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Reaching for Sudan’s Buried History

By Yahya El Hassan, Panafrican News Agency (Dakar), 9 April 2001

Khartoum, Sudan—Archaeologists in Sudan have celebrated a number of outstanding ancient discoveries in the 2000-2001 excavation season as they continue to unravel the country’s buried history.

The latest excavations were conducted from early October through late March, the cool season that suits archaeologists unaccustomed to the hot summer of Sudan.

In focus was the monumental heritage of Napata and Merowe kingdoms of ancient Sudan, both of them in the far north of the country.

A temple built by King Akhenaton for the worship of god Amon was unearthed in Kerma, the capital of the Napata Kingdom that spans from 2500 to 1500 before Christ (BC). Kerma is some 200km south of the Sudan-Egypt border.

According to Hassan Hussein, director of the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), the temple dates back to 1400 BC. This period is known in Sudan’s ancient history as the period when Egyptian kings conquered and ruled Sudan.

Losing confidence in the multitude of gods worshipped in his kingdom, Akhenaton unified all gods in one whom he named Amon. The link is obvious between the words Amon and Amen.

The discovery was made by a mission of archaeologists from Switzerland.

Among their findings were the temple, a number of houses in its surroundings, a furnace for copper smelting, an earthen brick workshop, a cemetery, human skeletons, earthen pottery, stamps and axes.

There was also a collection of shaving razors, bronze weapons, golden and silver jewellery, cushions and fans made of ostrich feathers as well as a wooden bed in the shape of a standing horse, all coated in gold. Some fragments of damaged statues were also unearthed.

A grave of one of the kingdom’s princes was found in the vicinity of the temple. Fortifications representing complex defence systems were also found in the area.

Beneath the temple are several walls of baked mud bricks. Chalk was used to make brick walls adhere.

Another landmark discovery was a building in the monumental area of Musawwarat el Safra, one of the major cities of the Merowite Kingdom of 800BC—350AD, located 140km north of Khartoum and about 60km south of the kingdom’s capital in Bajrawiyya.

The building was discovered by a mission from the German Archaeological Society led by Prof. Stefan Weing.

During a public lecture that attracted a wide audience in Khartoum last week, Weing, using slide photographs, elaborately described what his team unearthed.

The monument is an enclosure that contained a garden, a number of houses and a number of animal sheds.

This represents a very sophisticated gardening system with a unique irrigation technique in which pipes made of stone carried later from a reservoir into canals built of bricks and then to the gardens, he explained.

In the same area, Weing’s team also came across an iron smelting furnace and another for burning bricks.

Iron smelting required the burning of a lot of firewood and that might have caused the environmental degradation in this area that is now an endless series of sand dunes, he observed.

The findings suggest that environmental degradation might have caused the downfall of the Merowite kingdom.

Also, an ancient regional city of the Merowite Kingdom has been discovered near the town of Berber, some 300km north of Khartoum.

NCAM excavations director, Salah Mohammed Ahmed said the 150 square km city dates back to the second century BC.

The discovery was made by archaeologists from NCAM and the Ontario Royal Museum in Canada.

Ahmed said digging will continue to unearth, but the work might take years.

Kerma, Musawwarat el Safra, Bajrawiyya and Jebel el Barkal are Sudan’s important tourist attractions because of previous monumental discoveries such as pyramids, temples and statues in these areas.

We are about to conduct a nation-wide archaeological survey with aim of drawing an archaeological map for the country, NCAM director Hassan Hussein said.

We want to close missing links and fill in the gaps in ancient history, Hussein told PANA, explaining that priority was on areas proposed for construction of dams and highways.

Hussein holds a conviction that civilisation started in Africa. Discoveries made in Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia—all of them indicate human civilisation started here in Africa, he said.

Sudan’s archaeologists, however, find their efforts often frustrated by antiquities thieves.

Hussein said masked thieves recently attacked a monument guard at Bajrawiyya, but were unable to run away with anything.

In a bid to check such thefts, the Ministry of the Interior in Khartoum set up a special police unit to protect the monuments.

Meanwhile, Hussein has appealed for cooperation of neighbouring countries in detecting and preventing the smuggling of stolen monuments.