Some complete pots from tomb 26

After cleaning the shaft of tomb 26 in 2015, its burial chamber kept us busy during this season – not only were there plenty of human remains for Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager, several nice objects like four scarabs and one stone pilgrim flask, but also complete ceramic vessels!

This markedly contrasts with our findings from last year, where bits and pieces were found in the shaft and only some complete vessels at the bottom of the shaft.
Earlier in the 2016 season, our Sudanese trainee from NCAM, Roa, did a great job in joining sherds from the bottom of the shaft with ones from the topmost debris coming from the chamber. Altogether, there was plenty of evidence for several phases of use, plundering and re-use of tomb 26– spanning a long period from the mid/late 18th Dynasty, the Ramesside period to Pre-Napatan and Napatan times!

Excavating the burial chamber in 2016, we were lucky enough to find several intact vessels – most interesting is an assemblage of two slender bottles along the southern wall in the southwest corner.

Cleaning the vessels in the southwestern corner.

Cleaning the vessels in the southwestern corner.

One of them seems to bear a “killing hole”. Close to them, just at the skull of the individual lying there on his back, was a complete Base Ring II jug – a very nice import from Cyprus!

The small intact BR II jug.

The small intact BR II jug.

Another really lovely vessel is a complete zir found along the north wall of the chamber. It was filled with the sediment of the chamber and also yielded foot/leg parts of an infant whose body was found close by.

The intact zir from tomb 26.

The intact zir from tomb 26.

Post-excavation processing of all the data from tomb 26 has just begun – the ceramics will be of prime importance to narrow down the specific phases of use and re-use!

From Leipzig to Munich: A Decision Made Because of Perfect Perspectives

Hello, it’s me. I was wondering if after all these DIGS you’d like to meet…

Oliver Frank Stephan, Master of Arts in Egyptology with a thesis that dealt with wooden face fragments of (mostly) Late Period coffin-lids from the Egyptian Museum (Georg Steindorff) of Leipzig University. After finishing my masters in Leipzig, I quickly decided to take part in Julia Budka’s AcrossBorders project…

So hello from the other side… introducing myself after one fruitful year, looking back at four excavations in Egypt and Sudan: a huge amount of drawn pottery, a lot of experience and some new perspectives.

I had my first season on Elephantine for seven weeks from 18 October to 06 December 2014. My task was to draw pottery sherds and complete vessels from House 55. The current excavation of this intriguing building conducted by Cornelius von Pilgrim allows a very detailed analysis of material dating to the early and mid-18th Dynasty. Here the focus is on a functional analysis of the ceramics found at Elephantine as an important settlement in southern Egypt, at the border to Nubia. AcrossBorders is joining Cornelius von Pilgrim’s ongoing work on Elephantine, with Julia focusing her research also on the relations with Egyptian settlements in Nubia, especially Sai Island.

Before I joined Julia’s project, I worked with New Kingdom pottery and Old Kingdom stone vessels at Leipzig University for the first time. My first season on Elephantine showed me the broad variety of pottery: big and small dishes, bowls of different sizes, squat jars, cups, pilgrim flasks, beakers, flower pots, amphoras, zirs, beer jars, baking dishes, bread moulds and many more. Some of those were really challenging but with much practice I can now deal with all of those types of pottery.

For me, the most interesting thing about pottery is not only their shapes or use, but also the details of the production process. While drawing pottery you develop an understanding of their creation and it’s quite special to see that you can put your own fingers in ancient fingerprints which the potters left on the vessels. With every fingerprint I get more excited to get additional information out of these „pots“.

After my first experiences in drawing and understanding early New Kingdom pottery I planned to go to Sudan from 12 February till 15 March 2015. On Sai Island I noticed many similarities to the Elephantine material and got even more confident in dealing with pottery, seeing the importance of how easy it can be to date with the analysis of pottery (cf. Budka, J., “The early New Kingdom at Sai Island: Preliminary results based on the pottery analysis (4th Season 2010),” Sudan & Nubia 15, 2011, 23-33). Those who are following this blog already know about Feature 15 from Sai Island. From here, there was a huge quantity of complete and almost complete vessels which I drew during four weeks in Sudan.

