Nothing really ends…

Today Dr. John Gait gave to us “A new look at old pots” by presenting his work with petrographic and macroscopic analyses of pottery from the Lower Nubian Nile Valley in the 4th and 3rd millennia BC. John was kind enough to allow the presentation to be constantly interrupted by questions from the audience and this helped us enormously to understand the results from the application of such methods for reconstructing a more nuanced picture of the communities whose ceramic industries we are studying.

Image courtesy of the Liverpool World Museum

Image courtesy of the Liverpool World Museum

Moreover, it gave us time to consider how useful the applications of such techniques could be for the Medieval Sai Project that is always in search of the appropriate manner to tackle the difficult site of Dibasha with the clear signs of industrial activity, very probably pottery kilns included.

Dibasha kilns by Medieval Sai Project

Dibasha kilns by Medieval Sai Project

And just then we realized that we had started again dreaming of a return to Sai; nothing really ends…

John’s presentation was the last one in this (first?) Sudan Archaeology Week in Bergen that opened with Cornelia Kleinitz’s talk on Rock art and Graffiti from Ancient Sudan. Cornelia was also the main speaker during the second talk on Tuesday, when Community Archaeology was discussed on the basis of the excellent work that she is doing together with Stefania Merlo from Wits University in South Africa. Cornelia’s main co-panelist was Mohamed Farouq Abdelrahman who joined us through skype from California, staying awake and keeping the discussion very lively until very late in his time zone – in fact almost very early in the morning. John was also present and naturally followed along the whole discussion. It is very difficult not to get engaged in such passionate topics like cultural heritage, politics and archaeology, and the relations of archaeologists with the local communities. Especially in a country like Sudan, with very acute contrasts between traditional lifestyles and violent forms of development; lots of archaeology and even more illegal gold mining; dams that threaten lands (also) of ethnic minorities; controversial legal frameworks; and neo-colonial attitudes in financial investments and scientific collaborations.

In the end of the discussion we knew how we would like to approach the local communities of Sai Island, although we cannot figure out yet how the time-consuming method is applicable to our realities of life… Perhaps the shift of paradigm for conducting fieldwork means a change of mindset… Challenging times to conduct archaeology abroad!

And just as we thought that with such a conclusion we had put an end to the troublesome thoughts about cultural heritage in the Sudan, a post at Azhari Sadig’s blog today made us realize that some things never end…

El Khandaq

The news have circulated only in Arabic, but Azhari gave us this comment a couple of hours ago:

“The issue started yesterday when a government surveyor come to take measurements from a historical house in El Khandaq site (known locally as the Officer House… bait al mamour)… He told professor Intissar Soghayroun el-Zein <from the University of Khartoum who is leading the archaeological works at El Khandaq> that the area was sold including the house!!! and they must ask the office in El Goulid…. The house is already classified for restoration this year and there is agreement between the N.C.A.M., Intissar and Al Wilaya Al Shemalia to protect the site and all buildings inside it…. Still there is no word from N.C.A.M. or the local government…”

Well, that’s one of the cases that one should demand loudly that some things come to an end…

In memoriam Mahmoud Salih

Earlier this afternoon, Henriette introduced the first speaker of this week’s Sudanological events to an audience of mainly students of archaeology from the University of Bergen.

conny talk

We could say many things about Dr. Cornelia Kleinitz, a dear friend and colleague since the first experiences we had in the field of Sudan Archaeology, in the frame of the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project.

Her credentials can be found in these links:



@musawwarat graffiti project

But for the purpose of today’s post, we would rather just note that it was thanks to Conny (as she is known among friends) that Alexandros and Henriette met in 2006, during the first evening of the Nubiological Congress held that year in Warsaw. It was Conny who brought Henriette along to dinner and drinks with a gang of friends formed already in 2004 at the Gdansk Fourth Cataract Archaeology conference.

Another person was very important for Henriette’s meeting with Alexandros: Mahmoud Salih.

Mahmoud Salih

He was the main supporter of a cultural project that Henriette initiated in 2007 and materialized in early winter 2008.

She brought to Sudan two gifted musicians, Joachim Kwetzinsky and Camilla Ediassen. The main venue would take place in Omdurman, at the Folks Art Theatre. The whole visit was under the auspices of the Abdel Karim Mirghani cultural center run by Mahmoud Salih.

Mahmoud Mirghani Haugtussa

And the complementary concert, in a Khartoum context, took place at the Greek Cultural Center where Alexandros organized the event.

Greek cultural center

And this is where our fairy tale begun…

In September 2008, Henriette and Alexandros got married in Bergen, and the Sudanese part of their life was ‘represented’ by Mahmoud Salih.

