Category Archives: SUDAN

Archaeologists Diving Under a 2,300-Year-Old Pyramid Find Ancient Treasure

Archaeologists Diving Under a 2,300-Year-Old Pyramid Find Ancient Treasure

Objects, ‘ gold leaf ‘ were uncovered by a team of archeologists ‘ diving’ the sweltering deserts of northern Sudan once Nubia, in a 2,300- years-old submerged tomb belonging to a pharaoh named Nastasen who ruled the Kush kingdom from 335 BC to 315 BC.

A major difference between the pyramids of northern Sudan and the most prominent pyramids in Egypt is that the pharaohs were buried beneath them, rather than within them. 

This is why Georges Reisner, an egyptologist in Harvard, visited Nouri for the first time visited Nuri over a century ago and discovered burial chambers beneath Taharqa’s massive pyramid, the largest of 20 pyramids marking the burials of Kushite royal family.

Nuri pyramids.

Sometimes called the “black pharaohs,” this dynasty conquered Egypt in the 8th Century BC and ruled for almost a century. Reisner not only reported that he had found their water filled tombs, but he also noted the presence of a narrow, ancient processional staircase cut into the bedrock running deep below Nastasen’s pyramid at Nuri.

In 2018, the team located the 65-step stairway and began excavating, but when they got to around 40 stairs down they hit a water table – enters underwater archaeologist Pearce Paul Creasman – associate professor in the dendrochronology laboratory at the University of Arizona, who led the team into the subaquatic ancient tomb for the first time in at least 100 years.

In a National Geographic article Creasman said “normal scuba tanks would have been too cumbersome” and this is why he decided to pump oxygen through 150-foot-long (45.72 meters) hoses from a gasoline-fed pump on the surface.

With Fakhri Hassan Abdallah, an inspector with Sudan’s  National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums, manning the air pump, Creasman entered the ancient abyss.

There are three chambers, with these beautiful arched ceilings, about the size of a small bus, you go in one chamber into the next, it’s pitch black, you know you’re in a tomb if your flashlights aren’t on. And it starts revealing the secrets that are held within.

And in this instance, those secrets Creasman risked his life to touch came in the form of fragments of ancient gold.

According to Creasman, when he was making his way through the dark silt they… “Were still sitting there – small glass-type statues” which had once been leafed in gold.

A shabti found in the submerged chamber of a Kushite pyramid.

And while the water destroyed the glass underneath, “the little gold flake was still there”. Under normal circumstances all traces of gold leaf would have been stolen by grave robbers , but the rising water level made this particular tomb inaccessible, said underwater archaeologist Kristin Romey in National Geographic .

‘Kush gold leaf’ sounds like the name of a tea, or a brand of really strong hashish, both products associated with the Kush empire; however, while Creasman’s team might be slightly let down at not having found a collection of solid gold statues , the fragments of gold leaf are in themselves priceless in heritage terms.

The land of the Kush became one of the main gold-producing areas of the ancient world and its alchemists and craftspeople forged intricate and beautiful jewelry and they adorned their temples and statues with gold leaf.

In 2007, The Guardian published an article announcing that archaeologists discovered “An ancient site where gold flakes were hand-ground from rare ores.”

Gold leaf found in the tomb.

Located at Hosh el-Geruf, 225 miles (362 km) north of Khartoum in Sudan, the archaeologists first unearthed grinding stones made of a granite-like rock called gneiss, used to crush the ore and recover flakes of gold. Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute, told The Guardian, “This work is extremely important because it can give us our first look at the economic organization of this very important but little-known African state – the Kush empire.”

Funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society, for more information and updates on archaeology at Nuri, visit the official expedition website at  Nuri pyramids.

Skeletons of war dead from 11,000 BC go on show at the British Museum

Skeletons of war dead from 11,000 BC go on show at the British Museum

Lying on their left sides, curled together, the two skeletons on display for the first time at the British Museum look peacefully laid to rest.

The skeletons were buried with weapons.

But the razor-sharp stone flakes among the bones are the remains of ancient weapons. The two are among the oldest known war dead in the world, men who died 13,000 years ago.

The cemetery they came from, on the banks of the Nile in what is now northern Sudan, is famous among archaeologists: dating from about 11,000 BC, it is among the oldest organized burial grounds in the world. However, the finds have never been exhibited before.

“These were tribes mounting regular and ferocious raids amongst themselves for scarce resources,” curator Renee Friedman said.

“There were many women and children among the dead, a very unusual composition for any cemetery, and almost half bore the marks of violent death. These people lived in extraordinarily violent times.”

The bodies were laid on their left sides, heads to the south and looking east – towards the source of the river and the rising sun, on which survival depended.

“Before this date, we find isolated burials of bodies just placed in holes in the ground,” Friedman said. “These come from a time when the hunter-gatherers are starting to put down roots, and burying their ancestors is a very powerful way of laying claim to the land. But clearly they had to defend it, not once but many times, at a terrible cost.”

The cemetery at Jebel Sahaba now lies deep under the waters of the Aswan dam.

They were excavated in the 1960s by the American archaeologist Professor Fred Wendorf, in one of the Unesco-funded rescue digs to save as much history as possible before the waters rose.

