Tonight ended in Johannesburg the 22nd Biennial Meeting of the Society for African Archaeologists, which was organized for the second time jointly with the 14th Congress of the Pan African Archaeological Association (see HERE for official web page).

Among more than 450 presentations, a dozen were related to Sudan Studies with the lion’s share going to the Meroitic period. Two of those presentations were by scholars coming from Bergen, namely by professor Randi Haaland and PhD candidate Maurice Mugabowagahunde. A couple more presentations relating with research in the Blombos cave and other similar sites of South Africa were prepared by groups where professor Henshilwood (UiB/AHKR) has a leading role.

In a very timely manner, the last days we have been reading parts of a new Oxford handbook, published last year and dedicated to African archaeology. Of interest to this blog, we retain three of the 70 chapters, the one by David Edwards on the Medieval and Post-Medieval States of the Nile Valley, the one by Intissar El Zein on The Archaeology of the Ottoman Empire in Northern and Northeastern Africa and the one by Derek Welsby on Kerma and Kush and their neighbors. The two first for obvious reasons, the latter because the second largest Kerma cemetery is on Sai Island.

Coincidentally, there appeared recently a post that also included the Kerma period on Sai in Julia Budka’s blog:

Little upstream from Sai the British Museum has been excavating the site of Amara since 2006 and today a book about Amara West, subtitled Living in Egyptian Nubia, was announced through Twitter that’s been sent to the printer: https://twitter.com/NealSpencer_BM/status/490144978832982016

As commented by Neal Spencer in that tweet, “Good start to weekend”!

Finally, looking towards things happening in the immediate future a venue undoubtedly stands out, a new exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with a Nubian focus, namely Gold and Gods; Jewels of Ancient Nubia. We will surely bring on more infos, but for the time being check the web announcement with the promise of a fine publication appearing in October:


Peace and forgiveness

Today’s entry will start again with a photo from the corner table at my office! This time a bit more populated, since on the left you see Richard Holton Pierce and on the right Inge Eliassen.


Pierce is a professor emeritus at the University of Bergen and is known for being one of the four authors of the Fontes Historiae Nubiorum. We were having our Wednesday meeting of reading Old Nubian and at its end Inge came by to discuss his contribution to the thematic issue of Dotawo on Nubian place names. Inge has just defended successfully his master thesis on Darfur (para-)militia and will be writing about place names from the western end of Sudan. Pierce is contemplating a contribution from his notes on the Beja country, the eastern end of the country. But about that in the future.

Today, a note from yesterday’s Old Nubian session: we observed a difference in the analysis of a word in the fourth line of the first page of Saint Minas’ miracle as edited by G.M. Browne (1983) and Vincent van Gerven Oei (2012). The word is:


According to Browne, the word means ‘peace’ and the explanation is based on his understanding of the passages in which the word is used and for which there are parallels in Greek and Coptic. For example:

1. John 16:33, where the word for ‘peace’ (ειρήνη in Greek) is in Old Nubian


(the ending -KA denoting the directive, the object of the verb)

2. Liber Institutionis Michaelis, IN I 11 ii 3, where the same word translates the Coptic loan-word from Greek


Browne’s etymological analysis proposes the unattested stem of the verb ΤΩΚ followed by a variant KN of the semantic morpheme KE and the abstract -substantive formant NAYE (Browne 1989, p. 10, § 3.3.2).

On the other hand Van Gerven Oei suggests an etymology from the attested verb stem TOKAP followed by NAYE, where the P is assimilated by the N (The Miracle of Saint Mina, p. 65). This explanation sounds more probable.

Nonetheless, Vincent does not seem to acknowledge (or at least this is how it appears to be in his analysis of the Minas’ text) that the Nubians used the same stem for both notions, namely forgiveness and peace, although they were using two different words for each one of them, and he translates with ‘forgiveness of God’. More precisely, the Nubian dictionary includes (OND p. 178):

forgiveness vs peace

However, this lexical custom of the Nubians is in fact an excellent insight offered into the way they understood peace, almost always linked with God, and completely absent from the documentary sources on Nubia published to date. It seems in other words that for the Christian Nubians ‘peace of God’ meant ‘forgiveness by God’. Future studies and discoveries will elucidate the matter further.

