Category Archives: SUDAN

3,000 Years old Buhen: The Sunken fortress under the Nile

3,000 Years old Buhen: The Sunken fortress under the Nile

During the Middle Kingdom era, King Senusret III established castles and fortresses to protect Egypt from the south, such as the Buhen fortress that sunk in the Nile as a result of a flood.

Buhen was a massive fortress located on the west bank of the Nile in Lower Nubia (northern Sudan). The walls of the fortress were made of brick and stone walls, approximately 5 meters (16 ft) thick and about 10 meters (33 ft) high, covering an area of about 13,000 square meters (140,000 sq ft) and extending more than 150 meters (490 ft).

It was constructed during the reigns of King Senusret III in the Middle Kingdom era (12th dynasty) to protect Egypt and the commercial ships from rebel Nubians in the south, according to “Ancient Egypt” by David P. Silverman.

Photo for Buhen fortress from Nubia museum – Walaa Ali
Buhen fortress

The massive fortress was built in 1860 BC. It had about 1,000 soldiers, 300 archers, and their families. Queen Hatshepsut ordered a Horus temple to be built inside the Buhen fortress for worship and prayer, and also for traders to take a break while transporting their goods. Interestingly, during that time, Egypt imported and exported many products, such as oils, ivory, pottery, and tiger, and elephant skins.

The Middle Kingdom era saw many other fortresses besides Buhen, such as Mirgissa, Shalfak, Uronarti, Askut, Dabenarti, and ending with the paired fortresses of Semna and Kumma, located on opposite sides of the Nile River. Each fortress was in visual contact with the immediately adjacent forts.

Ahmed Saleh, director of antiquities in Aswan, told Egypt online portal that the Buhen fortress no longer exists because it was submerged under the waters of Lake Nasser in 1964 due to the flood; the Buhen fortress is now located 300 meters from the High Dam. He added that the Ministry of Antiquities did not search for it because it was certainly destroyed, like several other Egyptian antiquities. Among the most important ancient monuments lost under Lake Nasser are Nubian fortresses.

“But if the Ministry planned to look for antiquities under the waters of Lake Nasser, they could find nothing other than bones, noting that the level of water was higher than the level of the ground.

Therefore, the Egyptian government built the High Dam, but it, unfortunately, swept away several pharaonic artifacts; still, the Ministry of Antiquities saved many artifacts, in cooperation with more than 22 foreign research teams, such as the UNESCO Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia, which began in the 1960s.

 Fortress in the Middle and the New Kingdom( about 1200 BC)

The site was entirely submerged beneath the reservoir waters and rendered inaccessible. However, the campaign saved many temples, including the Hatshepsut and Philae temples, which were rescued and moved to places nearby,” Saleh added.

History of Egypt in the Middle Kingdom

The Middle Kingdom era is called the era of economic prosperity because of many economic projects, such as irrigation, trade, industry, and agriculture. Among the most famous kings of the Middle Kingdom were King Mentuhotep II, who restored the unity of the country and spread security after the chaos that plagued Egypt in the era of the Old Kingdom, and King Senusret III, who was one of the greatest kings of Egypt.

Senusret III took care of the army to protect Egypt and led many campaigns to secure its borders. He also ordered the digging of the Sesostris Canal to link the Red Sea and the Nile, as well as building a dam to protect the land in Fayoum from the flood.

Head of King Senusret III in Gulbenkian Museum.

The Sesostris Canal was the source of the idea to build the Suez Canal to connect the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea, which became the most important navigational channel in the world and an important source of income for Egypt.

King Amenemhat III ruled from c. 1860 BCE to c. 1814 BCE. He was interested in agriculture and irrigation, and he ordered the building of the first pyramid at Dahshur, the so-called “Black Pyramid”, near Fayoum.

Around the 15th year of his reign, the king decided to build a new pyramid at Hawara, as well as a huge temple called “Labyrinth,” named so due to a large number of rooms, roads, and corners inside it, making it difficult for any visitor to exit.

Unfortunately, as a result of the kings’ weaknesses and greed, chaos spread in the country, which allowed the Hyksos, who came from Asia, to occupy Northern Egypt. The Hyksos abused the Egyptians very much and destroyed many temples and several ancient antiquities.