Wendorf recovered the remains of 61 individuals, with weapons. When he retired from the Southern Methodist University of Texas in 2001 he presented his collection to the British Museum in London.

“Often with remains from such an ancient time, we will never know what happened to them,” Friedman said. “With these skeletons, there is no question: we found arrowheads lodged in spines, spear points that had pierced eye sockets … The lives and deaths of these people were not nice.”

The Statue of Lady Sennuwy of Asyut Emerges from the ground at Kerma Sudan in 1913

The Statue of Lady Sennuwy of Asyut Emerges from the ground at Kerma Sudan in 1913

The flourishing, wealthy empires of Nubia have lined the nile in Southern Egypt and Sudan more than a thousand years before Jesus.

A century ago, in partnership with Harvard University, the Boston archeologist George Reisner, Made an excavation in the region and brought back to the American public an enduring sight of Nubian artifacts – the largest collection of Nubian artifacts outside East Africa.

This collection was viewed today for the first time as part of a museum theme to reexamine past archeologists’ conclusions and the biases that affected their work.

Kerma: Beads and pendants: faience, amethyst, glazed crystal, carnelian, shell, garnet, granite, August 10, 1914, Giza Camp

The Ancient Nubia Now exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston discusses some of what Reisner, one of their own archaeologists and curators, got wrong in his representation of history.

“He is considered the father of American Egyptology,” said curator Denise Doxey. “As an archaeologist, he was really superb.”

Ancient Nubia Now exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Oct. 13, 2019, to Jan. 20, 2020

But she says that Reisner based many of his assumptions on history that were written by Egyptians who were at war with Nubians for generations and described Nubians as barbarians.

When Reisner came across a beautifully carved, Egyptian stone statue in a tomb in Sudan in 1913, he classified the whole tomb as an Egyptian outpost — even though the statue known as Lady Sennuwy was surrounded by pottery and jewelry that was distinctly Nubian.

“He just couldn’t believe that the Nubians did all this themselves,” Doxey said. “He was a wonderful archaeologist, but he was not a forward-thinking man on social issues at all. So, he brings his own racial biases, which happened to dovetail nicely with the Egyptians’ image of the Nubians. And [it] causes them to completely misinterpret the site.”

Reisner didn’t believe that the Nubians had conquered southern Egypt for a time, and brought Lady Sennuwy back to Nubia as a prize. But Doxey says that’s what actually happened.

“In fact, he had it completely backward,” she said.

Doxey says Reisner contributed to a portrayal of Nubia as a conquered, marginalized culture somehow less important than Egypt, and eventually mostly forgotten by scholars.

“It’s a vicious cycle because people aren’t familiar with Nubia. So, museums are wary about doing exhibitions and [having] nobody come because they don’t know what Nubia is,” Doxey said. “So, it perpetuates this idea that nobody knows what Nubia is, and it helps to keep that imbalance that Egypt is somehow much more important.”

-Denise Doxey, Museum of Fine Arts, curator

“It’s a vicious cycle because people aren’t familiar with Nubia. So, museums are wary about doing exhibitions and [having] nobody come because they don’t know what Nubia is,” Doxey said. “So, it perpetuates this idea that nobody knows what Nubia is, and it helps to keep that imbalance that Egypt is somehow much more important.”

But it’s been clear for some time that Reisner got it wrong. French and Swiss teams did excavations in Sudan in the 1960s and 1970s and discovered that tomb Reisner found with the Lady Sennuwy statue was part of a thriving, Nubian metropolis at the center of a trading network that reached far into Africa.

“It’s a massive, fortified city with suburbs outside and ports and industrial areas and temples,” Doxey said. “So, it was actually a very powerful and important kingdom.”

A kingdom that left behind fine pottery that is eggshell thin and dipped in a distinctive translucent blue glaze; and gold jewelry, and sculptures depicting animals such as rams and lions. Items that were ahead of their time, and are possibly evidence of an advanced culture.

That reminds some people of Wakanda, the fictional, ultra-advanced African country in the movie, “Black Panther.” Ta-Nehisi Coates, who writes the “Black Panther” series for Marvel, has said he imagines Wakanda being pretty much where Nubia was.

In a video in the Nubia exhibit, Nicole Aljoe, director of Africana studies at Northeastern University, talks about Pauline Hopkins, an African American writer who, in 1902-1903, wrote a serialized novel, “Of One Blood; Or, The Hidden Self,” in which one of the main characters discovers a secret, advanced society of superhumans in the Nubia region.

“It is fascinating — it’s this weird kind of proto-science fiction, fantastic, but at the same time supernatural presentation that resonated a lot for me and my students with the film [“Black Panther”] after it came out,” Aljoe said. “It’d be really cool if she was prescient in that way.”

Begrawiya: North Cemetery at Meroe, Pyramids N 32 and N 19, April 12, 1921

Aljoe says the book is just one example of how African American artists have used the idea of Nubia as a symbol again and again. There were Nubian references during the Harlem Renaissance, the Black arts movement, and in rap music and the Black Lives Matter movement, she says. Right now, there’s a ballot measure in Boston to rename a historic spot Nubian Square. It’s currently named for Thomas Dudley, a governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony who signed laws that enabled the slave trade.

“So, Nubia as kind of representing a royal African history that folks can use to challenge European and racist colonial ideologies,” Aljoe said.