The last three field seasons (2011-2013) we did not open our excavation at the site of the so-called Cathedral of Sai Island. Many things have changed since then, not only in and around the site, but also in the dig-house, the direction of the Université Charles de Gaulle Lille 3 mission, the main aims of the fieldwork, and the funding channels for the implementation of the major project. That means that although Lille 3 continues to hold the concession and to welcome foreign expeditions to move ahead with their individual research projects, the core of the activities has returned – perhaps even more acutely than in the first years of the French expedition on Sai – to tasks regarding the Egyptological interest on the island, namely the archaeological investigation of the Pharaonic town right between the fortress of Sai and the dig-house.
The whole project is now under the direction of Julia Budka who was honoured with the START-Preis 2012 of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) and a ERC Starting Grant 2012. Her project is titled “Across ancient borders and cultures: An Egyptian microcosm in Sudan during the 2nd millennium BCE”. It aims to illustrate that it is timely to strengthen settlement archaeology in Egypt and Nubia (Ancient Northern Sudan) in order to achieve a more balanced view of ancient life independent from mortuary-based and elite-biased approaches. For more details, see the blog AcrossBorders.
It is perhaps difficult to accept that the Sudanological projects (on the Meroitic and the Medieval period) have not found a place in the schedule of the busy Egyptological program run by Budka. There are clearly limitations both of space (how many people can be accommodated in the dig-house and how many researchers can work in the labs) and of time (the opening of the dig-house and the presence of an inspector of antiquities from Khartoum is taking place only for the period that the Lille 3 mission is at place) that explain the situation. And the Medieval Sai Project could not be present on the island for much simpler reasons of family logistics. So, we hope that in the future the Greek-Norwegian Archaeological Mission to Sudan will add to the variety “across borders” of the existing teams investigating the so-rich in antiquities Sai Island.
And there is clearly a very positive aspect with Budka’s project: it seems that it is one of the few in Sudan nowadays that is not depending on financing from the source that most missions are waiting for in order to implement their archaeological agendas: the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project, about which we will be writing in the very near future, since news have appeared that it is finally coming to fruition!