Saïs Report, 2014
Work at Sais (Sa el Hagar) 2014
In 2013 it was not possible to work at Sais because of the political events in the summer of that year. I was able to visit the site in January of 2014, narrowly missing the visit of some nighthawks, who were subsequently captured by the local police and MSA Inspectors. I noted, however, that they had dug in the area in which I had been intending to work in the summer. The robbers were apprehended and, to judge from the material dug out of the hole they had found mud and a few pottery sherds. It was totally worthless vandalism.
On a happier note, in early, 2014 the third of the Sais excavation monographs was published Survey of Sais; Sais 1: The Ramesside Period being the other two), thanks to the efforts of Jan Geisbusch in the EES Office. Joanne Rowland, Geoffrey Tassie, Gregory Gilbert and my Egyptology ‘widower’ husband Roger Dickinson all worked very hard to help with the final volume: Sais 2: The Prehistoric Period which studies the important Neolithic and Predynastic material discovered at the site by the EES/Durham/SCA Mission in 2001 and 2005.
The Sais II volume.
Work resumed at Sais between August 20th and September 25th 2014.
The team consisted of : Penny Wilson, George Wing, Laura Watson, Shiura Jaufar, Zi-Yi He, Michelle Low, Eleanor Reed, Kate Swinson, Alejandra Arias, Aimee Went, Kim Ruf, Alvin Chua, Ned Falconer, Min Soo Kwack – all from Durham University. Training inspectors: Amira El Zahaby, Rasha Ibrahim El Zahaby, Samira Reda El Sharkawy, Asmaa Mohamed Fathy, Mohamed Ahmed Nasser. Our MSA Inspector at Sa el Hagar was Mohamed Fouad Mahmoud. Thanks are due to Mr Mamdouah Abbas in the Tanta Office, Said el Assal in Sa el Hagar and and Dr Mohamed abd el Rifaa, Dr Mohamed Ismail and Hani Abu el Azam in Cairo. Funding was provided by Durham University, Muriel Wilson and the North East Ancient Egypt Society. We are grateful to the workmen and women: Reda, Esmaiein, Ahmed, Hamada and Amr el Gid el Bishe; Mona, Senne, Raifa, Samah, to Exotic Tours, Essam Nagy in the EES Cairo Office, as well as to the police and security in Tanta and Sa el Hagar.
The team with Essam Nagy visiting.
Team at work.
Kom Rebwa east showing position of Excavation area.
Work in 2012 to the west of our original Excavation 1 in Kom Rebwa had uncovered the magazine room detected in Excavation 1. The magazine had been overbuilt by a large north-south wall and, in turn, small structural units had been built against this wall containing hearths and smaller mud-brick walls. The extent of the magazine had not, however, been determined but there was a complete assemblage of pottery inside the magazine and the floor of the storeroom was largely undisturbed. Pottery recovered included large amphorae of Egyptian and Canaanite types, pot stands, plates and globular jars for cooking.
Pottery vessels on the floor of the magazine in 2012.
2 Aims and Objectives
The work in the summer of 2014 aimed:
(1) To extend the area of Excavation 12 in order to find the enclosing walls of the magazine and thus its extent and orientation;
(2) To follow the later, large wall in order to confirm its extent to the north and understand its relationships with the domestic features of the Third Intermediate Period noted in both Excavations 1 and 12.
In order to assess the extent and orientation of the Ramesside magazine it was necessary to open 5m by 5 m trenches on the north, south and west sides of the area. Excavation units 13, 14 and 18 were directly north of Ex 12, following on one from another; Ex 15 was west of Ex 12, ex 16 and 17 to the south and Ex 19 to the west of Ex 14.
Excavation units in 2014.
3 Excavation unit 12
The backfill was removed from Unit 12 in order to check the sections and floor levels and to determine the nature of the two large ovens in the west section (12.016) and in the north section (12.014). These two hearths contained much black and orange-pink burnt material and seemed to be built against mud-brick walls. It was, therefore, likely that by determining the edges of the hearths it would be possible to find the extent of the domestic units constructed against the main large wall in the Third Intermediate Period phases of the site. By careful removal of the ovens and later phases it was also possible to determine the construction of the ovens and the way in which the domestic units had been created.