As you can see, it’s hard to stop your interest in pottery, so I decided to assist Julia for another four weeks in Luxor with the South Asasif Conservation Project (SACP) by Elena Pischikova. The main task was to draw most of the complete vessels from TT 391 of Karabasken, which came from Area I (the courtyard of TT 391) and Room IA (a burial chamber in the north wall of the courtyard) while Julia was processing and analysing the diagnostic sherds for the database (cf. Budka, J., Pottery from the tomb of Karakhamun, in Tombs of the South Asasif Necropolis, Thebes. Karakhamun (TT 223) and Karabasken (TT 391) in the Twenty-fifth Dynasty, ed. by Elena Pischikova, Cairo 2014, 247–262). To sum up this site, I’d like to give a short overview of the vessel types I worked with: conical beakers, pot stands, large storage vessels, small two handled cooking pots, oil jars containing a black and oily substance and goldfish bowls. Most of this material is dating to Ptolemaic period and it is an excellent experience to work in a funerary context, as well as a different time period (but you will hear more about this from me later…).

Now I am again on Elephantine, working on New Kingdom pottery, with exciting shapes and types of vessels. Work started 26 October and will end 5 December. There are a few days of work left and I surely will enjoy every minute dealing with my special friends.

P1000641 smallMy enthusiasm and my will to get more into pottery and dating with it is now at an all-time high. I am looking forward to upcoming seasons here on Elephantine, Sai and Asasif. That’s why I can happily announce that I will move to Munich at the end of January 2016 to extend my knowledge of the intricacies of pottery.


When, at the time of the New Kingdom, the Egyptians came to Sai Island in Upper Nubia and founded a Pharaonic town, they settled on the island taking with them their own traditions – but they also made contact with the indigenous Nubian cultures and adopted part of the local customs. Thus, Sai Island soon became for them a “home away from home”.
Well, I can say that in the last two years since I left Italy for joining AcrossBorders, Vienna became as well for me something very similar to a “second home.” Still, now that the project moved to Munich, if I have the chance to go there because of my work, I feel like coming back home.
So nothing better than a one-week business trip to the Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics (AI) in Vienna to mitigate a little my “homesickness” and, most of all, together with Johannes Sterba, to take stock of our INAA chemical data! After two years there are more than 200 samples.

The main purpose of this Viennese “reunion” at the AI was to elaborate some of our recent results in view of the forthcoming workshop in Munich. In particular, during the last week Johannes Sterba and I have been focusing on our numerous set of Nubian samples – from the Khartoum Variant (c. 7400 – 5000 BC) till the New Kingdom period (c. 1550 – 1300 BC) – with the intent of linking the compositional data with the macroscopic and petrographic information we have about the local pottery and to look in detail at the chemical behavior of the Nubian samples.
Is it possible to recognize any variability in the use of the clay raw materials and tempers and in the pottery recipes through the course of the different chronological horizons? And what happened at the time of New Kingdom when for the first time Egyptian and Nubian ceramic traditions coexisted on Sai Island?

Apologies, but I am not going to reveal much more now as we prefer to keep you curious for the workshop! I can just say that Johannes and I were quite busy (but we had as well some fun) trying to plot different chemical elements against each other and to figure out how the samples might cluster (or not) according to their chemistry.
Besides that, spending one week at the AI gave also to me the opportunity to enjoy once again the unique atmosphere of the lab (I somehow like the smell of acetone and distillate water and all the chemical devices and small vials of which the lab is plenty) and to prepare a new bunch of 43 samples from our last field season in the winter of 2015.

