Giulia d’Ercole has spent her first month in Vienna working on the selection of pottery sherds from Sai Island, unearthed from both areas SAV1 North and SAV1 East, which we exported thanks to the kind approval and support of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums. The samples have been registered according to fabric groups derived from a preliminary, macroscopical inspection.
The sherds comprise Nile silt wares and Marl clays, Nubian wares as well as imports from Canaan and Egyptian oases. Our prime interests are possibilities to assess properties of local fabrics for both handmade Nubian style vessels and wheel-made vessels in Egyptian tradition.
Prior to the scientific analysis on the samples which will be undertaken later this summer, Giulia is now busy taking photographs of both the surfaces and sections of the sherds. These pictures will be included into the FileMaker database and form part of our documentation.
During the last two weeks, I had the pleasure to share the lab with Huda, our inspector, Vicky and Nicole – still very busy and concentrate on her plenty nice fire-dogs! – and to have a first look at the Nubian ceramic assemblages from both SAV 1N (excavations 2008-12) and SAV 1E (the new excavation) areas within the Pharaonic town of Sai Island.
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I am very grateful to Julia Budka to allow me to access these materials and to daily exchange with me precious remarks and ideas about pottery! Having the opportunity to study and to compare these ceramics already now, on the field, is really useful to me and also very important in order to elaborate the best sampling strategy for the future laboratory analyses (OM, XRPD, XRF, INAA)!
In these days, a preliminary macroscopic classification of the wares was realized and four different fabrics were recognized, basing on content and the typology of the main non-plastic inclusions present in the pastes.
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As a general remark, all the Nubian wares are characterized by a sandy-silt matrix and contain – in a variable amount – small (< 0,5 mm) to medium (1 < 2 mm) quartz grains, mica plus white calcareous inclusions (probably micritic calcite aggregates?). Organics (dung and/or straw and chaff remains) are also present and they seem to represent the main tempering agent used by the ancient potters.
Example of Nubian Fabric 1 – Fine ware, dung tempered
Example of Nubian Fabric 3 – Coarse ware, chaff tempered
It was a very nice ‘surprise’ to me realizing close similarities between these ceramics of the New Kingdom (c. 1500-1100 BC) and their ‘ancestors’ from the Pre-Kerma period (c. 3000- 2600 BC)! Such a continuity observed in the selection of both raw material and tempers appears to be the result of a very ancient and durable local tradition; highly important to recognize and to understand in its cultural and social meaning!
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In the next days, I will have also the opportunity to compare this Nubian material with the Egyptian-style pottery from the same contexts!
This 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!
Sometimes archaeologists just need luck – and lucky we were today: at the very edge of our gravel deposit in Square 2, just next to the newly discovered feature 18, a small pile of pot sherds was found.
Interestingly, they belong mostly to a large Nubian storage vessel – which we started to reconstruct in the afternoon as soon as the sherds have been cleaned.
There was also Nubian fine ware of the Kerma culture present, together with small fragments of Egyptian beer jars and dishes. All in all, the recent evidence from SAV1E confirms the appearance of both Nubian and Egyptian wares in the early occupation phases of the New Kingdom. It compares perfectly with our findings in SAV1N.
That Sai Island was an important northern stronghold of the Kerma Kingdom is already well known, but the detailed relations between the indigenous inhabitants and the Egyptians at the beginning of the 18th Dynasty is still poorly understood. With finds like ours today, we are making small steps forward in assessing what seems to have been a complex coexistence of cultures with a lot of interactions.
From working at several archaeological sites in Egyptian Delta and Nile valley up to the First Nile cataract and acquaintance with various types of ceramics, it can be said that the pottery collection coming from SAV1 North in Sai Island offers a significant opportunity to study a great diversity of both Egyptian and Nubian pottery. These are diverse in fabrics, manufacture techniques and shapes. Such a variety is evidence of a multi-cultural society that has lived on Sai around ca. 1400 BC.
During the first ten days of the 2013 mission, pottery drawings achieved have covered a good amount of these various ceramics mainly including the essential elements of house hold such as storage vessels, dishes, bowls and cooking pots.
The Nubian ceramics, containing a good majority of cooking pots decorated with impressions from rectangular or circular basketry, recall the Nubian pottery found on Elephantine Island during the early New Kingdom in shapes, decorations and handmade techniques. Other vessels like dishes, flower pots and incense burner are typical of Egyptian 18th Dynasty style.
Drawing both Nubian and Egyptian pottery simultaneously allows a worthy chance of comparison. The pursuit of ceramics documentation throughout this season can indeed expose other interesting details that are crucial to the study of the whole pottery corpus in Sai.