Nubian household pottery on Elephantine and its potential

Having just returned from – despite the heat wave – a very pleasant stay in Luxor, I am currently working on the ceramic database of the material from Elephantine. As mentioned in earlier posts, the striking similarities between the early 18th Dynasty levels on Sai Island and Elephantine are currently of key priority for our research.

The upcoming season on Elephantine, scheduled for October-December 2015, will concentrate on freshly excavated material as well as on Nubian pottery from House 55. The latter are of high interest, especially for establishing links between Sai and the region of the First Cataract.

At present, 28 Nubian sherds from House 55 were documented in the database and by drawings and photos. Most of them are cooking pots of various types, but also storage vessel, drinking cups and fine ware are present. Black topped Kerma beakers appear in different qualities. The rim sherd 27606G/c-01 was made in a very fine Nubian fabric and compares well to fragments from the New Kingdom town of Sai and also Kerma itself.

Nubian storage vessel and Black Topped Kerma Beaker from House 55.

Nubian storage vessel and Black Topped Kerma Beaker from House 55.

Very interesting is a large storage vessel of a type well attested both in the Kerma cemeteries and in the Pharanic town on Sai. 27605N/b-03 illustrates the use of a heavily chaff-tempered, coarse Nubian fabric – a fabric attested for large Nubian cooking pots but most often for thick-walled storage vessels.

It will be of particular value to establish, once the excavation of House 55 is completed, the percentage of Nubian pottery within the whole ceramic corpus and the total number and distribution of the various household vessel types – comparing these data with building units on Sai might allow further thoughts about the coexistence of Nubians and Egyptians at the beginning of the New Kingdom.

Small steps forward into the terrain of settlement archaeology in Egypt & Nubia

With a splendid evening lecture by Dominique Valbelle, the AcrossBorders workshop “Settlements patterns in Egypt and Nubia” came to an end. I am very grateful to all participants for making it a successful and also very pleasant event! Special thanks go to all AcrossBorders’ team members and the LMU students helping with the organization. The location of the workshop was just perfect – many thanks again to the Egyptian State Museum Munich – and here not only to the first and second directors Silvia Schoske and Arnulf Schlüter, but also to Dietrich Wildung. His special offer of a guided tour through the galleries was much appreciated by all participants – it complemented the programme of the workshop in a perfect way and illustrated the complex and changing relations between Egypt and Nubia/Sudan throughout the millennia.

Most talks were concentrating on settlement architecture and the planning of settlements. Ingrid Adenstedt presented her 3D reconstruction of the Pharaonic town on Sai – from my perspective a very big step forward for a better understanding of the evolution of the site! Florence Doyen shared her by now much advanced assessment of SAV1 North, proposing interesting ideas about the layout and foundation of the town on Sai.

Cornelius von Pilgrim impressed everyone with speaking about the intriguing house 55 on Elephantine island – I really can’t wait for our upcoming field season to go back there and continue sorting out the complex phases of use of this unusual structure!

Amara West and its huge potential were beautifully presented by Neal Spencer – the state of preservation of the mud brick houses is simply amazing. Manfred Bietak closed Day 1 with new observations on the structure and function of the monumental palace of the Middle Kingdom in Bubastis.

Day 2 was opened with a very interesting session dedicated to settlement patterns in Prehistoric times and to the Pre-Kerma and Kerma periods. Elena Garcea presented her work at Khartoum Variant, Abkan and Pre-Kerma sites at Amara West and on Sai – and was able to pose some thought-provoking questions highly relevant also for the historic periods.

Giulia D’Ercole and Johannes Sterba presented their ongoing chemical analyses of Nubian and Egyptian style sherds from Sai. Johannes got huge complements afterwards: “A contribution by a scientist which was completely understandable!” Of course I totally agree.

Recent discoveries in the ceremonial city of Kerma were the topic of Charles Bonnet’s talk – he showed beautiful 3D reconstructions of these very peculiar buildings of an African kind of architecture. Kate Spence used Sesebi as a case study to pose several key questions for our understanding of so-called temple towns. Her assessment that it is crucial to understand the foundation processes of these sites seems especially noteworthy.