Mahmoud wedding

A year later, we edited in his honor a Festschrift titled: “Connecting South and North. Sudan Studies from Bergen in honor of Mahmoud Salih”.

The event in the frame of which Henriette presented the book to Mahmoud was not insignificant:

It was the opening day of the Resource Center for International Development in Bergen where the Mahmoud Salih collection of rare books on Sudan is housed.

Where also the main agent of Sudan research in Bergen in the fields of anthropology, political science, development etc., namely the Christian Michelsen’s Institute, met with the Centre of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies, the main agent of historical research on Sudan in Bergen.

It is there that later on Alexandros built the archive of Sean O’ Fahey, and there that the archive of Richard Holton Pierce is being built up.

That is also where we would like to see in the future a center for Sudan and Nile Studies in Bergen develop.

The presence of a friend of Sudan and Bergen, like Mahmoud, was always a guarantee that our efforts would find optimism and support – moral and material.

Such a center would have the archives gathered in Bergen as the axis for all related activities.

Alexandros has been involved in this process from very early: the first work completed was the creation of a web space where photos from Darfur taken by Gunnar and Randi Haaland were hosted. This work was titled “Darfur Before” and can be seen HERE.

The scanning, input of metadata, selection and uploading to the net was a work executed by Alexandros under the guidance of the Haalands.

It was therefore only natural that Alexandros was suggesting to Mahmoud from very early in their relationship to plan some interviews where the memories of Mahmoud could be registered and used for the production of a biography or a book about the Salih family history.

The interviews finally took place in December 2012, when Mahmoud was in Bergen for the defense of the doctoral thesis of Marianne Bøe, one of his dear friends here in Bergen.

But it was not easy to make Mahmoud speak of himself.

His genuine modesty and deep respect for his forefathers always turned the attention to them: Osman Salih, his paternal grandfather, a Mahasi from the village of Akad born in 1878, and Salih Osman Salih, his father born in 1906.

Mahmoud was born on the 4th of June 1939 in Omdurman, in the house of his father.

He had to remember six generations before coming to a great grandfather who was born in the Mahas land.

But it was there that the base of the economic dynasty of Salih the farmers and traders was born, based, and developed, although the family did not only do business for personal gain.

Back at Akad, in the late 1940s – early 1950s, they even developed innovative projects of communal ownership and distribution of the agricultural output: Osman Salih, resident in Omdurman, decides to donate his family land at Akad to the community provided that the rest of the owners do the same. They then created a scheme according to which all locals had a share of land that gave to them income from the divided product of dates. This scheme foresaw that none of the Salih family would administrate it. The situation remains the same today.

What else persists today is that the Salihs are not cultivating the land but are trading its product. This has been their job for more than a century now and they have done it with excellent results.

Mahmoud never considered his own life and achievements as worthy of the honor of becoming the focal point of a narrative, biography or otherwise. But the family’s achievements were important for the story of Sudan as a whole.

In Janury 2013, Alexandros visited the archive of the company in Khartoum and was overwhelmed by the amount of data that should be processed in order to achieve this task. Anders Bjørkelo, perhaps the closest friend to Mahmoud here in Bergen adviced to contact professor Ahmed Ibrahim Abushouk.

During his last visit to Bergen, professor Abushouk accepted the invitation to start up a project that would see to the publication of a book about the Salihs.

Alexandros promised to ring Mahmoud and speak about the matter.

He never managed to have a last talk with this great man…

In the early afternoon of the 15th of November 2014, we were ready at home for the children’s party with which we would celebrate the fourth birthday of our eldest son Ilias.

It was then that we received from Elena Vezzadini – these days in Khartoum for fieldwork – the shocking news that on that same day Mahmoud Salih had passed away in London after a severe chest infection.

We are in deep sorrow.

But we want to keep alive his memory and do the best out of the fantastic energy that this man spread around him: dedicate a periodical Sudanological venue in Bergen to his memory and build around the treasures that he has deposited at our University an archive where Sudan Studies will continue to thrive in one of the many homes that Mahmoud had in this world, one of the many places that mourn him and will deeply miss him for times to come.

Rest in bliss oustaz Mahmoud…

Today another week is coming to an end. A happy end, because we progressed with our academic duties, we await some great venues next week, and we will celebrate our eldest son’s fourth birthday tomorrow :-)

Of course there are still things pending, like the post from the very important last day in Johannesburg, but everything must await its right time. There must be a reason, and insha Allah the reason will prove to have been a good one ;-)

But for now, we’d like just to share the image of the poster that was designed and printed by Tord Rø at UiB Global. Thanks a lot Tord for this great work!


