Packing up for Berlin…

The last days we had collected a couple of interesting links to share from here and the last addition to our list was a fine coincidence since it concerns two links from the webpage of the State Library in Berlin, where Alexandros will be traveling tomorrow.

The first couple of links regarded papers by colleagues working on the Meroitic period on Sai Island, but on topics that could very well be useful for the medieval centuries too:

1. “The textiles from the Meoritic necropoleis on Sai” (In French) by Elsa Yvanez.

2. “Intra- and inter-individual variation in δ 13 C and δ 1N in human dental calculus and comparison to bone collagen and apatite isotopes” by Vincent Francigny, Alex de Voogt, Jelmer Eerkens, Tosha Dupras, Samuel Rose, and Eric Bartelink.

Especially the latter discusses “the suitability of dental calculus for paleodietary reconstruction using stable isotope analysis” (quote from Abstract of the paper) and opens the path for similar research for later periods too.

Alex de Voogt’s work on game-boards has recently been hosted in Antiquity. While for fieldwork in Sudan, he investigated “Mancala at the pyramids of Meroe“, and not only he managed to add the game dimension to the most visited archaeological site of Sudan, but he also pinpointed the specific group of individuals who introduced this board-game on the landscape of the ancient stonework of the Meroitic capital. An academic paper that even makes fine reading! Thanks Alex!

And then, there came the news from Robin Seignobos about two Old Nubian manuscripts having become available online through the Berlin Staatsbibliothek: the Stavros Text and the so-called Griffith’s Lectionary! These are just two of the Nubian treasures in Berlin. Some more published will surely come online in due time, and as for the unpublished … well, more in the next entry…



The 13th Conference for Nubian Studies has come to an end, but activities related to Nubian and Sudan Studies are still taking place and will attract our attention either through the Internet or in real life.

To start with, already tomorrow the Annual Symposium and AGM of the Sudan Studies Association of the United Kingdom will take place in London.

SSSUK Annual Symposium 2014

From the program we glean the talk by Gerasimos Makris and the film by Frédérique Cifuentes Morgan.


The work of Frédérique has already been presented here and will be again hosted at our blog very soon, while it is Alexandros’ wish that the Greek professor of Social Anthropology will visit Bergen for some seminar in the near future.

For the time being, another Greek professor is visiting us at the University of Bergen, in the frame of a collaboration with Eivind Seland who is leading the NERON (Networks in the Roman East) project, namely Vassilios Christides, President of the Institute for Greco-Oriental and African Studies (IGOAS) and editor of the journal Graeco-Arabica where important Nubiological contributions have been published in the past. In the frame of this visit, Eivind has organized a seminar titled Networks and Interaction in the Red Sea.

At least two presentations will be directly concerned with the Sudanese Red Sea or Nile cultures linked with the littoral:

1. Randi Haaland’s paper on the Meroitic Empire’s cultural influences and trade in an Indian Ocean perspective.

2. Alexandros’ talk on the relations between Christian Nubia and the Red Sea.

This will be the last activity in Bergen before the next trip abroad, this time to Berlin for the study of the leather manuscripts and book binding material from Sur. Some posts from that trip will surely come out so stay tuned!

On the return it would have been nice if one could stop in London on the 29th of September and follow the AGM of SARS and the Kirwan Memorial Lecture, this year delivered by Janice Yellin on Offerings for Eternity: Decoding the Language of Religious Art from the Royal Pyramids at Meroe and Elite Burials in Meroitic Nubia. However, this is impossible due to the duties at our base.

In compensation for not being able to report on Elite Meroitic Burials, at least we can offer hereby a link to an online paper by Michael Brass on Meroitic burials from Jebel Moya ( http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10437-014-9164-5 ) with some very interesting theoretical perspectives.

Different sort of perspectives on Nubia and Sudan were seen by our dear friend Dobrochna Zielinska in her trip from Switzerland to Italy. She wished to share them in our blog and we thank her for her new contribution! An excellent way to conclude this entry and wish you all a great weekend!

