More Observations from the Architectural Survey

The architectural survey of the southern part of town proved to be very successful and many new observations could be made as well as old ones verified. Back in Vienna, the sketches and measurements taken on Sai will be integrated into a new map of the New Kingdom town and the written observations will be compiled into a so-called room book.

H1_5_Korridor von Süd

Overview of the residential buildings showing the grid-like pattern

Overall it can be said that the buildings in this part of the Pharaonic settlement were apparently well planned and executed. The walls are throughout perpendicular to each other, forming rectangular rooms and a strict grid of houses and streets.


Detail of the brick-laying technique

The building technique of the walls is very homogeneous as well: basically, only two brick formats were used, larger ones with 40x19x9cm at the so-called palatial building and smaller ones with 33x17x8cm elsewhere.The applied brickwork also always follows a similar pattern. One course of bricks consists of facing stretchers followed by a number of headers according to the thickness of the respective wall. In the alternating course, the stretchers were placed on the other side of the wall. Large gaps were left between the bricks, which could be up to 10cm wide. The thickness of the walls varies from about 54cm to 106cm, whereby one can assume that the houses with thicker walls had a second storey.

Of special note is the large residential building in the eastern part of the town. Apart from its considerable size, the execution of the brickwork and the building details sets it apart from the other dwelling units. The building had a central hall with six columns – two of the column bases are still in situ – and floors in the main rooms made of brick which were laid into a special pattern. The finely cut sandstone thresholds are further proof of the high standard of this residence.

SAF2_Raum 3 von West

Entrance into the so-called palatial building


Brick floor of the palatial building

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

Assessing Nubian Fabrics of the New Kingdom

DSC_6354This week we have the pleasure to introduce a new team member who has just joint us in the lab: Giulia d’Ercole has recently received her PhD in Prehistorian Archaeology at the Sapienza Università di Roma. She has worked on manufacture techniques of Nubian ceramic traditions in the 6th-3rd Millennia BC, focusing on Khartoum variant, Abkan and Pre-Kerma material and taking Sai Island as a sample site. Giulia will soon become a member of the core team of AcrossBorders in Vienna, extending her research into the New Kingdom, conducting in particular petrographical, mineralogical and chemical analysis of the ceramics. I am very happy that she made it to Sai island prior to her appointment!

She is currently assessing the Nubian ceramics of the New Kingdom, both from SAV1E, the new excavation site of 2013 and from SAV1N, the area to the north within the Pharaonic village, excavated in the last 5 years. Trying to establish main groupings for the fabrics and wares, it is already striking that some vessels show a close similarity to the Prehistorian wares, whereas others are distinctly different. Giulia’s first evaluation thus raises a lot of interesting questions and shows the rich potential of her line of research!

Evaluating the Northeast corner of Building A

Approaching the end of our fieldwork, we are currently focusing on measuring DSC_5404and mapping the excavated northern part of Building A. As stated earlier, on its eastern side and here at its north-eastern corner, the northern wall running East-West continues towards the Nile.

We have by now removed part of the debris covering this area, comprising of decayed mud bricks, mud mixed with plant remains and very diverse pot sherds, mostly of the Christian and IMG_3777Ottoman period. The complete thickness of the wall is visible, with several bricks still in place, confirming our negative evidence of the robbed wall trench further to the West. At least two layers are preserved and a third layer is partly recognisable. Cleaning of the Northeast corner is time-consuming and not yet finished – assessing the Northeast corner of Building A is thus still on-going and will continue tomorrow.  IMG_3704

A Brief Update on the Architectural Survey

DSC_5173The architectural survey and the reexamination of the southern part of the Pharaonic town of Sai Island continues as planned. Its current focus lies on the eastern part of the area with a prominent large structure, the so-called palatial building featuring a large hall with columns. Floor DSC_5193levels and pavements are partly well preserved and the zone is very interesting, but also highly complex.

Making detailed sketches and taking measurements of structures, walls and mud bricksDSC_5184 are the main daily working tasks of our architect Ingrid Adenstedt in order to reassess the town plan.


The Architectural Survey

Apart from the newly excavated area, one focus of this year’s campaign lies in the reexamination of the southern part of the town which was uncovered in the 1970ies by M. Azim. In this area, the remaining walls are in parts preserved up to 2-2.5 m.

