This aspect characterizes Nubian architecture to such an extent that even the oldest and largest sub-Saharan monument, a mud-brick ceremonial building at the heart of the Bronze Age town of Kerma, is called by both locals and foreign researchers “deffufa”, an arabized plural for the Nubian “diffi”!
Already from the Bronze Age, though, the Nubians were using stone equally well. Nothing bespeaks of that fact better than the use of schists and white pebbles on the graves of the Kerma culture. Some of the most impressive ones can be seen on Sai.
Humbler structures for the commemoration of the dead were marked on the ground with stone circles, cairns or tumuli, especially when the grave was made closer to the more rocky centre of the island.
Strong walls were also being built in stone either to enclose a household, or to protect a territory, or to control the waters of the river and build up more fertile silt and thus land for agriculture…
…and to define the access through wells to the life-giving underground water or to the water stored in deep cisterns. Even after the abandonment of these wells, life is still sprouting from its springs.
Also strongly built houses and storerooms…
…as well as shelters of pilgrims on their way to venerate a saint or a sheikh.
Some stones became imbued with meaningful connotations. These could even be privileged with the function of enclosing a church, thus balancing the new religion of the Middle Ages with the primordial natural landscape of life developing through the exploitation of the quartzite veins of the island of Sai.
And some other times, the most venerable stones, the ones carved with the symbols of a profound human belief may have continued their life in the everyday welcoming threshold of a homestead somewhere between institutionalized Medieval Nubian Christianity and state Islam in modern Sudan.
It is there that the exciting part of the archaeological work starts: the excavation!