Hidden Highlights 5

Material: Fayence
L: 1.5cm
W: 0.4cm
H: 0.6cm

Though partial, the finger ring SAV1E 2882 is an excellent representation of ancient Egyptian personal adornment. The ring is made from blue fayence molded into the form of a wadjet, broken through the shank (band) and at the opposite connection point with the bezel.  The wadjet (or “Eye of Horus”) motif is amongst the most popular for amulets, produced from the Old Kingdom through the Roman Period. The imagery is taken from the loss (and recovery) of Horus’ own eye in his epic battle against Seth and was seemingly thought to protect the wearer from any and all types of harm.

Like so many aspects of their material cultural, jewelry served a dual function for the Egyptians, being both amuletic and indicative of wealth, rank or social status. Even fayence benefited from this duality, as a material that was widely affordable and admired for its transformative properties. Thus, it is no surprise that fayence is the most common material used for the production of jewelry. Compared to other forms of adornment, finger rings have a relatively late appearance (Middle Kingdom) and would have been widely produced by the settlement of Sai in the Eighteenth Dynasty. Similar rings are known from many New Kingdom sites, but the emergence of the openwork bezel for wadjet rings at this time may indicate SAV1E 2882 holds a humble place amongst its contemporaries.

Hidden Highlights 4

Material: Clay   L: 5.7cm; W:4.1cm; H:4.3cm

SAV1E 851 initially presents itself as a somewhat challenging figurine. Rather crudely shaped out of clay, the shape is elongated with one rounded and one broken end. With a little imagination it is possible to visualize this object as the rear end of an animal.  This creature must certainly be recumbent as the smooth preserved bottom precludes the attachment of legs. Unfortunately, the surface of the area where a potential tail may attach is damaged. Though the shape is vague, the prominently incised decoration is quite remarkable. Two lines of incised dots run across the back (one forming the edge of break), a common design of body adornment on the rudimentary style of clay female figurines which are frequently found within the New Kingdom settlement of Sai.

In addition to the dotted lines, the left flank bears a lotus petal and the right a butterfly, motifs typically found on the well-known faience hippos of the Middle Kingdom. The combination of the shape and the distinctive decoration means that this (previously) unremarkable lump of clay must be a hippo!

As the largest indigenous animal in Egypt, the hippopotamus was memorialized in art from the Predynastic Period onwards. Commonly associated with the protective qualities of the goddess Taweret or the chaotic forces of Seth, the hippo motif finds a home in both the private and public spheres. As such, representations may include either the composite form of the deity or the animal itself. Zoomorphic figurines are known in a range of materials and like SAV1E, clay hippos are attested also in the New Kingdom settlements of Amarna and Lisht.

Off to Sudan

Every year again… The holidays are just over and the first team members are getting ready to start the next season on Sai Island, Sudan. Meg, Franziska and me are flying to Khartoum tonight, hoping to reach the island later this week.

Not everything is like every year though – it’s going to be our final closing season on Sai Island, I am very much looking forward to finishing excavations in SAV1 West, SAV1 East and of course in Tomb 26.

It will be for sure exciting and splendid sun-settings like every year will make life with the nimiti-flies endurable.

We will of course share nimiti- and nimiti-free-moments with you and will keep you posted about AcrossBorders final Sai Island season 2017!

Report of fieldwork 2016 on Sai Island

Having just returned from Elephantine, it’s time to prepare the final fieldwork season on Sai Island, scheduled for January to March 2017. We will finish work in the two sectors within the town area (SAV1 East and SAV1 West) and in the New Kingdom cemetery SAC5 (Tomb 26).

The very successful 2016 season added important information about general aspects of the evolution of Sai Island in Pharaonic times and here especially during its heyday in Thutmoside times. The 2016 report is now available, promising further findings in 2017!

Feature 15 – another update

Giving a lecture about Sai in Hamburg last week, I had not only the pleasure to meet dear colleagues and friends there (and to have a great Abydos-Berlin-reunion!), but also to spend some time thinking about feature 15.

