Showcasing settlement archaeology in Egypt and Nubia

The last 5 years have been really busy – with fieldwork at Sai and Elephantine, AcrossBorders has illustrated the rich potential of modern settlement archaeology, taking advantage of recent developments in archaeometry and other interdisciplinary fields.

Results from micromorphology, geology, isotope analysis and archaeometry of ceramics and other materials provide much food for thought and illustrate the complex entanglement of cultures in New Kingdom Nubia. Cooking pots are among the most interesting findings as I have just outlined in a German blog post for the Young Academy on

The closing of the AcrossBorders project is already approaching – to celebrate its success, an interdisciplinary workshop with most of our cooperation partners and many team members will take place next week in Vienna. Hoping for a fruitful discussion of possible future developments related to settlement archaeology in Egypt and Sudan, I am very much looking forward to this event.

AcrossBorders conference – last update

The first participants have already arrived here in Munich, others will come later today – all is set for the 3-days AcrossBorders conference on settlement archaeology in Egypt and Nubia, from 1–3 September, 2017 here in Munich.

Some last-minute changes were necessary – please note the updated program of “From Microcosm to Macrocosm: Individual households and cities in Ancient Egypt and Nubia.” Manfred Bietak’s paper “Settlements of mixed societies: Tell el-Daba as a case study” had to be re-scheduled to Saturday morning and some small amendments were therefore necessary for the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning session.

Looking much forward to this event and latest research on settlement archaeology in Egypt and Sudan during the New Kingdom!

The 5th International Congress for Young Egyptologists in Vienna

Every third year, the International Congress for Young Egyptologists takes place and this time it was hosted by the University of Vienna in corporation with the Austrian Academy of Sciences from September 15-19 in Vienna, Austria. The key theme of the conference was “Tradition and Transformation in Ancient Egypt”, so I took the chance to apply with an abstract for a paper entitled “New Kingdom temple towns in Nubia: Transformation of an (urban) landscape”. Thanks to the scientific committee, I got accepted and was one of 33 speakers! 33 people coming really from all over the world: Australia, United States of America, Japan, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, France, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Czech Republic, Belgium, Germany and of course Austria. Talks with an overwhelming wide range of topics in archaeology, cultural and social studies, religion and ancient beliefs, art, material culture and philology were presented. Additionally Manfred Bietak, E. Cristiana Köhler and Ian Shaw gave very interesting keynote lectures.

Impressions from the International Congress for Young Egyptologists in Vienna, 2015.

Impressions from the International Congress for Young Egyptologists in Vienna, 2015.

I presented my own talk on the very first day within the morning session, so I could relax and enjoy the remaining days with all the talks to come! My presentation dealt with the preliminary results of my ongoing PhD-dissertation on the New Kingdom temple towns in Nubia and was focussed on the display of a supposed development of these settlement structures over almost 500 years and considerations about the typology resulting from this compilation. Furthermore,  I tried to show the impact that the construction of temple towns had in Nubia on urban and cultural transformation processes.

In both the discussion following my talk and in the more informal ones afterwards, I got stimulating feedback and some interesting remarks, which will help me with my ongoing research. Time for meeting old and new friends and colleagues was guaranteed by the generously made time schedule for breaks and receptions, for instance at the Kunsthistorisches Museum Wien. On the last day of the conference we enjoyed typically Viennese cuisine with, of course – Schnitzel! So, it was in every respect a very successful conference! Hereby I would like to thank Andrea Kahlbacher, Elisa Priglinger and all the others who helped organizing this great conference! See you at the 6th International Congress for Young Egyptologists in 2018, then in Leiden.

A Brief Summary of the 2013 field season

After 10 weeks in Sudan, it feels very strange to get ready for leaving in a few days! Today I had to pack everything up at the Museum and to say goodbye to all of the kind and helpful colleagues of NCAM and the French Unit.

Having spent the last days with preparing the lecture and writing the report, many new ideas and thoughts have crossed my mind and I am very eager to continue the post-excavation processing of SAV1 East! We really made some significant discoveries this season – for now, I will just give a brief overview focusing on the most important results.

The key discovery at the new excavation site SAV1E and the highlight of the 2013 season on Sai Island was of course the confirmation of the geophysical survey picture: we were able to trace the eastern part of a very large rectangular mud brick structure (North-South extension of 16.3 + x m; East-West 10 + x m) which we labelled Building A.

