More micromorphological samples from House 55

The very good state of preservation of various types of floors, pavements and other deposits in House 55 made it simply essential to start a micromorphological sampling programme. Compared to Sai Island, the variety of deposits from clear phases of use and their state of preservation is much higher.

Today, we took further samples in Room C – a large hall with 3 columns; two of the bases were still found in situ during this season. These bases are not only important for reconstructing the layout of House 55, but were also quite handy during the sampling process.

20161129_070316a20161129_080926aUp to now, we have taken 22 samples from House 55. Some more will follow in the next days, making this set of samples a very representative one for early 18th Dynasty settlement contexts with a complex stratigraphy.

Getting ready for week 3 at Elephantine

The second complete week of work here at Elephantine passed by very quickly. Work directed by Cornelius von Pilgrim in House 55 makes very good progress – some interesting new features give fresh food for thoughts about the ground plan and the building phases!
Work in the magazines continues as usual – Meg is busy with the object registration, OIiver is drawing ceramic vessels from House 55. In the last days, he focused on small decorated fragments – Marl clay squat jars, bichrome vessels as well as red splash ware and black rim ware. Processing of the newly excavated pottery is well underway (thanks to the great job of the specialists from Quft!) and so far the results from last year are nicely supported by this fresh material.

In addition, a new micromorphological sampling programme was started this week in House 55. We took 13 samples from various areas in two rooms. We are especially interested in floor deposits and the maintenance of floors, and, of course, general formation processes within the building. The original floors from the earliest phase of use are here of special importance. Taking samples from the well preserved sections here at Elephantine was quite a change to Sai and our sampling there. Whereas at SAV1 West and SAV1 East only little stratigraphy has survived, the perfect preservation of several phases of use of House 55 are over and over again simply amazing!

Looking much forward to week 3 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow and promising new finds and pots.

AcrossBorders post-excavation work – a short update

Time flies by as usual – summer has arrived in Munich and we are already busy in preparing the upcoming season in Egypt!

Post-excavation processing has kept all of us extremely busy during the last months – especially, because we are also preparing a monograph on SAV1 North, presenting the architecture together with the pottery and small finds. Work on the various kinds of samples from the 2016 field season – here especially the geological and micromorphological ones – is well on its way, both in Munich and in Cambridge. The Harris Matrix for the stratigraphy of SAV1 West is getting prepared, data for the pottery corpus were added and descriptions of features updated. All drawings of the 2016 season have already been digitalized and the database of objects is kept up-to-date.

Recently, Martin Fera presented our GIS-based documentation system at a conference – the paper is already published as open source. By the example of both the town excavation and work in tomb 26, the advantages of the SFM documentation were illustrated with selected high quality orthophotos and surface models. Another open access publication is an eBook high-lightening general aspects of settlement archaeology in Egypt and Nubia, presenting AcrossBorders’ microarchaeological approach.

Within my START project, new soil, animal bones and water samples were incorporated for our strontium isotopic analysis in the context of interpreting the skeletal remains from tomb 26. Looking much forward to get here the latest result at a meeting next week with my cooperation partners at VIRIS Laboratory of the Department of Chemistry, Division of Analytical Chemistry of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna!

A micromorphological investigation of space use in the New Kingdom town on Sai Island

The final leg of the journey to Sai Island was by boat under a starry sky, along with hauling luggage in and out of the boat. Fortunately, we had help with the luggage. After a whistle-stop tour of the dig house by Director of the AcrossBorders project, Prof. Julia Budka, we found our rooms and I anxiously checked the archaeological supplies I had brought with me. All was safe and sound, if a little dusty.

As a micromorphologist who specializes in inhabited space, I joined the AcrossBorders team during the 2015 field season with the defined aim of providing a preliminary assessment of the nature of sedimentary depositional sequences within the New Kingdom town. One of the objectives is to detect and characterize traces of space use as indicators of social behaviour. The approach taken for the investigation of daily life activity is a micromorphological analysis of the formation processes of floors in buildings and street surfaces (Boivin 2000; Matthews et al. 1997). These are areas that are a rich source of data for a micromorphologist as the debris of everyday life, for example, hearth rake out informally discarded in a street or, spilled grain accidentally trampled into a floor, leaves tell-tale imprints that are captured in soil blocks.

