably lying on the natural slope of the western edge of the town; giving us much hope that we will be able to clarify its date and phases of use in the upcoming week!

Overview of SAV1 West; view towards Northeast. Debris at top of western slope in foreground.

Overview of SAV1 West; view towards Northeast. Debris at top of western slope in foreground.

I am especially excited about work at SAV1 East – we were aiming to clarify the western extension of our Building A, a possible large administrative building of Thutmoside date.

Cleaning of western part of Square 3, SAV1 East,

Cleaning of western part of Square 3, SAV1 East.

In the last days, Jördis worked with her team in the very difficult deposit of Square 3: within backfilling of late pits and disturbances, they were able to trace the foundations of a very large mud brick wall! Its alignment matches our East wall of Building A’s courtyard – and it is in line with the main North-South street of the town, running from the Southern gate, the Governor’s residence and Temple A towards our area SAV1 East.

Foundations of substantial mud brick wall at SAV1 East.

Foundations of substantial mud brick wall at SAV1 East.

Despite the pitting, we do have traces of the floor levels preserved and some smaller East-West walls, possibly of entrance rooms similar to the ones in the Governor’s residence SAF2. The challenge will be to reconstruct the complete outline of our building from these largely destroyed and dismanteled remains!

Overview of western part of Square 3, 30/01/2014: the main North-South wall, remains of pavements and a smaller East-West wall

Overview of western part of Square 3, 30/01/2014: the main North-South wall, remains of pavements and a smaller East-West wall.

As yet, both the New Kingdom ceramics from SAV1 West and SAV1 East associated with our mud brick structures do not predate the reign of Thutmose III – stressing that we are currently working in areas which belong to the main building phase of the Upper Nubian temple town at Sai which flourished during the time of Thutmose III and Amenhotep II.

At Egypt’s Southern Border: Early New Kingdom pottery from Elephantine

Yesterday, Sebastian Stiefel and I have happily arrived on Elephantine Island. Thanks to our cooperation with the Swiss Institute for Architectural and Archaeological Research in Egypt and the German Archaeological Institute Cairo, we will work here in the upcoming weeks on New Kingdom ceramics, excavated in settlement contexts in various areas of the ancient town. Our special interest is of course a detailed comparison between the material from this important Egyptian site just north of the First Cataract and the finds from Sai Island in Upper Nubia.

While Sebastian is already busy in drawing ceramics, I am currently sorting through boxes and checking database entries. Today, I had the nice opportunity to come back to contexts I’ve worked on in my first season of the New Kingdom ceramics project, back in 2000! 13 years later and with much more experience and a wider knowledge of parallels, I took a fresh look at certain samples and specific sherds which posed some problems.

Among these sherds is an intriguing type of vessel: carinated dishes with incised wavy lines and finger pinched or cut rims. These dishes are regularly red washed, sometimes with additional white as decoration, and they often show vertical applications on the upper part of the vessel. This type is commonly associated with the Second Intermediate Period pottery tradition in Egypt; early variants are already attested since the late Middle Kingdom in Egypt, but these dishes are more common during the Second Intermediate Period (cf. Budka 2011: 29-30).

Carinated dishes with incised wavy-line decoration.

Carinated dishes with incised wavy-line decoration.

Back in 2000, I therefore concluded my sherds from early 18th Dynasty context must be residual pieces – traces of the former occupation during the 17th Dynasty. But now, with both more material from Elephantine and the very close parallels from Sai Island, I would interpret this differently. It seems as if certain variants of these carinated dishes survived up to Thutmoside times, at least to the reign of Thutmose III. At Elephantine, we not only encounter it in Level 10 (Bauschicht 10, early 18th Dynasty to Hatshepsut), but also rarely in the following Level 9 of mid-late 18th Dynasty date. The same holds true for Sai – Level 4, early 18th Dynasty and Level 3, Thutmoside-late 18th Dynasty, produced examples of such vessels. Furthermore, our colleagues working at Sesebi also found similar types in 18th Dynasty contexts (Spence, Rose et al. 2011: 35, fig. 5).

Carinated dishes with incised wavy-line decoration from New Kingdom contexts.

Carinated dishes with incised wavy-line decoration from New Kingdom contexts.

With the present knowledge, I therefore feel reluctant to explain all of these wavy-line decorated carinated dishes from New Kingdom strata as residual pieces, originating in the Second Intermediate Period. Rather, this particular type illustrates that we have to think about possibly very long traditions of ceramic types as well as regional productions and local preferences. Second Intermediate style was not completely passé by the time of the 18th Dynasty! This is very obvious at both Egypt’s Southern border as illustrated by Elephantine and in Upper Nubia with Sai Island as a case study.


