Status: Forthcoming – the monograph about Tomb 26

As announced in January, what began back in 2015 in Sudan is now on the finishing straight. The monograph about Tomb 26 on Sai Island is in production and will appear later this year, published by Sidestone Press. This book is the final publication of Tomb 26, its architecture and material culture, including chapters on geology, human remains, scientific analyses and a compilation of the material discovered. New information provided by AcrossBorders excavations of Tomb 26 contribute to recently discussed questions regarding cultural encounters and social practices in New Kingdom Nubia. Comparable material from other tombs on Sai and elsewhere in Nubia is discussed in order to stress the relevance of the new discovery.

The cover of the forthcoming book, in production by Sidestone Press.

As most of you who followed this blog know, Tomb 26 is one of the Egyptian style pyramid tombs on Sai where the local elite living in the New Kingdom was buried. We had more than 36 burials in this monument and we are now able to reconstruct in detail the life history of the tomb and its users, including the overseer of goldsmiths Khnummose.

The archaeological contextualisation of Tomb 26, in combination with scientific analyses like strontium isotope analysis, offers fresh information on the complex coexistence of various cultural groups on Sai with slightly different approaches to their cultural and social affinities during the New Kingdom. The monument and its finds illustrate as a case study that a high degree of variability of funerary practices within a common repertoire of burial customs adopted from Egyptian standards is most probably rooted in distinct social practices. Overall, Tomb 26 and its associated finds are of prime significance for understanding lived experience on New Kingdom Sai and more broadly in New Kingdom Nubia.

I am very thankful to all team members who worked very hard in the field to document everything in Tomb 26 from 2015 to 2017 and of course in particular to the contributors of the forthcoming book: Johannes Auenmüller, Cajetan Geiger, Rennan Lemos, Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager.

Now all I have to do in this respect is to calm my impatience – I can hardly wait to hold the printed book in my hands!

New Open Data and Open Access of the AcrossBorders Project

Time flies by, also during the Covid-19 crisis – one of the small advantages of cancelled archaeological fieldwork in Egypt and Sudan is that there is more time to process old data and publish these accordingly.

I am proud to announce that we just submitted a book manuscript about Tomb 26 on Sai Island which will be hopefully printed later this year. This book is the final publication of Tomb 26, its architecture and material culture, including chapters on geology, human remains, scientific analyses and a compilation of the material discovered. As part of this publication, we prepared two sets of supplementary data which are already freely available via Open Data LMU:

Furthermore, I am happy to inform that the AcrossBorders 2 volume is now available online (free open access provided via the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press). Hoping that this new access to important data from our excavations on Sai Island, including raw data, will be useful to many around the world – more will follow soon and we keep you posted.

Tracing the New Kingdom population on Sai Island

One of the main tasks of the AcrossBorders project was investigating the New Kingdom population and answering questions about not only the individual lifestyles, but also the origin of the persons. Were the people who lived in the New Kingdom Egyptian town on Sai and were buried in the pyramid cemetery SAC5 Egyptians, or Nubians – or rather a mix of both and the evidence of ‘cultural’ respectively ‘biological’ entanglement?

I am very proud to announce that our paper on the application of strontium isotopes to investigate cultural entanglement in Sai and its surroundings is now out and published (Retzmann et al. 2019)! The main author is Anika Retzmann and many thanks go of course to her and the complete team of authors!

Strontium isotopes were applied to identify possible ‘colonialists’ coming from Egypt within the skeletal remains retrieved from Tomb 26 of the pharaonic cemetery SAC5 on Sai Island. Tooth enamel of nine individuals including the Overseer of Goldsmiths Khummose and his presumably ‘wife’, dating from the 18th Dynasty, were investigated to gain information whether these individuals were first generation immigrants from Egypt or indigenous members of the local population inhabiting the area of Sai Island.

The local strontium signal on Sai Island during the New Kingdom was derived from archaeological animal samples (rodent, sheep/goat, dog and local mollusc shells, all dating from the New Kingdom) in agreement with local environmental samples (paleo sediments and literature Sr isotope value of Nile River water during the New Kingdom era).

As you can read in more detail in the article: the strontium values suggest that all people buried in Tomb 26 are members of the local population. A striking outcome, since the tomb, the tomb equipment, the personal names and titles are all clearly ‘Egyptian’.

Khnummose and the other persons buried in Tomb 26 belonged to the local population of Sai

To make it short: our results are simply exciting, tie in nicely with similar research at Tombos and Amara West – and will be of great importance also for my new DiverseNile project. More information on the complex coexistence and biological and cultural entanglement of Egyptians and Nubians during the New Kingdom are urgently needed. In this respect, we will continue to investigate the isoscape in my new concession – I am very happy that the successful team who did this for Sai will be again involved! The MUAFS area will provide new data from soil, water, molluscs and of course animal bones and human teeth which will allow us to place the data from Sai in a broader context. The periphery of Sai and Amara West, our Attab to Ferka region, also has rich potential to check the validity of our present strontium analysis.