[12.014] in the northern section of Ex 12.
[12.014] in its main phase of use.
This oven was in use during the later phase of the occupation of the domestic unit, but may have been contemporary at some point with 12.016 (see below). The oven appeared to have been cut down into the rubble fill of the magazine on a ledge sloping downward towards the face of the mud brick wall forming the northern extent of the unit. Mud brick and mud packing had been put in places at the sides and the back and front edges in order to provide resting places for vessels or to contain the firing material and fuel. These bricks had been burnt black or green-grey and the very base of the oven was covered in thick white ash or organic deposit. The complete dimensions of the hearth were about 2m long by 1.5m wide, suggesting that the whole of this part of the unit had been dominated by this hearth and once it was fired it must have been extremely warm in this part of the unit. Some bread trays and large basins were found amongst the pottery fragments, along with pieces of slag, small flakes of flint and a few burnt animal bones. The smaller material was recovered by sieving. There was a good deal of small burnt fragments of pottery throughout the hearth. There was a lack of larger complete pottery suggesting that jars and vessels had been removed before the abandonment of the hearth. A brick surround for the hearth was not found, but in the uppermost levels there were some larger bread plates which may have functioned as oven side fittings.
Sequence showing the hearth from its earliest to latest phases.
3.2 [12.016] in the western section of Ex 12.
Sequence showing the hearth from its earliest to latest phases.
This oven was in use in the earlier phase of the occupation of the domestic unit. It was subsequently sealed down by a brick wall, which extended across the unit from east to west. It was also built upon the rubble of the Ex 12 magazine and was sloping slightly to the east. The feature may have been the original hearth in the domestic unit, which was decommissioned and the 12.014 oven was brought into use in a later, smaller sub-unit of the structure. Mud bricks had been used to create a semi-circular surround for the hearth, which were especially visible on the southern side and seemed to have extended into the main room/area. There were several layers of intense activity in the oven, with burnt pink-orange material in the centre, a band of black charcoal material around it and then the mud brick surround. There were a few pieces of burnt pottery in the surrounding material. The back edge of the hearth was constructed against the wall running from north to south in the later phases.
Ovens [12.016] and [12.014] in second phase.
3.3 Extent of the walls of the Magazine
With the removal of the two oven areas it was possible to determine the extent of the magazine building on the northern side of the trench. The original wall of the magazine seemed to have been utilised in the later phases as the large wall cut through it. In the northern part of the magazine there was pottery lying against this wall, although most of it was in fragments.
On the western side of the magazine, there was a low step or wall fragment running from north to south in the trench. The later phase walls had been built directly on top of it, incorporating the footings into the foundations of the upper, later wall. A series of pottery vessels was found directly alongside the wall in fragmentary, but mostly complete condition. The vessels included one medium sized globular jar (mostly complete), one small globular jar (reconstructed) and the bases of at least three amphorae or jars. A stone at the northern end of the line may have been used as a rest for the jars.
Last row of pottery vessels in the magazine against the west wall.
Small vessel and granite utility stone.
Reconstruction of the whole pottery group in the magazine.
The mud-brick feature [12.028] in the centre of the magazine was further investigated, as some of the pottery clearly continued underneath the feature. Upon removal, there seemed to be two main possibilities for its phasing and function: it had most likely been constructed in the final phase of the magazine or sometime after it, and for this reason pottery was included underneath the wall. In this case the ‘wall’ may have been a construction feature, such as a support or buttress associated with the later large wall. Alternatively, the wall may have been part of some large mud-brick element, which had collapsed into the trench and on top of the pottery.
It may then match the mass of sandy brickwork found in the northern part of Ex 12 [12.020]. We suggest that it was some kind of staircase or steps, which went up to the higher levels of the magazine in ex 15 and ultimately to the roof. This may be why a complete vessel was found in the rubble, because it had been resting upon the steps at the time of the collapse.
At the very southern end of Excavation area 12, there was evidence for a mud brick wall with a doorway through it, in the form of a rectangular slab of limestone. The stone may have formed the base for a door jamb, perhaps of mud brick. The other jamb may have been taken out by the construction of the large wall. The limestone slab looked as if it may have been a re-used round topped stela as it was smooth on one face and worked on the back. No decoration was visible on the stone, however.