Stuart Tyson Smith led us to Tombos, one of the major bounderies between the Nubian and Egyptian realm during the New Kingdom. He focused on a very large, enigmatic building of 18th Dynasty date found in recent excavations. So much more remains to be excavated at this important site at the Third Cataract!

The last afternoon session was dedicated to 18th Dynasty Egypt – the important site of South Abydos, the Ahmose town, was presented by Stephen Harvey. He addressed not only the oracle cult of Ahmose, but also interesting ideas about ancestor’s cult.

The paper by Anna Stevens was the perfect transition to the final discussion: Anna addressed community and sub-communities at Amarna and raised important issues. “How much did the occupants feel they are part of their/a community” would nicely apply to open but crucial questions we have regarding the occupants of Egyptian sites in Kush – all of us working there have found increasing evidence for a complex social stratification and the entanglement of Egyptian and Nubian cultures.

Dominique Valbelle considered a wide range of textual records for the assessment of settlement patterns in Egypt and Nubia – most importantly, she showed us new material from the excavations in Dokki Gel.

Without doubt, the ongoing excavations of the international missions working in Northern Sudan have widened our understanding of the complexity of settlement patterns in Nubia. There is some hope that we will continue in these lines and might also be able to learn more about Egyptian urbanism by taking into accounts the sites located in Kush.

Faunal remains from Sai Island, New Kingdom town: Pigs at SAV1 North

In the last months, a total number of 492 faunal remains were identified and analyzed from the New Kingdom town of Sai Island. The identification and analysis of species was carried out on Sai Island during the field season 2014 and it was continued in Vienna (Austria) at the Museum of Natural History (1st Zoological Department, Archaeozoology) and at the Department of Palaeontology (University of Vienna). My sincere thanks go therefore to the Sudanese Authorities (NCAM and especially our inspector Huda Magzoub) and also to Dr. Erich Pucher and Dr. Karl Kunst for their constant support here in Vienna!

The bone deposits derive from SAV1 North within the New Kingdom town of Sai, from three levels numbered from 5 to 3, datable to the 18th Dynasty (see Budka and Doyen 2013). Human intervention related to butchery techniques has been detected on the faunal remains from all levels investigated.

Diagram 1: Distribution of mammals and birds from Sai Island, SAV1 North according to the Number of Identified Specimens (NISP) for levels 3-5. The prevalent species are mainly sheep/goats and cattle, but with some differences from level 5 to 3.

Diagram 1: Distribution of mammals and birds from Sai Island, SAV1 North according to the Number of Identified Specimens (NISP) for levels 3-5. The prevalent species are mainly sheep/goats and cattle, but with some differences from level 5 to 3.

The faunal composition demonstrates the prevalence of domesticated mammal species at SAV1 North (Diagram 1). However, the very limited number of bones available from good archaeological contexts (levels 5-3) has to be stressed ‒ the material did not allow statistical processing and all results are of a tentative character based on a restricted corpus of faunal remains. Yet, I do believe that there is rich potential in the study of the animal bones from the New Kingdom town area of Sai, especially with the new stratified material from recent excavations as in SAV1 West, still waiting for analysis. Today, I would like to present some first data concerning one of the interesting species among the attested mammals: the pig (Sus scrofa f. domestica).

Pigs are recorded at a relatively higher percentage, after sheep/goat, at level 5, but a reduction follows at level 4. The profile changes at level 3, where the number of the bones is again increasing.

Pigs correspond to 8 bones from level 5, 10 from level 4 and 55 from level 3.  As it is illustrated in Diagram 1, they are found at a relatively high percentage at level 5. Evidence from level 4 demonstrates that cattle and caprine prevail, whereas pigs are found in a smaller number. Pigs remain just the third prevalent species at level 3, although the total number of bones is higher.

