AcrossBorders Study Day in Munich

With all of the exciting results from current fieldwork in Egypt (Elephantine) and Sai (Sudan), it is time to present AcrossBorders’ most recent research in public. I am delighted that the first “AcrossBorders Study Day” is scheduled for the upcoming Friday, June 17, 1-6 pm. Thanks to the kind support by our colleagues of the Staatliches Museum Ägyptischer Kunst, the public lectures will take place in the lecture hall of the museum. Entrance is free and everybody is cordially invited!

A wide range of topics will be presented by team members working on various tasks within the project – fresh results from the fieldwork season 2016 on Sai Island including the GIS based documentation and 4D models, New Kingdom prosopography, aspects of the material culture and general thoughts on New Kingdom temple towns as well as new ideas about the New Kingdom landscape on Sai and data based on the micromorphological sampling programme will be discussed.

Looking much forward to this lecture day and to a reunion with fieldwork team members & friends of AcrossBorders!

Programme AcrossBorders Study-day1

Making progress – post and pre-excavation working steps

Another jour fixe brought most of AcrossBorders’ team members together yesterday – after a very intense summer full of excavations in Egypt (Asasif, Abydos…), lab work (geoarchaeological samples, strontium isotope analysis, mollusks…), data base updates (pottery) & conferences (Florence, Vienna, Athens)!

Currently travelling back and forth between Vienna and Munich, I am very happy that the planned publications by Ingrid Adenstedt (reconstruction of SAV1; architectural report) and Florence Doyen (SAV1 North) are well in time and almost completed. Furthermore, nice first results came up from the strontium isotope analysis!

Within the framework of my FWF START-project, a first set of samples from Sai Island (soil, water, recent and ancient animal bones) were processed, thanks to a cooperation with Thomas Prohaska, at the Department of Chemistry – VIRIS Laboratory of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences. Anika Retzmann presented these data at the 3rd Doc Day 2015 in Tulln, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences on Oct. 13. The poster was entitled “Human mobility along the Nile: Preliminary strontium isotope analyses for migration studies in ancient Nubia” and illustrated the Sr isotope ratio of the environmental samples from Sai Island. Very exciting already and I am looking much forward to the next field season and further sampling!

Besides lab work and databases, we are currently also getting ready for the upcoming season on Elephantine! Work will again focus on the pottery and small finds from House 55 and is scheduled for late October until early December. With the new discovery of feature 15 and its contents at SAV1 East, I am excited to conduct a fresh comparison of aspects of the material culture from Sai and Elephantine during the early to mid-18th Dynasty. Now off to Vienna, we’ll keep you posted!

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.

Net weights and fishing

Fishing played obviously a role in daily life at Sai Island, also during the 18th Dynasty. A number of clay net weights, Egyptian in character, attest to local fishing by the occupants – at our new excavation area SAV1E just two net weights have been found in 2013; 20 more pieces have been documented at SAV1N between 2008 and 2012.

This type of weight for fishing nets is well known from Middle Kingdom models found in Egyptian tombs; corresponding artefacts have been documented at major fortresses in Lower Nubia like Buhen and Askut, sites which flourished in the Middle Kingdom (see Smith 2003, 1010). Large variants of such clay net weights with two perforations, resembling the shape of axe-heads, have been dated to the Middle Kingdom. At Sai Island, the size of the objects may vary from very small to middle and large within New Kingdom contexts and such a dating might therefore require a reassessment or at least a site specific chronology. Besides the “axe-head”-type, net weights appear also as re-cut sherds at SAV1N.

Examples of clay net weights and one re-cut sherd from SAV1N.

Examples of clay net weights and one re-cut sherd (bottom right) from SAV1N.

Elephantine provides contemporaneous parallels for both types of net weights from the Pharaonic town on Sai Island. von Pilgrim 1996 has classified the “axe-head” version as type A and re-cut sherds as type C. Interestingly, the distribution of the specific types of weights differs notably between Elephantine and Sai Island. For Level 10 at Elephantine, which is contemporaneous to Level 4 and partly Level 3 at SAV1N, 75.9 % of the net weights are type C (re-cut sherds) and 24.1 % type A (clay object with perforations) (von Pilgrim 1996, 279, fig. 123). The evidence from SAV1N is almost reversed: 17 weights are of von Pilgrim’s type A (= 85 %) and only three (15 %) of type C. Both examples from SAV1E are belonging to type A, thus supporting the dominance of this type of gear on the island.