Also, allow us to show you the poster as it found its place on the board of announcements of the department of archaeology at UiB:

the poster among posters

Zoom in and see what is announced in the poster to the right of ours! I think there will be enough to talk about our “neighbor” during the three days of Sudan Archaeology next week.

Actually, we’d love to see a “Sudan Archaeology Week” being established as an annual thing here in Bergen! In fact, those who will be part of the next such set of venues have already received invitations! More in the future…

When I woke up this morning, the light of the moon was coming in our living room. It was the first time that this was happening since my return from Johannesburg - but the days of clear skies will surely not last long… It felt as a sign though that today I should write in the blog again about Africa (something that I have been avoiding the last days, mainly because of the loads of work that awaited me after completing this period of intensive travelling in the second half of October).

And I had all reasons to do so, since last night Henriette completed all preparations for the three lectures that she has organized for next week in the frame of our Research Group on Middle Eastern and African Studies at the University of Bergen.

We can’t really remember when was the last time that we had such an active week in Bergen as far as Sudan Archaeology is concerned! This is thanks to the visits of Dr. Cornelia Kleinitz and Dr. John Gait organized by Henriette in the frame of the annual program of guest lecturers of the research group - where Sudan Studies in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Bergen are mainly being hosted. Here follow the posters that Henriette prepared for the three events:

Rock art in Sudan_Cornelia Kleinitz

Community archaeology_Cornelia Kleinitz version 2


New look old pots Lower Nubia_John Gait

The three Sudanological venues left Wednesday open. But this was not a chance choice. We wanted to have the possibility to attend as many lectures as possible from a day-seminar on the most renown Greek-Norwegian archaeological project, namely the one focusing on Ancient Tegea. Details about this seminar can be found here.

The intense program of next week will be surely followed by some reports in the blog too. Spread the word and stay tuned!


Yesterday morning there took place at Lecture Room 203 of the University of Johannesburg main campus, the last session of the conference of Afrobyzantine and Grecoafrican Studies. The topic was Modern Greek (language) and Greeks in Africa. Unfortunately two of the speakers could not make it to Johannesburg for different reasons and since both would be talking about the Greek communities of Africa (A. Chaldaios about the Greeks of Tunis and E. Mantzaris about the Greeks of South Africa), only Alexandra Fefopoulou’s paper dealt with topics of the Greek diaspora. She presented in a very nuanced manner the case study she is dealing with for her doctoral dissertation, namely the Greek community of Lubumbashi, DRC, and issues of identity within this community. Alexandra showed that the field of (Greek) diaspora studies may be the most fruitful future for the historical-cultural dimension of the academic activities of the department of Greek and Latin Studies at the University of Johannesburg. Her introduction of anthropological methodologies will only be of further profit for the department, while her experience from fieldwork with the community at Lubumbashi can also find application in similar researchers with the communities in South Africa. A first impression of her view upon the ‘objects’ of her research was offered through the photographs from the visit to Soweto she shared with us, and this entry will also be illuminated by her photo-study during a visit yesterday evening to the Patriarchal Greek Orthodox Church of Agioi Anargyroi at Sophiatown in Johannesburg. But more about that later.

Now, for the core of yesterday’s morning session: the three other papers presented were concerned with the teaching of Greek in South Africa. The session proved not only interesting for the insights offered, but mainly because it provided the first opportunity to bring together representatives from the five sectors of the Greek diaspora in South Africa that need to be brought together in order to find solutions for education in Greek that seems to trouble a lot both families and institutions. These five sectors are:

1. The Department of Greek and Latin Studies of the University of Johannesburg that is the sine qua non for the existence of Greek language in the matric of South African education system – here, I need to refine something written in an earlier entry from Johannesburg: I had suggested that the reason for the inclusion of the Greek language in the South African education as one of the optional second languages was the importance of the Greek community of the country; however, the legal framework defines things differently, namely that a language can be included in the curriculum only when it is provided in an institution of Higher Education. Therefore, the existence of the department of Greek and Latin Studies at UJ is of primal importance. If it stops existing, the typical raison d’être of the teaching of the Greek language in South Africa will also cease.

2. The representative of the Greek ministry of education, namely the coordinator of Hellenic Education in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa. Themis Leontitsis is the acting Educational Attaché and not only did he follow a good part of the conference’s proceedings but also spoke about his views on the way Education in the Diaspora will be improved, namely by imbuing the educational programme with Art and Culture (in the lines set by the Melina program).