The original layout of the New Kingdom settlement can be traced very well here: inside a massive fortification wall with the main entrance gate situated on the western side and facing a temple (Temple A), the streets and houses are laid out in a grid-like pattern with distinctive quarters for the administrative buildings, residential houses and storage rooms.

H_overall view01

Overview of the residential quarter of the New Kingdom town

The task of this year’s three week long architectural survey of the area is to take a closer look at the remains and to reassess the results and observations made in the 1970ies. In the first week, the work focused on the storage area. While in the northern and southern part longitudinal storage rooms were built over the remains of round silos, the central part of this town quarter presents itself as more complex: here, at least four building phases can be detected, considerably changing the original layout of this storage area. In the last phase, housing units were possibly built into the former storage rooms.

Remains of a storage silo

Remains of a storage silo

New Kingdom door post reused as a threshold

New Kingdom door post reused as a threshold

The method of work as of now is to make detailed sketches and to take measurements in order to enhance the city plan made in the 1970ies. This and the compilation of a catalogue of each room shall serve as a basis for further research. In the remaining two weeks of the survey, the focus of the work will shift to the residential quarters. A closer look shall also be taken on the various building techniques applied in the different areas of the town.



Excavating Pit 6 in Square 1

IMG_2119Excavations at SAV1E have reached a state where we spend most of our time clarifying small details and cleaning specific areas and features.

Simultaneously with work in both, the northern and southern extensions of our squares in SAV1E, we started today excavating pit 6 in Square 1. Similar to the circular pit 5, it is located just west of the eastern wall of Building A. IMG_2056

Feature 6 is much larger than e.g. pit 17 in Square 2. Its filling consisted so far only of clean sand containinDSC_4067g very few pottery sherds. But going deeper today, we found a lot of mud brick debris in its southern part, two stone tools made in quartz (hammer stones) between the collapsed bricks as well as a small amount of pottery (comprising both early 18th Dynasty and Post-New Kingdom material).

We still haven’t reached its base, so its size and especially the depth remains uncertain. It was cut into the pebble surface also used for setting the walls of Building A and is most likely contemporaneous to our main structure at SAV1E.

Processing Finds from SAV1E

While there was no fieldwork today, we used this Friday to continue the processing of finds and ceramics. After 4 weeks at SAV1E, a total amount of 12 176 pottery sherds have been analysed – from the total 36 % are 18th Dynasty in date (4375 pieces). SAV1E-P18

Bread moulds, beer jars, dishes and plates are the most common types. The beer jars (cf. picture to the right) are especially numerous and seem to have been made in a local Nile clay variant.

Some of the small dishes found at SAV1E show a nice splash decoration with red paint inside like the rim sherd illustrated here – this pattern is well known from Egypt and predominantly originates from the reign of Thutmose III. SAV1E-P20.9-04 in


Small finds and objects are still rather rare at SAV1E – as reported, we have a number of reused sherds, a clay weight, pounders and other stone tools, especially grinding stones. Some of the latter were found directly in the sandy remains filling the negative outline of the outer walls of Building A. SAV1E-120-01

In the north-eastern corner of Square 2, we discovered from the lowest level of bricks a small fayence ring bead, probably of New Kingdom date.

All in all, we have traces of grinding, bread making, possibly fishing and storage facilities at SAV1E – typical domestic activities in Egyptian towns, of which some are also commonly associated with temples and cultic activities. With two more weeks of fieldwork in our excavation area, we attempt contextualising SAV1E and its architectural and material remains further.


Circular pits within Building A

As reported some weeks ago, we have several circular pits just west of the eastern wall of Building A. There are two of them in Square 1, the northern of which still featured some collapsed mud bricks at one side. Today we extended work on the third one in Square 2, more or less in line with the two others in Square 1. We still have not reached its bottom, but interestingly, removing the northern baulk of Square 2, we found a lot of mud brick debris at its eastern side.

IMG_1598 smallAs we have experienced with the external walls of Building A themselves, the sandy filling is really a kind of negative impression of former brick work which was completely dismantled. Are our circular features therefore former silos, originally lined with bricks? Or something else, maybe ovens? We are still uncertain about them, at least they seem to be contemporaneous to Building A; excavation in the upcoming week will hopefully answer some of our questions.