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Fulcher, Kate; Budka, Julia (2020): Pigments, incense, and bitumen from the New Kingdom town and cemetery on Sai Island in Nubia. In: Journal of Archaeological Science-Reports, Vol. 33, 102550
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Abstract

An analysis of paints found in ceramic sherd palettes from the 18th Dynasty (1548-1302 BCE) Pharaonic town on Sai Island in Upper Nubia using polarised light microscopy and infrared spectroscopy revealed pigments from the standard Egyptian repertoire: red and yellow ochres, Egyptian blue, calcite, gypsum, anhydrite, and the bright white huntite. Orange-yellow residues in ceramic sherds from the town were analysed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and were identified as Pistacia sp. resin, probably for use as incense. A dark organic substance from a vessel in the elite Pharaonic cemetery of the island was analysed using a second GC-MS method and was shown to be bitumen. Biomarkers in the bitumen indicate that its source may be the same as a sample from another Pharaonic town in Upper Nubia, suggesting a possible Nubian source. This is one of the earliest identifications of the use of bitumen in a funerary context in the ancient Nile Valley, and the furthest southern example yet analysed. Black fluids containing bitumen were used in Egypt as part of the process of mummification and for funerary anointing rituals;it is likely that the bitumen material at Sai was related to these practices.