There are very few places in the world where the facilitation of the foreign researcher is happening with such smooth processes like in the Sudan National Museum (SNM). This is undoubtedly an achievement of the museum’s director, Dr. Abdel Rahman Ali, with whom I have cooperated for the registration of the Medieval collection of SNM and for the rehabilitation of the permanent exhibition of Medieval Antiquities in the so-called Faras Gallery of the second floor of the museum. One of my personal favorites for working together in the storeroom of SNM is Jamal, the kindest man with deep love and respect for his homeland’s antiquities and concern about their protection and promotion in the SNM. The following photo summarizes excellently, I believe, the openness of both the museum and its employees. It shows Jamal opening one of the showcases of the permanent display of the main gallery of the museum in order for a couple of objects to be examined from closer and photographed.
In fact, during my present visit to Khartoum, I found the National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (N.C.A.M.) – under which the SNM is also functioning – in a transitional phase: its Director General, Dr. Hassan Hussein Idriss, has retired and things are pending as to the way the administration will be followed up. We can only hope for the best outcome, since Sudan archaeology is entering a most crucial phase with loads of money expected to flow in from Qatar for archaeological projects, while eight dams are planned by the Sudanese government for which surveys and assessments have been prepared. Apart from the Roseires dam that has already been heightened, and a dam on the Upper Atbara River, which is 40% ready, the six additional dams on the Nile are (moving with the flow of the river):
- one at the Sixth Cataract (Sabaloka) just downstream from the capital of Khartoum;
- three along the archaeologically completely unknown region of the 5th Cataract, namely at Shereik, Dagash, and on Mograt, the largest island of the entire Nile Valley;
- one at Kajbar that has already caused the most fierce battles between the threatened local communities of the Mahas and the government
- and a dam on the Dal Cataract that if it takes place it will flood significant monumental antiquities, like the majestic temple of Soleb and … Sai Island…
We have written about the issue of the dams before, and we will write more soon. Here I should only briefly mention an idea that I discussed today with one of the most promising young archaeologists in Sudan, MA. Mahmoud Suleiman, who is currently a Ph.D. student of Randi Haaland: after describing his experience from the assessments in view of the new dam buildings (Mahmoud led several of the archaeological groups of Sudanese archaeologists surveying the threatened areas), he stated his belief that tourism is a more sane alternative to development than the ones followed until today and agreed with my complementary suggestion that an environment-friendly tourism development goes hand in hand with the protection of the natural and the cultural landscape of the Middle Nile Valley. “Perhaps the entire stretch of the Middle Nile should become an endless archaeological park instead of a series of artificial lakes”, we concluded laughing and went to be photographed under the impressive Napatan statues that stand in front of the northern end of the facade of the SNM and at the feet of which friends traditionally take photos together.
The day ended with a meeting at Jamhuria Street, with the Greek family that owns one of the two block of flats built in the 1950s by the Greek architect Slavos. It is from there that the story will continue tomorrow…