Highlights of the 2017 archaeological season on Sai Island, Sudan20/04/17
Combining data from settlement and funerary archaeology has much potential, not only for reconstructing daily life, health and diet but especially for understanding the ancient population. The ERC project AcrossBorders has conducted excavations on the Nile island of Sai in northern Sudan from 2013-2017, working in both the well-preserved Pharaonic settlement and the associated pyramid cemetery. Various buildings, a large amount of objects, and tonnes of pottery vessels from the 18th Dynasty were unearthed, allowing the partial reconstruction of New Kingdom Sai.
In 2017, work focused on Tomb 26, which yielded intact interments of Egyptian officials, buried together with family members and rich inventories. These new finds enable us to trace individuals who have lived and died on Sai during the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1450-1350 BCE), being engaged in the Egyptian administration of a ‘colonial town’.
A new Egyptian-type tomb monument was discovered by AcrossBorders in the elite cemetery SAC5 in 2015. Tomb 26 was fully excavated in 2017, yielding some unexpected finds and spectacular features.
The tomb has a 5.2m deep shaft (Feature 1) which opens into a large burial chamber (Feature 2). Along the north wall of this chamber is a trench (Feature 4) which was cleaned in 2017 and yielded a number of burials. At the bottom of this trench, the original burial chamber opens towards the north. It was found sealed with flood deposits and has obviously been undisturbed since ancient times. Chamber 6, which is less than a metre in height, held two coffins, of which only traces survived in the flood sediments, as well as rich burial equipment of Egyptian style: scarabs, faience vessels, pottery vessels and one stone shabti were used as burial goods. Traces of the funerary masks, here especially inlayed eyes and gold foil, have also survived. According to the inscribed finds and the human remains, the double burial in Feature 6 can be identified as the master gold worker Khnummose and an anonymous female person, presumably his wife.The stone shabti especially but also the heart scarab are real master pieces and are of very high quality – without doubt the highlights of AcrossBorders’ excavation in 2017.
Finally, a new discovery was made in the northwest corner of Feature 2: the entrance of a hidden chamber, concealed by a plastered stone, was revealed. This western chamber, Feature 5, yielded nine adult and two infant burials, again with a nice selection of finds comprising a gold ring, scarabs, amulets and pottery vessels, as well as a few traces of the funerary masks and coffins. These burials seem to be almost contemporary with Khnummose and his wife, suggesting that they represent probably further family members. This assumption will be tested by tracing ancient DNA from the skeletons.
All in all, Tomb 26 turned out to be a real ‘gold mine’ – not only because of the rich inventory and high quality objects but in particular because of the prosopographical data, enabling us to reconstruct a family whose members were engaged in gold mining, one of the main functions of Sai as Egyptian administrative centre during the New Kingdom.