Squat jars, zir vessels and other finds at Elephantine

Among the highlights from week 3 at Elephantine are several complete vessels from room A in House 55. The pottery database of all New Kingdom ceramics comprises now a total of 12257 entries, 1599 coming from House 55. Amazing is the large number of 247 complete or almost complete vessels from the building — many were found in the cellars of House 55, but also as piles of pots left in corners of various rooms.


One of the vessels from the latest phase of use of House 55 which was left behind and found last year is a large Marl A2 squat jar, 45602G/a-4. Only the rim and part of the shoulder is fragmented, otherwise this painted jar is completely preserved. It is of Thutmoside date, finds many parallels at other sites in Egypt, and – most important for us – also in the New Kingdom town of Sai. SAV1W P233, found in a cellar in SAV1 West, is also a Marl A2 squat jar and almost of the exact shape like the Elephantine vessel, especially its rim base. The decoration is slightly different, also illustrating the variability of decoration patterns of this type of vessel which had its heyday under Thutmose III.

Further complete vessels from House 55 are large zir vessels – as pointed out earlier, these are mostly of Marl A4 variants. Nile clay versions are less common, but also present, comparing nicely to the corpus of storage vessels from Sai.

Finds from this season from House 55 are mostly re-used sherds, grind stones and other stone tools; clay figurines are also present in small numbers as are lids and stoppers. Similar to the pottery, both parallels and differences are notable comparing these finds with the corpus from Sai Island New Kingdom town.

Week 4 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow, will focus on the documentation of the many complete vessels from this season and on further object registration.

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.

Hidden Highlights 1: SAV1W 1677

In the course of every season at Sai we find a lot of great material culture that never appears in the blogs, either in the form of the weekly highlights or themed object posts. Some of these things are rare and beautiful. Some of them are weird and wonderful. So, we thought we would start a series of posts to showcase some of our favorite finds of the season. Hopefully you love them as much as we do!

Findspot: SAV1W Material: Fired Ceramic Dimensions: 91x29x73mm

Findspot: SAV1W
Material: Fired Ceramic
Dimensions: 91x29x73mm

Here at Sai we are no strangers to figurines. In fact, there are nearly one hundred entries in the database classified as figurines, most often zoomorphic. Of this large collection, none are quite like SAV1W 1677…

SAV1W 1677 is the head portion of a larger animal figurine. The eyes are represented by small points of clay pulled out from the head. Between the eyes are nine incised lines, which look very much like the mane of a horse. The elongated mouth and nose of the figurine are also rather equine. Horse figurines are well known within our corpus, with many already featured here on the blog.

Fig 2 smallHowever, it is clear that these features have been grossly exaggerated for this figurine—the snout itself is 60mm in length! Furthermore, rather than the rounded muzzle of a horse, here the snout flares out and the end surface is concave. No incised details for either the nostrils or mouth have been added. Unfortunately the surface is slightly burnt, so it is not possible to tell if additional details were also added in paint.

Thus, it may be that this creature only shares equine features and is not intended to portray a realistic horse. Perhaps it is simply a creation living only in the mind of the artisan. And being on an island, isn’t it possible that their fictional creatures are river dwellers?  Could this in fact be evidence of a local Nile monster? The Nubian Nessy!?


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!

Exposing in situ-remains of Dynasty 18

Week 4 of fieldwork in SAV1 West and SAV1 East was very busy and fruitful – in both areas we have by now exposed in situ-remains dating from Dynasty 18, the main occupation phase of the New Kingdom site.

At SAV1 West, work in Square 1S, partly excavated in 2015, was continued – and feature 123 along the southern baulk of the trench is getting more and more exciting. We have not yet cleaned its foundation level, but have reached clear occupational deposits of high interest.

Feature 123 in SAV1 West, Sq. 1S, was exposed further.

Feature 123 in SAV1 West, Sq. 1S, was exposed further.

Work was also continued in the “wall street” – exposing more layers which will hopefully be of excitement for our micromorphologists arriving next week!

At SAV1 East, a very nice area for bread making (on a flat baking plate) was discovered – the baking plate was cut and partly hacked away like all the surrounding structures and layers. BUT: below the plate there are still 20 cm of occupational deposit – very exciting and again a task for Sean Taylor and Sayantani Neogi!

