Pottery from the Foundation trench of Building A

Processing of the pottery from SAV1E comes towards a closing – still not to an end, as the finds have been far too numerous and will also keep us busy at home and for next season. However, the most important data are already collected allowing some first observations.

Among the most important pottery vessels of the 2013-season are for sure the two rim sherds recovered from the foundation trench of the northern wall of Building A.

P57 in its original find position: the foundation trench of wall 31.

P57 in its original find position: the foundation trench of wall 31.

Especially relevant is the fragment of a decorated Marl clay vessel. P57 is made in a so called Marl A4 according to the Vienna System. Its mouth diameter measures 10.6 cm and 4P578 % of the rim of this nice jar thrown on the pottery wheel are preserved. An irregular band in dark brown is painted along the top part of the rounded lip; the beginning of a slightly flaring neck is partly preserved.

Such vessels are known from various contexts in Egypt from the Thutmoside era onwards (mid-late 18th Dynasty) – our example seems to be Thutmose III in date (or slightly later, maybe Amenhotep II). Its find position within the otherwise undisturbed section of the foundation trench of wall 31 is therefore very important and gives us a good dating indication for Building A!

P57 was documented by a detailed drawing in scale 1:1 and by digital photographs.


The foundations of walls of Building A

Today, apart from documenting ceramics in the lab and some mapping in the field, we focused on the North-eastern corner of Building A. As reported, we have a Northern wall running almost East-West, extending beyond the eastern wall towards the Nile. Unfortunately the corner between these two walls is heavily disturbed by a later pit, probably dug in Medieval or Ottoman times. Most of the bricks are lost or broken off; only a few have remained in place. Some of the mud plaster has survived as well – between bricks, but also with negative impressions of now lost mud bricks – thus allowing us to reconstruct part of the masonry. All in all, we are therefore able to trace the alignment of the wall. The northern wall is only 75 cm wide, whereas the eastern wall is more solid with a thickness of 106 cm, thus fitting nicely to a measurement of two Egyptian cubits.

To check the alignment and the junction between the walls, we partly exposed the IMG_4817foundation trench of the northern wall. It is well visible both from above and in the section – on both sides of the wall a quite narrow pit, filled with loose gravels and some large mud bricks. Very unexpectedly, two diagnostic pottery sherds were found in this otherwise findless foundation: both seem to give a very good dating indication for Building A at last! At the first glance, both are mid 18th Dynasty in date and a painted rim sherd, shown here in its original find location south of wall 30, will be very indicative as it can most probably be tied down to Thutmose III or Amenhotep II. IMG_4806

Thus, a dating of our major New Kingdom structure at SAV1E to the reign of Thutmose III becomes more and more likely, confirming our thoughts about the development of the Pharaonic Town of Sai so far!

Some data from the on-going ceramic analysis

Simultaneously with the 2013 excavation in SAV1E, the East sector within the Pharaonic town of Sai Island, the processing of the ceramic material was being carried out and will continue in the next weeks. Especially the New Kingdom material still has to be recorded in detail, with entries in the database and by drawings. But some basic characteristics of the material can already be outlined as follows: 279 find numbers of sherds (counting between just a few sherds and 10 baskets full of fragments) were sorted and processed – a total of 29.178 pieces comprised 16.972 sherds of Post-New Kingdom origin (58 %), mostly of Post-Meroitic, Medieval and Ottoman date. This large percentage of Post-Pharaonic material is changing from one square to another: following the sloping landscape of SAV1E, the shallow deposits in Square 1a to the North are mostly Post-Pharaonic, whereas the material from the deep depression south of Building A, especially in Square 2b to the South contained 60 % of 18th Dynasty ceramics!

Overview of part of SAV1E with labels of squares; note the slope towards the South and East

Overview of part of SAV1E with labels of squares; note the slope towards the South and East

The general distribution of the ceramics within SAV1E can be illustrated as:
Square 1a (10 x 2 m)    22 %
Square 1 (10 x 10 m)    27 %
Square 2 (10 x 10 m)    10 %
Square 2a (2.5 x 6 m)    8 %
Square 2b (10 x 2 m)    33 %

The squares with the least preserved features – square 2, and here especially its northern part, and square 2a – are together just responsible for 18 % of the material, whereas the small square 2b (10 x 2 m) yielded 33 % of the material. Although the material retrieved from this square 2b was mixed until the lowest level excavated so far, it comprised a total of 5.786 New Kingdom sherds, counting up to 60 % of the pottery from the square and to 47 % of all of the New Kingdom material from SAV1E!

