This week in Munich: Bioarchaeology in Nubia

I am delighted that in this week AcrossBorders welcomes, jointly with the Egyptian Museum in Munich, Michaela Binder from the Austrian Archaeological Institute here in Munich. Michaela will give a public lecture about her work at cemeteries at Amara West on Thursday, April 26 at 6 pm.

Possibilities and limits of modern bioarchaeology will be discussed with material from Amara West as a case study. Michaela will also illustrate the latest insights into the living conditions during the New Kingdom in Nubia (cf. Binder 2017). This is of course highly relevant to AcrossBorders’ research focus of the past five years, comparing evidence from the New Kingdom town of Sai with the contemporaneous elite cemetery SAC5. I am therefore very much looking forward to this talk and excited to hear more about the anthropological findings at Amara West, especially from the point of view from Sai and the latest study of Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager on Tomb 26. Some pathological finds in Tomb 26 are quite remarkable, concerning Khnummose as well as other New Kingdom individuals buried in Tomb 26 – will be great to compare these findings and possible conclusions about the lifestyle of the occupants of 18th Dynasty Sai with the life histories of Ramesside officials at Amara West!


Binder 2017 = Binder, M. 2017. The New Kingdom tombs at Amara West: Funerary perspectives on Nubian-Egyptian interactions, in: Spencer, N., Stevens, A. and Binder, M. (eds.), Nubia in the New Kingdom. Lived experience, pharaonic control and indigenous traditions. British Museum Publications on Egypt and Sudan 3. Leuven: Peeters, 591-613.


An update on Nun bowls from Sai Island

Back in 2015, Sabine Tschorn recorded all Nun bowl fragments from the New Kingdom town on Sai. This unique group of faience vessels is associated with regeneration and fertility and offers some insights into the daily life of 18th Dynasty Sai.

Happy with small, but diagnostic pieces of Nun-bowls from SAV1 West.

I am delighted that her analysis of the Nun bowls is now published (Tschorn 2017). In her paper, Sabine examines the excavated fragments and their distribution in the different sectors of the settlement as well as their diverse decorative motifs and functions. She is able to show that these faience vessels have to be seen in context with the architectural remains – for Sai, it is highly interesting that most fragments come from SAV1 North and SAV1 West, where a substantial amount of storage facilities and cellars was found, located close to the New Kingdom town wall. An association of the Nun bowls with ritual vessels like footed bowls for burning at both sectors might suggest a connection with offerings and libation. All in all, the function of Nun bowls in domestic settlements of the New Kingdom appears to be quite complex – once again stressing that daily life in ancient times also included various activities connected to the ritual and religious sphere (cf. Stevens 2006).

Thanks to the support of my FWF START project, the paper by Sabine has been published with full open access and will hopefully stimulate further research about an intriguing object group of the New Kingdom.


Stevens, A. 2006. Private Religion at Amarna. BAR International Series 1587. Oxford.

Tschorn, S. 2017. Nun-Schalen aus der Stadt des Neuen Reiches auf der Insel Sai, Ägypten und Levante 27, 431–446

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

An Update on the Building Research

After taking part in two campaigns on Sai Island (see: The Architectural Survey Part 1 and Part 2 and the 3D-Laserscanning Campaign), I am now happy to announce that I have joined the team of AcrossBorders in the beginning of October, which enables me to fully focus on the architectural research of the New Kingdom town on Sai Island.

In the past months, my colleague from the Technical University of Vienna Robert Kalasek figured out a workflow for the post-processing of the huge amount of scan-data that we had acquired during our stay on Sai Island in February. This post-processing includes steps such as registering the single scans together and then cleaning the resulting 3D point cloud, i.e. removing any unwanted information and noises. After carrying out these steps and taking certain vital settings, such as the deviation, the range and the reflectance into consideration, a smooth data transfer into a further post-processing software was possible. In our case we are using the software PointCab, which enables us to create plans and sections directly from the 3D point cloud, which can be further worked out in AutoCAD.

