Tag Archives: Sudan

Curator’s Diary November 2017: My First Trip to Sudan

Last week I returned from six days in Sudan, my first ever trip to the country. Despite many visits to neighbouring Egypt, I have always wanted to visit Sudan but not quite managed. I have been especially aware of this since my appointment in 2011 as Curator of Egypt and Sudan at Manchester Museum, which holds some 2000 Sudanese antiquities. As a guest of staff at the British Embassy in Khartoum, I was very grateful for their hospitality and the logistical help afforded in seeing so much of this beautiful country over a short period. Tourism is not nearly as widespread in Sudan as it is in Egypt, which has definite advantages (and some drawbacks) for the interested visitor.

Omdurman

Sufi dancing at Omdurman

A personal highlight was witnessing Sufi dancing at the mosque of Hamed al Nil, at Omdurman just outside Khartoum, at dusk after Friday prayers. Although an earnest (if joyful) means of religious expression, I was stuck by the openness of participants to outsiders and was one of several Western onlookers being warmly welcomed. ‘Whirling dervishes’ (a term used for the principal participants) are often presented as something of a tourist sideshow, but what I experienced was unlike anything I’d seen in more tourist-oriented Egypt. The clouds of incense, bright green garments of some of those who took part (with tall crowns of almost ‘Osirian’ type), rhythmic drum beats and chanting evoked something very ancient. Most striking was the location of the performance next to a cemetery, a juxtaposition of the living and the dead which may seem strange to a Western audience but which is common to many ancient and living cultures. The lively dancing suggested the sorts of experienced but ‘ephemeral’ practices that simply do not survive in the archaeological record but which were nonetheless impressive and important.

barkal

Rocky outcrop at Gebel Barkal, interpreted in ancient times as a rearing cobra sacred to the god Amun

Over several days I was able to visit a number of archaeological sites. Sudan was home to a number of power centres between c. 750 BC and 300 AD – known variously as the Kushite, Napatan and Meroitic empires. Gebel Barkal, 400km north of Khartoum, is the site of a major temple to the god Amun begun by the Egyptian pharaoh Tuthmose III (c. 1481-1425 BC). It was later the spiritual home of a family of Kushite kings who ruled both Egypt and Kush as the 25th Dynasty of Pharaohs. Climbing the mountain at sunset provided an incredible view of surrounding landscape, and birds-eye view of the interconnections of monuments that ancient people will have known.

meroe-pyrs

Pyramids at Meroe

It is now a well-known pub-quiz fact that Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt; these steep-sided examples are clustered mainly at the sites of Meroe, Nuri, El-Kurru and Gebel Barkal. Changing forms of scene content and stylistic expression are noticeable in the small adjoining decorated chapels of many pyramids, several of which have been restored after being blown up in the search for treasure by an Italian explorer in the 1830s. Unlike the Egyptian pyramids, these monuments sit essentially alone in the desert, far from encroaching conurbations, and as a result are highly photogenic. This may obscure their serious purpose as tombs. This funerary function is made clear in the painted burial chamber of Tanwetamani, the last king of the Kushite 25th Dynasty (c. 650 BC), at El-Kurru. Viewing of these vivid scenes by torchlight was another personal highlight.

kURRU

Painted underworld images inside the pyramid of Tanwetamani

The largest cluster of pyramids is at Meroe, around 200km north of Khartoum.  It was a special privilege to be given a tour of the current excavations at The Royal City of Meroe by Jane Humphris. Jane and her team are demonstrating that Meroe was a major centre of iron production, which fuelled a mighty military. It had been excavated at the beginning of the Twentieth Century by John Garstang, an archaeologist based at the University of Liverpool – my alma mater, but modern techniques are salvaging many details that Garstang overlooked.

meroe-city

Appreciating a barque stand in temple at Royal City of Meroe

Having attended a fundraising ball held by the Khartoum Caledonian Society and met the British Ambassador Michael Aron, it was of interest to observe some of the mechanics of modern diplomacy in a country often characterised by Egyptologists as an ‘imperial’ possession of New Kingdom Egypt (c. 1450-1100 BC), echoing experiences of British colonialism in the Nineteenth Century AD. My visit also afforded the opportunity to speak with officials involved in international efforts to understand migration within Africa today and to tackle human trafficking and exploitation. Modern concerns reflect ancient realities, raising important questions about how ancient cultures such as those of Egypt and Sudan – but also of universal experiences such as migration – can be represented in museums.

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MAES Lecture 14/10/13: Derek Welsby, ‘Excavations at Gematon: A Kushite City on the Nile’

BM EA 1770The next Manchester Ancient Egypt Society lecture will be given by Dr. Derek Welsby

Excavations at Gematon, a Kushite City on the Nile

Monday 14th October, 7:30pm
Days Inn, Sackville Street, Manchester, M1 3AL
All welcome

 

Founded by the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton in the 14th century BC Kawa flourished for nearly 2000 years. Ongoing excavations by the Sudan Archaeological Research Society in association with the British Museum are concentrating on the remains of the Kushite town, on its houses, industrial quarter, store rooms and shrines. Work is also taking place in the contemporary cemetery where a number of dressed stone pyramids have been uncovered recently along with evidence for links with the Roman World. The talk will seek to set Kawa in its Kushite context and highlight some of the most important results of the excavations.

