Sai Island, Sudan

January 2011

Sai Island is located in the Region of Batn el Hagar, just south of the modern town of Abri, and is one of the largest islands in the Middle Nile, measuring some 50km2 in area. It is located between the second and third cataracts of the Nile in Sudanese Nubia and is around 160km south-west of Wadi Halfa. It is also approximately 11km south west of the New Kingdom town of Amara West and 72km north of the town at Sesebi.

The Island itself has a diverse and extensive history and has been inhabited since the Palaeolithic. There is also evidence across the island for Neolithic, Pre-Kerman, Kerman, New Kingdom, Napatan, Meroitic, Post-Meroitic, Medieval and Islamic occupation (Doyen 2009: 17) and There has been a great deal of research associated with these aspects of the island’s long history. However, the survey area was primarily concerned with the New Kingdom occupation of the island located on the north eastern bank of the island.

At the end of the second intermediate period (1650-1550 BC), Lower Nubia was for the most part pacified, but Sai Island remained inhabited by a Kerman community which had been living on the island for a millennium (Doyen 2009: 17). However, under Ahmose, the founder of the New Kingdom, Sai fell under Egyptian control and a fortified town was founded with a temple dedicated to the god Amun was constructed, effectively ending Kerma’s control of the island (Doyen 2009: 17; Geus 2004: 114).

Modern archaeological investigations have taken place on the site since the 1950’s and there have been excavations covering part of the town (Vercoutter 1956; Azim 1974; Doyen 2009) as well as the cemetery, located just outside the town, (Minault-Gout 1994; Thill 2004). Despite this a full understanding of the character and extent of the New Kingdom occupation of the town has yet to have been achieved and thus a geophysical survey has been employed across both the town and the cemetery area.

A magnetometer survey was carried out at the request of Mrs Florence Doyen as part of the Sai Island Archaeological Mission. It was financed by Prof. Didier Devauchelle and Florence Thill, both of the University of Charles-de-Gaulle, Lille 3. The specific survey areas were selected to establish the nature and extent of archaeological remains associated with the New Kingdom town, and to attempt to further understand the distribution and layout of the New Kingdom cemetery. This enabled us to aid the Sai Island Archaeological Mission’s objective to gather data about the settlement and shed light upon the original spatial organization the Pharonic town and cemetery (Doyen 2009: 19).

Magnetometry on Sai Island Sudan

The Survey took place in January 2011, and was successful in highlighting the extent of archaeological remains at the New Kingdom town as well as at the New Kingdom cemetery. At the town, a complex arrangement was revealed with structures and other urban features, such as roads was visualised. Within the cemetery area, clarification of the areas surrounding the excavated pyramids was achieved and some features that may potentially relate to additional funerary monuments were located.

Selected Bibliography

Azim, M. 1975. Quatre campagnes de fouilles sur la Forteresse de Sai, 1970-1973. 1ère partie: L’installation pharonique, Cahiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Egptologie de Lille 3, 91-125.

Doyen, F. 2009. The New KingdomTown on Sai Island (Northern Sudan), In. Sudan and Nubia, Bulletin 13, 17-20. The Sudan Archaeological Research society

Geus, F. 2004. Sai, In D. Welsby and J, Anderson (eds). Sudan Ancient Treasures: An exhibition of Recent Discoveries from the Sudan National Museum. The British Museum Press, London. (114-121).

Minault-Gout, A. 1994. Une nècropole du Nouvel Empire, Les Dossiers d’Archeologie no. 196

Thill, F.1997. Les premiers depot de foundations de Sai. Chiers de Recherches de l’Institut de Papyrologie et d’Egyptologie de Lille 17/2, 105-117