Reference

Retzmann et al. 2019 = Anika Retzmann, Julia Budka, Helmut Sattmann, Johanna Irrgeher, Thomas Prohaska, The New Kingdom population on Sai Island: Application of Sr isotopes to investigate cultural entanglement in ancient Nubia, Ägypten und Levante 29, 2019, 355–380

Another reunion in Vienna – preparing Tomb 26 for final publication

The winter term is about to start in Munich, but I took the opportunity of the period still free of teaching obligations to spend some time in Vienna for different meetings and especially for get-togethers with former and also future team members for my work in Sudan.

Especially productive and full of positive memories was yesterday’s reunion with AcrossBorders’ physical anthropologists, Andrea Stadlmayer and Marlies Wohlschlager.

Andrea and Marlies have already published first insights on the burials within Tomb 26 – available online as part of our recently published book “From Microcosm to Macrocosm”. But the complete data from Tomb 26 will be published as a monograph in Vienna, in one of the OREA series by the Austrian Academy of Sciences Press. Yesterday, we discussed the general outline of this book and very soon talked already about exciting details about the New Kingdom interments of Khnummose and others in Tomb 26. There is still a lot of work to do, but we’re all very much looking forward to this task, bringing together results of three seasons of fieldwork with plenty of data from post-excavation processing.

Insha’allah the book on Tomb 26 will already be available next year – compiling all kinds of data from the excavation, the objects, the architecture to the human remains, C14 dates and strontium isotope analysis and thus highlightening the tomb’s significance for understanding New Kingdom Sai.

Presenting new C14 results from Tomb 26 in Vienna

Teaching classes and exams were finished this week in Munich and now some time for research has arrived! While we are still busy preparing the next monographs about the New Kingdom town of Sai, I am delighted that I will take a short break in the upcoming week going to Vienna. Thanks to an invitation for a lecture at the NHM Vienna, I will be talking about Tomb 26 and our latest findings there.

Among others, I will be presenting for the first time the very interesting results from C14 samples from Tomb 26. Unfortunately, the bone samples all failed to yield any extractable collagen for dating. This is why only charcoal samples were used and processed by the Beta Analytic Radiocarbon Dating Laboratory. Nevertheless, these results are informative and support the phases of use of Tomb 26 as proposed based on the stratigraphy and the ceramic evidence.

I would like to highlight the results for the individual who was the first person interred in Chamber 5. This adult male was the one buried along the northern wall with a deposit of flower pots and other vessels at his feet.

Burial in Chamber 5 of Tomb 26 associated with flower pots deposit.

My archaeological dating – not earlier than Thutmose III, most likely mid-18th Dynasty – is now nicely supported by the calibrated dates of 1451-1291BC.

Looking much forward to this small break and the trip to Vienna which is very likely to result in fresh input for our ongoing analysis of Tomb 26.

Valentine’s Day Special: An exceptional heart scarab from Sai

Last year on Valentine’s Day, excavations in Tomb 26 on Sai were still ongoing. As Meg Gundlach put it back then “there are few things more romantic than a dung beetle”. Well – exactly! One year later, it’s again time to write about this very special heart scarab, SAC5 349, found next to the skeleton of chief goldsmith Khnummose. Let’s start with a spoiler: no, I still cannot read the name on the heart scarab, there is no complete love story to tell about Khnummose and his wife. But: my assumption that it is possibly the wife’s name on the scarab who was buried next to Khnummose at a slightly later moment still stands, although it remains hypothetical.

The heart scarab of Khnummose’s tomb group is an exceptional example also for other reasons. The general appearance of gold flakes and use of gold for the funerary equipment and jewellery in Tomb 26 is striking and seems to be connected with Khnummose’s profession. Very remarkable, among others, is this beautiful signet ring made of silver and gold found in Chamber 5.

But coming back to the heart scarab: during the process of cleaning it in situ in Chamber 6, very fragile strips of gold came to light.

One piece was clearly attached around the base, other fragments where found close to the head of the scarab.

Possibly there were originally also gold bands across the elytra and at the division of the wing cases; this arrangement finds a close parallel in a Late New Kingdom example now kept at Liverpool – 1977.112.257 is a very nice heart scarab made of green jasper, it still has strips of gold attached.

Heart scarab Liverpool 1977.112.257, http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/wml/collections/antiquities/ancient-egypt/item-317198.aspx

In general, such gold bands on heart scarabs of the New Kingdom are rare – for our example from Sai, I believe that they could attest to Khnummose’s job as chief goldsmith and to the general connection of the island to the gold exploitation in Nubia.

New releases – some papers on Tomb 26 on Sai Island

Having just returned from Sudan and the student excursion, it’s very pleasant to find some new releases on one’s desk – especially because these also comprise papers highlightening the significance of Tomb 26 and especially of the burial of Khnummose on Sai Island.

