(Sa el-Hagar, with Kom Rebwa and Kawady)

Sais was the capital of Egypt in Dynasty 26 (664-525 BC) and is located on the western Rashid Branch of the Nile, halfway between Cairo and Alexandria. Previous excavations at the site were carried out by the Egyptian Antiquities Organisation/Supreme Council of Antiquities which made important discoveries including a Hellenistic-Roman bath-house, a hoard of Hellenistic-Roman bronze figures as well as red brick buildings, a large limestone wall perhaps from a sacred structure, a drain and stone blocks and statue fragments dating to the Ramesside and Late Periods. Archaeological survey work at the site was initiated by the Egypt Exploration Society in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities in 1997 and excavation carried out through Durham University since 1999.

The excavation has tested several areas and discovered elements from the long history of settlement at the site.

Excavation 1 (2000-2005) in Kom Rebwa uncovered part of a house-structure with courtyard, main room and part of an annexe containing storage jars. This dated to the late Ramesside period but had been overbuilt later and was partly cut away. Large amounts of pottery, cobra figurines made of fired clay and reused stone fragments were found in the excavation.

Excavation 1 view of the main room of the ‘house’ with the floor covered in smashed pottery (north at the top) (Photo by Penny Wilson).

Excavations 2 and 3 (1999, 2001) highlighted an area of Prehistoric material on the western side of the Great Pit and funding was obtained to carry out Excavation 8 (2005) which revealed a Neolithic fishing midden and settlement layers (ca. 4000 BC) overlain by alluvial mud, then material from the Buto-Maadi period (ca. 3500) up to the Early Dynastic period (ca. 2900 BC). The material was sealed down by Saite Period reconstruction work. Much pottery, lithics (stone tools) and animal bone was found in the excavation.

Excavation 4 (2003) on the western side of the Great Pit uncovered part of a mud-brick wall that had been strengthened by dry stone wall, running alongside a well made of fired-pottery rings. The structures had been covered by ancient discarded material consisting of Egyptian pottery as well as Greek finewares and transport amphorae. The material dated to the Saite Period and the later dynasties (664-450) attesting to the ancient capital city of Egypt.

Excavation 4 view to the east, showing the mud-brick wall, stone reinforcement and well, made of pottery rings (Photo by Penny Wilson).

Excavations 5, 6 and 9 (2004 and 2005) were carried out in the western part of Kom Rebwa and uncovered a series of thick walled settlement structures, with circular granaries and many storage vessels. The upper layers date to the Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1000-700 BC). The earlier layers contained late Middle Kingdom pottery and jar sealings and seemed to be also settlements. A Dynasty 18 burial was also discovered with all of its burial equipment in the area which seemed to have been abandoned after the Second Intermediate Period, used as a cemetery in the New Kingdom and then re-settled in the Third Intermediate Period. This represents a familiar pattern from Delta settlements, with cities moving around the available space.

Excavation 7 (2004) was carried out on the south side of the northern enclosure wall and found evidence for large-scale destruction of stone structures plus solid mud-brick features.

Left: Ushabti figure of King Psamtek from Excavation 10, height 9.8cm (Photo by Penny Wilson).

Excavation 10 (2007) was carried out on the eastern side of the Great Pit before the building of a storage magazine/work place for the Mission. It found a Ptolemaic mud brick wall running through the area, which had been built upon by a Late Antique (4th-7th c. AD) red brick structure with a rounded end. Much pottery and many broken objects were recovered from the material used as constructional fill, including some Dynasty 26 ushabti figures one of which belonged to a King Psamtek.

Excavation 11 (2010) was carried out on the western side of the Great Pit under the modern track in order to investigate a find of small pottery vessels located by the Ministry of Antiquities during monitoring of the waste water project trenches in Sa el Hagar. The work uncovered traces of a large mud brick feature with cell-like divisions, perhaps of the Late Period, upon which masses of small pottery vessels had been discarded dating to the 1st c. BC to 1st c. AD.

Since 2012, excavations have resumed near excavation 1 in order to understand the wider context of the area in a series of excavation units. Here an underlying late Ramesside town has been studied with many pottery vessels that can be reconstructed. A later town built on top of it has a wide mud brick wall inside which there are smaller domestic units containing many fragments of pottery and reused stone dating to the early Third Intermediate Period. It seems that later structures from Dynasty 26 and the Roman periods were completely removed by the 19th century.

Other work has included:

  • geophysical survey of the fields and lands around the village of Sa el hagar in order to create a systematic magnetic map of the fields and underlying features;
  • a sustained drill auger (coring) programme with over 250 bore holes in the area of Sa el Hagar in order to understand the geological aspects of the settlement. Large scale vertical electrical survey by a team from Mansoura University led by Prof. Hosni Ghazala have enabled the integration of the data into the landscape context providing information about the ancient river channels in the area;
  • visits to outlying villages to record any features or archaeological material;
  • epigraphic recording of blocks at the Ministry of Antiquities office, now kept in Tell Farain magazine.

