In a month from now, the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies will have become history. Approaching its opening date on the 1st of September at Neuchatel, Switzerland, various signs tell us that all the Nubiological world is getting ready for the big quadrennial venue. Without going into the details of how each one prepares for one’s own presentation, the eagerness or the stress this causes, the questions about the content and the context, the feelings for meeting friends and colleagues, let us refer today to a couple of things that have happened in the internet world and that are related in one form or the other with the Nubian conference:

1. First, the International Society for Nubian Studies (ISNS) has moved since February its web page to a wordpress platform and the new internet space has been used for announcements regarding practicalities ahead of the venue. We hope to read the views of the ISNS about the proceedings themselves during and after the conference. In the same page one will be finding presentations of interesting Nubiological projects, like the Mahas Survey project or the Italian archaeological expedition to Eastern Sudan:


2. The Honorary Secretary of the ISNS is Julie Anderson who works as curator in the British Museum (BM). Julie offered us the first post on Medieval Nubia in the BM blog after a couple of posts on Kushite topics (mainly from the Amara East project) and a couple more on Christian Egypt (in my opinion, there stands out the post about Wine and Monks). Earlier of course, there had appeared in various news feeds the spectacular discovery by conservators of the BM of a tattoo on the still soft skin of the inner thigh of a mummy of a woman from the Fourth Cataract region with a very fine monogram of the name Michael, surely referring to the Archangel, one of the most venerated figures of the Christian religion for the faithful Nubians during the medieval era. The new post by Julie Anderson is somehow inspired by this discovery and its display in the latest exhibition at the British Museum, Ancient Lives, New Discoveries. And it is at the same time informative for the non-initiated in medieval Nubian studies.

3. It was from Julie Anderson that all the participants of the London Conference for Nubian Studies of 2010 received the information that the Proceedings were published by Peeters and that soon the offprints will be sent and there will be possibility to order the complete volume. We are therefore glad to be able to share with you today a PDF of our contribution on Sai Island from the London conference:

A Note on the Medieval Period of Sai Island

This year there will be no presentation about medieval Sai, since very little was done on the island by us, but surely others will speak about the antiquities of the island, and lots of interesting things will be worth reporting. Unless something exceptional comes up, see you at and from Neuchâtel!

This post is a collaboration between Alexandros Tsakos and Robin Seignobos that is hosted here because of the kindness of Robin and a coincidence with the case-studies that the two of us have been working upon. In detail:

The work with the Arabic sources relating with Nubia has brought to the attention of Robin a recording in various Mamluk chronicles of the arrival in Cairo, in the year 704 AH / 1304 CE, of a Nubian king, bringing with him a tribute consisting of slaves, living animals (cattle, camels, panthers…) and minerals (alum, emery…). He also asked for the Sultan’s military assistance against a rebel. His request was answered positively and the Sultan dipatched an army to escort the king back to Nubia. Nevertheless, it is not the event itself that will hold our attention here but the name of the Nubian ruler.

It is diversely spelled in the sources but the reading Amay or Amī has long been favoured in Nubian scholarship. However, it appears on closer examination that this form is only recorded in one late source, namely al Qalqashandī’s Ṣubḥ al-aʿshā (1412). This choice probably stems from Monneret de Villard’s preference for this reading in his Storia della Nubia christiana that was subsequently followed by the majority of scholars.


The version of the name Ayāy as appears in the manuscripts

The most common spelling in the sources is, in fact, Ayāy which is also attested in the earliest known version of this account, namely Baybars al-Manṣūri’s Zubdat al-Fikra (ca. 1324). Thus, it seems safe enough to assume that Ayāy is the most correct reading, and therefore the closest to the original Nubian name.

Normalized version of the name Ayyay as appears in printed editions

Normalized version of the name Ayāy as appears in printed editions

With this in mind, is it possible to connect the name Ayāy with a king mentioned in documents from Nubia?

Unfortunately there is no king with this name recorded in Nubian documents. There exists, however, a Nubian personal name strongly reminiscent of Ayāy, namely Ajjaji.

Old Nubian /j/ may have very well been transcribed in Arabic by a yāʾ since the Nubian phoneme probably sounded quite similar to a /y/ to Arabic-speakers.

As for the final /i/, the common juncture vowel in Old Nubian, Browne already noticed that it is often added at the end of proper names. However, it is equally well known that this vowel could be easily dropped out, which can explain the Arabicized form of the name.

There are seven instances in the manuscripts from Qasr Ibrim naming a person Ajjaji or Ajjeji – in one case even both orthographies can be found obviously referring to the same person. Here are the attestations:

ajjaji@qasr ibrim


Note: The fourth volume on the Old Nubian texts from Qasr Ibrim has been prepared by Giovanni Ruffini and is expected to appear in specialized bookshops by early autumn.


Now, Alexandros in the course of his studies noted also these occurrences because he studied two inscribed ceramic shards from the town of Serra East (for a description of the project see the latest Annual Report of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago HERE. The Annual Report for 2014 is in press). Both were incised after firing with words containing two /j/ following each other. My first hunch was that these should be remnants of a name, perhaps of the owner of the original complete pot.


OIM 19532

Most interestingly, the smaller fragment preserves the reading


and thus may very well be another instance of the name Ajjaji.


OIM 19566

On the other hand, the larger fragment reads


This does not seem to fit with any of the attested names including the double /j/. Working with the name lists available to us, I found the following instances:

jiji names

The word on the larger shard from Serra seems rather like a verb in the third person singular imperative, ending with -MH after a stem with the -A of the predicative. Then the question arose which verb could that be?

To answer this question, I gleaned the instances of Old Nubian words recorded by Browne that contain a double /j/, so as to examine the possible words that may be hidden in the text incised on the shard from Serra.

I came up with the following list:

o.n. words with jiji

Unfortunately, none of the above fits with the example from Serra, but then again, if the verb had an object marker in plural – /j/ -, then a regressive assimilation like /n/ + /j/ = /jj/ , /r/ + /j/ = /jj/, /t/ + /j/ = /jj/ etc. could be what lies behind the fragmentary inscription on the Serra pot. But this is a path impossible to follow further, given the very large number of alternatives, the fragmentary state of the inscription, and our incomplete knowledge of Old Nubian words.

Returning to the Ajjaji case study, though, one notices in the list above that the first verb may reveal the basic element in the etymology of the name (formed subsequently by a common in Old Nubian reduplication of the verb’s syllable – ONG – and a quite regular simplification of the geminate contiguous consonants – ONG 2.7).

In any case, it is highly unlikely that the king referred to as Ayāy in Mamluk chronicles was one of the individuals recorded in Nubian sources, even though one of them (P. QI 3, 44) bore the prestigious title of Nešš of Atwa (Gebel Adda). We can only hope that future discoveries or rediscoveries in documents from Nubia and inscriptions will confirm our hypothesis. In the meantime, it is probably safer to keep calling this king Ayāy or Ayyāy rather than Amāy or Ammy, as currently used by Nubiologists, bearing in mind that Ajjaji is the Nubian name of the Nubian king.


The authors would like to thank Bruce Williams and Giovanni Ruffini for permission to refer to unpublished material and for useful comments on details of the text.

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…


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 194 other followers