Haus3 PointCab und Scan

3D point cloud of House 3 and plan of house 3 generated in PointCab

After Robert had already prepared some of the ground plans, my first task was to completely revise the ground plan that I had generated last year. The “old” plan was solely based on the sketches and measurements that I had carried out in my first year on Sai and therefore was lacking in accuracy in some parts. With the new laser scanning data, it was now possible to create an exact and – most importantly – a geo-referenced ground plan of the southern area of the Pharaonic town. At this point I would like to stress however, that my hand measurements and sketches were not in vain, since I believe that to really get to know a building and the structure you have to look really closely and carry out old-fashioned hand measurements to “get a feel” for it. Together with the 3D-data, these basics of documentation serve as the perfect combination for drawing analytical plans.

In a further step it is planned to integrate the newly excavated areas (SAV1 East and SAV1 West) as well as SAV1 North into this new plan. On the one hand, these areas were also scanned and geo-referenced, on the other hand they were exactly documented in the course of the excavation. Both of these results can easily be incorporated into the final map of the area. Also, work on detailed plans on the respective buildings in the form of accurate stone-by-stone (or rather brick-by-brick) plans has commenced and will be continued over the next few weeks.


3D scan of Building A (SAV 1 East)

Since a major part of my future work will focus on a reconstruction/visualization of the New Kingdom town, which shall have a strong scientific basis, I have started to look for comparative architecture in other settlements, e.g. Amarna and Elephantine in Egypt or Amara-West, Askut and Sesebi in Sudan. Different aspects of settlement architecture have to be taken in account, such as residential and administrative buildings, storage facilities, the fortifications and the entrance gate. The specific layout of the towns is being investigated as well, so that possible new conclusions for Sai can be made, especially taking into account that of now we still know little of the northern part of the town.

Going into more detail, other aspects I wish to elaborate on are the specific building types and also the building techniques used at the different houses.

H3_Überblick von Nord

House 3 as an example of a specific building type on Sai Island

In conclusion I can say that I am very much looking forward to the upcoming months and working with the architectural remains of Sai Island, which is certainly a very exciting field of work!

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.

Sai Island, the Aegean and the Levant

Pottery is very often used as evidence for trading and the distribution of goods. Information relating to trade networks can also be obtained from the New Kingdom material excavated on Sai Island.

For Egypt, it is well known that the material culture of the 18th Dynasty – especially from the reign of Hatshepsut/Thutmose III onwards until the Amarna age – reflects an intense international transfer of goods and a common long-distance exchange of objects (cf. e.g. Brovarski, Doll &  Freed 1982). This is obviously illustrated by the ceramics coming from SAV 1 North within the Pharaonic town of Sai – a number of Canaanite amphorae, painted Levantine jugs and jars, Pilgrim flasks of various origin, Cypriote vessels like Black Lustrous Wheel-made Ware and a fragment of a Mycenean stirrup jar (N/C 616) are especially noteworthy.

Fragment of a Mycenean stirrup jar from SAV1 North

Fragment of a Mycenean stirrup jar from SAV1 North

These imported vessels show that Sai was fully integrated in the Egyptian trade network with the Eastern Mediterranean, at least from Thutmoside times onwards (Budka 2011, 31; Miellé 2011-12, 187). Besides the precious contents of imported vessels (especially oil and other essences), it is very likely that the vessels themselves held a value and were regarded as prestigious objects (cf. Seiler 2005, 49). They were often passed on for several generations and reused in different contexts, thus providing sometimes difficulties in dating as there might be a considerable difference between the production date and the date of deposition. From the Pharaonic town on Sai Island, several Canaanite amphorae sherds were for example reused as scrapers and for sure had a long lifespan.

Imported vessels other than amphorae are primarily known from funerary contexts, being found as grave goods (cf. Hassler 2010) – as it is also the case on Sai Island. A complete Mycenean stirrup jar was discovered in tomb 21 in the major New Kingdom cemetery south of the town, SAC5. T21 61 is decorated with concentric circles and similar to types found at Amarna (cf. Hankey 1995) and Deir el-Medine (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, 369, pl. 145, 161). Like in the case of N/C 616, there can be no doubt about the Mycenean origin of T21 61 – although Egyptian imitations of Aegean vases are well known from Egypt (Vermeule 1982), the Sai Island vessels are made in foreign fabrics. This is clear from a macroscopic investigation, but further proof is planned by scientific analyses for N/C 616, first of all by NAA.