This notable difference regarding the net weights from 18th Dynasty contexts at Sai Island and Elephantine remains to be investigated in the future. Could it be just an accidental finding, due to the still very small number of weights from Sai? Or might it reflect differences between the fishing gear in Egypt and Upper Nubia? Maybe the Middle Kingdom “axe-head” type was more popular and longer in use in Nubia than in Egypt. von Pilgrim has also proposed that type C at Elephantine, recycled from pottery sherds, is the cheap and ad hoc product for individual needs (von Pilgrim 1996a, 275–278). One could therefore speculate whether the distribution of net weights at Sai was primarily organized at a higher level. Type A might have been imported to Sai from Egypt and fulfilled the local demand for the most part. The need for an ad hoc production of type C would have been consequently less common than at Elephantine. Such a “centralized system of food production” as a reflection of the use of net weights of type A was already suggested by Smith for the Middle Kingdom phase at Askut (Smith 2003, 101). However, as we still do not know the size of the community living on Sai during the New Kingdom, any thoughts about demands and strategies for food production must remain very tentative for now.


von Pilgrim 1996 = C. von Pilgrim, Elephantine XVIII. Untersuchungen in der Stadt des Mittleren Reiches und des Zweiten Zwischenzeit, AV 91, Mainz am Rhein 1996.

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

Reuse of pottery sherds from SAV1E

The reuse of pottery vessels or individual sherds for various purposes is a very common phenomenon throughout the ages and cultures – evidence for material-saving recycling processes in antiquity (see Peña 2007). Re-cut pot sherds as tools with multiple functions are frequently found at New Kingdom domestic sites as can be illustrated by material from Qantir (Raedler 2007; Prell 2011, 92) and Elephantine (Kopp 2005b; see also Budka 2010c). Such a reuse of ceramics is also attested in Nubian cultures, e.g. for cosmetic palettes (Williams 1993, 45 with note 49).

It comes therefore as no surprise that the small finds of our new excavation area within the Pharaonic town of Sai Island, SAV1 East, comprise a large number of reused sherds, similar to SAV1 North. From a total of 322 registered finds from SAV1 East, 103 have been classified as reused sherds. Among these 103 pieces, 17 can be dated to the 18th Dynasty, another 3 as more general to the New Kingdom and 4 pieces are from Nubian sherds of unclear date, but with a possible origin in the New Kingdom.

Example for reuse of lower part of dish as lid/cover

Example for reuse of lower part of dish as lid/cover

In sum, only 20% of all the reused sherds are connected with the Thutmoside activity at SAV1 East. The majority originates from the Post-New Kingdom. The objects securely dated to the 18th Dynasty include: 7 ring bases of dishes, re-cut to be used as lids or covers, 5 scrapers, 4 fragmented pieces of unclear function (most probably also used as scrapers) and 1 small disk, possibly a token.

Among the scrapers, a preference for Nile silt plates and dishes is notable; only SAV1E 290 is a reworked piece from a Marl clay vessel – this scraper was re-cut from a large storage vessel, a type known as meat jar. As yet, no fishing weights in the shape of reused sherds – commonly attested at Egyptian sites, e.g. at Elephantine – have been found at SAV1 East.

SAV1E 084: fragment of reused ringbase of 18th Dynasty dish.

SAV1E 084: fragment of reused ringbase of 18th Dynasty dish.

SAV1E 006: fragmented re-cut sherd.

SAV1E 006: fragmented re-cut sherd.

In sum, although still much smaller in number, the types and variants of reused sherds discovered in 2013 at SAV1 East parallel the findings from five years of excavation in SAV1 North. Further fieldwork will investigate whether this is accidental based on the small quantity, or whether this group of artefacts reflects similar activities in the different sectors of the Pharaonic town of Sai Island.