3. These ideas are very much related with the reality on the ground of education in South Africa as it was proved during our visit to Soweto, and the Primary School where Mrs. Ava Papatheophilou is teaching Greek. Because in that school, a typical example of a public school in urban South Africa, more artistically expressive than discursive forms of teaching seem to prevail and give results for the children. Mrs. Ava’s presence yesterday gave the guarantee that there will be a link between the local communities and the Greek diaspora in the difficult to trace path of teaching Greek in the near future.

4. One of the reasons for this difficulty is the following: another parameter of the South African legislation for the teaching of the Greek language inside local schools is that there must be at least 50 pupils that will be following the class. Only then will a teacher be assigned. Obviously this does not satisfy the Greek communities that wish irrespectively of numbers to be able to continue providing Greek language to the new generations of Greeks in South Africa. The role of the Greek communities is pivotal in the heart of the problem, which is the existence of teachers of Greek in South Africa. Will they be sent from Greece? Will they be hired by the Greek Communities? Will they be provided by the local people who will learn Greek in their schools and in the University? It seems that the answers will be given when issues of both financial order (as pointed out in the paper by Katerina Skoupra, teacher at the Greek private school SAHETI), and mentality (as shown from the Socio-Linguistc analysis presented in the paper by Allister McDuling) will be dealt with and resolved.

5. In the meantime, there is an arena of life where the Greek language seems to be of great importance: religion. The Greek Orthodox Church is one of the most crucial points of reference for all Greek diaspora communities. It might be the case that quite often the English language is also used in the Mass, but Greek remains the preferred choice for the majority of the congregation and cements the feeling of belonging to a single group defined by terms of nation and respect of tradition. Moreover, the Church is an institution that provides both staff for the schools (i.e. priests working as teachers) and funds for higher education and venues for gatherings of the community.

It was in a religious gathering that the day yesterday came to a close: the Vespers at the Patriarchal Greek Orthodox Church of Agioi Anargyroi at Sophiatown. Today is in fact the day of commemoration of Saints Kosmas and Damianos. The celebrations brought the priests from all the Greek Orthodox dioceses to the Patriarchal church. Under the guidance of Bishop Damaskinos and inside a lavishly decorated with murals church, a quite numerous congregation prayed for hope for both their homelands, in Greece and South Africa.

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Although the program today was the most loaded with Nubiological activities, the title of the post betrays that other things attracted more attention!

So, the morning session was build up by papers on the Acts of Gregentius and the Red Sea (Vicky Savvidou, secretary of the Institute of Greco-Oriental and African Studies), on Written Sources about Medieval Sudan (Mohamed Adam Abdelrahman Hamid, University of Khartoum), on the formation of Nobadia and the role of the Roman Empire (Effie Zacharopoulou, University of Johannesburg), on Literary Manuscripts from Christian Nubia (Alexandros Tsakos, University of Bergen) and on a project aiming at compiling a catalogue of royal documents from Christian Nubia (Benjamin Hendrickx, University of Johannesburg). Starting from the last presentation a workshop has been organized for tomorrow, so perhaps there will be more things to say then.

More things relating to Nubia and Sudan were presented in the first part of the afternoon session. The daughter of professor Benjamin Hendrickx and Thekla Sansaridou-Hendrickx, Raita Steyn, presented a very interesting chapter from her recently defended doctoral dissertation on protection scenes involving Afro-Byzantine Emperors, that is Ethiopian and Nubian Christian kings.

Then, associate professor at the University of Khartoum, Amel Suiman Badi, gave a well-thought paper on The Greek Influence in Meroitic Art. It was the first time since my cooperation with the late Salah Omer al Sadig and his paper “Relations between the Meroitic Kingdom and the Mediterranean World” (KUSH 1998-2002, pp. 109-129) that I heard a Sudanese researcher attempting an analysis of what followed the transformation of the Meroitic king Arqamaniqo to Ergamenis.

Those two papers were related to art through archaeology, but the third paper of the afternoon session was about art per se. African art that is, and more precisely South African Art: Jonas Nkadimeng (Senior Education Specialist at Tshwane South District) discussed South African Rural Art within the spiritual realm. He explained that art in South Africa should not be understood and appreciated with the esthetic criteria of the urban West because it is conceptual and symbolic and functions always inside a ritual framework. To my question whether there are esthetic categories for the South Africans he replied that “Esthetics are Exaggerations of those Visions that invite artists to create their works”. In order to substantiate his argument he showed to us the inspired creations of Ima Stem, David Koloane, Noria Mabase, Jackson Hlungwani, Nelson Mukhuba, Phutuma Saoka and Bonnie Ntshalishali, all of whom ‘received a calling’ to start working with art.

