Archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa

In the previous entry, we referred to the plural involvement of the University of Bergen in African Archaeology, and it was at the end of the previous week that a very important figure of the field, professor Tim Insoll, visited Bergen for examination of two master students and supervision of Henriette’s progress with her Ph.D. thesis, as well as for an inspiring lecture for all that had the chance to attend: “Thinking about the Archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa”.

The Medieval Sai Project was honored during Insoll’s lecture with being used as an example of promising work on this field of studies, and we are happy to see that our efforts to discern and define the limits and the links between the world of Christian Nubia and the era of Islamic culture in the Sudan are being recognized.

There is indeed lack of systematic work both in the field and in the libraries on the post-Medieval past in Sudan. So, while there is a long list of publications on Christian epigraphy from Nubia, both in Greek and in Coptic, as well as on the few inscriptions in Arabic that date from the Middle Ages (el-Zein 2004: 239 & note 2), in contrast, there is very little work done on the Islamic epigraphy of post-Medieval times.

A characteristic example is the lack of a final publication for the stela set in the eastern wall of the upper floor of the so-called Throne Hall or Old Mosque of Old Dongola.

Although the historical importance of the object has been widely stressed, and it has even become in popular thought and lore a tangible marking of the new era of Islam in Northern Sudan, we only have a provisional reading from the inscription itself given by Crawford in a footnote in his book on The Fung Kingdom of Sennar:

“This blessed door of religion was opened by the hands of Seif-el-Din Abdullahi el Nasir in the year 717 on the 16th of the month Rabia the first”

(Crawford 1951: 35 & note 23).

The date of its commemoration is thus the 1st of June 1317 CE, and perhaps the conquest of Dongola had taken place a couple of days earlier, since the turning of this surely important medieval building into a mosque – the oldest in modern Sudan and functioning until 1969 – must have been a significant event for the new status quo introduced.

Surely the continuing works of the Polish archaeological missions at Dongola from the University of Warsaw will at some point elucidate the topic.

Since tomorrow we are entering the month of June, we saw this as a good opportunity to make a comment on the state of affairs in Islamic Archaeology in the Sudan.

And at the same time, tempt the chances of a coincidence between the Dongolese inscriptional date and the more securely known date of the fall of another Christian capital, Constantinople, 136 years later on the 29th of May!

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3 Responses to Archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa

  1. Pingback: Archaeology of Islam in Sub-Saharan Africa » Greece on WEB

  2. ergamenis says:

    Thank you for the positive feedback!

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