Work in progress in Chamber 5, Tomb 26: more bones, pots & some crocodiles

Week 7 of our field season on Sai just ended – and kept us very busy in Tomb 26. After having finished documenting the burial of Khnum-mes and his wife in Chamber 6, we are now concentrating on Chamber 5 – our hidden western chamber, discovered In January. I am delighted that Marlies Wohlschlager arrived earlier this week, working now jointly with Andrea Stadlmayr as the project’s bioarchaeologists on the burials in this part of Tomb 26.

The nicest find from Chamber 5 so far was just taken out today – a small, quite fragile scarab in faience. Its back part has a wonderful decoration pattern showing a lion, a crocodile (which almost looks like a human/prisoner, maybe not a coincidence…) and a snake.

With two amulets in the shape of crocodiles discovered close by at another individual (and, as yet, still left in place), crocodiles seem to have been preferred themes within the funerary equipment of Chamber 5. Since we have not viewed a single living crocodile during this season, really much welcomed!

Summary of week 6, field season 2017

Week 6 in Tomb 26 focused on the very nicely equipped burial of Khnum-mes in Chamber 6. Documenting it was getting more and more challenging – it is directly next to the northern wall of the chamber, leaving little space cleaning its northern side and for taking photos for Structure From Motion surface models…

Stone shabti of Khnum-mes in situ.

In addition to his nicely painted coffin and funerary mask and the high-quality stone shabti, Khnum-mes has four stone vessels, two of which are inscribed with his name!

A large-sized scarab just came up yesterday, resting outside the southern side of the now decayed coffin, not yet fully exposed. But like the shabti, this piece is very nicely made and will hopefully give us the name of the deceased. Palaeographic comparisons might even allow some judgement whether these two pieces of mid-18th-Dynasty elite funerary equipment were made in the same workshop…
The second burial in Chamber 6 remained anonymous so far. It had some pottery vessels as burial gifts as well as a nice collection of miniature stone and pottery vessels! Together with Khnum-mes, Chamber 6 yielded a total of 6 stone vessels – quite a considerable amount.

Work in the western Chamber 5 makes very good progress thanks to the efforts by Andrea. However, the situation in the northern part is very difficult. A minimum of 5, possibly more, individuals are buried there below debris, very close to each other and partly superimposing another – a real challenge for cleaning and very time consuming!
Some nice finds were already made in this part of Chamber 5 – a small crocodile amulet and a scarab; more are to be expected in the upcoming week!

More discoveries in tomb 26: end of week 9

Week 9 of the 2016 season has just ended – work is progressing well in the cemetery (both in tomb 26 and in the area around the shaft) and in the magazine.

The burial chamber of tomb 26 has produced a lot of really nice objects by now – our fourth scarab of 2016 came up this week! It is still inside the chamber, left in situ as found next to the upper leg of one particularly well preserved individual in the southwestern corner. It is made of faience and bears a royal cartouche (finally :-))! Although already readable, we’ll share this news with you on the blog once the scarab is taken out and registered!

Marlies cleaning the area of of the skeleton where the scarab was found.

Marlies cleaning the area of the skeleton where the scarab was found.

One of the other highlights of this week was a very nice, intact stone pilgrim flask. It was discovered close to the upper body area of one of the individuals in the northwestern corner.

IMG_0124aMarlies Wohlschlager and Andrea Stadlmayr were busy cleaning, documenting and removing several skeletons this week – among them a minimum of two infants – lots of interesting material which will tell us more about the complex history of use of tomb 26.

The area around the shaft of tomb 26 was cleaned by the gang of workmen headed by Hassan Dawd and supervised by Vanessa Becker, Cajetan Geiger and Huda Magzoub. A number of interesting finds were made – first of all a beautiful heart scarab and the lower part of a clay shabti – all hinting to the presence of a near-by shaft; however, until now, the cleaned area is void of tombs.

IMG_0172aWork in the magazine is progressing as well – ceramics are washed and reconstructed, then documented by detailed drawings and the registration of objects continues as is photography. Reorganizing boxes, shelves and storage-space is another important task keeping us busy.

The significant mud brick remains within the test trench in SAV1 Northeast were drawn earlier this week by Michaela Janker and Bartlin Schöpflin. During very happy nimiti-days we all have to endure…

IMG_0246aFingers crossed that today’s wind will last for a some days and help to make the upcoming, final week of AcrossBorders season on Sai as productive and nimiti-free as possible!

Two scarabs from tomb 26

Tomb 26, newly discovered in cemetery SAC5 on Sai Island during AcrossBorders’ field season in 2015, is not yet completely excavated. Our work focused on a careful cleaning of its rectangular shaft – north-south aligned, it measures c. 2.60 x 1.80m with a depth of more than 5.20m. Several flood deposits were exposed and slight differences in the filling material will allow a detailed reconstruction of the use-life of the tomb. Obviously, there were several phases of burials, plundering and abandonment spanning the period from the late 18th Dynasty to Napatan times.

Besides a number of ceramics, including intact vessels, a total of 146 finds was recorded from the shaft filling of tomb 26. The majority are beads in different shapes and made of various materials (jasper, carnelian, faience etc.). The most important objects from the shaft filling are three sandstone fragments giving the name and title of the jdnw of Kush Hornakht who was active during the reign of Ramesses II (Kitchen 1980, 117-118; Budka 2001, 210-212 with further literature).

Several finds indicate a Ramesside burial in tomb 26. Among them there is the scarab SAC5 121, found just above the base of the shaft. This small intact piece made of steatite (17 x 8 x 13 mm) shows on the reverse a seated Maat, a recumbent sphinx with a double-crown and a winged cobra.

SAC5 121a (thumbnail)Parallels are known from the New Kingdom, especially the 19th Dynasty. A nice example was found in Amrit in Syria and is now in the British Museum (BM E48260). To the best of my knowledge, SAC5 121 is the first scarab with this motif found on Sai Island (see Minault-Gout/Thill 2012, pls. 115-118 for other scarabs from SAC5).

SAC5 120a (thumbnail)Another scarab, SAC5 120, of smaller size (12 x 6 x 9 mm) and perhaps also made of steatite, was discovered in the upper levels of the shaft filling of tomb 26. The reading of its reverse is not entirely clear, as is its date. To the left, a mn-sign above an n-sign, above two small signs, perhaps a sun-disc and stroke suggest a reading as “Jmn-Ra”. Is the boat-shaped sign to the right maybe just an irregular version of the j-hieroglyph (reed sign)? Or is it something completely different? Any suggestions are highly welcome! For me, the scarab SAC5 120 seems to post-date the New Kingdom. A number of Napatan vessels from the upper levels of the shaft filling suggest a use of tomb 26 during this period and the scarab might belong to this later phase of burials.

Prior to excavating the burial chamber of tomb 26, it is of course much too early to reconstruct a clear sequence of burials – nevertheless, the interesting material from the shaft allows us a to suggest a complex period of use covering several centuries.


Budka 2001 = J. Budka, Der König an der Haustür. Die Rolle des ägyptischen Herrschers an dekorierten Türgewänden von Be­a­m­ten im Neuen Reich. Beiträge zur Ägyptologie 19. Vienna 2001.

Kitchen 1980 = K. A. Kitchen, Ramesside Inscriptions. Historical and Biographical, Vol. III. Oxford 1980.

Minault-Gout/Thill 2012 = A. Minault-Gout, F. Thill, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5). Fouilles de l’Institut français d’archéologie orientale du Caire 69. Cairo 2012.