Start of week 2 on Elephantine

It’s almost unbelievable – after four busy years, the excavations in House 55 on Elephantine are really finished! Today, Martin Fera took some last photos with the most recent details, including a newly emptied silo, to be added for the image based modelling of the complete building. Documentation will now focus on ceramics and finds – and the aim is, to have an overview at the end of the season of all materials.

The pottery is already well assessed – more drawings and photos will be produced, but with 2000 vessels in the database, the record is now very strong and representative.

The small finds will still keep us busy for a while – currently c. 3600 objects are in the database, but more are still waiting to be recorded. Today, I focused on some re-used sherds which are attested in a very high number. I am in particular interested in the various types of net weights. Most common in House 55 is type C in the classification by Cornelius von Pilgrim (1996). Currently, 64 net weights were recorded and except for one, all fall into this type. The single other weight is type A, the so-called axe-shape type.

Today’s focus: net weights from re-used sherds.

This dominance of type C net weights, mostly produced from Marl C and Marl A4 sherds, is striking – in particular in comparison with Sai Island. As outlined earlier, type C is quite rare in the new Kingdom town of Sai and definitely outnumbered by type A.

In 2013, I was still very unsecure about the interpretation of this difference – with little material excavated on Sai back then, all might have been accidental. But after five seasons on Sai and four seasons of work on House 44, it is now clear that the original line of interpretation is the most likely one, based on a large set of data from both sites.

As von Pilgrim has proposed (von Pilgrim 1996, 275–278) type C, recycled from pottery sherds, seems to represent the ad hoc product for individual needs. The distribution of net weights at Sai was probably organized at a more formal level than in Elephantine, with imported net weights of type A and only rare cases of versions from re-used sherds. A “centralized system of food production” as reflected in the use of net weights of type A was already suggested by Smith for the Middle Kingdom phase at Askut (Smith 2003, 101) and seems to be supported by the evidence from Sai in close comparison with Elephantine.

Tomorrow will be another busy day, full of net weights, sherds and other interesting traces of activities on 18th Dynasty Elephantine!


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.

Summary of week 3, fieldwork season 2017

Having just started week 4 of the 2017 fieldwork season, it’s time to briefly summarize the last week of work in Tomb 26 and in SAV1 West.

In Tomb 26, lots of things changed… The trench in front of the lower burial chamber still keeps us busy – we finally have now an almost complete skeleton still in place. But we still don’t know how much deeper the trench continues. The silt filling is partly void of finds, partly full of bones and also includes some pottery sherds.

Andrea busy cleaning the new, almost intact skeleton in the trench.

A big surprise waited for us in the northwestern corner of the main chamber. I started cleaning there at the very beginning of this season. Already in 2016, a feature in this corner was described as “niche” – obviously a small opening into the western wall, with collapsed stones making an assessment of its size difficult. Well – this small niche is now another chamber, measuring ca. 3.3×3.4m – and actually a “hidden chamber”! Cleaning the entrance area and removing all the collapsed stone from the roof, it became clear that the worked stones lining the western wall of the main chamber hide the second chamber situated further west! Since all was once plastered, the new chamber was once obviously nicely concealed.

Cleaning the new chamber was hard work – it was filled until the top with dense flood levels.

We have almost finished removing the debris, having reached more flood levels with some bones and pottery – at present, it seems that only little remains of burials have survived – however, for the ground plan and general understanding of Tomb 26, this is all very exciting! And we can say already that this new chamber was also plastered – remains were found on the collapsed roof and on one part where we have reached the chamber floor.

Work in SAV1 West is also progressing were well – we managed to finish excavating the extension to Square 1SE to the east which was necessary because of the new cellar found in week 2. Only little in situ mud brick structures have survived – but we will be able to put together ground plans of some nice domestic structures. Besides the cellar, a storage pit and a possible grind stone emplacement were found.

Registration of finds is continuing – our favorite piece of week 3 was a tiny miniature net-weight! Its small size becomes very evident when compared side by side with an axe-head shaped net-weight of regular size.

Furthermore, to round up a very productive week with lots of new finds, we had a perfect Friday trip to Kawa and a wonderful tour by Derek Welsby through town and cemetery – the warm welcome by our British colleagues was very much appreciated!

Last, but definitely not least, I am more than happy that my dear friend and distinguished Viennese colleague Helmut Satzinger joined us yesterday. Timing could not be better: we had the possibility to celebrate today his birthday with a small boat trip – unfortunately without seeing crocodiles, but with plenty of nimiti ;-)!

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.

Evidence for Fishing at SAV1E?

Fieldwork continued mainly in the northern part of SAV1E. DSC_3262We were able to trace already first remains of the eastern wall of Building A which thus definitely continues towards the North.

At this very northern end of our excavation area, just below the surface, a small clay object with two perforations was found today. SAV1E 119 measures 5.8 cm in length and has a height of 2.3 cm. Such objects, resembling axe-heads in clay, have been found in quite large number and in varying sizes at SAV1N, in the northern part of the Pharaonic town of Sai Island. Close parallels from the Egyptian town at Elephantine allow us to interpret them as net weights for fishing (see von Pilgrim 1996). Although this identification remains tentative, it is from our point of view the most likely classification of such objects. However, they might have been used as weights for several purposes (see Giddy 1999 for objects from Memphis/Kom Rabia). SAV1E-119-09

SAV1E 119 is a rather small and thus light example of this type of weighing-down device. But all in all, SAV1E 119 adds to our assessment of the material culture in the Egyptian town on Sai Island – it falls into the category of objects well known from New Kingdom sites in Egypt and probably testifies fishing activity during the 18th Dynasty on Sai.


Giddy 1999 = L. Giddy,The Survey of Memphis II. Kom Rabiaa: the New Kingdom and Post-New Kingdom Objects, EES Excavation Memoir 64, London 1999.

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.