Squat jars, zir vessels and other finds at Elephantine

Among the highlights from week 3 at Elephantine are several complete vessels from room A in House 55. The pottery database of all New Kingdom ceramics comprises now a total of 12257 entries, 1599 coming from House 55. Amazing is the large number of 247 complete or almost complete vessels from the building — many were found in the cellars of House 55, but also as piles of pots left in corners of various rooms.


One of the vessels from the latest phase of use of House 55 which was left behind and found last year is a large Marl A2 squat jar, 45602G/a-4. Only the rim and part of the shoulder is fragmented, otherwise this painted jar is completely preserved. It is of Thutmoside date, finds many parallels at other sites in Egypt, and – most important for us – also in the New Kingdom town of Sai. SAV1W P233, found in a cellar in SAV1 West, is also a Marl A2 squat jar and almost of the exact shape like the Elephantine vessel, especially its rim base. The decoration is slightly different, also illustrating the variability of decoration patterns of this type of vessel which had its heyday under Thutmose III.

Further complete vessels from House 55 are large zir vessels – as pointed out earlier, these are mostly of Marl A4 variants. Nile clay versions are less common, but also present, comparing nicely to the corpus of storage vessels from Sai.

Finds from this season from House 55 are mostly re-used sherds, grind stones and other stone tools; clay figurines are also present in small numbers as are lids and stoppers. Similar to the pottery, both parallels and differences are notable comparing these finds with the corpus from Sai Island New Kingdom town.

Week 4 at Elephantine, starting tomorrow, will focus on the documentation of the many complete vessels from this season and on further object registration.

Some complete pots from tomb 26

After cleaning the shaft of tomb 26 in 2015, its burial chamber kept us busy during this season – not only were there plenty of human remains for Andrea Stadlmayr and Marlies Wohlschlager, several nice objects like four scarabs and one stone pilgrim flask, but also complete ceramic vessels!

This markedly contrasts with our findings from last year, where bits and pieces were found in the shaft and only some complete vessels at the bottom of the shaft.
Earlier in the 2016 season, our Sudanese trainee from NCAM, Roa, did a great job in joining sherds from the bottom of the shaft with ones from the topmost debris coming from the chamber. Altogether, there was plenty of evidence for several phases of use, plundering and re-use of tomb 26– spanning a long period from the mid/late 18th Dynasty, the Ramesside period to Pre-Napatan and Napatan times!

Excavating the burial chamber in 2016, we were lucky enough to find several intact vessels – most interesting is an assemblage of two slender bottles along the southern wall in the southwest corner.

Cleaning the vessels in the southwestern corner.

Cleaning the vessels in the southwestern corner.

One of them seems to bear a “killing hole”. Close to them, just at the skull of the individual lying there on his back, was a complete Base Ring II jug – a very nice import from Cyprus!

The small intact BR II jug.

The small intact BR II jug.

Another really lovely vessel is a complete zir found along the north wall of the chamber. It was filled with the sediment of the chamber and also yielded foot/leg parts of an infant whose body was found close by.

The intact zir from tomb 26.

The intact zir from tomb 26.

Post-excavation processing of all the data from tomb 26 has just begun – the ceramics will be of prime importance to narrow down the specific phases of use and re-use!

Linking and differentiating Sai and Elephantine further

The first week of our season on Elephantine just flew by! There are also many things and tasks keeping us busy, besides the glorious surroundings and wonderful setting.

IMG_6148aAs announced earlier on this blog, the 2015 season on Elephantine, concentrates on the material excavated by the Swiss Institute from House 55. The presence of Nubian ceramics is highly relevant, especially for establishing links between the region of the First Cataract and Sai Island.

While my assistants are busy with drawing Egyptian type vessels, I was mainly focusing on Nubian pottery this week. A set of 35 Nubian sherds was studied in detail and drawn. There are striking similarities between the Nubian pottery corpus from Elephantine and Sai – especially regarding the fabrics, both the black topped fine ware and cooking pots with basketry impressions. But there are also certain differences, suggesting maybe a more “local” Lower Nubian tradition here on Elephantine like a preference for incised decoration.

The percentage of Nubian ceramics within House 55 very nicely compares to both SAV1 North and SAV1 West – from 4119 sherds studied in this first week, 140 were Nubian pieces. 3.4 % equals our findings in Sai Island where the average was 3-5 % during the early to mid-18th Dynasty.

Among others, Egyptian water jars, so-called zir vessels, are common features here on Elephantine. A considerable number of them are present in House 55.

Typical early to mid-18th Dynasty Marl zir vessels from Elephantine (after Budka 2005).

Typical early to mid-18th Dynasty Marl zir vessels from Elephantine (after Budka 2005).

Although the typical Nile clay versions of this vessel group are also known, most of these large jars are made in a very typical Marl clay variant. And here another difference to Sai can be observed – at Sai, the Nile clay vessels dominate, the Marl clay vessels are present, but only in small numbers.



Typical Nile clay zir-like vessel from Sai (after Budka 2011).

Typical Nile clay zir-like vessel from Sai (after Budka 2011).

Whether this indicates a different system of water storage or the Nile clay variants simply replaced the Marl clay jars in Sai (produced locally “on demand” once the imported ones were no longer functionable/out of stock), will be considered further, taking related pottery types like drinking cups and beakers into account.





Budka, J. 2005 XII. Zur Keramik des Neuen Reiches – erste Beobachtungen anhand des Materials aus der Oststraße B II, in G. Dreyer et al., Stadt und Tempel von Elephantine, 31./32. Grabungs­bericht, Mitteilungen des Deutschen Archäologischen Instituts, Abteilung Kairo 61, 90–116.

Budka, J. 2011   The early New Kingdom at Sai Island: Preliminary results based on the pottery analysis (4th Season 2010), Sudan & Nubia 15, 23–33.