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.

End of week 7: mud sealings, pottery vessels & not yet a tomb

The final phase of our 2015 field season is approaching, only three more weeks to go!

This week, Miranda Semple and Sayantani Neogi successfully completed their geoarchaeological research respectively the micromorphological sampling within the New Kingdom town area – several profiles of cultural deposition were taken from SAV1 West and SAV1 East. This set of soil blocks is the starting point for thin section manufacture and micromorphological analysis in the upcoming years. Taken from 18th Dynasty contexts, they will allow us addressing questions of site formation processes and the ancient use of space.

Our group of Viennese physical anthropologists (Anna Sonnberger, Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager) started their work with sorting bones from the town excavation – even if there are some interesting human remains from SAV1 West and SAV1 East, they are of course eagerly waiting for new material from the cemetery site SAC 5. At the cemetery, the group of workmen supervised by Pierre Meyrat and Huda Magzoub were busy with surface cleaning in area 1. No clear outlines of possible superstructures or shafts of New Kingdom tombs were yet found, but several sandy areas are notable.

Work in progress, area 1, SAC 5.

Work in progress, area 1, SAC 5.

In the magazine, registering of both finds and pottery continued. In addition, Sabine Tschorn has joint us to work on the quite substantial corpus of Nun-bowls from the town site. The current focus of find processing, however, is still on the large amount of material coming from feature 15 – Oliver Frank Stephan is currently drawing the intact and almost complete vessels from this important context. A large number of pots is broken in many fragments – reconstructing and gluing them is very time-consuming, but of course essential.

30 complete or almost complete pots from feature 15 were already drawn this week.

30 complete or almost complete pots from feature 15 were already drawn this week.

Ken Griffin and Meg Gundlach continued with registering finds – our database now comprises a total of 3800 objects! Especially interesting is the corpus of seal impressions from feature 15 – 42 mud sealings were already registered, more than a dozen new ones just came up today! There is a number of well-preserved impressions of seals of Hatshepsut and Thutmose III, but others are still in the style of the Second Intermediate Period.

One of the fragmented mud sealings with knotted geometrical patterns common in the Second Intermediate Period.

One of the fragmented mud sealings with a knotted geometrical pattern common in the Second Intermediate Period.

Processing and photographing different categories of finds, drawing and sorting of ceramics and of course the field work in the cemetery SAC 5 will keep us very busy in the next weeks.

First clay sealings from SAV1 East!

After a short mid-season break, we continued today with some of our workmen at SAV1 East and SAV1 West – our cellars are keeping us busy.

Work at feature 15 continues...

Making good progress with feature 15…

The results from feature 15 are especially interesting: yesterday, I had the chance to sort the material sieved on Thursday – and, as I was very much hoping for, a quite considerable number of clay sealings came up! At least on 25 pieces a part of the seal impression is still preserved – including royal names, exciting and highly relevant!

Sieving of important contexts continues, promising more finds and especially seal impressions!

Sieving of important contexts continues, promising more finds and especially seal impressions!

Today, thanks to the help of our washing man, I was now able to check the dating of the pottery from the context the clay sealings were found. Of course, this is for now just a preliminary assessment!

Hundreds of sherds from feature 15 have been washed already and are waiting to be processed.

Hundreds of sherds from feature 15 have been washed already and are waiting to be processed.

Both ceramics and sealings cover a quite large time frame – ranging from the late Second Intermediate Period to Thutmoside times. At least two seals give the name of Thutmose III (Men-kheper-Ra) – this fits perfectly to the previously assumed building date of Building A and feature 15 based on the ceramics – both on the sherds from the last season and the newly excavated material. However, just in the last bag of the sieved material I checked today another seal impression came up: unfortunately broken in its upper part, the lower part of the scarab clearly reads “…-Maat-nb” – so probably this refers to no one else than Amenhotep III, Neb-Maat-Re! As of yet, the pottery does not support such a late date… Amenhotep III is however well attested on Sai Island and plenty of pottery excavated this season from SAV1 West is datable to his reign.

New finds and new questions – hopefully we’ll soon be able to say more!