With two walls in Square 4B going into the northern baulk, we were forced to extent our excavation area: Square 4B1 covers 3 extra meters to the north and to the west.

The new extension at SAV1 East, Sq. 4B1.

The new extension at SAV1 East, Sq. 4B1.

And here we really found the extension of the walls. Most importantly, my assumption that we had remains of a collapsed schist pavement in the northwestern corner of Square 4B was proven to be correct: yesterday just before noon, I cleaned the scarce but definitely solid and in situ remains of a very nice schist pavement! It was not easy to find, as it is was literally covered by mud brick debris and is cut off from all four sides!

View on scarce remains of what used to be a schist pavement - cut off on all edges in medieval time.

View on scarce remains of what used to be a schist pavement – cut off on all edges in medieval time.

All in all, with this last puzzle piece, it is now completely clear that our large rooms/magazine areas equipped with the sophisticated schist pavement extended to the west – of much importance for understanding the town plan of Sai.

In terms of pottery, I already shared some excitement about very nice findings from SAV1 West. At SAV1 East, it is less spectacular, but very interesting: still, mostly bread and beer! And all pottery associated so far with the walls and pavements are clearly mid-18th Dynasty in date, most probably Thutmose III.  Our 2016 results therefore nicely back up the work of years 2013-2015.

Since Ken Griffin is back to teaching at Swansea, Meg Gundlach is carrying on with the registration of finds on her own at the moment – assisted by Huda Magzoub for some Munselling, and more assistants will arrive in mid-February. There were a number of really exciting finds this week – animal figurines, female figurines and most importantly the first seal impression of this season from SAV1 East!

After 4 four weeks of excavation, I am very happy with the progress so far and looking much forward to the results of the upcoming week…

A scarab, lots of schist, pottery and stone tools: good progress in the New Kingdom town of Sai

Week 3 of fieldwork in sectors SAV1 East and West of the New Kingdom town of Sai has just ended. There were several highlights this week – first of all a scarab from the floor of a small, not yet completely excavated room in SAV1 East. Of course this find came up just after our registrars Meg and Ken finished a blog post about their activities! We’ll share this highlight in another post very soon.

Very good news from SAV1 East: more remains of mud brick walls in situ were unearthed – in combination with lots of schist plates and plaster: evidence of destroyed pavements.

R0120678aPottery and stone tools were especially numerous from SAV1 West – more blue painted sherds were found, a number of fire dogs including a very unusual one without a “nose”, and lots of beer jars, dishes/plates and pot stands. The stone tools included very nice palettes, grinders and small dishes with yellow and red pigments. They seem to fall into the category of Egyptian type cosmetic instruments well attested at New Kingdom sites. Together with some painter’s pots this all fits very well to last year’s results and attests to some sort of production and use of pigments during the 18th Dynasty.

At SAV1 East, the upcoming week will focus on the clearance of the already visible 18th Dynasty buildings. At SAV1 West, strong layers of debris still need to be removed and are hopefully hiding some in situ-remains of the New Kingdom.

The new square 1SE enlarges our excavation area substantially.

The new square 1SE enlarges our excavation area at SAV1 West substantially.

New insights at the end of week 2

The second week of fieldwork in the Pharaonic town of Sai, in sectors SAV1 East and SAV1 West, went really well. Yesterday, remains of a large mudbrick wall with parts of a schist pavement left in situ were discovered at SAV1 East. Apart from this find in Square 4C, work focus on Square 4B – and was quite successful. Although the layers of mixed debris and sandy pits on top of the New Kingdom structures are again massive, a minimum of three, possible four sections of walls were found. Together with the wall of the schist-covered room, all of this is very promising – it seems as if a lot will be added at the end of this season to the town plan of Sai around the sandstone Temple A and Building A!

North-western corner of Square 4B with remains of new mudbrick walls between layers of debris.

North-western corner of Square 4B with remains of new mudbrick walls between layers of debris.

Regarding pottery, the mixed layers hold a large percentage of early-mid 18th Dynasty ceramics – mostly beer jars and bread moulds. Like proposed in earlier seasons, possibly an indication that the area we are currently excavating was functionally attached to the temple and its cult.

