From the field to our office in Munich: the voyage of a Nubian cooking pot

Excavations at the site AtW 001 on the west bank of Attab yielded a very large number of pottery sherds – I processed more than 10.300 pieces in our digging house in Ginis during the 2023 season and the final analysis and reconstruction of the number of individual vessels is still ongoing. Already in the field it became clear that a surprisingly large number of intact vessels has survived. These included primarily dishes and plates, beer jars, zir vessels, pot stands and cooking vessels – thus a clearly domestic set of ceramics which finds many parallels in the corpus I processed from the temple town of Sai, but also shows unique and specific features – just fantastiic material which allows addressing a number of various research questions!

Our sherd yard in the digging house was almost getting to small because of the large amounts of sherds from AtW 001!

One particular interesting piece which I would like to present today is a large fragment of a typical Nubian style cooking pot. The complete profile of this pot is preserved and it was found in dense mud brick debris, half buried below a collapsed brick. This context yielded a total of 34 pottery sherds with 15 diagnostic pieces and several almost complete vessels; the total of Nubian wares accounted to 32%, nicely confirming our results from 2022 when the number of Nubian wares in the various fill horizons was high, accounting for on average 33% of the ceramics (Budka 2022).

Overview of context SU 1257 with the large Nubian cooking pot below the mud brick where I placed the scale.

The Nubian pot in question is an example of the most common type of Nubian globular bowls used as cooking pots we found at AtW 001. The vessel shows plaited basketry impression with large rectangular patterns and a distinct rim zone. Such vessels find close parallels at Sai, Sesebi and other New Kingdom sites in Nubia (e.g. Rose 2012; Budka 2020). These basketry impressed cooking pots are firmly rooted in a Kerma tradition of shaping pots in a concave hole using mats/baskets but show an intriguing change of technique in the early 18th Dynasty which is present at sites between the Dongola Reach and southern Upper Egypt (see Gratien 2000 for the new style of basketry impressions starting with so-called Recent Kerma).

Our complete example from AtW 001 started its long journey on Jan. 30 which is not yet over – from the field to the digging house where it was washed, photographed and then put on my drawing table. The pencil drawing I created in Sudan is now in the process of being digitalised – Caroline scanned the drawing already and started the final digital drawing for publication on our interactive multi-touch pen display in the office.

Caroline already started digitalising the original pencil drawing of the Nubian cooking pot.

Apart from this, we took two samples from this Nubian cooking pot. One of which will be analysed using Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis – here, we aim to get information about the provenience of its fabric since this pot clearly seems to be a local product. The second sample is waiting for Organic Residue Analysis, hopefully enabling us to reconstruct what was once cooked within this pot. More details about our approach combining standard macroscopic analysis of pottery with various complementary laboratory methodologies can be found in an earlier blog post by Giulia D’Ercole.

As I hopefully could illustrate, the complex voyage of this Nubian cooking pot will continue – but within just 2 months we have already achieved important working steps in order to publish this important fragment of evidence of settlement activity on the west bank of Attab during the early New Kingdom.


Budka 2020 = Budka, J. AcrossBorders 2. Living in New Kingdom Sai. Archaeology of Egypt, Sudan and the Levant 1. Vienna: Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2020.

Budka 2022 = Budka, J. Early New Kingdom settlement activities in the periphery of Sai Island: towards a contextualisation of fresh evidence from Attab West, MittSAG – Der Antike Sudan 33, 2022, 45‒61.

Gratien 2000 = Gratien, B. Les pots de cuisson nubiens et les bols décorés de la première moitié du 2e millénaire avant J.-C.: problèmes d’identification, Cahiers de la céramique égyptienne 6, 2000, 113‒148.

