Ancient Nubia (Sudan) (Map). Around 5,000 years ago, a rich and powerful nation called the kingdom of Kush (also referred to as ancient Nubia) was a center of culture and military might in Africa. Ancient Nubia had a wealth of natural resources such as gold, ivory, copper, frankincense and ebony, but they also produced and traded a variety of goods such as pottery. The Nubians formed the foundation of the Proto-Dravidians, Proto-Elamites, Proto-Mande speakers and West Atlantic people.
Their bowmen warriors (Exhibit 1) were known and feared by those who saw them in battles. Ancient Nubia's lands are now part of modern Egypt and Sudan. Its geographic position meant that much of ancient Nubia's development is connected to that of ancient Egypt. In fact, Egypt ruled much of Nubia between 2000 B.C. and 1000 B.C., but when Egypt collapsed into civil war, Nubian kings ruled Egypt from around 800 B.C. to 700 B.C.
Nubians are the people of northern Sudan and southern Egypt. With a history and traditions which can be traced to the dawn of civilization, the Nubian first settled along the banks of the Nile from Aswan. Along this great river they developed one of the oldest and greatest civilizations in Africa. Until they lost their last kingdom (Christian Nubia) only five centuries back the Nubians remained as the main rivals to the other great African civilization of Egypt.
Nubia is the homeland of Africa's earliest black culture with a history which can be traced from 3800 B.C. onward through Nubian monuments and artifacts, as well as written records from Egypt and Rome. In antiquity, Nubia was a land of great natural wealth, of gold mines, ebony, ivory and incense which was always prized by her neighbors.
(The Contents of the New York Times, March 1, 1979 article that appeared on pages 1 & A16)
Nubian Monarchy Called Oldest
By Boyce Renseberger
(From page 1)
Evidence of the oldest recognizable monarchy in human history, preceding the rise of the earliest Egyptian kings by several generations, has been discovered in artifacts from ancient Nubia in Africa.
Until now it had been assumed that at that time the ancient Nubian culture, which existed in what is now northern Sudan and southern Egypt, had not advanced beyond a collection of scattered tribal clans and chiefdoms.
The existence of rule by kings indicates a more advanced form of political organization in which many chiefdoms are united under a more powerful and wealthier ruler.
The discovery is expected to stimulate a new appraisal of the origins of civilization in Africa, raising the question of to what extent later Egyptian culture may have derived its advanced political structure from the Nubians. The various symbols of Nubian royalty that have been found are the same as those associated, in later times, with Egyptian kings.
The new findings suggest that the ancient Nubians may have reached this stage of political development as long ago as 3300 B.C., several generations before the earliest documented Egyptian king.
The discovery is based on study of artifacts from ancient tombs excavated 15 years ago in an international effort
(From page A16)
Clues to Oldest Monarchy Found in Nubia
to rescue archeological deposits before the rising waters of the Aswan Dam covered them.
The artifacts, including hundreds of fragments of pottery, jewelry, stone vessels, and ceremonial objects such as incense burners, were initially recovered from the Qustul cemetery by Keith C. Seele, a professor at the University of Chicago. The cemetery, which contained 33 tombs that were heavily plundered in ancient times, was on the Nile near the modern boundary between Egypt and the Sudan.
The significance of the artifacts, which had been in storage at the university's oriental Institute, was not fully appreciated until last year, when Bruce Williams, a research associate, began to study them.
"Keith Seele had suspected the tombs were special, perhaps even royal," Dr. Williams said in an interview. "It was obvious from the quantity and quality of the painted pottery and the jewelry that we were dealing with wealthy people. But it was the picture on a stone incense burner that indicated we really had the tomb of a king."
On the incense burner, which was broken and had to be pieced together, was a depiction of a palace façade, a crowned king sitting on a throne in a boat, a royal standard before the king and, hovering above the king, the falcon god Horus. Most of the images are ones commonly associated with kingship in later Egyptian traditions.
The portion of the incense burner bearing the body of the king is missing but, Dr. Williams said, scholars are agreed that the presence of the crown in a form well known from dynastic Egypt and the god Horus are irrefutable evidence that the complete image was that of a king.
Clue on Incense Burner
The majestic figure on the incense burner, Dr. Williams said, is the earliest known representation of a king in the Nile Valley. His name is unknown, but he is believed to have lived approximately three generations before the time of Scorpion, the earliest-known Egyptian ruler. Scorpion was one of three kings said to have ruled Egypt before the start of what is called the first dynasty around 3050 B.C.
Dr. Williams said the dating is based on correlations of artistic styles in the Nubian pottery with similar styles in predynastic Egyptian pottery, which is relatively well dated.
He said some of the Nubian artifacts bore disconnected symbols resembling those of Egyptian hieroglyphics that were not readable.