Budka, Julia. 2011. “The early New Kingdom at Sai Island: Preliminary results based on the pottery analysis (4th Season 2010).” Sudan & Nubia 15, p. 23-33.

Spence, Kate, Pamela Rose et al. 2011. “Sesebi 2011.” Sudan & Nubia 15, p. 34-38.

Recruitment from Berlin

office 2006This week it is unusually hot in our office and also quite crowed: due to a nice coincidence we’re  getting additional help in documenting our sample sherds by an experienced young scholar! Arvi Korhonen, MA student at Humboldt University Berlin and long-time student assistant there who has worked since 2008 with Julia Budka in Egypt (Elephantine and Asasif), is staying in Vienna over the summer – and will strengthen AcrossBorders on a temporary basis! Hopefully Arvi will also join us for the upcoming field season at Elephantine in winter 2013, concentrating on documenting pottery of the 18th Dynasty!

AKPrior than submitting our samples for analysis and thin sections, we document the diagnostic pieces in detail by 1:1 pencil drawings. Arvi started with it this week and was feeling much at home – not only because of the “Egyptian” temperature in the Postgasse, but especially as so many forms and wares are well known to him from Elephantine. This holds especially true for the Marl clay vessels, but also the Nile clay forms are very comparable and differ only in small details of the fabric, surface treatment and production technique.

A Brief Summary of the 2013 field season

After 10 weeks in Sudan, it feels very strange to get ready for leaving in a few days! Today I had to pack everything up at the Museum and to say goodbye to all of the kind and helpful colleagues of NCAM and the French Unit.

Having spent the last days with preparing the lecture and writing the report, many new ideas and thoughts have crossed my mind and I am very eager to continue the post-excavation processing of SAV1 East! We really made some significant discoveries this season – for now, I will just give a brief overview focusing on the most important results.

The key discovery at the new excavation site SAV1E and the highlight of the 2013 season on Sai Island was of course the confirmation of the geophysical survey picture: we were able to trace the eastern part of a very large rectangular mud brick structure (North-South extension of 16.3 + x m; East-West 10 + x m) which we labelled Building A.

Budka 12-03-2013 KHRT Lecture folie 31

Most of the bricks from its walls have been taken out and are now just “phantom walls” represented by a sandy pit, but we found large sections of the foundation trench and also an area with a floor coating towards the North. Associated finds and especially potteryallowed us to date Building A to the mid 18th Dynasty (see below). Its western part still remains to be excavated – the prime task for next season!

All in all, the new fieldwork conducted in 2013 at SAV1E adds important aspects to the understanding of the development and history of the Pharaonic Town of Sai Island:

(1)   The earliest remains at SAV1E are dating to the early 18th Dynasty; there is nothing of the Kerma period prior to the New Kingdom. The area can therefore be safely interpreted as part of the newly founded Egyptian town. The Kerma ceramics we found are clearly originating from early New Kingdom contexts as in SAV1 North.

(2)   The southern part of SAV1E with remains like the storage bin (feature 14) can be linked with the domestic zone excavated around Temple A by M. Azim – this area is characterized by small structures with single-brick walls and storage facilities. It is an early occupation phase comparable to Level 4 at SAV1N and clearly of pre-Thutmose III date. The in situ vessels of storage bin 14 give a more precise dating as early 18th Dynasty, possibly Ahmose-Thutmose I.

(3)   The northern part of SAV1E yielded so-called Building A – a not yet fully exposed mud brick structure with an orthogonal layout and most importantly with striking parallels to the so-called residence SAF2 in the Southern part of the Pharaonic Town. We really cannot wait to excavate the western part of Building A in order to confirm this hypothesis! As we have been fortunate to discover pottery in the foundation trench, we have a good dating indication of the building date of Building A: the pot sherds give us a terminus ante quem non for the setting of the foundations and this is the time of Thutmose III! This all suggests that Building A belongs to the major remodelling of the New Kingdom Town of Sai during the reign of this king. The newly discovered structure does also fit nicely into the grid-pattern of the Southern part of the town with roughly north-south and east-west aligned streets and it is most likely contemporaneous with Temple A and the mud brick enclosure wall.

View above Temple A to SAV1E at the end of fieldwork in 2013

View above Temple A to SAV1E at the end of fieldwork in 2013

Summing up, the first field season of AcrossBorders in 2013 was very successful and will allow us making very specific plans for the upcoming seasons!