It was an excellent surprise when I found a brochure of Hlungwani’s latest exhibition at the UJ Art Gallery where we went after the afternoon sessions to visit the currently displayed photographic exhibition by Robert Hamblin. A very fine and meaningful display of an original photographic work with a critical eye on socio-economic problems of our (post-)modern world.


Last but not least, I should mention that the famous South African actor Mpho Molepo honored the participants of the Byzantinoafrican and Grecoafrican Congress by bringing to the conference his theatrical group (consisting of Ntsoaki Mathiba, Regina Mary Dlovu, Kelly Mtshali and Alistair Dule) who staged snippets from a drama project commenting upon Albinism, which has groundbreaking significance for the understanding of issues of racial discrimination in (South) Africa.

It is really praiseworthy that the organizers of the conference added this different note to our academic venue and I feel that Raita Steyn has played an important role there and she should be particularly thanked!

Grecoafrican at Soweto

The conference continued today with three very interesting papers:

1. Savvas Kyriakides (postdoctor at UJ) analyzed The Letter of the Mamluk Sultan al Nasir to John VI Kantakouzenos and offered to those in the conference with a Nubiological interest an insight into the other end of the diplomatic contacts of the very important for the final period of the Makuritan kingdom Mamluk kingdom. I did not know myself of this correspondence and I believe that it would be a fruitful academic exchange if the foremost specialist on Mamluk historiography about Christian Nubia, namely Robin Seignobos, discussed the issues arising from this letter with Dr. Kyriakides.

2. Thekla Sansaridou-Hendrickx (professor at UJ) presented the story of Miqdad and Mayasa: a Swahili Epic Romance with reference to the East-Mediterranean Byzantine-Islamic common cultural pool? A very interesting exercise of literary and cultural borrowings that widens the horizon of the sources to Swahili literature. I wonder what Anne Bang from SMI/AHKR/UiB would have to say about this. Another possible cooperation?

3. Selamawit Mecca (Ass. Professor and Acting Head of Department of Amharic Language, Literature and Folklore at Addis Ababa University) discussed eloquently and thoroughly the Representations in Ge’ez Texts about Ethiopian Women focusing on what she called “politics of the body in regards to gender”.

Despite the interest of all three papers, the visit to Soweto that followed the morning session overshadowed any other impression today.


Driving out of Melville, the university area or downtown Joburg, one meets a different landscape.


Soweto is a renowned town all over the world from the uprising that took place there on 16 June 1976. Nelson Mandela’s house is there and is a major tourist attraction. But our visit targeted two other places, the Regina Mundi Church and the Jabavu East Primary School. While Regina Mundi is very famous, since many students fled to its interior after the shootings of 16 June 1976 in Orlando West, few people know the Jabavu East Primary School. Let me explain.

In South Africa schools can choose the second language, that the pupils will learn, from a list that includes Greek, obviously in recognition of the long and numerous presence of Greeks in the country. Well, at Jabavu East they have chosen Greek indeed! This is the doing of the Friends of Cultural Interactions Project, a movement founded by Mrs. Ava Papatheophilou, a qualified drama teacher and behaviour scientist, with years of working experience with children. She belongs to the staff of Jabavu East Primary School and she teaches Greek to all pupils for almost thirty years now! It was Mrs. Ava who invited the conference participants to Soweto today, where we were introduced to the staff, followed activities by the pupils, and saw the Greek classroom that the Greek Bishop Damaskinos blessed in a decent ceremony of multicultural colors. It is somehow difficult to discern in the intentions and views of each of those involved in this amazing cooperation between the School and Mrs. Ava whether what lies behind is of educational or humanitarian purpose, but it is certain that both Mrs. Ava and her husband Vassilis are people who have gained love and respect in areas where others almost dare not drive into. They have given a lesson of coexistence for all people of South Africa; a lesson that can be useful for other schools and communities here, back in Greece or in other countries too. I believe that they have set a paradigm for other diaspora communities to follow…

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After this visit that filled us with awe, admiration, and sincere smiles, we visited the nearby church of Regina Mundi with one of the most famous black madonnas in the world, and with strong memories from the era of Nelson Mandela. He had visited the church twice and in one of these visits he was accompanied by George Bizos, as the guard and guide of the church showed us proudly.

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There will be more to discuss about South Africa and its cultures tomorrow, since after the afternoon session dedicated to art, a couple of exhibitions will be visited.


Those who follow this blog or have read the entries from South Africa, perhaps have noticed that I posted photos again. No, I did not find my camera unfortunately… But a colleague at the conference, Ph.D. candidate of UJ, anthropologist Alexandra Fefopoulou was kind enough to provide me with pictures from the visit to Soweto. Thank you very much Alexandra!


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