In Nubia, Mycenean imports are in general rare (cf. Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, 369). A limited number of examples have been recorded in Lower Nubia, especially at Buhen and Aniba, and in Upper Nubia, for example during recent excavations at Tombos (Smith 2003, 152-154, fig. 6.21) and Amara West. The Mycenean stirrup jar from SAV1 North is one of the rare examples for such luxury vessels excavated in domestic contexts (see Hassler 2010, 211 for the primary use of stirrup jars in funerary contexts). It finds good parallels in the Egyptian town of Elephantine (material currently under study by the author) and gives evidence for the complex character of household pottery from Pharaonic settlements – a mixture including besides functional domestic types also painted and extraordinary pieces, most likely regarded as luxury items.


Brovarski, E., Doll, S.K.  &  R.E. Freed (eds.) 1982: Egypt’s Golden Age: The Art of Living in the New Kingdom, Exhibition Catalogue, Boston.

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

Hassler, A. 2010, Mykenische Keramik aus verlorenen Kontexten – Die Grabung L. Loats in Gurob,  Egypt & Levant 20, 207–225.

Hankey, V. 1995: Stirrup Jars at El-Amarna, in W. V. Davies & L. Schofield (eds.), Egypt, the Aegean and the Levant. Interconnections in the Second Millennium BC, London, 116–124.

Miellé, L. 2011-2012: La céramique pharaonique de la ville fortifiée (SAV1 N) de l’île de Saï, CRIPEL 29, 173–187.

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

Seiler, A. 2005: Tradition & Wandel. Die Keramik als Spiegel der Kulturentwicklung in der Zweiten Zwischenzeit, SDAIK 32, Mainz am Rhein.

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

Vermeule, E.T. 1982, Egyptian Imitations of Aegean Vases, in Brovarski, E., Doll, S.K.  &  R.E. Freed (eds.) 1982, 152–158.

New thoughts on Building A

Back in Vienna, processing the data from the field season is keeping us busy. The most important discovery of 2013, Building A is of course still one of the focal points. In general, the new work in area SAV1 East has produced further evidence that the New Kingdom town on Sai experienced its heyday during the reign of Thutmose III and added important knowledge concerning the general layout of the town.

Despite of its fragmentary state, a tentative reconstruction of Building A is possible. Please note that this is a first assessment, any comments are very welcome!

Building A reconstruction small

Our “North”, “East” and “South” walls clearly frame a central part of the complex, but are not the outer enclosures or outer walls. This became clear as we unearthed an area covered by a floor north of wall 21 in Square 1a. This floor (marked as hatched area on the sketch above) was partly cut by later pits filled with dump material, but it is clearly contemporaneous to Building A. So we have a paved area towards our northern limits of excavations. The “Northern” wall running East-West has an obvious corner in the Northwest part of Square 1 – we might interpret this as an entrance situation, a possible doorway into a large courtyard, occupying most of Square 1 and extending into Square 2. Within this courtyard there were several pits, of which feature 6 was the most substantial circular storage installation. Towards the east, this courtyard is flanked by wall 3. This wall allows calculating the North-South extension of this part of Building A as 16.3 m; the East-West extension of the courtyard is still not fully exposed, but was traced as up to 10 m until the baulk of Square 2.

As was posted earlier, Building A finds a very close parallel in the so-called governor’s residence SAF2 in the Southern part of the New Kingdom town. The central part of this building is not a courtyard but a large columned hall with a mud brick pavement. The eastern extension of SAF2 can be compared to our traces of a mud brick wall in the Northeastern corner of SAV1 E – broken off towards the East due to the sloping ground, it is very likely that there was once a kind of annex alongside the courtyard.

Furthermore, and in analogy with SAF2, one might expect a series of small entrance rooms in the western part of Building A which is still not yet excavated. This will be investigated by means of excavations in 2014!