Feature 15 is definitely the highlight of AcrossBorders’ excavations in SAV1 East and has kept us busy ever since 2013. The large subterranean room (5.6 x 2.2 x 1.2m) was dug into the natural gravel deposit and lined with red bricks. Its filling deposit was very rich in archaeological material: large amounts of charcoal, hundreds of dom-palm fruits, abundant animal bones, c. 100 almost intact ceramic vessels and more than 200 clay sealings. The sealings comprise a large number of royal names (Amenhotep I, Hatshepsut and Thutmose III), a seal of the viceroy Nehi and various floral decorations in a style typical for the Second Intermediate Period.

Feature 15_Seite_1Thanks to the stratigraphic sequence, several phases of use can be reconstructed for feature 15. A dating of these building phases was already proposed in 2015, based on the clay sealings and the ceramics (Budka 2015) – the stages show an interesting correspondence with the building phases of Temple A and its surroundings. Most importantly, a section of wall 44, the western boundary wall of the courtyard of Building A, is set into feature 15, thus definitely later in date and sitting on top of the lowermost deposit of feature 15.

It was therefore clear that feature 15 was already in place before one of the main walls of the courtyard of Building A, wall 44, was built. Only this season in 2016, we removed wall 44 and excavated the deposit below it, exposing the westernmost part of feature 15.

The deposit corresponded to the lower filling of feature 15 east of wall 44. Several fragments of pottery and a clay sealing are especially significant. The small fragment of a mud sealing (SAV1E 203) shows a stamp which contains the name of Mn-xpr-ra (Thutmose III), written vertically and without a cartouche, with a nbw-sign beneath. Two uaeri extend downwards from the disc and face the exterior sides of the stamp. The top of the stamp is not preserved.

Feature 15_Seite_2

The results from the 2016 season therefore nicely support the reconstruction of the building phases from 2015 ‒ Building A was extended in the later phase of the reign of Thutmose III (maybe even under Amenhotep II) and wall 44 was set into feature 15 at this stage.

The study of the complete set of finds discovered in feature 15, currently underway, will contribute to the functional analysis of SAV1 East in general and Building A in particular.


Budka 2015 = J. Budka, The Pharaonic town on Sai Island and its role in the urban landscape of New Kingdom Kush, Sudan & Nubia 19, 40–53.

65 days ago still in the field, now ready for publication: an example for post-excavation working steps

Post-excavation work is keeping us very busy at the moment in Munich, the summer term has also started with teaching and exams. Among the priorities of current tasks is the digitalization of pottery drawings in order to prepare publication-ready illustrations. These days, it was the turn of a very thought-provoking group of vessels: Egyptian cooking pots. One of these vessels is of particular interest.

A large fragment of a cooking pot from Square 4B was among my favourite finds from SAV1 East during the 2016 field season. The vessel, SAV1E P179, found still filled with ashy deposits, was sitting next to the remaining parts of a mud brick wall.

IMG_8133a1Close by, another highlight, SAV1E 1595, a small steatite scarab, was discovered. Both finds, the cooking pot and the scarab, are coming from a room to the west of Building A – traces of pavements and various deposits allow reconstructing several phases of use in the early/mid-18th Dynasty.

Coming back to the cooking pot SAV1E P179: After documenting the vessel in its original find position, we removed it and the content was sieved for further analyses. The cooking pot itself was put on the “priority list” for drawing – Daniela did a great job in Sai, and now in the office with our interactive multi-touch pen display.


SAV1E P179 gives really significant evidence: stratigraphically datable to the Thutmoside period, it finds close parallels at Elephantine in Upper Egypt. It is a typical example of a wheel-made, authentic Egyptian cooking pot. It was made in a very sandy Nile clay variant which was presumably produced at Elephantine/in the Aswan region – this cooking pot was therefore shipped from Egypt to Sai!


Whereas storage vessels and amphorae are commonly transported along the Nile, it is quite remarkable that also cooking pots were transported for long distances to places outside of Egypt. Imported cooking pots allowed Egyptian-style cooking in Sai during the early to mid-18th Dynasty. Obviously authentic cooking pots were considered to be important like SAV1E P179 illustrates. Our ongoing processing of the data suggests that this gradually changed in the course of the 18th Dynasty – the degree of dependence of Sai from Egypt became different and the local production of wheel-made pottery was introduced/increased.