Budka 2010 = Budka, J., Review of Die Keramik des Grabungsplatzes Q1 – Teil 2; Schaber – Marken – Scherben. Forschungen in der Ramses-Stadt, Die Grabungen des Pelizaeus-Museums Hildesheim in Qantir – Pi-Ramesse 5, ed. by E. B. Pusch & M. Bietak, Hildesheim 2007, Orientalische Literaturzeitung 105/6, 2010, 676–685.

Kopp 2005 = Kopp, P., VI. Small finds from the settlement of the 3rd and 2nd millenium BC, 17, in: D. Raue et al., Report on the 34th Season of Excavation and Restoration on the Island of Elephantine []

Peña 2007 = Peña, J. T., Roman Pottery in the Archaeological Record, Cambridge 2007.

Prell 2011 = Prell, S., Einblicke in die Werkstätten der Residenz. Die Stein- und Metallwerkzeuge des Grabungsplatzes Q1, Forschungen in der Ramses-Stadt, Die Grabungen des Pelizaeus-Museums Hildesheim in Qantir – Pi-Ramesse 8, Hildesheim 2011.

Raedler 2007 = Raedler, C., Keramikschaber aus den Werkstätten der Ramses-Stadt, 1–266, in: E. B. Pusch (ed.), Die Keramik des Grabungsplatzes Q I – Teil 2. Schaber – Marken – Scherben, Forschungen in der Ramses-Stadt, Die Grabungen des Pelizaeus-Museums Hildesheim in Qantir – Pi-Ramesse 5, Hildesheim 2007.

Williams 1993 = Williams, B. B., Excavations at Serra East. A-Group, C-Group, Pan Grave, New Kingsom, and X-Group Remains from Cemeteries A-G and Rock Shelters, OINE X, Chicago 1993.

The cosmopolitan inhabitants of New Kingdom Sai?

Having read a very interesting article this week, I would like to come back to the subject of Egyptian imitations of Aegean vessels and imported fine wares in contexts of the New Kingdom town of Sai Island.

Caitlin Barrett 2009 investigates “The Perceived Value of Minoan and Minoanizing Pottery in Egypt” – by reviewing the archaeological contexts and by comparing this evidence to the textual and iconographic data, Barrett comes up with some very interesting thoughts on Egyptian attitudes towards Minoan goods.

Minoan vessels were obviously highly valued by the Egyptians of the 18th Dynasty (Barrett 2009: 221), but are not restricted to the elite as they are attested in contexts of various social strata, with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. I find the following especially thought-provoking: “During the Late Bronze Age, then, Egyptians may have valued Minoan ceramic imports not only because they were specifically Minoan, but also, more generally, because they came from this international sphere. The use of foreign objects and design motifs would have given private individuals a way to participate in this far-ranging koiné, demonstrating their sophistication and cosmopolitanism.” (Barrett 2009: 225)

Within the context of Sai this line of thought opens a lot of questions: Was it appealing for the Egyptians living on Sai to be perceived by the local inhabitants as cosmopolitan Egyptians? Was the range of painted ceramic vessels, so different from the Nubian pottery style, used to demonstrate the sophistication of the officials? Or was it perhaps important for an Egyptian himself, living abroad, to surround himself with things and objects evoking the international sphere from cities like Memphis and Thebes back home?

Pottery as one of the main classes of material culture in ancient settlements was of prime importance for daily activities but ceramic vessels are also carrying information about the identity of its user. This holds especially true for vessels related to food preparation and consumption, but equally for other types within the large corpus of settlement pottery with various functional aspects. I wonder whether the considerable amount of imported (not Egyptian) vessels on Sai in the early-mid 18th Dynasty, with a large number of painted jars, contributed to create a “home away from home” for an Egyptian official in the 18th Dynasty. The complex mixture of ceramics, including imitations of Minoan vessels like the pottery rhyton N/C 1205, might have allowed the temporary inhabitants of Upper Nubia to participate in the international age in vogue at home. Or at least to fake a sophisticated life according to the standards at home.