"They were on their way to literacy," Dr. Williams said, "probably quite close to Egypt in this respect."
He said it was not known what the ancient Nubian civilization was called at the time but that he suspected it was Ta-Seti, a name known from Egyptian writings that means "Land of the Bow," referring to the weapon which, apparently, was deemed characteristic of peoples in that part of Africa.
Dr. Williams said there were accounts in later Egyptian writings of the Egyptians attacking Ta-Seti some time around 3000 B.C. This is just about the time, according to the archeological record, when a major cultural transformation began in that part of Nubia. Little is known of what was happening in this region between 3000 B.C. and 2300 B.C. when inhabitants were unquestionably governed by separate chiefdoms.
Their descendents, he suggested, may have developed the Sudanese Kingdom of Kush, based in Kerma, Egyptians for sovereignty and, in fact, prevailed over them for a while.
A detailed monograph on the discoveries is in preparation, but there is no deadline and publication is expected to be a few years away.
THE ARTS/ARCHAEOLOGY SEPTEMBER 15, 1997, VOL. 150, NO. 11
THE NILE'S OTHER KINGDOM
NUBIA, NOT EGYPT, MAY HAVE BEEN THE FIRST TRUE AFRICAN CIVILIZATION
BY SCOTT MACLEOD
Excavations in Sudan are revealing that this area, formerly called Nubia, could have been the cradle of African civilization. Teams of archeologists from the US, Europe and Sudan are finding antiquities that show a sophisticated and original culture that could have influenced Egypt.
Archaeologist Timothy Kendall was leading an expedition in northern Sudan earlier this year when one of his diggers came across a slab of intricately carved stone hidden in rubble. Soon after, another slab turned up, and then another, until there were 25 in all, laid out in the sand like an archaeological jigsaw puzzle. Fitted together, the pieces formed a dazzling tableau: golden stars set against an azure sky, with crowned vultures flying off into the distance. Flying where, precisely? Kendall, an associate curator at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, thinks he knows. And if his hunch is correct, he may be a few tons of rubble away from a major archaeological find.
Kendall's breakthrough, when and if it comes, should be one of many arising from that corner of Africa. Long considered an archaeological after thought by scientists exploring the more famous temples and pyramids of Egypt, just to the north, Sudan is suddenly the hot place to be--and not just because of the equatorial temperatures that register as high as 100[degrees]F even during the prime winter digging season. At least 15 teams from the U.S., Europe and Sudan are sifting through the same sands for secrets of ancient Nubia, the world's first black civilization, which at its height stretched more than 1,000 miles along the Nile River, from what is today the central part of Sudan to the southern reaches of Egypt.
Everything uncovered thus far supports the conviction that has been building among scholars during the past 20 years that the Nubians were not just vassals and trading partners of the Egyptian Pharaohs but also the creators of an ancient and impressive civilization of their own, with a homegrown culture that may have been the most complex and cosmopolitan in all Africa.
That's why Kendall is particularly interested in the jigsaw tableau he has laid out on the sand. The newly discovered blocks, he believes, once made up the vaulted ceiling of a passageway that led to a temple dug into a 300-ft.-high hill known today as Jebel Barkal. It was there, Kendall thinks, that rulers in the ancient Nubian kingdom of Napata and Meroe, which dated from 900 B.C. to A.D. 350, practiced their coronation rites, climaxing in a crowning by the god Amun.
The passage Kendall discovered was, he believes, closed by an earthquake and rockslide sometime between A.D. 100 and A.D. 200. That's the bad news--and the good news, for the same wall of rubble that separates Kendall from his temple probably kept out treasure hunters as well. Once he manages to bore through a few huge boulders and track the flight of those majestic vultures, he hopes to find that the temple's interior, and whatever treasure it holds, has been preserved intact for 18 centuries.
Such findings, according to Dietrich Wildung, curator of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, represent "nothing less than the discovery of a new dimension of the ancient world." The sense of breaking new ground, and of taking archaeology in a new direction, has contributed to what Wildung calls "the pioneer spirit in Sudan."
Archaeologists aren't the only ones who are rediscovering Sudan's ancient treasures. One of the greatest exhibitions of Nubian art ever assembled is currently touring France, Germany and the Netherlands. The show, which will continue into next year, features statues, pottery, jewelry and other artifacts that were recovered in excavations dating back to 1842, when Karl Lepsius, a Prussian archaeologist, first surveyed the region known in the Old Testament as Cush, in Greek literature as Aethiopia and by the Romans as Nubia (possibly a corruption of the Egyptian word for gold).
Although the early surveyors reported that Sudan contained more pyramids than did Egypt, the country remained what Wildung calls an archaeological "no-man's-land" until quite recently. The first excavators from Europe found Egypt to be less backward, less remote and less prone to yellow fever, and thus far more pleasant and accessible. Egypt's sites also proved to be so rich that there was little reason to search farther up the Nile.