For the time being, one more comment regarding the significance of making this observation precisely yesterday, namely on the day of the third anniversary of South Sudan’s independence on the 9th of July 2011.

It is really doubtful how many people have been commemorating in festive manner the formation of the youngest state of our world since the country is in a mess: civil war, half its population fleeing from their homesteads, and famine looming… It is characteristic that South Sudan has been ranked as the most fragile state on the planet today, topping the list where Somalia has throned since 2008…

The causes of this situation are very complex but the perennial tribal clashes cannot be excused, but rather their catastrophic results must at some point and from both sides be forgiven… Therefore, I found it as an intriguing coincidence that I discussed with Pierce yesterday the meaning of the Old Nubian words for ‘peace’ and ‘forgiveness’…

the corner table

Today I am posting a photo from my office at the Institute of Archaeology, History, Cultural and Religious Studies (AHKR) at the University of Bergen.


It shows the corner where two chairs and a small table are placed so as to welcome visitors for a coffee or tea, for moments of a more relaxed reading activity, or in order to be able to temporary store things out of the way.

As it is obvious form the picture, for the time being many carton boxes have been placed there. And they have a story to tell. Because they belong to Christian Bull, a friend and colleague who just defended with excellent results his doctoral dissertation on Hermetism. Following this, he will be moving to Oslo to work with Hugo Lundhaug for the ERC-project New Contexts for Old Texts: Unorthodox Texts and Monastic Manuscript Culture in Fourth- and Fifth-Century Egypt (NEWCONT) at the Faculty of Theology at the University of Oslo. Bergen is losing one of its most brilliant and promising young scholars, and myself the best company both for reading Coptic – as we have been doing the last five years already! – and for going downtown afterwards for more ‘spirit’-ed discussions – oudjai Christian ;-)

So, it’s a honor to host Christian’s books until he finds a place to move them into at his new base.

Just as it is an honor to take up his duty the last years of teaching the introductory course in Coptic.

In order to move to more personal matters, allow me to post here the poster calling for this course, in case someone in Bergen sees it and joins from August the course to be taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 08:00 to 10:00.


This post will not be complete before I explain that the office will be mine for four years, because I was hired as a post-doctoral researcher at AHKR for a project titled “Religious Literacy in Christian Nubia” in the frame of which my first duty beside my own research will be precisely to teach Coptic.

About other interesting stuff that will be happening here and from that office in the future, well…stay tuned!

During the last week, the third visit to Bergen from members of the University of Paris I/Sorbonne took place in the frame of the mobility programme Aurora and under the title “The African Archive: its content, context, and connections”.

While the areas of specialization of the two collaborating institutions are not the same – the French side is interested in West Africa and the Horn of Africa, while in Bergen research focuses on Sudan, the Swahili coast and North Africa – the spectrum of the topics covered may be characterized as complementary and are based on the priority given to the written sources, i.e. the manuscripts in the archives on and in Africa.

Another common denominator for the cooperations taking place under the auspices of Aurora is the interest in the sources written in Arabic, a language uniting the medieval and post-medieval societies of sub-Saharan Africa that have developed Islamic traditions in religion and literacy. Bergen is a privileged place in this regard, since in our premises there have found home thousands of copies of manuscripts in Arabic, mainly from Sudan, but also from other areas of Africa, including those of interest for the French researchers.

Against this background, the last visit was of multiple importance:

1. Dr. Amélie Chekroun, historian of medieval Africa, specializing in Islam in the Horn of Africa, visited Bergen in order to examine the Somali sources that can be found here. Indeed, she discovered some rare editions and had the opportunity to discuss important aspects of her work in two occasions: first, with Sean O’Fahey who is an inexorable source of wisdom in all things regarding Islam in Africa – one needs only remember that he is the editor together with Hunswick of the Arabic Literature of Africa (ALA); and second, at the seminar of Thursday, where she presented the results of her research about the manuscript tradition of the important work Futuh al-Ḥabaša. We quote from the abstract to her article«Manuscrits, éditions et traductions du Futūḥ al-Ḥabaša : état des lieux», Annales Islamologiques, n°46 (2012):