The functional interpretation of Building A must stay open for the moment, but we might have unearthed another administrative building within the Pharaonic town of Sai, with possible links to Temple A and/or SAF2. It is striking that we could date Building A as contemporaneous to these major buildings in the Southern part of the town which all share a common East-West-alignment along a North-South axis, thus following the typical grid pattern of fortified New Kingdom town in Nubia.

All in all, our newly discovered complex at SAV1E seems to support the important role of Sai within the Egyptian administration in Upper Nubia during the 18th Dynasty.

Crossing Borders, Encounters with “Old Friends”

One of the aims of AcrossBorders is identifying human behaviour of specific individuals under different circumstances – some persons have left textual records at both Sai and on other sites. As prominent example, Nehi, viceroy of Kush under Thutmose III, is well attested at Sai, Elephantine and also elsewhere.

One of the door jambs of Nehi, reused as treshold in the New Kingdom town

One of the door jambs of Nehi, reused as treshold in the New Kingdom town

Nehi’s monuments illustrate that mobility of administrative staff and officials is not a modern phenomenon, but was also common in Pharaonic Egypt. During the New Kingdom there is both archaeological and textual evidence that officials had temporary living quarters in different parts of Egypt as well as in Nubia. In addition, statues, stelae, shrines and in particular rock inscriptions allow tracing Egyptian officials at more than one site.

Having spent the last three days in the beautiful region of Aswan, I had the chance to think about the busy lives of the protagonists of the complex Pharaonic administration during the New Kingdom. Egyptian officials who participated in expedition and/or military campaigns towards the South had to pass through Aswan and Elephantine. Obviously they spent some time there before their departure to Nubia as hundreds of rock inscriptions attest.

Bild1 sehel

The island of Sehel is covered with hundreds of rock graffiti, a majority originating from the New Kingdom

Most importantly, I enjoyed the reunion with viceroy Nehi at Aswan – we visited Elephantine where a doorjamb of him was found and one of his most beautiful statues is kept today at the Nubian Museum in Aswan (a kneeling statue holding a sistrum).

In the upcoming years, AcrossBorders will try to tackle questions like: how did Egyptian officials like Nehi experience their job-related mobility and especially their assignments to specific sites, in our case to Sai island? Was a mission outside of Egypt more/less desirable/prestigious? Can we find differences in the ancient reception of staying in the frontier region of the First Cataract or in Nubia proper?

Lecture in Khartoum, March 12 2013

Its a great honor and pleasure that I have been invited by the Sudan Archaeological Society to give a lecture at the Greek Athlannouncement_lecture_Julia_Budka_12th March_2013etic Club here in Khartoum. Tomorrow, at 7.30 pm I will present our latest findings of this season: “New Archaeological Fieldwork on Sai Island, New Kingdom Town”.

I intend to give an overview of our excavations at SAV1 East, focusing of course on Building A and the new evidence we have for substantial Thutmoside building activity within the Pharaonic Town of Sai.

Overview of SAV1 East at the end of our 2013-season.

Overview of SAV1 East at the end of our 2013-season.

New Kingdom Temples and more in Khartoum

IMG_6197After our long trip but successful trip from the North to Khartoum yesterday, we enjoyed a very nice visit to the National Museum at Khartoum today – the museum is a real treasure box full of Sudan’s rich cultural heritage and antiquities!

IMG_6091For the “Newcomers” Joerdis, Sebastian, Nicole and Vicky it was the first time to look at the fantastic collection, Giulia took the opportunity to get some Egyptological background information.

Besides the splendid objects on display, stretching in time from the Paleolithic Period to the Medieval time and more recent periods, we spend much time in the 18th Dynasty temples of Buhen, Semna and Kumma as they compare in some respects nicely to Temple A on Sai. The Egyptian New Kingdom presence in Nubia – our daily topic on Sai Island during the past nine week – was thus highlighted in a perfect way. I am very happy that despite the exhaustion of the past days the remaining team members were still so enthusiastic in sight of these monuments and that many questions came up!