For level 5 and the small number of bones, the skeletal part distribution is not well understood. A small amount of vertebrae, humerus and dentes are noted for this level. Dentes, tarsals and pelvis have mainly survived from level 4. More remains have been recovered from level 3. Mandibles prevail (14.5%) followed by humerus (10.9%), costae (9%), radius (7.2%) and pelvis (7.2%).  Smaller bones (carpals, tarsals, and phalanges) lack completely.

The analysis of the age profile shows that the vast majority of the material coming from level 3 belongs to individuals between 1 and 2.5 years. Some of them are younger than 1 year and only in one case up to 3.5 years. The dental examination confirms the young age for the majority of the animals (16 months). Level 4 presents mainly individuals younger than 2-3 years and in one case older than 3.5 years. From level 5 only one individual is recorded, which seem to be younger than 1 year.

The butchery marks recorded on pigs are mainly related to disarticulation and portioning.

Mandibula of a pig from Level 4.

Mandibula of a pig from Level 4.

Proximal part of a humerus from Level 4.

Proximal part of a humerus from Level 4.

To conclude, pigs recovered at SAV1 North were slaughtered at the optimum age for meat consumption. The very rare cases of older pigs could be related with the needs of reproduction. It is noteworthy that as far as we know pigs in Nubia are mainly connected with Egyptian presence. For instance, the pyramid tomb G301 at Cemetery D of Amara West (19th Dynasty) brought to light a neonate piglet from the western chamber (Binder et al. 2011, 53). On the other hand, pigs have not been found at Kerma in the town or cemeteries (see the studies by L. Chaix, e.g. 1988 and the extensive list of publications available at

In New Kingdom Egypt, pig is among the most numerous species killed for meat and a preference for young animals is traceable in settlements (see e.g. at Amarna, Kemp 2012, 219-220).

It can be very tentatively suggested that the presence of pigs in the earliest level 5 at SAV1 North corresponds to the analysis of the ceramics from the same contexts: The material is New Kingdom in date and Egyptian in character, supporting the assessment that a Pharaonic settlement was founded on the island very early in the 18th Dynasty (cf. Budka 2011; Budka and Doyen 2013).

For now, only some preliminary tendencies for the faunal material from the New Kingdom town of Sai have been outlined. The low amount of the material studied so far has to be taken in consideration, implying that the results might significantly change during the next campaigns. However, the case study of the pig remains from SAV1 North illustrates that the study of the faunal remains from Sai will significantly contribute to the interpretation of the character of the site during the 18th Dynasty.


Binder et al. 2011 = M. Binder, N. Spencer & M. Millet, Cemetery D at Amara West: the Ramesside period and its aftermath, British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 16, 2011, 47–99.

Budka 2011 = J. Budka, The early New Kingdom at Sai Island: Preliminary results based on the pottery analysis (4th Season 2010), Sudan & Nubia 15, 23–33.

Budka and Doyen 2013 = J. Budka & F. Doyen, Living in New Kingdom towns in Upper Nubia – New evidence from recent excavations on Sai Island, Ägypten & Levante 22/23, 2012/2013, 167–208.

Chaix 1988 = L. Chaix, Cinquième note sur la faune de Kerma (Soudan). Campagnes 1987 et 1988. In C. Bonnet et al., Les fouilles archéologiques de Kerma (Soudan), Genava, n.s. 36, 1988, 27–29.

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



Clay figurines from the Pharaonic town

Spending some days in Berlin, I just had the pleasure to meet Nicole and Julia – this season’s registrars of objects who did a great job on Sai! Reviewing the database and object drawings, I’d like to share some thoughts on animal figurines we encounter in the Pharaonic town of Sai.

At all three sites currently investigated by AcrossBorders – SAV1 North, SAV1 East and SAV1 West, mould-made animal figurines, especially of horses, have been found in the upper levels and in mixed fillings of pits cut into the Pharaonic brick work. They are of Medieval date and complement the small corpus of human figurines from the same period.