Budka 12-03-2013 KHRT Lecture folie 31

Most of the bricks from its walls have been taken out and are now just “phantom walls” represented by a sandy pit, but we found large sections of the foundation trench and also an area with a floor coating towards the North. Associated finds and especially potteryallowed us to date Building A to the mid 18th Dynasty (see below). Its western part still remains to be excavated – the prime task for next season!

All in all, the new fieldwork conducted in 2013 at SAV1E adds important aspects to the understanding of the development and history of the Pharaonic Town of Sai Island:

(1)   The earliest remains at SAV1E are dating to the early 18th Dynasty; there is nothing of the Kerma period prior to the New Kingdom. The area can therefore be safely interpreted as part of the newly founded Egyptian town. The Kerma ceramics we found are clearly originating from early New Kingdom contexts as in SAV1 North.

(2)   The southern part of SAV1E with remains like the storage bin (feature 14) can be linked with the domestic zone excavated around Temple A by M. Azim – this area is characterized by small structures with single-brick walls and storage facilities. It is an early occupation phase comparable to Level 4 at SAV1N and clearly of pre-Thutmose III date. The in situ vessels of storage bin 14 give a more precise dating as early 18th Dynasty, possibly Ahmose-Thutmose I.

(3)   The northern part of SAV1E yielded so-called Building A – a not yet fully exposed mud brick structure with an orthogonal layout and most importantly with striking parallels to the so-called residence SAF2 in the Southern part of the Pharaonic Town. We really cannot wait to excavate the western part of Building A in order to confirm this hypothesis! As we have been fortunate to discover pottery in the foundation trench, we have a good dating indication of the building date of Building A: the pot sherds give us a terminus ante quem non for the setting of the foundations and this is the time of Thutmose III! This all suggests that Building A belongs to the major remodelling of the New Kingdom Town of Sai during the reign of this king. The newly discovered structure does also fit nicely into the grid-pattern of the Southern part of the town with roughly north-south and east-west aligned streets and it is most likely contemporaneous with Temple A and the mud brick enclosure wall.

View above Temple A to SAV1E at the end of fieldwork in 2013

View above Temple A to SAV1E at the end of fieldwork in 2013

Summing up, the first field season of AcrossBorders in 2013 was very successful and will allow us making very specific plans for the upcoming seasons!

Back to some initial ideas: Bread at SAV1E

Having finished excavating Square 2b, the southern extension of our area SAV1E in the New Kingdom town, I would like to come back to some of my thoughts at the very beginning of our work there: It intrigued me from the start that especially in the southern part there are so numerous fragments of bread moulds – several hundreds of fragments were found this season, the detailed quantitative analysis is still on-going. Naturally, we connected this frequent appearance of bread with the neighbourhood to Temple A, located just 30 meters further to the South.

Today, having completed the section drawing of the Southern baulk of Square 2b, I noticed again a high number of bread cones and some ashy areas. It is especially feature 26 which is interesting in this respect and it shall be briefly introduced here: From the very start of digging, the South-western corner of Square 2b comprised a sandy depression and a lot of mud brick fragments.

Overview of eastern part of Sq. 2b - feature 26 is visible in the background.

Overview of eastern part of Sq. 2b – feature 26 is visible in the background.

We soon labelled this “feature 26”, obviously a kind of pit in the surroundings of feature 26 and not too far away from the storage bin 14. Going deeper and cleaning all the collapsed bricks, the size of feature 26 decreased from 1.85 x 2,05 m to just 1.30 x 1.70 m – but its outline became much clearer! Its eastern side is quite well preserved, no matter that the bricks are very decayed. It definitely had once a circular shape and both inside and towards the western part there were ashy deposits – and again, a large number of bread moulds appeared!

Feature 26 in its final state of excavation.

Feature 26 in its final state of excavation.

Altogether, feature 26 might really represent the remains of an oven – and maybe an area for heating the typical bread cones.

As feature 26 is located well outside of Building A, set against the natural gravel deposit on the sloping ground at the southern area of SAV1E, I tentatively propose that this structure belongs to some kind of an industrial zone between Temple A in the South and Building A in the North.

The final week on Sai Island

Today we started into our final week (Week 9) on Sai Island; luckily for us the temperature is increasing daily – nimiti don’t like it hot!IMG_5370

All of us are busy with finishing various tasks – Joerdis and Sebastian with final level plane drawings, Nicole with her fire dogs, Giulia started to look at Egyptian Marl clays, Vicky is drawing and washing pot sherds excavated this season at SAV1E and Huda switched from documenting sherds in the lab to writing up her report of a very busy and long season!