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Neuchâtel – day 6

The last day of the conference was shorter than usual, but our departure for a break from academic duties and a bit of leisure with good friends at Reichenau did not permit us either to follow the entire morning session or to compose this last entry on the Neuchâtel conference before tonight. Nevertheless, what we heard on Saturday morning was very interesting because it consisted of two presentations discussing the topic of salvage archaeology in general and in Sudan more particularly. The first talk was by Jean-Paul Demoule, who leads the National (French) Institution for Research relating to Salvage Archaeology (free translation of the French title: Institut National de Recherches archéologiques préventives, better known as INRAP) and who had some very useful input to offer from his experience from France and from a more European perspective of dealing with salvage archaeology. The director general of NCAM, Dr. Abdelrahman Ali, had the more difficult task of describing the situation in Sudan in view of the plans of further dam constructions at Dal, at Kajbar, in the Fifth Cataract, at the Upper Atbara, at Roseires.

Abdelrahman Ali

And his task was difficult for several reasons among which we retain:

1. the presence of people from the local communities to be affected from the dams.

2. the fact that irrespectively of his academic opinion, his position would not allow him to criticize the sociopolitical dimensions of the dams.

3. the comparison with the other half of the archaeological present and future in Sudan, namely the Qatar Sudan Archaeological Project (QSAP).

During the discussion following Abdelrahman’s presentation, our host at Neuchâtel, professor Matthieu Honegger, very correctly remarked that he sees a huge contrast between on the one hand the issue with the dams and the risk that they entail for both the Nubian cultural heritage and the future of Nubia itself; and on the other hand the prospects for the archaeology of Nubia offered by QSAP. And it is true that QSAP offers very big money for important issues in Sudan Archaeology, like the protection of the sites, their preparation for visitors, and their general promotion, for example by supporting the publication of some fine site guides – from which we managed to get hold only of the one about the site of the Royal City of Meroë.

Meroë Royal City guide

Another opinion expressed during the discussion that ensued Abdelrahman’s talk was that of Dietrich Wildung. He advised optimism for the future of archaeology in Sudan and Nubian Studies more generally, thanks to the new era opening with the QSAP, and despite the hidden or more obvious agendas that surely exist behind such gigantic investments. We’d surely vote for such optimism, refraining from further critic of the political dimension of QSAP until at least things prove differently than what everyone hopes for.

And we will be looking forward to hearing more in four years at the 14th International Conference for Nubian Studies to be held at Paris, where the host will be Vincent Rondot, at the end of his second period as President of the ISNS.

In the meantime, a big MERCI to Matthieu Honegger and his assistants who should be enjoying some rest after so much hard work to make the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies so successful.

the hosts at neuchatel

For this photo, we thank our dear friend Dobrochna Zielinska.

Neuchâtel – day 5

As I write these lines, friends and colleagues are enjoying their last evening in the frame of the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies, on a boat on Lake Neuchâtel. Traveling to a conference with small children has the disadvantage that evening venues are difficult to follow, but of course children offer the priceless luxury of cozy moments that facilitate tackling the hectic rhythms of a conference – or for everyday life if such a mention is at place here! On the other hand, having to be back at the family base in the evening offers extra time for completing other tasks and, in my case at least, for blogging. And every single day here at Neuchâtel offers more than enough material to write about.

Just think that this morning started with the presentation by Robin Seignobos Rereading the Oriental Sources: Mamluk sources and the History of Late Medieval Nubia that surely it will be remembered as one of the most important contributions during the Neuchâtel conference.


For Robin demonstrated in just half an hour and by using just a couple of passages from a couple of the sources from one period of Arabic historiography that he is examining the vast potential that the revisiting of the corpus of Arabic Sources concerning Nubia has. I feel extremely privileges to be in close collaboration with Robin and I cannot wait to visit him in Paris in December and investigate common topics of interest.

One of these might be linked with the famous story of the kingdom of Al Abwab, and the places where the Makuritan kings were seeking refugee upstream from Dongola. About the localization of the former Robin was asked after his talk by professor Godlewski. And a probable identification of the latter which was one of the hot spots of the second presentation of the day, the paper of Bogdan Zurawski on Nubian Fortifications in the Middle Ages read by Mariusz Drzewiecki, specialist of fortifications.