The Egyptians were determined to fight and expel the Hyksos from their country. The struggle started from Upper Egypt, led by Seqenenre Tao, who was martyred in the war with the Hyksos, but his wife Ahhotep encouraged the Egyptians to continue the struggle.

She urged her eldest son, Kamose, to continue the struggle, but he was also martyred in one of the battles. Then, the army was taken over by the younger son of Seqenenre Tao, Ahmose I, who continued to fight the Hyksos until they were expelled from Egypt. He then ruled the country.

One of the greatest civilizations throughout history is the ancient Egyptian civilization, which has stunned the entire world for ages. During the Middle Kingdom era, when Egypt was at the highest degree of culture and development, and kings were interested in projects of benefit to the people, handicrafts were developed and literature and art flourished.

Saharan remains may be evidence of first race war 13,000 years ago

Saharan remains may be evidence of first race war 13,000 years ago

Humans’ remains of people killed 13,000 years ago in what scientists believe is the oldest identified race war, are today due to going on display at the British Museum in London.

Two skeletons from a massacre in the Sahara desert in 11,000BC, which killed at least 26 people, will be shown in the new Ancient Egypt gallery, alongside the flint-tipped weapons with which they were killed.

French scientists have been working with the museum to examine dozens of skeletons that were found grouped together in the Jebel Sahaba cemetery – one of the earliest organized burial grounds – on the east bank of the Nile, northern Sudan, in the 1960s.

A pair of skeletons belonging to people who were killed on a massacre 13,000 years ago as the result of climate change is going on show in the British Museum, London. Pencils pinpoint out pieces of weaponry responsible for their demise

They believe the remains of the 60 individuals found – around half of which had cut marks on their bones – represent the first communal violence between groups.

Fighting probably broke out because of the environmental disaster of the Ice Age, which caused the attackers and victims to live together in a smaller area, the experts explained.

Renee Friedman, the museum’s curator of early Egypt, told The Times that the attackers and victims were hunter-gatherers who usually avoided violence by moving on when a certain area became overcrowded.

But she believed that the cold and dry conditions of the Nile valley around that time caused a ‘population crisis’, as more people moved to the same area surrounded by desert.

She said: ‘Things were probably very tight, so we think that people started picking on one another.’

The museum acquired the remains in 2002 when they were donated by Fred Wendorf, an American archaeologist who excavated the site in the 1960s.

At least 60 individuals were found and examined using modern technology. One body was found with 39 pieces of flint from arrows and other flint-tipped weapons, Dr. Friedman said.

The cemetery was discovered in 1965. It contained at least 61 individuals dating back about 13,000 years ago. The graveyard (illustrated showing the position in which the skeletons were found,) is one of the earliest formal cemeteries in the world
French scientists have been working with The British Museum to examine dozens of skeletons that were found grouped together in the Jebel Sahaba cemetery. An image of excavations at Jebel Sahaba
in 1965 is pictured
They believe the remains of the 60 individuals found (a skull is pictured) represent the first communal violence between groups because almost half the remains have cut marks on them

As well as the human remains, the display will include flint arrowhead fragments and a healed forearm fracture, which was most likely sustained by a victim who was trying to defend himself during the conflict.

Over the past two years, anthropologists from Bordeaux University have managed to find dozens of previously undetected conflict marks on the victims’ bones.

The British Museum scientists are now planning to research more about the victims themselves, including their gender, age, and diet.

Meanwhile, according to The Independent, work carried out at Liverpool John Moores University, the University of Alaska, and New Orleans’ Tulane University suggests these humans were part of the general sub-Saharan originating population, who were ancestors of modern Black Africans.

Dr. Daniel Antoine, a curator in the British Museum’s Ancient Egypt and Sudan Department, told the paper: ‘The skeletal material is of great importance – not only because of the evidence for conflict but also because the Jebel Sahaba cemetery is the oldest discovered in the Nile valley so far.’

Looters destroy 2,000-year-old Sudan archaeological site in search for gold

Looters destroy 2,000-year-old Sudan archaeological site in search for gold

When last month a team of archeologists deep in Sudan’s deserts arrived at Jabal Maragha’s ancient site, they thought they’d been lost. The site had vanished. But they hadn’t made a mistake. In fact, gold-hunters with giant diggers had destroyed almost all sign of the two millennia-old sites.

