Sesebi is a New Kingdom settlement (see also Sai Island and Amara West), located 80km south of Amara West on the west bank of the Nile. We joined a project, directed by Dr Kate Spence of the Department of Archaeology at The University of Cambridge, researching the town and its hinterland but also focussing on the principal function of the town and lifestyle of its inhabitants.
The town of Sesebi was founded during the 18th Dynasty reign of Akhenaten (1350-1334 BC) and is contained within its impressive town walls constructed from mud-brick, with buttresses at regular intervals, enclosing an area of about 270m by 200m. The site lies at the foot of Jebel Sese, a large outcrop of volcanic rock overlooking the Nile channel.
Successive excavations by the EES from 1937 concentrated on the main temple complex as one might expect, of which the three standing columns still dominate the northwest quadrant of the town. The complex is constructed from local sandstone and comprises three contiguous temples bounded on the east side by a large open courtyard. Excavations in the southwest corner of the town revealed three rows of large magazines, offices and examples of domestic housing.
Little was known or recorded of the eastern half of the town and this pilot season of geophysical survey aimed to cover much of this part of the site to provide an understanding of the nature of the buried remains. The survey area extended beyond the limits of the walled town in an attempt to understand the link between the ancient town and the Nile, but also, to investigate potential land use immediately adjacent to the settlement.
The site is heavily incised by gullies created by the natural forces of water run-off during periods of heavy rainfall. This problem is exacerbated by the existence of the EES excavation spoil heaps that litter the site, and work to channel the water between them. The survey results clearly indicated this phenomenon and a network of silt-filled gullies can be traced across the eastern part of the town. This dramatic denudation of the site has more than likely caused the erosion and disappearance of the eastern section of the town wall as there is no trace of remnants in the results. Whether the same processes have destroyed all traces of any structural evidence along this edge of the town is, however, difficult to ascertain but certainly there was a death of structural remains in the results.
Visible in the central eastern section of the town is a square ditched enclosure, measuring 70m and was partially excavated in the 1930s. Its function was unknown and it was hoped that the magnetometer survey could provide clues as to its purpose. Unfortunately, no structural remains were detected within the enclosure and much of the area was impassable due to the presence of large spoil dumps. Initially, a cluster of features were identified, just north of this enclosure, as being possible ovens or kilns but recent excavation by the University of Cambridge team, has now revealed these to be a series of deep pits, in-filled with windblown sand that strongly contrasts to the underlying geology. Once again, the opportunity to work in close collaboration with a team of excavators has proved invaluable in providing a greater understanding of the responses detected in the survey.