The overview of the related sites might not have been exhaustive (the medieval period of the fortress on Sai was not mentioned for example), and some of the sites included might not have been fortifications but rather enclosures (as rightly pointed out by Angelika Lohwasser of Münster University who works at the Wadi Abu Dom and had to tackle precisely such enclosed areas that were considered as fortifications but her team’s studies show that they were not), but it surely offered to the audience a most illuminating insight into functions and dates of these structures. The fortresses were set in their historical context, both that of the Late Antique world bringing in confrontation (?) the decaying Meroitic Empire and the rising star of the Christian Kingdom of Dongola; and that of Late Christian Nubia with the above mentioned suggestion that Al Abwab was in the island region of the Fifth Cataract, with the kings of Dongola fleeing to Mograt Island. Very good analysis indeed – but was the target of the fleeing king always the same?

Irrespectively of the target, the base from where they fled was always the same: Old Dongola. The capital of the capitals in the Sudanese past and the oldest archaeological concession in the country, as the chairman, Derek Welsby, informed the audience introducing Wlodzimierz (Wlodek) Godlewski, the third speaker of the plenary session.


The professor of Warsaw University spoke about a topic that few people in the world can have such a complete overview of: The Makurian Church and its Sacral Architecture. If there are any faults in his reconstruction of the history of Makuria on the basis of his interpretations of the architectural marvels that are constantly unearthed at Old Dongola, these are very difficult to pinpoint at such gatherings and with the few moments available for reaction from the moment of the phrasing of an interpretation by the speaker until one can formulate a complete argument. So, those of us who expected to hear him suggesting the organization of a new venue to discuss more closely Christian Nubian topics – as he had promised on Wednesday during the talk with professor Ali Osman – will have to wait for the closing session tomorrow morning when the General Meeting of the ISNS makes it more appropriate to share such ideas or even plans. Nevertheless, there were several questions addressed to professor Godlewski from the audience and it is noteworthy that most concerned the continuity between the medieval and the post-medieval centuries, the Christian and the Islamic eras if you prefer. It seems that this is a topic occupying the mind of lots of our colleagues, surely many Sudanese, and as we’ve showed with various entries from here, also the Medieval Sai Project.

By the end of the discussion, everybody was well-prepared to hear Intissar Soghayroun el-Zein’s paper on Islam in the Sudan, between History & Archaeology, which was mainly an overview of the various types of sites, objects, problems and goals that concern Islamic Archaeology in Sudan.


Her call for more collaboration between specialists of the medieval and post-medieval cultures found me ready to propose to examine closer the possible continuities in traditions of decoration upon book covers/cases, as those that Intissar showed in her presentation and could be reminiscent of medieval specimens.

The afternoon sessions were shorter but some real jewels were still awaiting us today too.

In Session 6, dedicated to Cultural Heritage, Rachael Dann, Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen, offered an unprecedented to our knowledge presentation for Nubiological Conferences, titled Art, Archaeology and Sensory Knowledge at El Kurru: An Experiment. It is very difficult to describe the meeting of art and science in the experiments she is conducting in the frame of Geoff Emberling’s project at El Kurru, and the reason is not the simple fact that she has invited artists to the fieldwork site in order to comment with their art upon the object of archaeology (literally and metaphorically), but that her presentation itself was a combination of art and science, leaving her audience wondering whether they were called to ascribe to a paradigm-shift, like Yannis Hamilakis suggests in his new book Archaeology and the Senses. She confirmed that the point is not to change the methods of planning fieldwork or the technique of digging, but rather to introduce sensory aspects in our understanding of the objects of our research. Inviting artists then to comment upon the archaeologist’s work, why not. Using new technologies in photography and 3D reconstructions to test the various “angles of the experience” of the archaeological objects themselves, yes. Being ourselves ready to use our senses (and sentiments, then?) to enlarge our apprehension of our discipline, though. Bring it on! Time for debates outside the box!

Luckily, the person who took over the podium afterwards was Friederike Jesse. With her calmness and clarity she brought the audience back to the normal sphere of everyday work by presenting the African Archaeology Archive of Cologne. The link to the webpage is HERE and it is undoubtedly worth exploring for its contents, but also for its potential to serve archival as well as dissemination needs for all African Archaeologists. It is an excellent initiative to make available so much data online and the example should be applied in other disciplines too.

Imagine the work of Joanna Then-Obluska for example. She has been traveling around the world to collect her immense data base of beads from ancient and medieval Sudan and she could have been helped extensively if she could find at least good part of her material in such (an) online archive(s). The time spent for data collection would have been reduced and we would have profited of more of the insightful analyses that Joanna offers us when she speaks or writes about “her” beads!

