Reports between Seasons

A whole year to the day has passed since the 2010 fieldwork season started on Sai Island, and it is today again that our friends and colleagues on Sai will be starting the 2011 fieldwork season.

This entry is a way to wish them a good start and best of results…

Along with 2010, the second year of activities by the GNM, both on the field and on publications, printed as well as digital, has come to a close. Our report from the second field season is awaiting the publication of the next Beiträge zur Sudanforschung volume, but in the meantime, another journal appeared hosting two reports from archaeological activities on Sai Island: the journal is the British Museum’s Sudan Archaeological Research Society (S.A.R.S.) annual publication, titled SUDAN & NUBIA, which reached in 2010 its fourteenth volume.

The two reports from Sai appeared in a common paper and concern fieldwork results and pottery analyses from the Meroitic Necropolis (8-B-5.A) next to the Qalat Sai. The authors are the dear friends and colleagues Vincent Francigny (on the general report) and Romain David (on the pottery).

David´s work is of high importance for the Medieval Sai Project too, since his results will be combined with ours, in an effort to describe the microcosm of Sai ceramic industries, from Late Antiquity to the post-medieval era, given the more than probable evidence of continuity in local pottery production.

Researchers of all periods, however, are highly interested in the interregional/international exchanges and technological influences too, and in more than the case of pottery production and uses, Old Dongola seems to be for Sai the most intriguing place to turn for parallels and contacts .

Therefore, it is interesting to note here that in the same volume of SUDAN & NUBIA a very important paper by the field director at Old Dongola, Włodzimierz Godlewski, professor at the University of Warsaw, is also published.

The special interest for our project is not confined to a general curiosity about the new finds from the heartlands of the Makurian kingdom to which Christian Sai belonged; it concerns mainly two particular aspects of Godlewski’s report. Namely:

a. the consumption and trade of wine in the world ruled by the Dongolese king – on Sai the finding of amphorae of probable Dongolese origin with interesting depinti on the shoulder have opened long discussions with Romain David as to their cultural and political meaning;

b. and the way the Polish professor interprets his archaeological data to reconstruct a passage from the site of the capital of a Christian kingdom to one of village of Muslim inhabitants – alias from the medieval to the post-medieval era in the Middle Nile Valley that has also attracted the attention of the GNM profoundly during both seasons on Sai.

And hereby continue the interesting links with the content of the last volume of SUDAN & NUBIA:

First, Reinhard Huber and David N. Edwards return to the works of the 1960s during the great UNESCO campaign for the salvage of the Nubian cultural heritage due to the construction of the Aswan High Dam, and particularly to the excavations of a cemetery at Gebel Adda from 1963. The interest of this excavation lies in the fact that it concerns the reuse of post-Meroitic tumuli for the building of at least 50 post-Medieval Islamic tombs with various superstructures crowned by domes. After a detailed report on the archaeological record, the two authors raise the question of who were the owners of these tombs and when exactly these were built. For these monumental structures may bear significance for the political authorities that tried to gain control in northern Upper Nubia, following the collapse of the Christian Kingdoms. Most interestingly, Huber and Edwards call for the collection of oral histories from the Sai area in order to throw some light on this research. The GNM fully agrees with this possibility and has already commented upon such issues in both reports from the first two seaons (BzS 10 & BzS 11).

Second, an important figure in the protection of the post-medieval antiquities and the promotion of Islamic archaeology in Sudan, professor at the University of Khartoum, Intisar Soghayroun el-Zein, presents the results of the survey conducted in the important Islamic site of Qasr Wad Nimeiri. Among various other interesting activities, Intisar is leading a workshop aiming at the study and protection of the mud-brick buildings on Sai Island, major focus of study for the Medieval Sai Project too; and of course she has long standing links with the University of Bergen, academic affiliation of GNM’s field director, Henriette.

The links with Bergen in the last volume of SUDAN & NUBIA go beyond Intisar, though. Mahmoud Suleiman Beshir has been during his Master thesis a student of professor Randi Haaland (supervisor of Henriette’s doctoral thesis too), and we are all proud seeing a photo from his excavations at the Recently Discovered Meroitic Cemetery at Berber, illustrating the front cover of the journal!

Of course most attention on the Meroitic and post-Meroitic periods is gained by the publication of last year’s Kirwan Memorial Lecture, given by the prominent Sudanese archaeologist Mahmoud el-Tayeb, lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology of the Warsaw University. He is one of the most experienced excavators in Sudan to date, and with an impressive list of discoveries and publications in matters of both funerary customs and funerary pottery the presence of his recollection of the state of affairs in our knowledge of the Late Meroitic and post-Meroitic period in the Middle Nile Valley is an undoubted privilege for his hosts in SUDAN & NUBIA.

Another very experienced excavator, Dr. Vincent Francigny, who completed his doctoral thesis on Meroitic private tombs last year, offers two important contributions to the volume by presenting his work at the Meroitic Necropoleis of both Sai and Sedeinga. In the report on the latter, he is publishing together with Claude Rilly, director of SFDAS, and editor of the Meroitic inscriptions from Sai – among innumerable publications on the Meroitic language.

The vicinity of our island is also discussed in the report of the Egypt Exploration Society excavations at the impressive site of Amara with the intriguing discovery of a Nubian structure inside a Pharaonic colony.

The Pharaonic and Napatan period is also represented by the two last contributions to the volume, the report of fieldwork by SARS at Kawa and the analysis of a particular find from the 4th Cataract campaigns by Derek Welsby and Isabella Sjöström Welsby respectively.

The so-much discussed Fourth Cataract Campaign has been the focus of many panels in the last Nubian Conference of London, in August this year

and the hosts of the venue in the SARS, editors of SUDAN & NUBIA, and major agents of the whole M.D.A.S.P. are awaited to complete the study and publication of the work conducted there. This gigantic task has started being tackled and some first results can already be seen for free online:

Among the journals related to the Sudan Studies, it seems that the British series, titled SUDAN & NUBIA has after 14 volumes been established as a trustworthy venue for reading about some of the latest discoveries and fieldwork progress in the regions defined in the periodical’s title.

However, we will conclude this review, not with any particular reference to a paper published therein, but with the three obituaries that had to be composed and which all touch profoundly the sentiments of the GNM: for the hard working High Officer of Antiquities, Salah Omer al Sadig, who was the first Sudanese contact to Alexandros, when he started, almost a decade ago, his study of Sudan’s past; later on to share while living in Khartoum many moments with Father Giovanni Vantini, one of the most quoted authors in Medieval Nubian studies; finally to be inspired together with Henriette by the important contributions to the understanding of post-Medieval Sai by John Alexander… ΑΘΑΝΑΤΟΙ !!!

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