The new bunch of samples mostly includes local Nubian and Egyptian style Nile clays plus a number of Egyptian cooking pots and decorated ware which according to their macroscopic features could be imported on Sai Island from Egypt and we are now going to test by means of INAA analysis.

Johannes properly cleaning the agate mortar with pure quartz powder.

Johannes properly cleaning the agate mortar with pure quartz powder.

The protocol we adopted for their preparation was exactly the same we used in the past:
1- few grams of sample were manually ground in an agate mortar into fine powder and temporally stored in small plastic vials
2- the samples were dried over the night at 90°C in a kiln
3- around 100 mg of sample were weighed and sealed into Suprasil glass vials waiting for irradiation.
Proud of our sample number 8 (of this last bunch)!

Proud of our sample number 8 (of this last bunch)!

Labelling our samples by engraving the numbers on such small glass vials can be a lot of fun!

Labelling our samples by engraving the numbers on such small glass vials can be a lot of fun!

All these operations require a lot of patience and concentration. Once again, the expertise and the great support of Michaela Foster, technical assistant at the AI in Vienna, were essential to me in the lab and I would like to thank her deeply.
Michaela sealing the glass vials by fire (definitly not a job for archaeologists)!

Michaela sealing the glass vials by fire (definitly not a job for archaeologists)!

Some more potsherds from 2015 are still waiting to be prepared in the lab so that at the end of this year our total number of samples will amount at more than 300.

With the hope to come soon back to Vienna (my personal “home away from home”) and to prepare more of our samples, I am now looking forward for the upcoming workshop here in Munich!

Discussing New Kingdom ceramics at Kerma

Huda Magzoub, Giulia D’Ercole and me just returned to Sai from a very successful ceramic meeting in Kerma. This was actually the third time that colleagues working on New Kingdom sites in Nubia gathered for a 2-day on-site workshop to discuss fabrics, wares, vessel typologies and much more. The first meeting was held on Sai Island in 2012, followed by a meeting in Amara West in 2013 and we are very grateful to the Swiss Mission working at Dukki Gel/Kerma directed by Charles Bonnet that they hosted this year’s meeting. Philippe Ruffieux, the mission’s ceramicist, organized a splendid meeting bringing together colleague from Tombos (Stuart Tyson Smith and Bruce Williams), Amara West (Anna Garnett and Alice Salvador) and Sai Island (the three of us).
We had the great chance to look at samples and sherds from all the sites under investigation – this time the very close parallels between newly excavated material from Dukki Gel and Sai were among the prime interests.

Our joint application of petrography (OM) and iNAA shows some significant differences between "Egyptian style" and "Egyptian" vessels from Sai - work in progress!

Our joint application of petrography (OM) and iNAA shows some significant differences between “Egyptian style” and “Egyptian” vessels from Sai – work in progress!

Giulia gave a brief update of our ongoing petrographical and chemical analyses of New Kingdom fabrics and clays from Sai. We tried to explain why we do think that some of the Nile clay vessels are real imports from Egypt (especially painted wares, cooking pots and small dishes), whereas the majority was of course produced locally in “Egyptian style” on the wheel. Unfortunately we are still missing any evidence for pottery kilns datable to the 18th Dynasty on Sai.
The highlight of our 2 days at Kerma was of course the tour led by Charles Bonnet through the excavations at Dukki Gel and the visit to the site museum!

Amazing tour with Charles Bonnet through his recent findings at Dukki Gel.

Amazing tour with Charles Bonnet through his recent findings at Dukki Gel.

Looking much forward to future meetings and a continuous fruitful exchange! I would like to express once more my gratitude to the Swiss mission hosting us during a very busy (and hot) week of their own fieldwork – very much appreciated!

Discussing ceramics from Sai Island and other Nubian sites

I am very happy to welcome our colleague Huda Magzoub, Antiquities Inspector of NCAM, who has worked with us on Sai in the past years, in Austria! Huda will join us next week at the International Conference for Nubian Studies in Neuchatel, Switzerland and we took this opportunity to hold a small workshop in Vienna, bringing together the AcrossBorders team members.

