Ippolito Rosellini, Sudan and Pisa

Among the important and well-known early travellers and explorers of the Nile is the Italian Ippolito Rosellini – contemporary and friend of Jean-François Champollion and famous for his publication Monumenti dell’Egitto e della Nubia (published as 10 volumes in Florence, 1832-40). His Franco-Tuscan expedition is currently subject of one of the research projects at the University of Pisa. Back in June 2012, an international colloquium was held at Pisa and published in 2013: “Ippolito Rosellini, travellers and scholars of the 19th century in Egypt” highlighted different aspects of the importance of these early studies for modern Egyptology and our present research.

Rosellini was born in Pisa and got his professorship there – in fact he held the earliest chair in Egyptology (1826). I am very happy to be travelling to this beautiful city of Toscany tomorrow for a guest lecture. I will speak – great surprise – about Nubia in the New Kingdom – and this fits perfectly to the long tradition of the department currently headed by Marilena Betrò: The mission of the University of Pisa was working under the directorship of Michela Schiff Giorgini from 1957-1963 at Soleb – one of the most important Upper Nubian temple sites which we regularly visit during our field seasons at Sai Island.

The temple of Soleb in 2014 (photo: N. Mosiniak).

The temple of Soleb in 2014 (photo: N. Mosiniak).

The magnificent temple of Soleb never fails to amaze me – having visited it first in 2000, it’s always a pleasure to come back to this monument build by Amenhotep III and dedicated to Amun-Re of Karnak and to a local manifestation of the deified king as “Lord of Nubia”.

Amenhotep III and the deity "Nebmaatre, Lord of Nubia", relief at Soleb.

Amenhotep III and the deity “Nebmaatre, Lord of Nubia”, relief at Soleb.

Thanks to the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project there are currently plans for site management and a new visitor centre in the old excavation house of Michela Schiff Giorgini – a very positive development which will certainly contribute to an even higher appreciation of the place by the local communities, tourists and other visitors.

Some of the still standing columns of the peristyle court - closely resembling the ones of Amenhotep III at Luxor temple.

Some of the still standing columns of the peristyle court – closely resembling the ones of Amenhotep III at Luxor temple.

Soleb probably replaced Sai Island as administrative centre of Upper Nubia in the later 18th Dynasty – details are here still unclear, especially because the town area of Soleb has never been archaeologically investigated! Work always focused on the temple and the close-by necropolis.

From Soleb now to Pisa – 2014 is definitely full of intriguing travels connected with ancient Nubia!


World of the living, world of the dead

One of the main goals of AcrossBorders is to improve our under­standing of the population on Sai Island during the New Kingdom and to explore the nature of the coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians. Who were the occupants of the newly founded town in the 18th Dynasty as far as their cultural identity is concerned ‒ Egyptians, Egyptianized Nubians or a mix of both?

Archaeological studies dealing with ethnicity, groups and identity have markedly increased in recent decades (cf. Brather 2004; Gramsch 2009). In Egyptian/Nubian archaeology, some studies have addressed aspects of cultural and ethnical identities (e.g. Meskell 1999; Meskell 2001; Smith 2003). The site of Tombos in Upper Nubia can be mentioned as a ready parallel for studies of biological identities of people buried there (Buzon 2006, 2008) and for a complex social diversity according to the material culture (Smith 2003). Recent studies at Amara West attempt to distinguish between Nubian and Egyptian features within the town (Spencer 2010). Ethnicity has also been addressed with regards to domestic evidence at Askut (Smith 1995).

View of SAC5 from the North.

View of SAC5 from the North.

On Sai Island, the two main cemeteries of the New Kingdom are located south of the town and were labelled as SAC5 and SACP1. Future work of AcrossBorders can now rely on a substantial monograph on SAC5 recently published: Anne Minault-Gout and Florence Thill, Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), FIFAO 69, Cairo 2012. Sai IIThis second monograph on the work of the French Archaeological Mission on Sai Island presents in detail results of the exploration in the cemetery, which already began in the 1970s. SAC5 is of major importance as it was in use for a long period of time, covering the New Kingdom as well as the pre-Napatan period (the so called Third Intermediate Period in Egypt). Its rock-cut tombs with mostly pyramidal superstructures find close parallels in Nubia (e.g. at Soleb, Amara West and Aniba), but also in Egypt (e.g. in the Theban necropolis).

Saï II (Minault-Gout/Thill 2012) is highly recommended to all interested in New Kingdom Nubia! The volume offers detailed descriptions of 24 excavated tombs, referring to architecture, finds, ceramics and interrelationships between graves as well as to the inhabitants of Sai during the New Kingdom. The mortuary evidence from SAC5 strongly supports the findings from the New Kingdom town that there was a complex community of Egyptians and Nubians on Sai Island.  


Brather, S. 2004: Ethnische Interpretation in der frühgeschichtlichen Archäologie: Geschichte, Grund­lagen und Alternativen, Ergänzungsbände zum Reallexikon der germanischen Altertums­kunde 42, Berlin.

Buzon, M. R. 2006: Biological and Ethnic Identity in New Kingdom Nubia. A Case Study from Tombos, Current Anthropology 47.4, 683–695.

Buzon, M. R. 2008: A Bioarchaeological Perspective on Egyptian Colonialism in the New Kingdom, JEA 94, 165–182.

Gramsch, A. 2009: Die Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen: Überlegungen zum Kulturwandel, in A. Zeeb-Lanz (ed.), Krisen – Kulturwandel – Kontinuitäten. Zum Ende der Bandkeramik in Mitteleuropa. Bei­träge der internationalen Tagung in Herxheim bei Landau (Pfalz) vom 14.–17. 06. 2007, Inter­nationale Archäologie. Arbeitsgemeinschaft, Symposium, Tagung, Kongress 10, Rahden/Westf., 9–25.

Meskell, L. 1999: Archaeologies of Social Life. Age, Sex, Class et cetera in Ancient Egypt, Oxford.

Meskell, L. 2001: Archaeologies of Identity, in I. Hodder (ed.), Archaeological Theory Today, Cambridge, 187–213.

Minault-Gout, A./Thill, F. 2012: Saï II. Le cimetière des tombes hypogées du Nouvel Empire (SAC5), FIFAO 69, Cairo.

Smith, S. T. 1995: Askut in Nubia. The economics and ideology of Egyptian imperialism in the second millennium B.C., Studies in Egyptology, London/New York.

Smith, S. T.  2003: Wretched Kush. Ethnic identities and boundaries in Egypt’s Nubian Empire, London/New York.

Spencer, N. 2010: Nubian architecture in an Egyptian town?, Sudan & Nubia 14, 15–24.