During the 2015 field season, excavation in SAV1 West exposed a range of contexts for sampling in the street that bounds the town wall. Despite ancient digging during the Medieval and Ottoman periods for mud brick, undisturbed deposits were identified and a series of samples taken. As streets can be more than traffic routes, the objective is to investigate what other activities could have taken place in these areas. One sequence of intact cultural deposits in the thoroughfare was uncovered in the southern part of Square 1. As the deposits seal firmly against a wall on the eastern side of the street, this suggests that the deposits and the wall are contemporary. Visual examination of the depositional sequence indicated a series of thin, compacted silt and sand sediments sandwiched between thicker, looser sediment with occasional pockets of ashy material. These deposits were partially cut by a pit but the sequence, Profile 14, was captured with the assistance of Stefanie Juch.

SAV1 West, context of Profile 14.

SAV1 West, context of Profile 14.

In contrast to the street deposits in SAV1 West, a sequence of thin, fine silty deposits were exposed in the southeastern corner of Square 1. The deposits seal against two intersecting walls suggesting that the context is a building interior (feature 116). The objective is similar to that of the street to investigate how this space was being used. Visual examination indicated fine, laminar sediments consisting of dense, compacted silt and ash with inclusions of charcoal, overlain by a thicker compacted deposit of fine, silty sediment. Again with the assistance of Stefanie Juch, samples were taken from this depositional sequence, Profile 18.

SAV1 West, context of Profile 18.

SAV1 West, context of Profile 18.

SAV1 West, the compacted fine sediments of Profile 18.

SAV1 West, the compacted fine sediments of Profile 18.

Profiles 14 and 18 are but two of the eighteen profiles taken in the New Kingdom town during the 2015 AcrossBorders field season and present a snap shot of the variation in cultural deposits that have been sampled. The visual examination of these deposits suggest a range of intriguing possibilities such as burning, cooking and, or dumping. However, it is only with a full analysis of the samples that the depositional formation processes can be assessed in order to answer questions about use of space and social conventions in the town.

Micromorphological sampling takes time and patience and with enthusiastic support of Director, Prof. Julia Budka and the team the whole process was a highly rewarding and successful experience.


Boivin, N., 2000. Life Rhythms and Floor Sequences:  Excavating Time in Rural Rajasthan and Neolithic Catalhoyuk. World Archaeology, 31(3), 367-388.

Matthews, W., C.A.I. French, T. Lawrence, D.F. Cutler & M.K. Jones, 1997. Microstratigaphic traces of site formation processes and human activities. World Archaeology, 29(2), 281-308.




Kick-off: Year 3 and new perspectives in micro- and geoarchaeology

Time flies by: AcrossBorders is by now already in its third year! Having just returned from a very successful season at Elephantine (thanks to our good cooperation with the Swiss Institute Cairo), I am more than happy that we just held a kick-off meeting in Vienna (Dec 8-9): Our new colleagues from the Charles McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology in Cambrigde, Sayantani Neogi and Miranda Semple, joined us for two days of sharing information, ideas and thoughts about possible applications of micromorphology and geoarchaeology on Sai Island.

Microarchaeology, commonly applied to investigate formation processes on sites in Britain, Turkey and Syria (and very successfully by our colleagues working at Amara West), can provide astonishing results in uncovering human activities in seemingly insignificant traces within archaeological sections. Micro­morpho­­logy and geochemistry will therefore be applied to investigate formation processes and cultural activities within the town site of Sai. Both anthropogenic activities and natural processes will be investigated by chemical analyses, petrographical studies and thin sections of archaeo­logical deposits. There will be a particular focus on floors, walls and archaeological deposits within open areas.

Miranda explaining some of her previous studies at sites in Syria.

Miranda explaining some of her previous studies at sites in Syria.

Miranda is our new specialist for investigating activity areas and more in the different sectors of the Pharaonic town – the focus of her research will be on sampling contexts from our current excavation in SAV1 West.

Sayantani has conducted landscape archaeology in different parts of the world, e.g. in India and Spain.

Sayantani has conducted landscape archaeology in different parts of the world, e.g. in India and Spain.

Sayantani will concentrate on the landscape archaeology and the environmental setting of Sai Island during the 2nd millennium BC. For the upcoming season, sampling of relevant sections, drilling and test pits are planned as well as a detailed geoarchaeological survey in the area of the Pharaonic town and the New Kingdom cemeteries.

All of this will happen of course in close exchange with us working on the architecture, pottery, faunal remains and other finds.

Giulia explaining some of her observations on the petrography of our ceramics.

Giulia sharing some of her observations on the petrography of our ceramics.

I am much looking forward to our 2015 season and I am delighted that thanks to the strong interdisciplinary approach of AcrossBorders, the project is now applying multiple methods, including micro- and geoarchaeology with physical and chemical analyses of samples. This would not be possible without the support of several colleagues and here I am especially grateful to Charles French and his lab in Cambridge (Charles McBurney Laboratory for Geoarchaeology).