AT SAV1 West, Martin Fera and Klara Sauter made very good progress documenting substantial debris and large sandy pits cutting into the New Kingdom levels. We are still busy with Post-Pharaonic layers, but the New Kingdom material found in these mixed contexts is very well preserved and of great interest. Exactly like in the last years, there is a striking high amount of painted wares. The highlight of this week is definitely a fragment of a nice Egyptian Blue Painted marl clay vessel.

2016-01-13 12.10.19_resized-1Work in the lab was of course also continued – this week, Meg Gundlach and Ken Griffin got some help from Huda Magzoub, especially in checking the Munsell codes of objects.

Thanks to our enthusiastic Sudanese trainee from NCAM, Roa Abdelaziz, also some work on ceramics from tomb 26 was conducted. Roa and I are currently puzzling with material from the uppermost debris found in the burial chamber and the lowermost shaft filling. This includes a number of Pre-Napatan and Napatan storage vessels.

All in all, I am more than satisfied with the progress and results of the first two weeks! Many thanks to all AcrossBorders team members and especially to the gang of local workmen headed by Hassan Dawd – great job so far!

First results of week 1

We just finished our first field in the field, working on the New Kingdom remains on Sai Island. Unfortunately, our schedule had to be slightly modified – on arrival we found out that tomb 26 was looted back in early summer 2015… So the first unexpected task was of course to document its present state, document the effects of the plundering and clean up the recent debris.

With some delay because of this unfortunate development at cemetery SAC5, we started work as planned in the New Kingdom town. New squares were opened in both sectors currently investigated by AcrossBorders, SAV1 East and SAV1 West.

At SAV1 West, the new extension lies in the south-eastern corner – we are hoping for more mud brick structures contemporaneous to the enclosure wall and located at the inner side of the town. The present findings closely resemble the results from 2015: much material of mid to late 18th Dynasty date was re-deposited in antiquity and now lies on the surface of the area. Large areas of mud brick debris are promising and might cover some structures below.

IMG_6584At SAV1 East, we extended the squares towards the west in the southwestern corner of the area. One of the aims is to assess the east-west extension of Building A; another is to clarify whether a north-south street existed in this part of the town (as it was documented further south by M. Azim).

IMG_6739aThere are no surprises so far at SAV1 East – thick layers of mixed material comprising 18th Dynasty, Ramesside, Post-Meroitic, Medieval and Ottoman finds are covering scarce remains of the New Kingdom. Possibly, we have already located another “negative wall”.

Contemporaneously with the excavations, processing of the pottery is conducted directly at the site in newly set-up sherd yards. The amounts from both sectors are very large – 135 baskets of sherds were processed in the first days from SAV1 East, 100 from SAV1 West.

Stone tools and all other categories of finds are registered by Meg Gundlach and Ken Griffin in the digging house. There are already a number of new fragments of firedogs, net weights, female and animal figurines and of course plenty of grindstones, hammers and pounders.

All in all, week 1 suggests a promising 2016 field season, confirming results from previous seasons, but also enabling us to draw further conclusions.

Looking back: 2015 papers and reports

The 2016 season of AcrossBorders on Sai Island has almost begun – we’ll be flying to Khartoum later today.

As kind of a teaser what one can expect from the upcoming work, I’d like to look back at some of the research conducted by AcrossBorders in 2015. Three relevant papers just appeared in the last days/weeks.

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

In this paper, I tried to summarize AcrossBorders field seasons on Sai from 2013 to 2015 in the sectors SAV1 East and SAV1 West – stressing the important new results on Ramesside activities, both in the town area and the cemetery SAC5.

Bichrome Painted Nile Clay Vessels from Sai Island (Sudan), Bulletin de liaison de la céramique égyptienne 25, 2015, 327–337 by Julia Budka

This is a preliminary report on one of my favorite group of pottery vessels : Bichrome painted nile clay jars, commonly attested in Egypt but also in Lower and Upper Nubia. I discussed their form repertoire and the most common decorative motifs; first thoughts about their possible meaning and provenience were presented.

Ein Pyramidenfriedhof auf der Insel Sai, Sokar 31, 2015, 54–65, by Julia Budka

I am very happy that the magazine Sokar with a focus on Egyptian pyramids, allowed some space in the current volume dedicated to SAC5 on Sai and our discovery of tomb 26 and the pyramidion of Hornakht.

Last but not least, the fieldwork report from 2015 is now available and free to download!