DSC_6356VG washing

I spent today cleaning a bit more in Square 2b: things are definitely getting clearer and several new observations are possible. Nevertheless, it is already clear that we will have to extend digging in this area and will continue here next year, insha’allah!

Both pottery and small find databases increase daily and we will carry on processing, taking a lot of pictures of both objects and especially pottery sherds in the next days!

The foundations of walls of Building A

Today, apart from documenting ceramics in the lab and some mapping in the field, we focused on the North-eastern corner of Building A. As reported, we have a Northern wall running almost East-West, extending beyond the eastern wall towards the Nile. Unfortunately the corner between these two walls is heavily disturbed by a later pit, probably dug in Medieval or Ottoman times. Most of the bricks are lost or broken off; only a few have remained in place. Some of the mud plaster has survived as well – between bricks, but also with negative impressions of now lost mud bricks – thus allowing us to reconstruct part of the masonry. All in all, we are therefore able to trace the alignment of the wall. The northern wall is only 75 cm wide, whereas the eastern wall is more solid with a thickness of 106 cm, thus fitting nicely to a measurement of two Egyptian cubits.

To check the alignment and the junction between the walls, we partly exposed the IMG_4817foundation trench of the northern wall. It is well visible both from above and in the section – on both sides of the wall a quite narrow pit, filled with loose gravels and some large mud bricks. Very unexpectedly, two diagnostic pottery sherds were found in this otherwise findless foundation: both seem to give a very good dating indication for Building A at last! At the first glance, both are mid 18th Dynasty in date and a painted rim sherd, shown here in its original find location south of wall 30, will be very indicative as it can most probably be tied down to Thutmose III or Amenhotep II. IMG_4806

Thus, a dating of our major New Kingdom structure at SAV1E to the reign of Thutmose III becomes more and more likely, confirming our thoughts about the development of the Pharaonic Town of Sai so far!

End of fieldwork at SAV1E

We have just finished excavating for this season at SAV1E – we will continue with small scale cleaning and especially with final drawings and mapping at the site in the upcoming week – and will keep you posted! All together three more weeks will be dedicated to a post-excavation study season on Sai Island – all necessary documentation of finds from SAV1E including the finalising of lists, databases, and photographs, registration of objects and ceramics and drawing of finds.

For now, millions of thanks go to our team of Sudanese workmen dDSC_4083irected by Rais Imad Mohammed Farah – without them the work at SAV1E would not have been possible in the last 6 weeks! I am especially grateful for all of their support and mostly good spirit despite of sometimes extremely severe outer conditions (heat, nimiti-bugs and strong wind) and a very challenging site to excavate – negative impressions of walls are not easy to detect in gravel deposits! Looking very much forward counting on this “winning team” also in the next field season – insha’allah!

team fieldwork 2013

From Field Drawings towards Digital Files

In the sixth week of fieldwork, Joerdis and Sebastian started to digitalize our plans and scale drawings from SAV1E. DSC_5220

DSC_5231 DSC_4823More than 30 drawings have been scanned already – as yet these comprise level plane drawings on scale paper (in scale 1:50) as well as detailed drawings from important features like the storage bin 14 or the basket in Square 2b (in scale 1:10 respectively 1:5). In the upcoming week we will document the relevant vertical sections of the squares in scale 1:20. All drawings are made in pencil and coloured according to a site specific system. Most important are of course the outline of structures and walls, the general alignments of bricks and other features at SAV1E. Especially in view of our challenging state of preservation of New Kingdom levels and structures we pay much attention to all details and try to work as meticulously as possible. This will allow us to establish a detailed plan of our site and excavation area – and here we will of course also include our measurements with the total station and CAD files.

Excavating Pit 6 in Square 1

IMG_2119Excavations at SAV1E have reached a state where we spend most of our time clarifying small details and cleaning specific areas and features.

Simultaneously with work in both, the northern and southern extensions of our squares in SAV1E, we started today excavating pit 6 in Square 1. Similar to the circular pit 5, it is located just west of the eastern wall of Building A. IMG_2056

Feature 6 is much larger than e.g. pit 17 in Square 2. Its filling consisted so far only of clean sand containinDSC_4067g very few pottery sherds. But going deeper today, we found a lot of mud brick debris in its southern part, two stone tools made in quartz (hammer stones) between the collapsed bricks as well as a small amount of pottery (comprising both early 18th Dynasty and Post-New Kingdom material).

We still haven’t reached its base, so its size and especially the depth remains uncertain. It was cut into the pebble surface also used for setting the walls of Building A and is most likely contemporaneous to our main structure at SAV1E.