Apart from this attractive idea of an active role of ceramic vessels in creating “Pharaonic life style” on Sai Island (cf. Barrett 2009: 227), it is also possible that imported vessels were regarded, especially in Upper Nubia and maybe by (Egyptianized) Nubians, as simply pretty “knick-knacks with exotic cachet” (Barrett 2009: 226). However, as objects never have one single meaning, it remains to be tested how the entire ceramic corpus of New Kingdom Sai contributes to the reconstruction of life styles on the island.


Barrett, Caitlin E., The Perceived Value of Minoan and Minoanizing Pottery in Egypt, Journal of mediterranean archaeology 22, 2009, 211-234.

Back to some initial ideas: Bread at SAV1E

Having finished excavating Square 2b, the southern extension of our area SAV1E in the New Kingdom town, I would like to come back to some of my thoughts at the very beginning of our work there: It intrigued me from the start that especially in the southern part there are so numerous fragments of bread moulds – several hundreds of fragments were found this season, the detailed quantitative analysis is still on-going. Naturally, we connected this frequent appearance of bread with the neighbourhood to Temple A, located just 30 meters further to the South.

Today, having completed the section drawing of the Southern baulk of Square 2b, I noticed again a high number of bread cones and some ashy areas. It is especially feature 26 which is interesting in this respect and it shall be briefly introduced here: From the very start of digging, the South-western corner of Square 2b comprised a sandy depression and a lot of mud brick fragments.

Overview of eastern part of Sq. 2b - feature 26 is visible in the background.

Overview of eastern part of Sq. 2b – feature 26 is visible in the background.

We soon labelled this “feature 26”, obviously a kind of pit in the surroundings of feature 26 and not too far away from the storage bin 14. Going deeper and cleaning all the collapsed bricks, the size of feature 26 decreased from 1.85 x 2,05 m to just 1.30 x 1.70 m – but its outline became much clearer! Its eastern side is quite well preserved, no matter that the bricks are very decayed. It definitely had once a circular shape and both inside and towards the western part there were ashy deposits – and again, a large number of bread moulds appeared!

Feature 26 in its final state of excavation.

Feature 26 in its final state of excavation.

Altogether, feature 26 might really represent the remains of an oven – and maybe an area for heating the typical bread cones.

As feature 26 is located well outside of Building A, set against the natural gravel deposit on the sloping ground at the southern area of SAV1E, I tentatively propose that this structure belongs to some kind of an industrial zone between Temple A in the South and Building A in the North.

Organising finds & objects

At the end of week 7, our File Maker database comprises all objects excavated in 2013. 278 finds have been registered so far – these are Unbenannt-1mostly stone tools, grinding stone fragments, re-used sherds but also some fayence beads and clay objects. The database gives some basic information, a short description and all measurements of the individual finds.

Each piece was recorded by digital photographs; selected finds were also drawn in 1:1. Drawing of small finds will continue in the next 2 weeks on Sai. DSC_0041 SAV1N


But as Nathalie who was in charge of the object database is unfortunately already leaving this weekend, we have started packing some of the registered objects in boxes for future storage. As much as we will miss our chief registrar as a person, there is nothing missing or left to finish, all was thoroughly organised – many thanks for a perfect job as usual!

Fire dogs … and other adorable canines!

Nicole Mosiniak, a MA student from Humboldt University Berlin and skilled draftsperson with a lot of experience in documenting ceramics from Egypt, just started her research on the so called “fire dogs” from the Pharaonic town of Sai Island. IMG_4305DSC_6819

The nick name of these ceramic vessels (of which we found large numbers) derives from hopefully clear associations: a snout-like nose, two eye-like perforations and two long conical ear-like extensions (some archaeologists have had also connotatNC_5ions with pigs, which are not as convincing because of the long ears)! Although the functional use of these vessels is not precisely known, they are usually connected in Egyptological literature with processes involving fire and burning, most likely cooking.

Nicole aims at reassessing these ideas and will report about her recent findings herself in the near future!

As our team is full of dog-lovers apart from Nicole, we are very happy that we could extend our affection for canine creatures: from the New Kingdom “fire dogs” to another simply adorable representative of canines: Thanks to the Sudanese school holidays, the digging house became the temporary residence of our cook’s family puppy-dog – with the multi-lingual education and attention she is currently receiving, a dog with a most promising future!IMG_4289IMG_4283

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.