The following new articles are relevant for AcrossBorders’ work in cemetery SAC5:

Budka, J., Pyramid cemetery SAC5, Sai Island, Northern Sudan: An update based on fieldwork from 2015–2017, Ägypten und Levante 27, 2017, 107‒130.
Budka, J., Das Grab eines Goldschmiedemeisters auf Sai in Obernubien, Sokar 35, 2017, 52-63.
Budka, J., The Tomb of a Master of Gold-workers on Sai Island, Ancient Egypt 18, No. 3, 2017/2018, 14-20.

Within the article published in Ägypten und Levante 27, I tried to reconstruct the complete use-life of Tomb 26, presenting for the first time preliminary results from the pottery analysis.

Please note that all of these articles still have to be regarded as “preliminary” – the final analysis, including the anthropological findings in Tomb 26 and the results from the Strontium Isotope analysis, is already well under way and will be published as another monograph in the series Contributions to the Archaeology of Egypt, Nubia and the Levant.

We proudly present: Khnummose’s shabti in full detail

Khnummose’s shabti is, together with the stone heartscarab, definitely the highlight from Chamber 6 in Tomb 26. The shabti belongs to a homogenous group of five stone shabtis from Egyptian officials, found at Aniba, Toshka and Sai, and identified by Ann Minault-Gout as originating from one workshop, dating from the mid-18th Dynasty (Minault-Gout 2012). A common origin might explain why on SAC5 350 the name of Khnummose was inscribed in different hand writing, obviously at a later stage than the remaining text with Book of the Dead Chapter VI. In addition, the raw material used for this group of shabtis is not local to Sudan. The prime sources for serpentinite are located in Egypt (Wadi Semna and Wadi Atalla) – suggesting that the corresponding workshop was probably also located somewhere in Egypt. This is all very significant for the organisation behind Egyptian elite burials in New Kingdom Nubia.

Khnummose’s shabti was now documented in full detail – besides proper photographs, Cajetan created a very useful 3D model based on images and Patrizia did a beautiful drawing which is especially relevant for the inscription.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We still have 2 more days to finish off our study season here in Khartoum – and it has been a great success so far!

Reference:

Minault-Gout, A. 2012. ‘La figurine funéraire Saï inv. S. 964 (SNM 23424) et un groupe de quatre chaouabtis de la XVIIIe dynastie de même type’, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Égyptologie de Lille 29, 189-200.

 

 

Miniature canopic jars from Tomb 26

Among the interesting finds associated with the southernmost burial in Chamber 5 of Tomb 26 on Sai Island are four miniature jars. The burial was placed in a wooden coffin, had a funerary mask and many flakes of gold foil were discovered in the area of the upper body. In addition to the steatite scarab found at the left hand, an uninscribed heart scarab was found directly between the ribs, thus it was placed on the breast of the deceased.

More items of typical Egyptian New Kingdom burial equipment are the four small ceramic jars which were found close to the skull.

The four small, globular jars as they were found in situ.

These jars are clearly miniature canopic jars – their lids were found a few centimeters apart from the jars, buried between the debris from the collapsed ceiling. All lids show human heads and are also made in clay. Interestingly, the jars were made in Egyptian Marl clay and imitate with their coated surface stone vessels. Miniature canopic jars were also documented in several tombs of SAC5 excavated by the French mission – but none of them is the same type of vessel and the lids are also markedly different (see 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, Pls. 90 and 131).

Miniature canopic jars united with their lids today in Khartoum.

Today, we finished the photographic documentation of this interesting and so far unique set of 18th Dynasty miniature canopic jars from Sai, drawings will be produced in the next days – another step done towards the final publication of Tomb 26!

On the move again – from Munich to Berkeley

Thanks to the general agreement of cooperation between the University of California, Berkeley and Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU), I was able to visit the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time!

In June, we enjoyed an inspiring workshop dedicated to “Archaeologies of human mobility and migration” here at the LMU – this past week, we gathered in Berkeley to discuss the theme “On the move” further. My own presentation focused on Tomb 26 – presenting some of the preliminary data from our ongoing analysis of the systematic variation in the isotopic composition of strontium in the environment of Sai and its significance for exploring the origin of people and their migration along the Nile. I also stressed the significance of Khnummose’s shabti: its raw material serpentinite is not local to Sudan, the prime sources are located in Egypt (Wadi Semna and Wadi Atalla); furthermore, name and title of Khnummose were added in a different handwriting, suggesting an “off the shelf” purchase – so we can assume that this shabti, one of AcrossBorders highlights of five years of digging on Sai, was actually an “object on the move”, being produced at a workshop probably located in Egypt (or close to the border).

I am very grateful to all LMU and Berkeley colleagues for these wonderful days both in Munich and Berkeley – especially to the organisers Carline von Nicolai and Benjamin Porter. Loads of thanks go also to Ruth Tringham for a marvellous tour through “her” San Francisco – this was definitely the highlight of my first trip to California!