Archaeologist, Habab Idris Ahmed, who painstakingly excavated the historic site in 1999, told us that they had only one intention to search here — to find gold.

“They did something crazy; to save time, they used heavy machinery.”

In the baking-hot desert of Bayouda, some 270 kilometers (170 miles) north of the capital Khartoum, the team discovered two mechanical diggers and five men at work.

They had dug a vast trench 17 metres (55 feet) deep, and 20 meters long. The rust-coloured sand was scarred with tyre tracks, some cut deep into the ground, from the trucks that transported the equipment. The site, dating from the Meroitic period between 350 BC and 350 AD, was either a small settlement or a checkpoint. Since the diggers came, hardly anything remains.

“They had completely excavated it, because the ground is composed of layers of sandstone and pyrite,” said Hatem al-Nour, Sudan’s director of antiquities and museums.

“And as this rock is metallic their detector would start ringing. So they thought there was gold.”

Archeologists in Sudan assess the damage done by gold hunters digging up ancient sites looking for buried treasure

Escape justice

Archeologists in Sudan assess the damage done by gold hunters digging up ancient sites looking for buried treasure. Archeologists in Sudan assess the damage done by gold hunters digging up ancient sites looking for buried treasure. Next to the huge gash in the ground, the diggers had piled up ancient cylindrical stones on top of each other to prop up a roof for their dining room. The archaeologists were accompanied by a police escort, who took the treasure-hunters to a police station — but they were freed within hours.

“They should have been put in jail and their machines confiscated. There are laws,” said Mahmoud al-Tayeb, a former expert from Sudan’s antiquities department.

Instead, the men left without charge, and their diggers were released too.

“It is the saddest thing,” said Tayeb, who is also a professor of archaeology at the University of Warsaw.

Tayeb believes that the real culprit is the workers’ employer, someone who can pull strings and circumvent justice. Sudan’s archaeologists warn that this was not a unique case, but part of a systematic looting of ancient sites. At Sai, a 12-kilometre-long river island in the Nile, hundreds of graves have been ransacked and destroyed by looters. Some of them date back to the times of the pharaohs. Sudan’s ancient civilisations built more pyramids than the Egyptians, but many are still unexplored.

Now, in hundreds of remote places ranging from cemeteries to temples, desperate diggers are hunting for anything to improve their daily lives.

Sudanese treasure hunters use mechanical diggers to cut deep trenches at ancient sites looking for gold.

Gold fever

Sudanese treasure hunters use mechanical diggers to cut deep trenches at ancient sites looking for gold Sudan is Africa’s third-largest producer of gold, after South Africa and Ghana, with commercial mining bringing in $1.22 billion to the government last year.

Prof Muhammad suggests that teaching students about Sudan’s history could encourage them to protect the sites

In the past, people also tried their luck by panning for gold at the city of Omdurman, across the river from Khartoum, where the waters of the White and Blue Niles meet.

“We used to see older people with small sieves like the ones women use for sifting flour at home,” Tayeb said, recalling times when he was a boy. “They used them to look for gold.”

But the gold they found was in tiny quantities.

Then in the late 1990s, people saw archaeologists using metal detectors for their scientific research.

“When people saw archeologists digging and finding things, they were convinced there was gold.”

Reason for pride

A team of archaeologist inspects stones stacked up on top of each other to prop up a roof for a dining room to be used by gold hunters

Remote archaeological sites in Sudan are being targeted by people believing they can find buried gold beneath the sand Remote archaeological sites in Sudan are being targeted by people believing they can find buried gold beneath the sand. Even worse, local authorities have encouraged the young and unemployed to hunt for treasures while wealthy businessmen bring in mechanical diggers alongside.

“Out of a thousand more or less well-known sites in Sudan, at least a hundred have been destroyed or damaged,” said Nour. “There is one policeman for 30 sites… and he has no communication equipment or adequate means of transport.”

For Tayeb, the root problem is not a lack of security, but rather the government’s priorities.

“It’s not a question of policemen,” he said. “It is a serious matter of how do you treat your history, your heritage? This is the main problem. But heritage is not a high priority for the government, so what can one do?”

The destruction of the sites is an extra tragedy for a country long riven by civil war between rival ethnic groups, destroying a common cultural identity of a nation.

“This heritage is vital for the unity of the Sudanese,” Nour said. “Their history gives them a reason for pride.”

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.