P1020968aAfter some general discussion of our 2014 field season, we focused on ceramics from Sai. The enigmatic fire dogs, currently studied by Nicole Mosiniak, were talked over again: we watched the movies we made during our weekend at Asparn and explained to Huda our ideas based on the experiment of cooking with fire dogs. We all agreed that additional work will have to be done, hopefully also more experiments – it seems obvious that the function of the fire dogs is still not understood on a satisfying level: Sai Island and the large amount of fire dogs from the New Kingdom town has much potential in this respect!

FD cooking

It is POSSIBLE to place pots on our fire dogs…


… but it’s not very convincing! Huda was thinking about alternative arrangements…







Giulia gave a short summary of our present understanding of the fabrics from Sai, based on recent iNAA and petrography.

P1020972aIn the afternoon, we practiced the documentation of pottery vessels with registration forms and the database. We discussed here some examples from the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum – Huda is currently working on the New Kingdom material from old excavations, for example at Buhen, Mirgissa and other places. Some vessels provide very interesting parallels to our material from Sai. Without doubt, it will be an important contribution to Nubian archaeology to present ceramics from former excavations with an updated knowledge, adding specifics about the wares and fabrics and the dating.

Furthermore, Arvi passed on some of his experience of drawing pottery. Ela Bielat, who will be joining us for fieldwork in Elephantine, practiced together with Daniela the drawing of sherds while Jördis enjoyed illustrating exemplary small finds. With Huda among us, it really felt as we are back to the field and lab at Sai!

P1020978aAll in all, today was not only a perfect closing of our summer break: Summarizing AcrossBorders’ achievements of the last two years and preparing for the upcoming work at Elephantine and Sai, was ideal for all of us – the group which will be travelling to Neuchatel next week, but also the team members who will stay behind and continue with their individual tasks.

The long-lasting ceramic tradition on Sai Island

It is well known that Sai Island has been occupied by various cultural groups from Palaeolithic times onwards – illustrating the good living conditions and also a favourable strategic position in the Nile valley which resulted in the importance of the site during the Kerma period and the New Kingdom.

The large Kerma cemetery in the southern part of Sai Island.

The large Kerma cemetery in the southern part of Sai Island.

Even if AcrossBorders is focusing on the period of the Egyptian presence on Sai Island, I was always keen to set our ideas and studies into a larger context, the diachronic development of the site throughout the millennia. Therefore I am very happy that Elena Garcea, working since many years on the Prehistory of Sai, was willing to cooperate with my project and we can thus tackle interesting aspects of local and also regional phenomena within a very broad timeframe.

Elena Garcea at work on Sai Island (field season 2013).

Elena Garcea at work on Sai Island (field season 2013).

The perfect opportunity to present some of our ongoing research on pottery production came up with the 14th Congress of the Pan African Archaeological Association for Prehistory and Related Studies, hosted from July 14-18 by the University of the Witwatersrand at Johannesburg, South Africa.


Our paper aims to illustrate that in Nubia (Northern Sudan) pottery making has a very ancient tradition with long-lasting aspects of production techniques and raw materials. We will present a comparative study on diverse Nubian ceramic assemblages from Sai Island, covering a period of over 5000 years: from prehistoric times (Khartoum Variant, Abkan and Pre-Kerma) until the New Kingdom period (especially Dynasty 18).

slide 4 archaeometryThe pottery data are presented according to both stylistic and technological aspects, taking into account the entire manufacturing sequence, from the raw material procurement to the firing of the vessels. In order to address the different archaeological questions, macroscopic and analytical approaches have been combined, by means of petrographic (OM) and chemical (XRF and INAA) analyses.[1]

We do believe that the ceramic production reflects aspects of the general development of economic choices and corresponding lifestyles. Much research has still to be undertaken, but the first results, especially deriving from the INAA, are very promising! We are very much looking forward to the conference and in particular to feedback from our colleagues working in different areas of Africa!