The Futuh al-Ḥabaša is the narrative into Arabic of the ǧihād led by the imām Aḥmad against the Ethiopian Christian kingdom during the first half of the sixteenth century. This is one of the most important sources for the understanding of this period in the history of Ethiopia, but it has so far been relatively little studied compared to sources issued from the Christian territories of this same region. In order to consider a thorough study of this text, this article lists all of its witnesses – manuscripts conserved and currently cataloged in the libraries of Europe, Ethiopia, the United States and the Arab world as well as sources mentioning copies now disappeared. Finally, this article comments on the various editions and translations of Futūḥ al Ḥabaša which were conducted as well in French and English as in Arabic, Amharic, Harari and Somali.

Since 2012, when Amélie’s study was published, she discovered a couple more manuscripts of this work. It is an honor for us that she wished to present through our blog the first version of the updated list of attestations of the Futuh al-Ḥabaša:

  • 2 in Ethiopia:
  • A photocopy of an unidentified manuscript in the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (Addis Abeba)
  • Fragments of a manuscript in the Muslim kingdom of Gomma
  • 2 in Saudi Arabia (Library of the university of Riyad):
  • One copied in 1812-1813
  • Yet unidentified
  • 2 in Algeria (National Library):
  • - One from the 17th century, found in Harar in 1882; 
  • - One copied in Alger in 1883
  • 3 in France (National Library):
  • - One from the 18th century found in Sawa in 19th century 
  • - One copied in 1779
  • - One copied in 1892, collected in Sawa in 19th century 
  • 1 in England (British Library)19th century, found in Harar in 1881
  • 1 in USA (Beinecke Library, Yale)19th century, found before 1900
Amélie and Robin working with material from the archive at the UiB

Amélie and Robin working with material from the archive at the UiB

2. Robin Seignobos – known to the readers of our blog from HERE – is the leading scholar in studies about the Arabic sources on medieval Nubia. His achievements have already before the completion of his thesis guaranteed for him a place of pride in the history of Nubian Studies, since in the coming 13th International Conference of Nubian Studies at Neuchâtel he will be delivering one of the papers of the plenary session becoming thus the youngest person to undertake such an honorable and challenging task.

In the seminar of Thursday, Robin presented a case study from the topic he will be treating in Neuchâtel, namely “The Contribution of Mamluk sources to the historical geography of Medieval Nubia. The list of sultan Baybars’ conquests according to Ibn Šaddād (d. 1285)”. The importance of this work for Bergen and Nubian Studies is twofold:

a. The corpus of “Oriental Sources concerning Nubia” compiled in 1975 by the late Fr. Giovanni Vantini remains until today the main reference for any work about Christian Nubia using material from external sources. Robin has showed in various occasions how much our knowledge is impeded by the lack of at least an updated version of Vantini’s work, if not a completely new edition. On Thursday’s seminar he illustrated the point most eloquently, since he presented a list of Mamluk historical sources (chronicles, annals etc.), where only 13 out of 45 were used by Vantini! Of course one should take into account the fact that these sources were unknown or unpublished at the time that Vantini prepared the Oriental Sources. But the point remains that one should proceed to a new corpus of external sources about Christian Nubia and undoubtedly the Arabic writers will constitute the majority of the works used for such a corpus.

So, after I started working with the archive of Sean O’Fahey, I realized the potential that exists in a place like Bergen and in the course of several personal communications, Robin and myself started sharing the dream of compiling the continuation of the Fontes Historiae Nubiorum as it was edited in Bergen by Eide, Hägg, Pierce and Török. Actually, Richard Holton Pierce was present at our seminar on Thursday and informed us that Vantini was invited by their group to republish the Oriental Sources as a continuation of the Fontes volumes, but unfortunately death found him while the discussions were ongoing. Perhaps the time is more ripe now?

b. We are already testing with Robin the dynamics of a future collaboration with the concrete task of editing one of the future thematic volumes of the journal Dotawo, about which we wrote in the previous entry. The theme of the volume we will edit is “Nubian place names” and I will conclude the present entry with the call for papers as it was distributed among the participants of the seminar whom I thank for very interesting discussions.