In addition, all excavation areas have yielded small, hand-modelled clay figurines of humans and in particular of quadrupeds. The clay is usually poorly fired and most figurines are only fragmentary preserved. There are a few rams attested, but the majority represents cattle. As of now, 8 bull figurines have been found at SAV1 North, 1 piece at SAV1 East and 3 figurines at SAV1 West.

Pencil drawing of one of the new figurines from SAV1 West.

Pencil drawing of one of the new figurines from SAV1 West.

The cattle figurines seem to be of 18th Dynasty date and the question arises whether they fall into the well attested Nubian tradition to value cattle highly – especially because the clay figurines might indicate household religious practice and cattle played an important role in Nubian religion (Smith 2003, 133). The prominence of Nubian cattle survived the Kerma kingdom, the animals had a key significance for the Egyptians during the New Kingdom. Our small clay figurines find ready parallels at several sites in Nubia, for example at Quban (Emery and Kirwan 1935, fig. 33) and Askut (Smith 2003, 135, fig. 5.32). At Sai, a particularly well preserved piece was discovered in the so-called governor’s residence, SAF2, during French excavation in the 1970s.

Cattle figurine from the so-called governor's residence.

Cattle figurine from the so-called governor’s residence.

I do hope that upcoming work at SAV1 West will allow us to contextualise the group of cattle figurines in more detail and to confirm their date as New Kingdom. With future finds, we will then be able to continue thinking about the symbolic value and function of these simple but very appealing representations of important animals.



Emery and Kirwan 1935 = W. B. Emery and L.P. Kirwan, The Excavations and Survey between Wadi es-Sebua and Adindan 1929-1931, 2 vols., SAE, Mission archéologique de Nubie 1929-1934, Cairo 1935.

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

Kerma presence at SAV1 East

A small sneak preview of my upcoming London paper: based on results from recent fieldwork, I will summarize our present understanding of the diachronic development of the New Kingdom town at Sai Island, and I will also briefly speak about the possible cohabitation of Egyptians and Nubians.

The earliest level at area SAV1 East within the New Kingdom town corresponds to the domestic remains and structures excavated by M. Azim in the 1970s around Temple A (SAV1, Azim 2011-2012). Azim was able to show that these occupation remains are earlier than the stone temple and thus Pre-Thutmose III in date – based on parallels from the site of Gism el-Arab and observations on Nubian ceramics found in the surroundings of Temple A, an interpretation of SAV1 as Kerma classique habitation site was tentatively suggested (Azim 2011-2012: 36-37).

As reported, feature 14 and other remains in the southern part of SAV1E allowed us to link our new excavation site with the domestic zone around Temple A. Interestingly, within the storage bin (feature 14) and in its surroundings there have been several fragments of Kerma vessels in the local Nubian tradition. A Nubian presence is therefore traceable at SAV1 East, mostly represented by cooking pots, but also fine wares and a storage vessel have been found. This compares well to material documented at SAV1 North and to what Azim mentioned for the zone around Temple A. Parallels can be also named  from other Upper Nubian sites like e.g. Sesebi (see Rose 2012).Kerma presence1Thanks to the associated Egyptian material at SAV1 East, we are able to date the Kerma material as early 18th Dynasty, pre-Thutmose III, but not pre-New Kingdom. Characterized by small structures with single-brick walls and storage facilities, the area at the eastern edge of the site can be safely interpreted as part of the newly founded Egyptian town without an earlier Kerma habitation below.


Azim, M. 2011-2012. Une installation civile antérieure au temple A, 11–36, in M. Azim/J.-F. Carlotti, Le temple à de l’île de Saï et ses abords, CRIPEL 29, 11–63.

Rose, P. 2012. Early 18th Dynasty Nubian Pottery from the Site of Sesebi, Sudan, in I. Forstner-Müller/P. Rose (eds.), Nubian Pottery from Egyptian Cultural Contexts of the Middle and Early New Kingdom. Proceedings of a Workshop held at the Austrian Archaeological Institute at Cairo, 1-12 December 2010, Ergänzungshefte zu den Jahresheften des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes 13, Vienna, 13‒29.