Stela shaped stone and magazine floor.
The doorway may extend into a southern half of the magazine which would be largely lost in the sebakhin pit, but further work is needed to the south. If this is the southern extent of the magazine wall, then the magazine had dimensions of approximately 7m from east to west and 6 metres from north to south. The magazine floor was cleared revealing a patchwork of work areas and processing places, evidenced by the red and orange fire marks, the black-burned patches, mud brick surrounds for jars, stone and bricks used to prop up jars. The rich layers suggested that this had been an intensive food preparation area or kitchen.
Floor of main kitchen and food processing area.
4 Excavation 15
This unit lay to the west of Unit 12.
In the upper phases of Excavation 15, there was a large oven or hearth, approximately 1.5m in diameter in the north-west section of the trench. It was composed of a burnt base with collapsed fired fittings around a circular area. A mud brick wall running from east-west across the trench may have formed part of a structure connected with the oven. In addition, a curving wall in the south-west part of the trench may also have formed part of this unit.
Excavation 15, upper phase with oven..
In the lower phases of the trench there were some areas of fill, which were most likely to have been rubbish filling up the area. Half of a stone rectangular basin was found amongst the rubble. Below it in the south-east section of the trench area, there was a roughly circular feature, with small mud-bricks clearly around its edges. The bricks seemed to be directly set over a layer of pink fill, perhaps rubbish from burning. The pit may have been intended as a rubbish pit, although it retained water and could once have been be a well or ‘cold’ store. The feature requires further investigation.
Pit for rubbish or ‘cold’ store, fragment of tank on top? enhanced
Directly beneath the oven, the rubble fill covered a set of pottery vessels that were the same as those from the magazine in Ex 12. There were at least two pot-stands of the same type as those in Ex 1 (tall, with rolled rims and holes through the sides). There were also associated fragments from at least two Canaanite amphorae and perhaps two or three Egyptian red amphorae and meat jars.
Figure 18. Excavation 15, lower phase with pottery.
The find seemed to confirm that the magazine extended to the west and that the roof has also collapsed unexpectedly in this area, sealing down the context with the pottery. The floor level in this area, however, was much higher by around 40 cm than that in the magazine and it was not clear what was the exact relationship between Ex 12 and Ex 15.
In the north-east area of Unit 15, there was a clear layer of mud bricks, but they were largely irregular in form and alignment, suggesting that they were mostly fallen bricks, with some in more regular rows. They were associated with a further group of amphorae including one complete but fragmentary Canaanite amphorae, two Egyptian meat jars, some bowls, dishes and another Egyptian amphorae with the neck of a large transport Syrian or Cypriot funnel-necked pilgrim flask inside it. It seemed that the pilgrim flask neck had been used as funnel for decanting liquid form or into this amphora. Fragments of the body of the pilgrim flask were found in other parts of the magazine. The contents of the vessels were collected for analysis at a later date.
Excavation 15.2 second group of pottery vessels, upper layer.
The wall built later for the Third Intermediate Period (?) domestic units was removed down to the floor level of the magazine in Ex 15. It seems likely that the magazine, continued to the west, perhaps at a higher mezzanine level. This means that the distance from the doorway of the magazine in Ex 1 to the pot-stand group in Ex 15 is approximately 12m. If this magazine complex has a width from east to west of at least 12m and a length from north to south of perhaps the same amount, it makes it unlikely that this was the magazine of one household. The magazine for Ex 12 could be backed onto the magazine of another house to the west, but even so, both houses would then have extensive storage areas with Canaanite amphorae providing imported commodities. The size and quantity of material in the magazine suggests that the stores served an administrative unit of which the house was only a part, that the house was a rural villa and belonged to an important official. The magazines may have had vaulted roofs and stairway access to the roof, but more comparative data is required from other sites.
The original Unit 12 magazine would have been a square-shaped room, with evidence for food processing in it. In such a case, although there were undoubtedly storage jars in the room, it would seem to be more of a food storage and processing area and thus a ‘kitchen’ of some kind, rather than just a magazine for storage. The size of the room implies perhaps more than just an ordinary house, as this processing area is approximately the same size as the main reception room in the house. The question then arises about the relationship of this kitchen to the main house and what that house was.