Another problem, scholars now firmly believe, was racial prejudice, which turned many in the field away from cultures emanating from deeper in Africa. Prominent Egyptologists--including the noted American George Reisner, who worked in Sudan--thought they were excavating the remains of an offshoot of Egyptian culture. "They didn't believe black Africa was capable of producing high civilization," says Kendall.
The latest crop of discoveries is helping put such ideas to rest. French archaeologists, for example, have found exquisite ceramic figurines, bowls and funerary objects at sites that date from at least 8000 B.C. They are as old as any Neolithic sites in Africa and predate prehistoric finds in Egypt by a staggering 3,000 years. This strongly suggests to Hassan Hussein Idris, director of Sudan's National Board for Antiquities and Museums, that ancient Nubia might have been an important source of Egypt's civilization, as well as the other way around.
Not all archaeologists are prepared to go that far. But there is now enough evidence for a scientific consensus that ancient Nubia, beginning in the Stone Age, developed its own distinct civilization--or rather, a series of overlapping civilizations--influenced by Africa, Arabia and the Sahara as well as by Egypt. Moreover, many scholars believe these Nubian kingdoms hold even more clues to the origins of African culture than does Egypt, which, because of its unique position abutting Asia and the Mediterranean, is regarded by many archaeologists as having developed independently from the rest of the continent.
The new perspective owes much to the work of Swiss archaeologist Charles Bonnet, who has spent the past 24 years excavating Kerma, the seat of Africa's greatest empire (outside Egypt) between 2500 B.C. and 1500 B.C. Bonnet acknowledges that he went to Sudan initially to find Egyptian civilization. "But step by step," he confesses, "I came to understand that the Nubian civilizations are really extraordinary. There might be Egyptian influences, but there is a Nubian originality and a Nubian identity."
Two years ago, Bonnet excavated a funerary temple in Kerma that powerfully illustrates Nubia's synthesis of frontier influences. On one interior wall he found Egyptian motifs, including Nile fishing boats, bullfights and an enormous crocodile. Another wall was covered with rows of giraffes and hippopotamuses--African wildlife rarely seen in ancient Egypt.
At Jebel Barkal, Kendall hopes to shed new light on the symbiotic relationship of Nubian and Egyptian civilizations. The first temples there were constructed between 1460 B.C. and 1200 B.C., during the relatively brief period when Egypt ruled Nubia. Kendall believes the Egyptians chose this particular craggy hill for a royal sanctuary because, when seen from a distance, Jebel Barkal's silhouette resembles, even today, a crown adorned with a cobra, which is a symbol of royal power. The Egyptians believed Jebel Barkal to be a prime residence of the god Amun, the bestower of royal authority--a notion that was later taken up by the Nubians. About 730 B.C., when the Nubians rose up and conquered Egypt, establishing what became known as Egypt's 25th dynasty, they drew on the authority granted by Amun at Jebel Barkal to justify their rule over both lands.
Kendall doesn't know what secrets the temple will yield when he finally breaks through the pile of rubble separating him from the interior. Will he find cult goddesses? Jeweled crowns? Kingly scepters? Or perhaps the remains of a priest or two, trapped for 18 centuries by that earthquake? Alas, there will be no answers until the next digging season begins in January. It's still summer in Sudan, and much too hot for archaeology.
Two New York Times Magazine Articles:
Although Sudan had remained the main homeland of Nubians through their long history, many of their descendants is today's Egypt. But still the majority of Nubians of today are Sudanese. With only a population of slightly above 300,000 they are a minority in both countries. Nevertheless being of African descent they resemble other Sudanese people more than Egyptians.
Nubians in both Sudan and Egypt have suffered a lot from intentional overlooking to their history and culture as well as displacement, relocation due to flooding and inundation of their homeland by dams constructed south of Egypt.
In the 1930s a large proportion of the Nubian villages along the Nile were totally submerged. Some Nubians decided to move north into Egypt. The majority, however, chose to stay in their doomed country, and rebuilt their houses on higher ground above the new shoreline.
During this century the Nubian homeland had been inundated three times, however the 1960 Nubian exodus is the most painful to all Nubians. Following the construction of Aswan High Dam in 1960 the land of Nubia between Aswan in Egypt and the 4th cataract in Sudan (main area of Nubians) was the subject of flooding and inundation. Nubians were displaced and relocated in other areas in both Sudan and Egypt. Great Nubian monuments and historical sites were drowned and lost for good. The monuments of Nubia would have ultimately been lost to the depths of the lake had it not been for the joint effort of 50 countries providing financial contributions and expertise in an effort to save the monuments. Wherever feasible, monuments were dismantled or cut from the rock and reassembled at new sites in Egypt and Sudan. Cemeteries and structures that could not be moved . . . were excavated and recorded in as much detail as possible.
