Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Scholars Race to Recover a Lost Kingdom on the Nile

The rescue archaeology being carried out in the fourth cataract area of the Nile, in advance of the completion of the Meroe Dam, is the somewhat demoralizing subject of this article on the above page (accompanied by maps and photographs). If you are asked for a username and password, enter egyptnews into both fields.

Scholars have come to learn that there was more to the culture of Kush than was previously suspected. From deciphered Egyptian documents and modern archaeological research, it is now known that for five centuries in the second millennium B.C., the kingdom of Kush flourished with the political and military prowess to maintain some control over a wide territory in Africa.

Kush’s governing success would seem to have been anomalous, or else conventional ideas about statehood rest too narrowly on the experiences of early civilizations like Mesopotamia, Egypt and China. How could a fairly complex state society exist without a writing system, an extensive bureaucracy or major urban centers, none of which Kush evidently had? Archaeologists are now finding some answers — at least intriguing insights — emerging in advance of rising Nile waters behind a new dam in northern Sudan. Hurried excavations are uncovering ancient settlements, cemeteries and gold-processing centers in regions previously unexplored . . . .

Gil Stein, director of the Oriental Institute at the university, said, “Until now, virtually all that we have known about Kush came from the historical records of their Egyptian neighbors and from limited explorations of monumental architecture at the Kushite capital city, Kerma.” To archaeologists, knowing that a virtually unexplored land of mystery is soon to be flooded has the same effect as Samuel Johnson ascribed to one facing the gallows in the morning. It concentrates the mind.

Over the last few years, archaeological teams from Britain, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sudan and the United States have raced to dig at sites that will soon be underwater. The teams were surprised to find hundreds of settlement ruins, cemeteries and examples of rock art that had never been studied. One of the most comprehensive salvage operations has been conducted by groups headed by Henryk Paner of the Gdansk Archaeological Museum in Poland, which surveyed 711 ancient sites in 2003 alone.
It is not merely the archaeology of the Kushite era that is being lost - many other periods of archaeological heritage will also be lost beneath the flood waters. Another article on Kush can be found on the National Geographic website.
Evidence of large-scale gold extraction in the ancient Nubian kingdom of Kush has been found along the Nile River, archaeologists will announce today (see pictures). The discovery is part of a race to save as many antiquities as possible before a dam inundates a hundred-mile (160-kilometer) stretch of the Nile in northern Sudan.

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