The last presentation that we followed had a surprise for us, because Michael Zach’s Early Photography and the Ancient Monuments of the Sudan not only was a very informative paper about the earliest photographers (before 1880) reaching upstream from the First Cataract, but also included a couple of photos from a place very well known to us and our readers. And so, a most picturesque manner for closing tonight’s report from Neuchâtel…

Zach & Sai

Neuchâtel – day 4

The last presentation referred to in last night’s entry was Adam Lajtar’s paper on the Greek and Latin papyri from the short period of Roman occupation of Qasr Ibrim. This occupation has taken place as a result of the famous (at least in Nubian Studies) war between the Roman and the Meroitic Empires. So, it is very fitting to start tonight’s reporting from the fourth day at Neuchâtel with the brilliant recapitulation of our knowledge on this war with which Claude Rilly began his talk this morning. The core of the data that he used to re-discuss this moment in the history of confrontations between the Egyptian north and the Sudanese south in the Nile Valley was, however, the Meroitic sources. And the most important texts he used to present his case study are the two Hamadab stelae, the one hosted at the British Museum and the other at the Sudan National Museum.


With his unique way of analyzing Meroitic texts, Rilly proved that the two stelae refer to the same war but narrate it in two different versions, both, however, stressing the role of prince Akinidad. The purpose of the erection of these two stelae and their localization at Hamadab could thus be seen as part of the personal political agenda of the prince in the frame of dynastic controversies inside the Meroitic royal circles.

In any case, the war against Rome, and the subsequent treaty of Samos, belong to these rare cases of turning points in history which define the periodization of a given historical phenomenon. The periods of Kushite History was precisely the topic of László Török’s plenary paper in the first half of the morning session that was opened with the discussion by Dietrich Wildung On the Autonomy of Art in Ancient Sudan. Both are presentations that like Gabolde’s one from yesterday are better appreciated and commented after read on paper and analyzed in depth. But we guess that we will have to wait a couple of years for the publication of such rich proceedings.

The plenary session was closed with the talk by Irene Vincentelli who presented some thoughts on long distance trade in the Kushite world based on evidence from her team’s excavations at Sanam.


The networks she detected are indeed impressive.

Similar diagrams of the trade networks on a map we saw in an afternoon presentation too.

L. Smith

It was from the talk of Laurence Smith on the Suakin project that focused on the role of the Red Sea port in trade and pilgrimage during the post-medieval era.

Another talk from the same period that attracted our attention was David Edwards’s discussion of the Ottomans and the Historical Archaeology of a Nubian Landscape, where the importance of Sai Island was naturally stressed (although once again Edwards did not wish to refer to the Medieval Sai Project and our related to his topic finds from two seasons of fieldwork we conducted on the island), and where a first public reference was made to the Attiri manuscripts that Alexandros identified in collaboration with Edwards in the SNM storerooms and are now under preparation for publication by a group of students of the Old Nubian language, a collaboration that has never before taken place in the study of textual finds from the Christian literacy of medieval Nubia, but which may show the path for the future of the discipline.

This wish was also stressed by Alexandros in his talk earlier in the afternoon. This spirit was applauded by professor Ali Osman, who was chairing the entire session, and who saluted the efforts of those “dedicated young scholars”, who stand behind the journal Dotawo. He exclaimed that for him, as the first to suggest this term in 1978, and as a Nubian, to see a Nubiological journal bearing a Nubian name was a most pleasant development in the field that he has been serving for half a century now.

In fact, the close relation that the Nubians uphold with their past was eloquently presented in Marcus Jaeger’s paper on Dongolawi and Kenzi Perceptions of their Own History. This was one of the studies that brought to Session 6 on “Cultural Heritage” heated discussions. Moawia Salih’s report on The Future of New Dams in Sudan also caused much debate, since on the contrary to an approach like that of Jaeger it rather aimed at denuding the Nubians from any role in the decision-making leading to projects that may drown under the waters of dam reservoirs their ancestral lands. Somewhere in between, those who try to reconstruct historical truth by studying material remains of past human societies and expressions of a given group’s identity, i.e. the archaeologists, they are exposed to the hardest questions, decisions, and actions, when they try to save the cultural heritage that is constantly under threat in the frame of development projects. The talk by Cornelia Kleinitz and Stefania Merlo offered a suggestion for an excellent alternative approach to local community reaching in the frame of salvage archaeology as they experience it on Mograt Island (Participatory GIS in mapping ‘living heritage’). This paper was indeed the most wonderful conclusion to another long day at the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies…