The Nubians lost their ancient homeland in the 1960's, but their culture and heritage remain.
The influx of Arabs to Egypt and Sudan had contributed to the suppression of the Nubian identity following the collapse of the last Nubian kingdom in 1900. A major part of the Nubian population were totally arabized or claimed to be arabs (Jaa'leen-the majority of Northern Sudanese- and some Donglawes in Sudan, Kenuz and Koreskos in Egypt). However all Nubians were converted to Islam, and Arabic language became their main media of communication in addition to their indigenous old Nubian language. The unique characteristic of Nubian is shown in their culture (dress, dances, traditions and music) as well as their indigenous language which is the common feature of all Nubians.
Human populations settled in the Kerma basin at a very early date, as witnessed by several Mesolithic and Neolithic sites. The earliest traces of a human presence in the region date back some eight hundred thousands years. From 7500 BC onward the remains become more significant: semi-buried dwellings, various objects and tools, and graves. The Neolithic phrase, from the late sixth to the fourth millennium BC, is much better known and allows us to follow the stages of the spread of agriculture and the domestication of cattle in this period. Around 3000 BC a town grew up not far from the Neolithic dwellings place.
The Nubian Town and Its Necropolis
In the past thirty years, systematic excavation of Nubian Kerma has presented a picture of a capital city in the third and second millennia BCE. The evolution of the residential area is highly complex, yet it is possible to identify social differences and a marked hierarchy. Furthermore, we might speculate about the general nature of this town, which seems to correspond above all to a protected zone reserved for an elite population. Whereas elsewhere in the kingdom we find towns that centralized agricultural products and villages that we situated alongside fields of crops, here in the capital we find spacious homes inhabited by dignitaries who monitored the trade in merchandise arriving from far-off lands, and who supervised shipments dispatched from administrative buildings.
In the Old Kerma (2450-2050 BCE), religious buildings and special workshops for preparing offerings were built using trunks of acacia trees, and roofed with palm fibers. These plant-based materials, once encased in hardened clay, could be painted in lively colors. The round huts were usually made of wood and clay. This method of construction, inspired by traditions dating back to prehistory, is still being used today.
Around 2200-2000 BCE, the builders began using unfired mud-bricks. Later, the use of fired bricks constituted a significant change, because such material remained almost unknown elsewhere along the Nile Valley until the Late Period.
Since 1977, Charles Bonnet has been the director of the Kerma site.
Aerial view of the city of Kerma with its temple precinct
Predynastic (3500-2950 BCE): Old and middle pre-Kerma
Thinite Period (2950-2780 BCE): Recent pre-Kerma
Old Kingdom (2635-2140 BCE): Old Kerma (2450-2050 BCE), 2400 founding of Nubian town of Kerma with religious precinct
First Intermediate Period (2140-2020 BCE): Old Kerma
Middle Kingdom (2022-1750 BCE): Middle Kerma (2050-1750 BCE), Royal palaces; audience chamber; founding of a second city; Large princely tumuli
Second Intermediate Period (1750-1550 BCE): Classic Kerma (1750-1450 BCE), Construction of Deffufa; Great royal tumuli and funerary temples; Kerma monarchs occupy forts on second cataract
New Kingdom (1550-1080 BCE): 1500 BCE: end of Kerma kingdom and foundation of Egyptian city of Pnubs on site of Doukki Gel, 1 km north of Nubian town (Thutmosid, Amarnian, and Ramessid temples
Third Intermediate Period (1080-715 BCE): Several independent but Egyptianize Kushite kingdoms; scant Egyptian documentation; contacts maintained between Egypt and Nubia
Late Period (715-330 BCE): Shabaqo's temple; Taharqa's stature; Tanutamun's statues; Statues of Senkamanisken, Analmani, Aspelta; 593 BCE: Psamtik II's campaign in Egypt; Destruction of statues at Kerma and Gebel Barkal; Napatan temples at Doukki Gel; town extends toward river
Greek Period (330-30 BCE): Kerma scant information
Roman Period (30 BCE onward): Meroitic temples at Doukki Gel
More Beneath the Sand?
Nubia: The Black Kingdom of Kush
Historians have long known about Kush, but relegated its importance to a vassal state of Egypt, significant only for its gold reserves. Early excavations in the Kush capital at Kerma suffered from the innate racism of the archaeologists. Fabulous grave goods, discovered in the 20th century, were thought to have belonged to Kush's Egyptian overlords. They didn't consider that a black African culture could have challenged Egypt's supremacy. - Dr. Timothy Kendall, a Sudan archaeologist