Derek Welsby directed excavations in Sudan at Soba East (1982-92), survey and excavations in the Northern Dongola Reach (1993-98) and excavations at Kawa (1998-present) as well as a number of smaller projects including an archaeological survey along the Wadi Halfa to Kerma railway. He is project director of the SARS mission forming a part of the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project, is an Assistant Keeper in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum and was until recently President of the International Society for Nubian Studies. He has published extensively on the archaeology of Sudan including The Kingdom of Kush. The Napatan and Meroitic Empires and The Medieval Kingdoms of Nubia. Pagans, Christian and Muslims on the Middle Nile.

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Foundation Deposits in Ancient Egypt & Sudan

Cartouche plaques in faience. Foundation deposits of Ramesses II. Acc. no. 1846a-b.

Cartouche plaques in faience. Foundation deposits of Ramesses II. Acc. no. 1846a-b.

In ancient Egypt and Sudan groups of objects were buried at specific points, such as the corners of buildings, during foundation rituals to mark the construction of temples and tombs – rather like symbolic ground-breaking ceremonies at the beginning of the construction of modern buildings. These ‘foundation deposits’ were deliberately chosen to symbolically ensure the effectiveness and longevity of the building, and included faience plaques in the form of sacrificed animals, model tools, pottery and basketry.

Foundation deposits take the form of different sized pits, which were often lined with mudbrick. During his excavation of the 12th Dynasty pyramid temple of Senwosret II at Kahun, W. M. F. Petrie found a foundation deposit and stated:

In the middle of the temple area a hole 31 inches square was excavated in the rock about four feet deep, to contain the foundation deposits. Into this the four sets of objects [model tools] were thrown, without any arrangement or order.

Oxen_trussed

Faience plaques of trussed oxen. Acc. No. 1560

Although foundation deposits became gradually more common during the Old and Middle Kingdoms, they reached the height of their popularity during the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BC). Manchester Museum’s collection includes a range of deposits from different sites and periods, including over 100 faience plaques symbolising offerings in the form of parts of oxen, ducks, flowers and fruit, like these plaques of sacrificed headless oxen [Acc. No. 1560, left]. We chose to display most of these – many for the first time – in the new Egyptian Worlds gallery, to emphasise their quantity.

Anlamani_foundation

Acc. No. 8579

Sometimes faience plaques with the name of the pharaoh in a cartouche were also buried in the foundation deposit – also a useful dating tool – such as these examples found in a foundation deposit at the temple of Ramesses II in Western Thebes (the Ramesseum) preserving the name of Ramesses II [Acc. No.1846a-d]. We also have a group of copper model tools, including these model hoes, from a foundation deposit at the temple of Queen Tausret in Western Thebes [Acc. No. 1595].

Aspelta-foundation

Acc. No. 8581

Foundation deposits have also been found beneath royal pyramids in Sudan, including these beautiful faience cups preserving the names of the Kushite kings Aspelta [Acc. No. 8581] and Anlamani [Acc. No. 8579], both excavated by the Harvard-Boston expedition from the royal pyramids at the site of Nuri in Sudan.

– Anna

Anna Garnett is Trainee Curator in Egypt & Sudan at the British Museum and Manchester Museum. Follow her blog here.

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Tulips in Sudan: Kerma and the Kingdom of Kush

8556

Acc. no. 8556 (Photo: Paul Cliff)

One of the most-eye catching and distinctive types of pottery in Manchester Museum’s collection are tulip-shaped beakers from the site of Kerma in Sudan, such as this example which is currently on display in the ‘Egyptian Worlds’ gallery (Acc. No. 8556).

The Kingdom of Kush was the first urban society in Sub-Saharan Africa and flourished from 2500 to around 1450 BC. The site of Kerma was the ancient capital of the Kushite kingdom and extensive excavations at Kerma have revealed residential and industrial areas, cemeteries, palaces and two huge mudbrick buildings known as deffufa which are uniquely associated with Nubian architecture and are thought to have had a religious function, perhaps as temples.

Tulip-beakers are a distinctive product of the Kushite kingdom and were produced in large numbers from 1750 to 1550 BC, during the period known as ‘Classic Kerma’. These beautiful vessels were made by hand using red-coloured clay which the potters found in abundance on the banks of the Nile. Before the vessel was fired, the surface was polished, or burnished, with a pebble, thus compacting the clay and making the surface very smooth with a metallic sheen.

Deffufa

The ‘Eastern Deffufa’ at Kerma (Photo: Anna Garnett)

Importantly, during firing the tulip-beakers were turned upside-down in the kiln which meant that the rim was fired in a reduced atmosphere (without oxygen) and so appears black, leaving the rest of the vessel red: we call these types of pots ‘black-topped red ware’. The delicate tulip-shape of this beaker highlights the technological skill of the Kushite potters, especially as the vessel is handmade rather than being made on a potter’s wheel. These beakers may have been used for drinking, and several have been found stacked inside each other in the tomb.

This particular beaker was excavated from Kerma in 1913 by the Harvard-Boston expedition led by George Andrew Reisner, an American Egyptologist and pioneer of early scientific archaeology. It subsequently made its way into the Manchester Museum collection in 1926 via the National Museum of Sudan in Khartoum, and is a very visible illustration of the sophisticated craftsmanship of the Kushite potters.

A team of Geomorphologists and dating specialists, including Prof. Jamie Woodward from the University of Manchester, have recently revealed results from their investigations of ancient Sudanese river channels proving that the Kerma civilisation was able to flourish due to its proximity to the life-giving River Nile, which flooded every year and deposited fertile silts onto the land next to the river. The Kerma civilisation, which lasted for over a thousand years, finally died out in around 1500 BC when these floods were not quite high enough and a major Nile tributary dried up.

Check out more of Anna’s photos of Sudan at her blog.

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