Website: http://www.dur.ac.uk/penelope.wilson/Sais.html 

Main Fieldwork Publications

P. Wilson,  2006.  The Survey of Saïs (Sa el-Hagar), 1997-2002, EES Excavation Memoir 77. London: EES.

P. Wilson, with L. Bertini, A. Clapham, C. Malleson, N. Harrington, S. Ikram, V. Linseele, L. Woodard, R. Crawford, M. Escolano Poveda, 2011 Sais I The Ramesside and Third Intermediate Period at Kom Rebwa, EES Excavation Memoir 98. London: EES.

P. Wilson, G. Gilbert, G. Tassie, with L. Bertini, A. Clapham, S. Ikram, V. Linseele, L. Woodard, A. McNab, 2014 Sais II: The Prehistoric Period, EES Excavation Memoir 107. London: EES.

P. Wilson, M. Pesenti, forthcoming, Sais III: The Saite Period.

Selected reading

P. Wilson, 1998 'Sais: Surveying the Royal City', Egyptian Archaeology 12, pp.3-6.

P. Wilson, 1998 ‘The Survey of Sais 1997’, in JEA 84, 2-4 Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 85, 1-4

P. Wilson, 2001 ‘Sais and its secrets’, Egyptian Archaeology 18 (Spring 2001), 3-5.

P. Wilson, 2001 ‘Sais (Sa el-Hagar), 1999’, JEA 86 (2000), 1-5.

P. Wilson, 2002 ‘The Survey of Sais (Sa el-Hagar) 2000-01’ and ‘Tell Mutubis,’ JEA 87 (2001): 1-8.

P. Wilson, and G. Gilbert, 2002 ‘Pigs, pots and postholes: prehistoric Sais’, Egyptian Archaeology 21 (Autumn 2002), 12-13.

P. Wilson, 2003 ‘The Survey of Sais (Sa el-Hagar), 2002’, JEA 88 (2002), 2-6.

P. Wilson, 2003 ‘Recent Work at Sais (Sa el Hagar),’ Egyptology at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century. Proceedings of the Eighth International Congress of Egyptologists, Cairo, 2000. Volume I Archaeology, eds. Z. Hawass and L. Pinch Brock, American University in Cairo Press, 568-573.

D. Hale and P. Wilson, ‘Geomagnetic surveys at Sais, Sa el-Hagar, western delta, Egypt,’ in Archaeologia Polona vol.41: 2003 (Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, Polish Academy of Sciences, 185-188.

P. Wilson, 2005 ‘Fieldwork: Sais (Sa el-Hagar), 2003-4,’ JEA 90 (2004), 1-9.

P. Wilson, 2005 ‘Two Graves and a Well at Sais’, Egyptian Archaeology 26, Spring P. Wilson, 2005, 34-5. 2006 ‘Fieldwork: Sais (Sa el-Hagar), 2004-05, JEA 91 (2005), 1-8.

P. Wilson, 2006 ‘Prehistoric Settlement in the Western Delta: a Regional and Local View from Saïs (Sa el-Hagar)’, JEA 92 (2006), 75-126.

P. Wilson, 2008 with G. Gilbert, ‘Saïs and its Trading Relations with the Eastern Mediterranean’, in eds. P. Kousoulis and K. Magliveras, Moving Across the Borders: Foreign Relations, Religion and Cultural Interactions in the Ancient Mediterranean, OLA 159,  Peeters: Leuven: 249-265.

P. Wilson, 2011 ‘Pots, People and the Plural Community: A Case Study of the Greeks in Egypt at Sais’ in Intercultural Contacts in the Ancient Mediterranean  (ed. K. Duistermaat and I. Regulski) Orientalia Lovaniensia Analecta 202, Leuven: Peeters : 149-160.

P. Wilson, 2012 ‘Prehistoric Saïs: Results from the Western Nile Delta Floodplain’ in , ed. J. Kabacinski, Prehistory of Northeastern Africa – new ideas and discoveries, Poznan: 25- 39.

P. Wilson, 2014 ‘The Prehistoric Sequence at Sais: Temporal and Regional Connections’, in ed. A. Maczynska, The Nile Delta as a centre of cultural interactions between Upper Egypt and the Southern Levant in the 4th millennium BC, Poznan: 283-302.

P. Wilson, 2016 ‘A Psamtek Ushabti and a Granite Block from Sais (Sa el-Hagar)’, in ed. R. Forshaw, C. Price, Festschrift for Anne Rosalie David, Bolton: 73-90.

P. Wilson, 2019 ‘Gateway to the Underworld: Cult Areas at Sais’, British Museum Studies in Ancient Egypt and Sudan 25: 342-364. https://www.britishmuseum.org/pdf/BMSAES/Issue%2024/Wilson_24.pdf