May we see indeed in a couple of years back to this meeting as the aurora of a new era in Nubian and Sudan Studies at the University of Bergen!

In the previous entry, we referred to a blog produced by a curator of the Sudan National Museum (SNM). Today we are presenting a brand new catalogue with Highlights from the SNM, produced by the British Council, Dal Group, Zain, NCAM and the Sudan Archaeological Society. Responsible for the publication are Abdelrahman Ali Mohamed (Director General of NCAM) and Julie Anderson (Secretary of the ISNS).


As you can see, the linguistic background of the two editors is reflected in the partition of the book in the two main languages of Sudan and Sudan archaeology, namely Arabic and English. However, inside the publication, it is clear that the powerful half is the English one, since for example the maps are not translated into Arabic. We felt a bit strange understanding why both maps are named as General Maps of Sudan, when the second one is obviously just picturing the Nile Valley and probably all the sites named in the publication itself. The information given is in general not going in depth, but this can be understood if one considers the scope of the catalogue, which is to promote the treasures of Sudan archaeology to a wider public. Some mistakes could have been avoided, though. Furthermore, other things that should have been avoided are the total lack of credits to people who have contributed in this publication, who have worked in the Sudan National Museum for the improvement of the display or who have provided material for this publication. As examples, we name: the plan of the second floor gallery was prepared by Dobrochna Zielinska and Alexandros Tsakos who were responsible for the rehabilitation of the exhibition there. The project was funded by UNESCO, in fact by the rest of the money that were not used by Michael Mallinson’s team improving display conditions in SNM more generally. When this project was completed, the second floor of SNM was not only exhibiting wall paintings from Faras (as stated in the publication), but also from Abdel Gadir, Kulubnarti, Meinarti, and Sonqi Tino. No photographs from the interior of this – or other exhibition galleries – have been included in the publication, while all the photos from the medieval and Islamic collections are those used for the catalogue of the exhibition Sudan Ancient Treasures hosted at the British Museum ten years ago. Despite this critic, we are welcoming this first exploit to assemble in a single volume highlights from the collections of SNM and we hope that this is just in anticipation of a complete catalogue, in several volumes, at least one for each historical period of the Sudanese past.


Earlier this week, we also received the link to the first volume of the new Nubiological/Sudanological journal Dotawo, which was already announced here a year ago. Quite an achievement to bring such a project to fulfillment, don’t you agree?

cover photo

The first volume of Dotawo contains eleven contributions. All are papers produced after lectures given in the frame of the Nilo-Saharan Linguistics’ Colloquium held at Cologne in May 22-24, 2013. Five papers represent purely linguistc topics on various topics of modern Nubian languages. And the remaining six are the majority of the papers from the panel on Old Nubian that was hosted in Cologne last year.

Two of these papers, the one by Petra Weschenfelder and Kerstin Weber, and the one by Vincent van Gerven Oei treat matters of Old Nubian grammar, showing in fact the path for renewed researches on the topic in the post-Browne era.

Very interesting approaches to the nuancing of language, literacy, idiom and society in medieval Nubia are presented in the paper by Giovanni Ruffini. Ruffini has been recognized as the first researcher to use with brilliance the historical data included in the documentary sources from Christian Nubia, and with the present paper proves that he has also an eye for gleaning the treasures hidden behind the linguistic details one is confronted with when working with the difficult corpus of documentary texts in Old Nubian.

More thematically-specific presentations are those by Adam Lajtar and Alexandros Tsakos; the former writing about the Old Nubian texts from Gebel Adda in the Royal Ontarion Museum, the latter focusing on a specific work, namely the Liber Insitutionis Michaelis.

Last but not least, there is the impressive contribution by Grzegorz Ochala offering an exhaustive overview of the data available for revisiting the topic of Multilingualism in Christian Nubia. This paper will be a definite reference in the future (despite its exclusion of Arabic, its mainly quantitative character, and the silencing of works by other researchers that have studied topics related to Ochala’s article).

Warm congratulations!

With such a beginning, one can only be looking forward to seeing the coming products of the Dotawo group!