The pottery from Sai Island New Kingdom town promises fascinating insights into the complex and developing microcosm of the site attesting to a co-existence of Egyptian and Nubian elements – we will work hard to decipher as much as possible in the next months.

Summary of the 2016 field season on Sai

AcrossBorders’ 2016 mission on Sai Island has just ended after 10 fruitful weeks of excavations and lab work. Excavations were carried out in three areas in the Pharaonic town (SAV1 East, SAV1 West and SAV1 Northeast) and in the New Kingdom cemetery SAC 5.

At SAV1 West, the eastern extension to Square 1S in SAV1 West, labelled as Square 1SE, yielded several small mud brick buildings. Feature 123, extending into Sq. 1S, was completely exposed and was of great interest. Its layout is different from the other structure along the “wall street” and an infant burial came up in its westernmost compartment – probably from a later phase of use, most probable the Christian period. Like proposed in 2015, the earliest phase of occupation at SAV1 West seems to be contemporaneous to the building of the town wall and dates to the mid-18th Dynasty. There is clear evidence for several phases of use within the 18th Dynasty.

At SAV1 East, extensions were added towards the western and southern part of the site (new Squares 4B, 4C and 4B1). Within Square 4, the western part of feature 15, our beloved large subterranean room lined with red bricks, was fully excavated.

Completing excavation in feature 15.

Completing excavation in feature 15.

Pottery and seal impressions found below the wall 44 of Building A set into this cellar proof the dating of the corresponding building phase to the later reign of Thutmose III. Extensions in the new Squares 4B, 4C and 4B1 yielded in situ remains of large mud brick magazines with schist pavements. Several building phases within the 18th Dynasty could be traced, especially of the early and mid-18th Dynasty. All in all, further proof was gathered that sector SAV1 East has much in common and shows many parallels to the southern area of the town, SAV1, excavated by M. Azim in the 1970ties.

To test the assumption that the eastern part of the New Kingdom enclosure wall was running along the sandstone cliff, a 15 x 3 m trench was excavated to the east of the site SAV1 North (called Trench 1 of SAV1 Northeast). Remains of brickwork associated with mid-18th Dynasty pottery can be interpreted as the town enclosure wall and enable us to calculate the Pharaonic town’s exact east-west width.

The test trench in SAV1Northeast.

The test trench in SAV1Northeast with scarce remains of New Kingdom mud bricks.

In addition to the excavation, kite photography of the Pharaonic town and the cemetery was conducted.

One of the days where the wind was strong enough for Martin and his kite!

One of the days where the wind was strong enough for Martin and his kite!

A geoarchaeological survey in the vicinity of the New Kingdom town site and to the south of Gebel Abri was successfully undertaken (January 30 to February 19). This survey took the form of hand auger profiles, as well as opportunistic prospection of exposed and available sections and quarry outcrops. Furthermore, the micromorphological sampling programme was continued, focusing on the 18th Dynasty occupation in SAV1 East, but also testing some deposits in SAV1 West.

Both pottery and objects were processed in 2016, documented by photos and drawings and described in the Filemaker database with currently more than 4600 entries. The focus was on the new material from SAV1 East and SAV1 West ‒ over 400 finds have been registered and photographed. One of the numerous highlights is a scarab (SAV1E 1595) from the floor of a newly exposed room towards the west of Building A.

Large amounts of the newly excavated pottery were processed in sherd yards at the sites (430 baskets from SAV1West, 615 baskets from SAV1 East). A substantial amount of pottery sherds were documented by drawing – the focus was here – due to publication responsibilities – on SAV1 North.

Michaela busy drawing pottery sherds.

Michaela busy drawing pottery sherds.