IMG_3239 beschriftet

Overview of Southern part of SAV1E, showing square 2b during the course of excavating dense dump deposits

I would like to associate this fact with the nature of the archaeological deposit in square 2b as massive dump layer comprising obviously rubbish from both Building A as well as from the adjacent area to the South, just north of temple A. This zone north of Temple A yielded interesting mud brick features, recently published by M. Azim in CRIPEL 29, and obviously datable to the very early history of New Kingdom activity on Sai Island.

Summing up, the percentage of New Kingdom material increases towards the South of SAV1E, closer to Temple A and decreases towards the North (Square 1a and Square 1). Except for a small number of Ramesside sherds, all of the New Kingdom pottery from SAV1E can be dated to the early to mid 18th Dynasty. Further analysis will focus on the question whether there is any functional difference within this New Kingdom corpus according to find positions – be it in respect to shapes and forms or to wares and fabrics.



Brushing bricks of Building A

The little of what is left from the eastern wall of Building A required very careful cleaning, especially in its highly damaged South-eastern corner. Situated on a sloping area, we worked today in the eastern extension of Square 2 and were able to make the general outline of the wall visible.DSC_4347Most of the bricks on a gravel deposit are almost faded and the material is generally very fragile – having been disturbed in ancient and medieval times. Nevertheless, a lot of 18th Dynasty pottery is associated with this section of mud bricks, again primarily comprising of bread moulds and beer jars.

Square 2a 0502Together with some bricks still in place in the northern extension to Square 1 (= the North-eastern corner), we will be able to measure the North-South extension of Building A exactly. Detailed mapping will continue tomorrow, for now a length of roughly 16 meters confirms the plan visible on the geophysical survey map from 2011.

Broken Nubian Vessels at SAV1E

Sometimes archaeologists just need luck – and lucky we were today: at the very edge of our gravel deposit in Square 2, just next to the newly discovered feature 18, a small pile of pot sherds was found.

Nubian sherds feature 18

Interestingly, they belong mostly to a large Nubian storage vessel – which we started to reconstruct in the afternoon as soon as the sherds have been cleaned.

progress fixing sherdsThere was also Nubian fine ware of the Kerma culture present, together with small fragments of Egyptian beer jars and dishes. All in all, the recent evidence from SAV1E confirms the appearance of both Nubian and Egyptian wares in the early occupation phases of the New Kingdom. It compares perfectly with our findings in SAV1N.

That Sai Island was an important northern stronghold of the Kerma Kingdom is already well known, but the detailed relations between the indigenous inhabitants and the Egyptians at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty is still poorly understood. With finds like ours today, we are making small steps forward in assessing what seems to have been a complex coexistence of cultures with a lot of interactions.

Pots in Our Hands!

After finishing the detailed drawing of storage bin 14, we finally could move the in situ pots! We managed to recover the complete beaker in one piece – a great moment of joy for DSC_1849the ceramicist!

The smaller red burnished vessel was broken and fell into some pieces, which we will be able to fix together, reconstructing the jar.

Having the pots in our hands, and being able to analyse them closely, I can now also confirm their presumed dating: both are early 18th Dynasty, pre-dating Thutmose III and thus early than the nearby Temple A.

Therefore it is safe to assume that feature 14 belongs to an early occupation phase of SAV1E during the very beginning of the New Kingdom – just on the arrival of the Egyptians on Sai Island!

In situ Pots in Square 2 – an Update

Today, we cleaned the small bin in Square 2 and christened it “Feature 14“. We now have the complete outline of the feature and will document it with a detailed drawing tomorrow – this will complement our photographic documentation.

This is why we kept the Documenting Feature 14ceramics found inside still in place – and great news here: exactly as we hoped, there was another intact vessel in the Northwest corner of the bin, just next to the one we saw last week! Both pots clearly date to the early 18th Dynasty and are set on debris which filled the bin. Other fragments of sherds of the early New Kingdom were discovered in the filling material during cleaning – nothing later, so it really is an undisturbed context! In the eastern part of feature 14, a pottery dish was smashed by collapsed mud bricks and is still only partly visible.

Feature 14 status 1901

In situ 18th Dynasty Pottery!

Just before closing for the weekend, we started cleaning a small storage bin set against a gravel deposit in the south eastern part of Square 2. It is located outside of our main building (Building A) and was found with what seemed to be original filling material.

MohammedMohammed Feature 14 did a very good job working on this fragile structure, brushing its outline and exposed carefully the upper part of a 18th Dynasty beaker with a smaller vessel inside. These vessels are still in place where they have been left c. 3400 years ago!


We will continue here on Saturday and empty the bin, but the find is indeed exciting and just a perfect closing of a sucessful week: in situ material from the original use of this structure confirms our proposed dating of the New Kingdom activity in this area to the early 18th Dynasty! Feature 14 a

We will know more once the complete vessels  have been taken out and processed – and we will keep you posted!