Finally, just two days ago appeared online an article about “Raw Material and Technological Changes in Ceramic Productions at Sai Island, Northern Sudan, from the seventh to the third millennium BC” by a group of researchers that we met in our first seasons on the island conducting archaeometric analyses under the direction of Elena Garcea. Brings back memories and memories open the appetite for more adventures…

Every four years…

…various events are repeated, the most renown of which are the leap years. Every leap year is also marked since 1896 with the taking place of the (modern) Olympic Games. The last Olympic Games took place in London in 2012 and the next ones are taking place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016. But this year already Brazil is hosting another quadrennial sports’ venue, namely the football World Cup of nations.

A side-aspect of these modern traditions is the critic against the commercialization of the international sports’ events that is increasing with every upcoming venue. Perhaps never before have demonstrations against an athletic event been more acute than this year’s struggle of the Brazilian people to make their voice heard against the sirens announcing the fiesta of the most popular sport globally.

Interestingly, another quadrennial event takes place on the same fourth year as the football world cup, and that is no other than the International Conference of Nubian Studies. This blog is old enough to have reported from the previous conference in London in 2010, and in fact Henriette and Alexandros met for the first time at the Nubian conference of Warsaw in 2006. This year we will be traveling to Neuchâtel for the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies and of course we will be reporting from there too.

But the main issue of today’s entry was not to simply announce the conference of Neuchâtel. What we wanted to underline are the following two things:

1. First, that also in the Nubian conferences there are some voices that are not heard – or are even silenced – and paradoxically (?) these come from the majority group of those interested in things Nubian, namely the Nubians themselves. Either it is the threat of the dams or the anxiety for the future under the shadows of the political agenda of the Khartoum government regarding minorities in Sudan, the problems of the Nubians cannot be ignored by those who claim interest in the past, present, and future of the land they study, work in, and build their careers from. Let’s see how much the International Society for Nubian Studies has matured after so many years of existence and so many challenges and changes in the last years. The program of the conference seems in any case promising!

2. Second, it is one of these changes, the major one for Sudan archaeology ever, we would like to comment upon at the end of this entry. And this is no other than the involvement of Qatar in Sudan archaeology through the renown and soon ubiquitous QSAP. The comment for today concerns the qualities of the investors themselves: A simple Internet search is revealing about the conditions of the workers and the legal problems relating to the organization of the football World Cup of 2022 in Qatar. For example, check out this article combining infos about controversies in both Brazil and Qatar, as the World Cup in the former was opening yesterday at Sao Paulo… Let us then close with a tricky rhetorical question: Will the Qataris also host in 2022 the 15th International Conference on Nubian Studies, by which time also the QSAP is expected to have been largely completed???

More blogs…

In a previous entry we referred to the blog by the Kutschera family, “A Family of the Past”. Today we want to refer to three more blogs dealing with the past of Sudan in three different manners.

First of all, there is the blog by Geoff Emberling, El Kuru: A Royal City of Ancient Kush. It followed the 2014 season of Emberling’s team from the Kelsey Museum of Archaeology at the University of Michigan and their two partner institutions: one from the local university headed by prof. Abbas Sidahmed Zarroug and one from the University of Copenhagen directed by prof. Rachael Dann. Rich in documentation and with beautiful photographs accompanying the 32 entries, the El Kuru blog is one of the things we are already looking very much forward to following during its next season on the field, especially since interesting finds from the medieval period are being revealed!

Another field of Sudan archaeology is museums. The most important museum in Sudan is of course the National Museum (SNM). For many years, one of SNM’s most valuable supporters and collaborators is the British Museum (BM). The BM holds an international training program each summer for museum curators from various countries and there is a blog following the activities. Among the beneficiaries of the program has been Huda Magzoub from SNM. Huda has written many entries for that blog and the last one was dedicated to the celebrations at SNM for the International Day for Museums.

The last blog that we present today treats the Sudanese past in a manner that we very much like: as personal memories from places the author once visited or lived in. The blog is called ThusSudan, the author Mahmoud Abbaker Suleiman, and there is a special sub-page titled: “Cities and Towns in Memories“. Enjoy!


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