[1] We are very grateful to the Center for Earth Sciences of the University of Vienna for its support concerning the petrography (thin sections and OM), especially to Dieter Mader and Claudia Beybel. We also wish to thank the Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics, Vienna for the INAA and here first of all Johannes Sterba who is doing a great job working with our Sai Island samples! For some analyses of the Prehistoric samples we are also very thankful to the Department of Earth and Geoenvironmental Sciences, University of Bari, Italy, especially to Giacomo Eramo and Italo M. Muntoni.

Pottery from the 2014 season at SAV1 West

Having closed fieldwork for this year, we are currently mapping our trenches and I am happy to spend some more time in the courtyard working with the pottery! There’s still a lot to do…
SAI_0006 smallHuda and ESAI_0004 smalllke are helping with washing, sorting, registering and drawing the large amounts of New Kingdom pottery from the 2014 season.

As was reported already at the beginning of the 2014 season, both the quantity and the quality of the material from SAV1 West are very impressive: hundreds of diagnostic sherds are still waiting for a proper documentation – the detailed analysis will have to be postponed to next year.

SAI_0010 smallThe amount of painted wares is intriguing as is the large size of the fragments and the high number of complete profiles! The corpus of SAV1 West compares nicely to SAV1 North – most of the material can be dated to the period from Thutmose III to Amenhotep III.

I am aiming to finish the basic statistics (in particular assessing the proportions of wares and shapes) and to establish the preliminary dating of the material further until our departure at the end of February – with the great support I got this will insha’allah work out!

The so called milk vessels from Nubia

Figurative vessels from Ancient Egypt (see Bourriau 1987) include feminoform vessels with modelled breasts and often plastic arms. Such jars are attested in a variety of forms (see especially Seiler 2006 for the distinction between “Hathor” and “Isis” vases) and derive primarily from tombs (cf., e.g., Lopez Grande/de Gregorio 2009). In recent years, feminoform vessels have also been recorded from domestic contexts at settlements like Elephantine, the town area of Abydos and also Sai Island (Budka forthc.).

Although more common in the New Kingdom, pottery vessels with applied breasts and feminine faces are already known from the Middle Kingdom onwards (Stevens 2006: 171 with literature). They have often been labelled as “milk vessels”; various authors associate them with the cult of Hathor (e.g. Bourriau 1982: 78; Hope 1982: 87; Smith 2003: 47).


The prime feature which characterises the pottery vessels as feminoform vases are nipples or breasts applied to the upper part of the body of the jar. They are attested both as pierced ones, potentially functioning as small spouts, or as unpierced examples with a greater emphasis on anatomical details of the female breast. Feminine faces at the neck may complement these breast applications, but are sometimes missing. Applied arms including hands are present in some cases; sometimes they are executed in paint only.

At SAV1N, the excavation area in the north of the fortified New Kingdom town of Sai Island, two fragments of femino­form vases were found (see Budka forthc.). A surface find completes this small assemblage of three figure vases from 18th Dynasty Sai. The latter, a sherd collected by Francis Geus in 1998 from the surface, cannot be dated by context. It is a heavily worn shoulder fragment of a Marl A3 vessel. Modelled arms and hands are cupping the female breasts which are not pierced. There are no traces of wavy lines or incised comb patterns, as attested for an otherwise very similar jar from a tomb at Qustul (Bourriau 1982: 78, no. 50, Chicago 21044 from Qustul, tomb R. 29, early 18th Dynasty).

Fragment of feminoform vessel from Sai.

Fragment of feminoform vessel from Sai.