Work also continued in 2016 in the large New Kingdom cemetery SAC 5 (February 13 to March 11) in Area 2, focusing on tomb 26 discovered in 2015. This tomb was found looted at the beginning of the season – the backfilling of the shafts were taken out during May 2015, the burial chamber was entered and some deposit along the south wall towards the east of the chamber was removed, but the damage was not severe. Excavation work focused on the cleaning of the deposit in the burial chamber (feature 2) – a minimum of 10 individuals were documented from different levels reflecting the long time-span of use of the tomb from the mid/late 18th Dynasty to the Napatan era, comprising Ramesside and Pre-Napatan burials. The burial chamber was completely excavated and emptied.

Final cleaning work & taking measurements in the burial chamber of tomb 26.

Final cleaning work & taking measurements in the burial chamber of tomb 26.

In a large part of area 2 towards the south and east of tomb 26, a complete surface cleaning was conducted, providing proof that this sector of the cemetery is void of tombs, possibly stressing an elaborate position and the high importance of tomb 26.

Work in the surroundings of tomb 26.

Work in the surroundings of tomb 26.

All in all, the new information provided by the latest, very sucessful field season of AcrossBorders will allow us to 1) contextualise further the setting of the Pharaonic town within the landscape during New Kingdom times; 2) elaborate the city map of the Pharaonic town; 3) improve the stratigraphic sequence in all sectors; 4) connect the findings in the town with fresh evidence from the cemetery SAC5.

End of Sai Island New Kingdom town season 2016

Time flies by – the town season 2016 was officially closed yesterday and celebrated together with all workmen with a traditional sheep-dinner and party last night!

Week 6 on Sai Island focused on “cosmetic work” at SAV1 East – the complete area was cleaned for the final surface documentation, description of features and drawings.

Final cleaning at SAV1 East.

Final cleaning at SAV1 East.

Specific areas and small features were excavated – most importantly a very interesting part of Square 4C with a newly discovered rectangular storage pit (feature 76) and impressions of two firing places for baking plates within the pavement associated with this feature. This is one of the rare cases were intact, undisturbed contexts from Dynasty 18 were documented at SAV1 East.

The final task at SAV1 East was to fully excavate feature 15. Wall 44, set into the cellar/feature 15, was carefully dismantled step by step, brick by brick. Although I proposed a dating for the building phases of cellar and wall already last year, firm proof was still missing as the deposit below wall 44 was not yet accessible.

Wall 44, set into feature 15, was carefully removed in order to document the western part of feature 15 and the deposit below the wall.

Wall 44, set into feature 15, was carefully removed in order to document the western part of feature 15 and the deposit below the wall.

Having now cleaned the entire feature, my preliminary assessment was strengthened: both the pottery and seal impressions from below wall 44 testify to a dating in the reign of Thutmose III. Thus, wall 44 was built into feature 44 not prior to the mid/late reign of this king – corresponding nicely to the proposed main building phases of Building A.

Sieving the undisturbed contexts in feature 15 was again very successful: a number of artefacts, most importantly seal impressions were found!

Sieving the undisturbed contexts in feature 15 was again very successful: a number of artefacts, most importantly seal impressions were found!

Excavations in test trench 1 in the new area SAV1 Northeast continued in week 6 as well – and the results are very promising: a substantial mud brick structure of mid-18th Dynasty date was discovered! Very likely the eastern enclosure wall of Sai city, enabling us to upgrade the town map!

Work in progress in test trench 1, SAV1 Northeast.

Work in progress in test trench 1, SAV1 Northeast.

A more concise summary of the town season will follow – for now I would like to thank the team members who have already left the island (Jördis Vieth, Klara Sauter and Adrian de Vries): the data collected in the last weeks are extremely rich and will keep us very busy for a while!

Summary of week 5 at Sai Island, Pharaonic town

As planned, excavations at SAV1 West have come to an end after 5 weeks. At SAV1 East, there are still small things to do – first of all, the final cleaning in feature 15, the large cellar which yielded numerous clay sealings and complete pottery vessels in 2015. The westernmost part of the structure was left unexcavated last year.

At SAV1 West, work focused during this week on feature 123, a very interesting, but still obscure structure with several building phases. In the surroundings of feature 123, remains of occupation deposits and some pavements were documented.