Bread Moulds from SAV1E: An Update

The numerous fragments of bread moulds we discovered this year at SAV1E have already been mentioned.

Selection of fragmented bread moulds from SAV1E.

Selection of fragmented bread moulds from SAV1E.

Several hundreds of fragments were found 2013, outnumbering the very small amount of less than a dozen from five years of excavations at SAV1N considerably. It seems logical to assume that this frequent appearance of bread at SAV1E is connected with the neighbourhood to Temple A, located just 30 meters towards the South.


This might also be supported by the fact that a larger amount of bread moulds came to light in the southern part of SAV1E, especially in Square 2B.

Helen Jacquet-Gordon has published a “Tentative Typology of Egyptian Bread Moulds” in 1981.

Bread Moulds Type D: Fig 5 of Jacquet-Gordon 1981.

Bread Moulds Type D: Fig 5 of Jacquet-Gordon 1981.

Our moulds from SAV1E (and the small number from SAV1N) correspond to her type D – New Kingdom versions of tall, tube-like shape. They are in general very slender with rounded bases – but a prolongation at the bottom appears as well, sometimes with a kind of button-base, but more often with a marked point at the base.

The exterior of the vessels is often very asymmetrical – they are handmade, formed around an inner core/mould, resulting in irregularly shaped direct rims (cf. Rose 2007: 143). The dimensions of the bread moulds from SAV1E vary, but most are between 20-30 cm in height with a diameter of around 5-6 cm.

Field drawings of some of the bread mould fragments from SAV1E.

Field drawings of some of the bread mould fragments from SAV1E.

As Jacquet-Gordon has shown very clearly, this type of bread mould is associated predominantly with New Kingdom temple sites (1981: 19-20), but occasionally also found in tombs and at settlement sites like Amarna (Rose 2007: 143, 288, HC2) and Elephantine. In the case of the latter, very small amounts appear in strata of the New Kingdom and it cannot be ruled out that they are connected with the local temples of Khnum and Satet.

It has to be stressed that a later variant of bread mould type D, labelled by Jacquet-Gordon as type E, is frequently found at Napatan and Meroitic sites in Sudan (e.g. at Kerma, Gebel Barkal, Kawa, Sanaam and Tabo). These moulds are characterised by a more flared shape and a larger mouth diameter, usually less tall than types D. The elongated point of the bases of this type of mould seems to be directly related to the pointed bases of the New Kingdom variants as illustrated at SAV1E. The date of the latter as 18th Dynasty is nevertheless certain as they find close parallels in stratified material at Elephantine (personal observation) and also at Tombos (Edwards 2011: 78, Fig. 3.32). The moulds at Tombos were found in the fill of an 18th Dynasty tomb (TMB005/1) just next to the famous tomb of Siamun (TMB005), recently excavated by Stuart Thyson Smith (see Smith 2003). Interestingly, from the 18th Dynasty tombs on Sai Island, the small number of ceramic objects identified as bread moulds are of a distinctly different form, more closer to Jacquet-Gordon’s type E (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, Part I: 339, Part II: 136, Pl. 130).

All in all, the large quantities of bread moulds found in 2013 at SAV1E might enable us in the future to reassess in more detail the development of New Kingdom types down to Napatan and Meroitic times, with a special focus of potential local variations in Upper Nubia.

References cited:

Edwards, D. N. 2011. The Third-Second Millennia BC. Kerma and New Kingdom Settlements, in: A. Osman/D.N. Edwards, The Archaeology of a Nubian Frontier. Survey on the Nile Third Cataract, Sudan, Bristol, 59-87.

Jacquet-Gordon, H. 1981. A Tentative Typology of Egyptian Bread Moulds, in: Do. Arnold (ed.), Studien zur Altägyptischen Keramik, SDAIK 9, Mainz am Rhein, 11-24.

Minault-Gout, A./Thill, F. 2012. Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), FIFAO 69, Cairo.

Rose, P. 2007. The Eighteenth Dynasty Pottery Corpus from Amarna, EES, 83rd Excavation Memoir, London.

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