Neuchâtel – day 3

As it has become traditional, in the second day of the International Conference for Nubian Studies – this year held at Neuchâtel, Switzerland, the academic base of Matthieu Honegger, the new director of the Swiss Archaeological Mission to the Sudan – the plenary session focused on the End of Kerma and the Egyptian Presence in Nubia. We could not attend the first two talks, since we have come to Neuchâtel with our two little sons and surprises can always appear in the morning hours ;-)

Our colleagues though praised the talk of Neal Spencer who works at Amara and has often been referred to in this blog, while surely much attraction gained also the talk by Charles Bonnet about the spectacular finds at Dokki Gel – Kerma.

The break found Alexandros debating the pros and cons of the QSAP as it was expected since rumors have reached our ears about dissatisfaction with the fact that we have addressed critic on the political dimension of this project. Two interesting points to retain: many people have seen the related entries in the blog and have been speaking in their own circles about them – have the same people discussed with equal interest all the other infos, data, and ideas that we have brought forward through medievalsaiproject.wordpress.com?

The interesting and friendly discussion soon had to come to an end. People had to move back to the Aula des Jeunes Rives and enjoy the rich in material and humor talk by Stuart Tyson Smith.

Stuart Tyson Smith

One can only feel happy that the site of Tombos, producing such a rich archaeological record, is in the hands of someone with the ability to combine this data in such eloquent schemes and nuanced intellectual patterns.

An amazing intellectual exercise was presented in the end of the morning session by Luc Gabolde whom we had the chance to meet on Sai in 2010 and who offered us an Insight into the Perception of Royal and Divine Power among Kushites and Egyptians, using also material from Sai Island. Gabolde proved the adoption of Nubian religious elements by the Egyptians, who wished thus to promote their religion to the Nubian elites. The example of the cult of Horus shows that in its essence Egyptian religion remained marginal to the belief system of the locals and disappeared together with the pharaonic control and as the Kushite world was creating its new image of the Napatan/Meroitic periods – the focus of tomorrow’s plenary sessions.

Luc Gabolde

In the afternoon, the bulk of our attention was concentrated in session 4 where the very interesting presentations chaired by professor Godlewski generated vivid discussions. We retain four talks in particular:

1. Artur Obluski’s discussion of the two monastic sites that he is studying – fieldwork at Ghazali and publication of the OINE digs of the 1960s at Qasr el Wizz. We have times and again talked about these projects and Alexandros’ role in the latter. From the discussions that followed Artur’s talk, we retain the moment when professor Ali Osman observed the decline in medieval studies in the Nubiological Congresses (although their beginnings were almost exclusively focusing on the Middle Ages) and his suggestion to create fora and venues for medievalists of the Nubian world to meet and discuss their topics of interest in more depth than it is permitted by the time restrictions of such huge conferences as the ISNS ones.

a special moment

Professor Godlewski promised to return to this matter with concrete suggestions during his talk on Friday. Looking forward!!

2. Magda Wozniak’s excellent insight into the miniature of Ms. Or. Quart. 1020 from the Berlin Staatsbibliothek, that she suggested convincingly to identify with the donator of the work itself to the town of Serra East, while at the same time proposing a very fitting for the archaeological record from Serra East terminus post quem in the 12th century.

Magda Wozniak

3. Dobrochna Zielinska’s presentation of the first results from the project she is leading concerning the Technology of Nubian painting that has showed the way for interdisciplinary approaches to the study of the Nubian material. Her group’s work is improving dramatically our understanding of technical know-hows of the Nubians in the Middle Ages, their social and economic networks, and their perception of prestige, authority and show-off. All that amalgamated in Dobrochna’s unique manner of dealing with her case studies, this time proposing a new apprehension of the importance of blue – plausibly to be called in the future Makuritan blue, paralleling imperial purple!