The Egyptian pottery material is a standard set of large Red Amphorae, ‘Meat’ jars and Globular jars of various sizes, often with signs of burning on the outside, plus pot-stands, bowls and other miscellaneous vessels. The Canaanite amphorae seem to be different types, perhaps representing the reuse of older, good quality amphorae or that the amphorae were supplied from different areas to the north-east.
Pilgrim flask neck in situ, used as a funnel.
5 Excavations 13 and 14
These areas provided information about the extent of the large wall, probably from the Third Intermediate Period. In Excavation 13, the wall seemed to completely fill the area as there was brickwork in the whole area, except for the part nearest to Ex 12 which suggested that the wall had been thickened at this part or a cross wall had been built against the main wall, to form a cell-like structure for the domestic quarters associated with the large wall.
Excavation 13, upper layers..
In Excavation 14, the main feature was a modern robber’s pit, which had been noted in January 2014 and then refilled. Around it there was extensive brickwork, implying that the wall extended at least this far to the north of Ex 12.
View across the pitted area.
6 Excavations 18 and 19
Excavation 18 was also complicated by a robber pit, a little older than that in Ex 14, but dating from modern times. There was evidence for the destruction of a feature or structure, as there was a mass of broken stonework and pottery, which included flat tiles of oolitic limestone. This suggested that there had been some kind of building here in Roman times and one Late Roman pottery sherd confirmed this dating. Such tiles may have been used in bath-houses or churches, but it seems that the building had almost completely disappeared.
Units 14, 19 (top right) and 18 (bottom left) combined.
In the northern part of the trench, however, not far below the ground surface, there were a series of grey, mud-brick features, which became obvious as they dried out in the sun.
Partially excavated rings.
The largest was a circular feature, with walls one brick thick and possibly existing in its very final phase. The inside and area around the circle was filled with a mixture of fallen brickwork or rubble and dark brown earth. Investigation of the inside of this feature suggested that there was an area of burning directly beneath it, with fired oven fittings. This may suggest that the mud-brick feature was a granary or perhaps, tree-planter, but it needs further investigation.
Half-sectioned circle showing underlying feature.
To the north, there was a more irregular enclosed area, which lay under the section. The large wall may continue underneath these features and perhaps had been cut away to provide a stable base for the structures. The robbers’ pit, however, made it difficult to be certain of what had happened to the wall, but the area will be investigated further.
Unit 19 bricks.
In the area of Excavation 19, there had also been extensive disturbance of the upper areas, with an oven or hearth inside a mud-brick surround containing burnt material, including ancient pottery, pits containing mud which had gathered in sandy pools and the remains of pits. Careful removal of the features showed that there were narrow mud walls, one around 40cm thick and another only 20 cm thick running in a general south-north direction. They may have connected with traces of a wall running east to west through the area. On the northern edge of the area there were similar ephemeral mud structures to those in Excavation 18, perhaps built along the east-west wall for support. In the eastern side of the area the main wall feature was not detected. Owing to the disturbed nature of the area, it may be that any traces will lie deeper down or the wall may have ended and the granary and associated structures lie outside the large cellular construction. Around five cobra figure fragments came from this excavation area, the most from any of the units, perhaps connected with the disturbance of the lower strata.
Cobra figure 19.03, 8.7cm high.
7 Excavations 16 and 17
The two trenches were opened to the south of Excavation 12 to follow the wall and southern extent of the magazine. The south edge of this area lay along deep pitting caused by sebakhin and the eastern edge was also affected by the sebakhin digging, which had disturbed the upper layers of Excavation 1. In Excavation 16 it was very difficult to note any features and there was also a robber’s pit in this area which had been dug around 2007. There was a great deal of tumbled grey brick work, but no distinct line of bricks or a wall edge.
Excavation 17, lower phases, different types of brick in different colours.