Feature 123 had several building phases and experienced modifications during its lifespan.

Feature 123 had several building phases and experienced modifications during its lifespan.

We also returned to Square 1NW – located in the norther western part of SAV1 West, first opened in 2014 and covering an area in front of the enclosure wall, outside of the Pharaonic town. Interesting remains of mud brick structures and floor levels were observed and will be documented in the upcoming week – hopefully we will be able to add information to the layout of the western façade of the 18th Dynasty enclosure wall – and the later reuse of this area outside of the town.

With the arrival of Sean Taylor and Sayantani Neogi, some micromorphologial samples were taken in SAV1 West and SAV1 East. Complementing our digital landscape model based on kite photography by Martin Fera, Sean and Sayantani also started augering in the western part of the site in order to understand the ancient topography within the context of the New Kingdom town.

Work at SAV1 East focused on the extension towards the northwest – Square 4B1 yielded not only in situ schist fragments and fragmentary walls, but also a very nice sandstone column.

Overview of Square 4B1 in SAV1 East with a sandstone column close to the in situ-remains of the schist pavement. Note the differences in levels!

Overview of Square 4B1 in SAV1 East with a sandstone column close to the in situ-remains of the schist pavement. Note the differences in levels!

Some areas at SAV1 East with 18th Dynasty deposits in Squares 4B and 4C like the one below the in situ baking plate will be excavated in the upcoming week (the deposit has already been sampled for micromorphology).

Finally, we opened a new test trench in the northern part of the town area, just above the sandstone cliff (labelled SAV1 Northeast) – the aim is to check whether an eastern enclosure wall is traceable in this area or not. We are still just below the surface, but some remains of bricks and a promising sandy area were already revealed. Interestingly, Ramesside sherds were present among the ceramics.

Of course, work on the pottery and objects continued simultaneously with the excavation. From SAV1 West, 430 baskets of pottery were processed in 2016! But this is beaten by SAV1 East which yielded a total of 610 baskets… in retrospect, really amazingly large numbers of ceramics! Thanks to these amounts, the phasing and corpus from both sectors are now well established.

Our registrar Meg Gundlach was very busy with a considerable number of finds in the last week – one of the highlights from the town excavation in 2016 is definitely the scarab SAV1 East 1595. I was lucky to find it myself while cleaning the floor in one of the rooms attached to feature 51 in SAV1 East. The scarab beetle itself, made from steatite (12 x 16 mm), has been hacked off, leaving just the decoration on the back. A crudely carved winged cobra/vulture holds a shen-ring with her talons, protecting an empty cartouche in front of her.

SAV1E 1595a combined (thumbnail)Week 6 will allow documenting and describing the excavated features in more detail; and we will also start our landscape survey in the area to the south of Gebel Abri. Very excited about the upcoming tasks and happy with the results so far!

End of week 5 at SAV1 West and SAV1 East

Today, fieldwork officially ended in the New Kingdom town of Sai – five very successful weeks came to an end at both SAV1 East and SAV1 West. Other than last year, timing was excellent (no unexpected cellars…): at SAV1 West everything was achieved and at SAV1 East small scale excavation is waiting – exactly as planned – for me and just a small group of workmen next week.

This is therefore the perfect opportunity to thank all of our Sudanese workmen: Like in the last years, the gang, this time directed by Hassan Dawd, did a marvelous job – despite weeks of really cold weather, days of nimiti-fly attacks and stormy periods, they always did their best; all of our excavations results (a summary of the most important finds will soon follow!) depend on their hard work and expertise they gained over the last years. And, of course, the help and friendship of our colleague Huda Magzoub from NCAM are essential for a successful season and much appreciated.

The AcrossBorders town fieldwork team 2016.

The AcrossBorders town fieldwork team 2016.

Many many thanks to all team members, Sudanese and international, and looking much forward to the second half of AcrossBorders’ fieldwork – 5 weeks of documentation in the field, small scale excavation, landscape survey and work in the cemetery SAC5!