Presenting new C14 results from Tomb 26 in Vienna

Teaching classes and exams were finished this week in Munich and now some time for research has arrived! While we are still busy preparing the next monographs about the New Kingdom town of Sai, I am delighted that I will take a short break in the upcoming week going to Vienna. Thanks to an invitation for a lecture at the NHM Vienna, I will be talking about Tomb 26 and our latest findings there.

Among others, I will be presenting for the first time the very interesting results from C14 samples from Tomb 26. Unfortunately, the bone samples all failed to yield any extractable collagen for dating. This is why only charcoal samples were used and processed by the Beta Analytic Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory. Nevertheless, these results are informative and support the phases of use of Tomb 26 as proposed based on the stratigraphy and the ceramic evidence.

I would like to highlight the results for the individual who was the first person interred in Chamber 5. This adult male was the one buried along the northern wall with a deposit of flower pots and other vessels at his feet.

Burial in Chamber 5 of Tomb 26 associated with flower pots deposit.

My archaeological dating – not earlier than Thutmose III, most likely mid-18th Dynasty – is now nicely supported by the calibrated dates of 1451-1291BC.

Looking much forward to this small break and the trip to Vienna which is very likely to result in fresh input for our ongoing analysis of Tomb 26.

Reconstructing the use-life of Tomb 26

Back in Munich, all of us are busy with post-excavation tasks – updating databases and lists, finalizing reports, maps and 3D models as well as digitalizing original drawings. The latter currently keeps Oliver and Daniela busy – they are digitalizing the pottery drawings from Tomb 26.

The amount of complete pots found in the tomb in 2017 is striking – particularly interesting is a deposit of six so-called flower pots and three dishes in the southeastern corner of Chamber 5. Situated at the feet of the presumed earliest burial within this chamber, these ceramic vessels also include a stone vessel.

Deposit of pottery vessels in Chamber 5.

Flower pots – conical deep bowls with perforated bases – are very common New Kingdom types known from Egypt and Nubia (see, for example, Holthoer 1977, pl. 18; Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. II, pl. 132). Their function is still unclear and was much debated. In Sai, they are both attested in the Egyptian town and cemetery SAC5. The best parallels from a funerary context on the island for our new deposit come from the neighboring Tomb 7, excavated by the French Mission. In the main burial chamber of this tomb, a cluster of vessels was found in the south-east corner, including five flower pots (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, vol. I, 49).

Datable to the early-mid 18th Dynasty, these ceramic vessels are key markers to reconstruct the phases of use within Tomb 26. The current task for understanding its complete use-life is to collect all available information (objects, pottery, stratigraphical information, human remains, C14 dates etc.) and process these data with reference to each other.


Holthoer 1977 = Holthoer, Rostislav, New Kingdom Pharaonic Sites. The Pottery, The Scandinavian Joint Expedition to Sudanese Nubia Vol. 5:1, Lund 1977.

Minault-Gout/Thill 2012 = Minault-Gout, Ann / Thill, Florence, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 69, 2 vols., Cairo 2012.

Painter’s pots from SAV1 West

Ancient Egyptian houses have been quite colourful as we know from well preserved sites like Amarna (cf. e.g. Kemp 2012 with nice colour plates and illustrations) and Amara West – in addition to the common mud plaster coating the mud-brick walls, traces of whitewash and painted wall plaster is documented. Also remains of pigments have frequently been found in ancient settlement contexts, most often on some kind of painting palette in various materials.

A small group of 11 pottery vessels from SAV1 West falls into this category and gives first indications that also the houses in the New Kingdom town of Sai might have been partly painted and decorated: these vessels show all traces of pigments on their interior, mostly yellow, blue and some red. These are the most common colours within domestic contexts (as well as for decorating stone blocks of temple architecture).

Interior of one of the painter's pots from SAV1 West.

Interior of one of the painter’s pots from SAV1 West.

The painter’s pots from SAV1 West have all been found in Square 1, towards the east of the enclosure wall, presumably thus connected with structures from the interior of the town. Some grinding stones and hammer stones with traces of pigments have also been noted, as well as plaster remains and what seems to be gypsum.

The vessels are mostly small flat based simple dishes and so-called flower pots – the latter are well known as painter’s pots from tomb context in New Kingdom Egypt (see, e.g. Brack/Brack 1977, 80) and temple sites (for example from the pyramid complex of king Ahmose at South Abydos; personal observation, still unpublished material from Stephen Harvey’s excavation).

One of the "flower pots" from SAV1 West with yellow pigment inside.

One of the “flower pots” from SAV1 West with yellow pigment inside.

Insha’allah we will be able to investigate the pigments, plaster and gypsum left on ceramic sherds and stone tools next year in more detail – possibly with exporting some samples with the permission of the National Corporation for Antiquities & Museums in Sudan for analyses here in Vienna. As yet, the painter’s pots from SAV1 West give small hints that the furnishings in people’s houses of Sai were maybe following similar standards like in Egypt, where light and colour had quite important functions (cf. Kemp 2012, 188-190).


Brack/Brack 1977 = A. Brack and A. Brack, Das Grab des Tjanuni. Theben Nr. 74, AV 19, Mainz am Rhein 1977.

Kemp 2012 = B. J. Kemp, The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti. Amarna and its people, Cairo 2012.