In Excavation 17, however, a cell-like structure was found and carefully excavated. In the north-west corner there was a pot stand emplacement, with mud and sandy bricks built around it. The pot-stand was of a type of a later date than those from the Ramesside magazine, with straight sides and no perforations in the sides. The use of this room may be contemporary with the domestic use of the area in the Third Intermediate Period, but is perhaps not connected with the main room constructed over the magazine, and thus represents a second phase of TIP occupation. The brickwork in this cell seemed to have fallen and was excavated carefully to show the nature of the use of the space within the cell, including areas of pink, white and orange burnt material. The domestic nature of the material suggested that the main north-south wall had also provided a convenient structural support for this room. The entrance to the room was not defined, perhaps because it had been at a higher level, but further work is necessary to establish the link between this feature and the other TIP areas.
8 Small Finds
In all 17 cobra figure fragments were found, including one large, upper body fragment and one small, lower body fragment. There were also some glass and faience beads, net-weights, as well as residual pieces of carved stonework including part of a statue and a frog amulet made of blue stone. A small boat from the upper levels as well as part of a terracotta horse or warrior head seem to be link to much later periods. Amongst the soil in the granary area a headless female figure was found, with analogies from Nubia and other domestic areas in Egypt. Sickle blades made of flint/chert were also found in the granary areas as well as in the fill.
Animal figure or vessel fragment..
Frog amulet fragment(?), made from unusual blueish/micaceous stone..
Female figure fragment..
A number of pottery vessels from the excavation were successfully reconstructed. They included: two large dishes, one large globular vessel, one brown amphora but without rim, one brown-red amphora from the rubble fill in the north part of the magazine, one white-cream amphora and one red amphora with white slip from this year’s work. In addition, the small globular jar from the magazine was also reconstructed. The growing assemblage will be an important corpus of material from late New Kingdom northern Egypt and may point to developmental trends in the TIP and early Saite period.
The work confirmed the fact that in Kom Rebwa there is not one, but two buried cities in good states of preservation. The earlier dates to the Late Ramesside period (perhaps around the reigns of Ramesses IV or VI) and consists of substantial magazine-storage areas and domestic quarters; the later, Third Intermediate Period is represented by two, if not three phases. After that time the layers of the site are subject to massive interference and disturbance and evidence for later structures is minimal. There may, however, have a been a later Roman building in this area.
Simple plan of the excavation area..
The pottery assemblages and material culture, along with future analysis of environmental samples will provide extensive and exciting new information about life in the Delta in the first millennium BC, before the city became the capital of Egypt. Some event in the Ramesside period seems to have destroyed the town, with collapsed buildings sealing down their contents and leaving behind complete assemblages of pottery. Subsequently, the living areas were refurbished, the older buildings were flattened off and walls reused in creating a series of strongly walled structures, in which people lived and prepared food, with further changes to the structures in one and perhaps two phases. The potential of the site remains high to provide information about this little known period in Egypt as whole and to create a unique pottery and environmental record from the preserved assemblages.
The excavation area.
The work at Mutubis and Sais has discovered well preserved settlement remains from two very different time periods : the first millennium BC and late first millennium AD. The comparison of the living conditions of these two places, their domestic structures, administrative and religious practices as well as their foodways and material culture will provide important information about two little known and understudied periods of Egyptian history in the Delta. The difference and similarities between them will highlight the kind of changes that occurred in Egypt during this time and the response of provincial towns to greater political, economic and religious changes. The life of ordinary people through their material culture can be illuminated, for example the TIP used glass beads in small quantities as adornments, often without any colouring. By the Late Roman period extensive glass kilns in provincial towns were manufacturing large quantities of glass vessels in a series of dazzling shapes. The changes in technology and individual choice reflect a story of life in Egypt, that is still to be told. Sais and Mutubis together and apart are an important element in this regional history.
One of the questions at Sais was whether there was an entire city whose building had collapsed on top of it, sealing down buildings and structures at one moment in time. It seems that in this one area the answer is yes – there is a complete assemblage of material relating to that late Ramesside town. Furthermore, a second different kind of settlement had been built on top of it and some parts of that are also well preserved. What we have at Sais is not just one ‘complete’ city, but two, one on top of the other. Both also attest to the wealth of Sais at a little known period of its history. It is an exciting prospect!
George Wing and James Bennett discussing the excavation.
At the end of the work the area was backfilled ready for the next excavation season.