4. Karel Innemée’s presentation was the cherry on top of the cake in today’s afternoon session. For he presented – in cooperation with Dobrochna Zielinska – A Painting in the Throne Hall of Old Dongola that indicates the existence of a religious iconographic program in a space that could be rather linked with ceremonies related with the royal authority. And therefore we get another insight into the very close relationship of monarchy and the divine in Makuria.


The discussions that followed stopped only because people had to move to the reception at the Palace de Peyrou!!

Closing this report from the third day at the Neuchâtel conference, special mention should go to Adam Lajtar’s presentation of the Greek and Latin papyri of the time of Augustus from the EES excavations at Qasr Ibrim, because on the one hand it showed the abilities of our friend, professor of Warsaw University, in tackling the material of all periods producing excellent results, while on the other hand the results threw ample light on this special moment of the history of the fascinating Qasr Ibrim site. His conclusions on Roman military was a fine prelude to what we will hear tomorrow from Claude Rilly in the plenary sessions turning the attention to the Kushite Kingdoms of the Nubian past.


This last comment allows a reference to another important conference that is taking place these days and is of interest for us: Unravelling the John Rylands Papyrus Collection starting in a couple of hours at Manchester.

Neuchatel – day 2

At 09:00 this morning, Matthieu Honegger opened officially the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies in front of an almost full auditorium.

opening of conference

During the official ceremonies for the opening, representatives of the University and of the Sudanese state welcomed the participants.

Sudanese Ambassador to Switzerland

The Egyptian minister could not attend as was explained by Vincent Rondot, the president of the International Society for Nubian Studies.

At about 09:30, the first plenary session started with the talks of two Italian Prehistorians, Donatella Usai and Maria Carmella Gato. They work in different areas, the former in Central Sudan (around the Khartoum region) and the latter in Nubia (in the Egyptian desert). Usai argued for the potential of thoroughly analyzed results from detailed fieldwork with the latest scientific methods, suggesting important influences coming to the Nile Valley from the Near East, but she also stressed the limitations of extracting generalizing statements from the hard evidence produced from digging the soil. Gato on the other hand insisted in the difference between Central Sudan and Nubia in prehistory and saw the 5th millennium as the turning point for what we can call Nubian cultures. On the basis of pottery studies she sees in this period the beginning of the merger of Central Sudan and Nubia. In the discussion after the paper, Julia Budka, correctly remarked on the absence in the argumentation of Sai Island where yet another Italian prehistorian is working, Elena Garcea.


The two talks taken together showed that it is high time for syntheses on the basis of the data accumulated in the last decades of prehistoric fieldwork in Sudan, while keeping up with carefully selected archaeological excavations.

This conclusion was further strengthened by the two presentations of the second half of the morning session with the talks of our host, Matthieu Honegger, and the host at the previous Nubiological Cnference, Derek Welsby, who presented to us the state of the knowledge in pre-Kerma and Early Kerma cultures in the Kerma basin and in the Fourth Cataract respectively.

Already at the coffee break, but more intensely during the lunch hour, the participants, friends and colleagues from many years of collaboration in projects along the Nile, exchanged vivid talks on all possible topics ranging from the latest finds to challenges of fieldwork nowadays through bits and pieces of more personal news and anecdotes. Discreetness prevents us from sharing the latter from here, but many of the former related to us will appear in future entries from here.

At 14:30, the six (!) parallel afternoon sessions started and inevitably it is impossible for anyone to follow everything. Especially when one member of our family is giving a most thought-provoking talk…

Henriette's talk

…and the other one is chairing a session.

So, the day had little of medieval interest on the official level of the proceedings and the situation did not change with the event gathering all participants in the early evening. For we were taken with buses offered by the conference organizers to the Laténium, the archaeological museum of Neuchâtel, where we witnessed the opening of a fascinating exhibition titled: Aux origines des pharaons noirs. 10,000 and d’archéologie nubienne. A topic that very few places in the world outside Switzerland can speak so eloquently about, given the work for almost half a century of the Swiss Archaeological Mission directed previously by Charles Bonnet and in the last years by Matthieu Honegger. In our case, we will leave some photos to speak about the venue itself:

entrance to exhibition

Matthieu & Minister

Bonnet over Kerma

Kerma @ Neuchâtel

Death and the Bucranes

The statues


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