Rose 2012 = Rose, P. Early 18th Dynasty Nubian Pottery from the Site of Sesebi, Sudan. In Nubian Pottery from Egyptian Cultural Contexts of the Middle and Early New Kingdom. Proceedings of a Workshop held at the Austrian Archaeological Institute at Cairo, 1–12 December 2010. Ergänzungshefte zu den Jahresheften des Österreichischen Archäologischen Institutes 13, ed. by I. Forstner-Müller and P.J. Rose, 13‒29. Vienna: Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut, 2012.

Advances in experimental archaeology: firing pottery, use of dung and much more

Most know by now that poop is of great interest for us archaeologists. Recently, the so-called ‘archaeology of dung’ has resulted in numerous cross-geographical publications confirming the use of animal dung in archaeological deposits as the main fuel source and several other purposes. Most of these studies focus on the analysis of the microscopic evidence attributable to dung, combining multi-proxy approaches to investigate the biological components and potential markers of herbivore dung, as well identifying archaeobotanical indications from dung pellets and related sediments. Less numerous are studies concerning the identification of dung as a tempering agent in ceramic material.

In a new paper just published, Giulia D’Ercole and I aimed to replicate, observe, and discuss the recipe utilised by the ancient potters of Sai Island (northern Sudan) in the New Kingdom period using an experimental approach. We discuss the possible adoption of organic inclusions, and especially animal dung, as tempering agents to produce some of the locally made Nubian and Egyptian style ceramics. We think that the use of animal dung within the large set of pottery production offers important fresh insights into both long-standing traditions and cultural encounters (Budka and D’Ercole 2022).

One observation in this paper was also that in terms of the firing process of our samples, it must have been at a low temperature resulting in a minimal supply of oxygen, as in most cases the typical relicts left by the combustion of organic materials were still visible. Questions regarding kilns for both handmade and wheel-made vessels, as opposed to open firing techniques, need to be investigated further, as does the kind of fuel used for firing pottery. Recent research suggests that fresh wood and animal dung were used in tandem in pottery kilns (see the case of the smelting furnace from Egypt, Verly et al. 2021), and possibly even for open firing.

This brings me to our most recent experiments connected with firing pottery. I spent the last weekend at Asparn (Austria), at the MAMUZ museum and had the pleasure to participate once again in the experimental archaeology class hosted by the University of Vienna.

Vera’s great Classical Kerma replicas placed in our lower bedding of goat dung.

Together with Vera and Ludwig Albustin and other colleagues, we were busy on the first day firing high quality replicas of Classical Kerma beakers. We used goat dung as the main fuel, but also some fresh wood and the results were really good – it went fast, and the appearance of the pots is very close to the ancient ones. We will clearly continue in this line, making more experiments with mixed fuels for firing pottery, for example with adding reed or straw.

Pottery firing in progress.

The second part of our experiments this year in Asparn was dedicated to fire dogs, their possible use and cooking pots. Our current line of research aims to test the advantage of using fire dogs together with Nubian style cooking pots – they differ slightly in shape and size of the Egyptian ones. I believe it is possible that the inhabitants of Sai found some creative ways to combine Egyptian fire dogs with Nubian cooking pots – thus they might have created something new.

Our new set of fire dogs which was fired and is now ready for use.
New replicas of Nubian cooking pots placed on fire dogs.

For some canines, all this effort and attention to the curious fire dogs remains incomprehensible. The different smells at the experimental archaeological site were a lot more exciting here.  


Budka and D’Ercole 2022 = Budka, J. and D’Ercole, G. 2022. An Experimental Approach to Assessing the Tempering and Firing of Local Pottery Production in Nubia during the New Kingdom Period. EXARC Journal 2022/2.

Verly et al. 2021 = Verly, G., Rademakers, F.W., Somaglino, C., Tallet, P., Delvaux, L. and Degryse, P. 2021. The chaîne opératoire of Middle Kingdom smelting batteries and the problem of fuel: excavation, experimental and analytical studies on ancient Egyptian metallurgy. Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports 37 (article no. 102708) DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2020.102708