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ERC

ACROSSBORDERS Report Summary

Project ID: 313668
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Germany

Final Report Summary - ACROSSBORDERS (Across ancient borders and cultures: An Egyptian microcosm in Sudan during the 2nd millennium BC)

Settlement patterns in Egypt and Nubia in the Second Millennium BC were the main topics of research of the AcrossBorders project. It has achieved an important advancement in the field of settlement archaeology in Northeast Africa. New excavations at two significant sites of the Egyptian New Kingdom – Sai in modern Sudan and Elephantine in Egypt – yielded large amounts of new material and novel data sets, based on most modern analyses and recordings in the field.
Both study sites were located at ancient and present borders and represent diverse environmental and cultural preconditions, with a long history of changing interactions and influences. Thus the analysis of variations in local urban patterns was of prime importance and yielded significant results. Both sites illustrate results of the confrontation of Egyptian culture with Nubian tradition in planned urban environments.
On Sai Island, our focus was on the material remains of the town area, the assessment of certain groups of objects, and the study of specific building phases and the evolution of the New Kingdom town. Considerable differences between urban sectors were noted, suggesting some impact of individuals and spontaneous dynamics of the settlement, despite of general state planning. Furthermore, the environmental conditions for this Egyptian site set up on a large Nile island in northern Sudan were reconstructed (based on geoarchaeological research, the analysis of botanical remains, of faunal remains and human remains).
On Elephantine Island, our work focused on the study of the ceramics from 18th Dynasty levels of a structure labelled House 55, which was completely excavated within the framework of the project. In this ceramic analysis, a particular focus was laid on differences and similarities between Sai and Elephantine. For each site, local products and imported pieces, including the very significant appearance of hybrid types, vessels which combine Egyptian and Nubian ceramic tradition, were analysed and provided new information about the occupants and their cultural identity. In addition to the important general comparison between the two ceramic corpora from Sai and Elephantine, the new stratigraphical sequence from Elephantine triggers new ceramic studies of the New Kingdom that include the important preceding phase, the late Second Intermediate Period.
As result of the comparative approach of the project, the original hypothesis of Sai Island as an Egyptian microcosm despite its location outside of Egypt and its specific topographical, environmental and cultural situation could be confirmed. However, the old theory of strict boundaries between Nubians and Egyptians, and social stratification based on origin, could be disproved. It can be replaced by the metaphor of cultural entanglement in a complex two-way mixture of lifestyles, well visible in the architecture and material culture of both the town and the cemetery. AcrossBorders has demonstrated that Sai is very significant for understanding the most important aspects of New Kingdom colonial strategy in Nubia: Sai became home not only for Egyptians, but also for Nubians who intermingled with the “colonialists”. Much new information about the town’s function and complex evolution were gained by a joint analysis of archaeological and textual sources as well as the combination of evidence from the town and the contemporaneous cemetery on the island.
As a whole, our project demonstrates the coexistence of Egyptians and Nubians as a case study of the Second Millennium BCE that highlights dynamic aspects and individual options within acculturation processes. This ancient example of complex intermingling of cultures might also be instructive for modern studies of multi-ethnic communities in urban spaces.

Reported by

LUDWIG-MAXIMILIANS-UNIVERSITAET MUENCHEN
Germany
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