Although similar Marl A3 vessels are already known in the Middle Kingdom and the Second Intermediate Period, the comparison from Qustul and the archaeological context from Sai itself suggest a dating of the Marl A3 feminoform vessel to the early 18th Dynasty. It is significant (if tiny) evidence towards reconstructing Pharaonic lifestyle on Sai during the New Kingdom – which includes references to the general theme of regeneration and fertility as well as traces of “private religion” (cf. Stevens 2006).



Bourriau 1982 = J. Bourriau, No. 50: Milk vase, in E. Brovarski/S.K. Doll/R.E. Freed (eds.), Egypt’s Golden Age: The Art of Living in the New Kingdom, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, 78.

Bourriau 1987 = J. Bourriau, Pottery Figure Vases of the New Kingdom, in Cahiers de la ceramique égyptienne 1 (1987), 81-96.

Budka forthc. = J. Budka, Vessels of life: New evidence for creative aspects in material remains from domestic sites, in: B. Bader, C.M. Knoblauch, E.C. Köhler (eds.), Vienna 2 – Ancient Egyptian Ceramics in the 21st Century. Proceedings of the International Conference held at the University of Vienna 14th-18th of May, 2012, Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta [Leuven 2013-2014, forthcoming].

Hope 1982 = C.A. Hope, No. 69: Decorated vase, in E. Brovarski/S.K. Doll/R.E. Freed (eds.), Egypt’s Golden Age: The Art of Living in the New Kingdom, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, Boston, 86-87.

Lopez Grande/de Gregorio 2009 = M.J. Lopez Grande/E. de Gregorio, Cerámicas del Reino Nuevo con decoración pintada y plástica halladas en Dra Abu el-Naga (excavaciones del Proyecto Djehuty), in M. Polo/M. Ángel/C. Sevilla Cueva (eds), Actas III Congreso Ibérico de Egiptología / III Congresso Ibérico de Egiptologia. Trabajos de Egiptología (Papers on Ancient Egypt 5:2), Puerto de la Croz (Tenerife), 31-48.

Seiler 2006 = A. Seiler, „Erhebe dich, Vater! …, deine Milch dir, die in den Brüsten deiner Mutter Isis ist.“ Zu Form und Funktion einer Gruppe anthropomorpher Gefäße aus der Nekropole in Dra’ Abu el-Naga/Theben, in E. Czerny et al. (eds.), Timelines. Studies in honour of Manfred Bietak (Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 149/1), Leuven, 317-327.

Smith 2003 = S.T. Smith, Wretched Kush. Ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London and New York.

Stevens 2006 = A. Stevens, Private Religion at Amarna (British Archaeological Reports, International Series 1587), Oxford.

Making progress: Towards petrographic studies of our pottery samples

Today, Giulia is invited to watch first steps of works with our samples in the thin section laboratory of the Center for Earth Sciences, University of Vienna, Department of Lithospheric Research. We brought the first 12 samples for thin sections there yesterday – a group of Marl clay amphorae and another group of Oasis ware.

Samples1We are very grateful to all the colleagues who made this cooperation possible – the infrastructure at the Center is fabulous and promises high quality results, important steps forward for our petrographic studies on New Kingdom ceramics from Sai Island! The thin sections will allow Giulia to investigate under various types of microscopes the properties of the individual wares in detail and to assess the microstructure of the sherds. This will help us tremendously to understand the differences we have made between the wares from the macroscopic point of view and might already challenge some of our classification. For example, one “Marl D” sherd is a bit peculiar and different from the others – I suspect it might be a Mix clay after all, but hopefully the thin sections and the comparison between the samples will shed light on these questions.

We wish to thank in particular Prof. Christian Köberl, Deputy Head of the Department of Lithospheric Research (and Director General of the Natural History Museum Vienna) for his kind support, Dieter Mader for welcoming us at the department and Sigrid Hrabe and Claudia Beybel for the work in the lab, for realising the thin sections of our samples and especially for giving Giulia the great opportunity to learn a little bit about the technical steps of work.

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.