Thursday, March 04, 2010

Sudan's land of 'black pharaohs' a trove for archaeologists

There is not a tourist in sight as the sun sets over sand-swept pyramids at Meroe, but archaeologists say the Nubian Desert of northern Sudan holds mysteries to rival ancient Egypt.

"There is a magic beauty about these sites that is heightened by the privilege of being able to admire them alone, with the pyramids, the dunes and the sun," says Guillemette Andreu, head of antiquities at Paris' Louvre museum.

"It really sets them apart from the Egyptian pyramids, whose beauty is slightly overshadowed by the tourist crowds."

Meroe lies around 200 kilometres (120 miles) northeast of Sudan's capital Khartoum and was the last capital of Kush, also called Nubia, an ancient kingdom centered on the confluence of the Blue Nile, the White Nile and the River Atbara.

Kush was one of the earliest civilisations in the Nile valley and, at first, was dominated by Egypt. The Nubians eventually gained their independence and, at the height of their power, they turned the table on Egypt and conquered it in the 8th century BC.

They occupied the entire Nile valley for a century before being forced back into what is now Sudan.

At the end of March, the Louvre will host its first exhibition on the Meroe dynasty, the last in a line of "black pharaohs" that ruled Kush for more than 1,000 years until the kingdom's demise in 350 AD.

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