Sudan & Nubia

It is always a great pleasure receiving a new publication about Nubia and Sudan. The homonymous peer-review journal Sudan & Nubia is by definition a pleasant surprise when it arrives in our mailbox once a year.

In fact, this year is the 20th anniversary of the Sudan Archaeological Research Society (S.A.R.S.), which is responsible for the publication, and therefore the 15th volume opens with “An Anniversary Tribute” by the Honorary President of S.A.R.S., W.Y. Adams (p. 2). A photo of the great American anthropologist, who dedicated his career to the study of ancient and medieval Nubian cultures, is set aside that of the first Honorary President of S.A.R.S., late Sir Laurence P. Kirwan (1991-1999). It is actually to the latter’s memory that S.A.R.S. is organizing the annual Kirwan Memorial Lecture and subsequently publishes it first among all the papers hosted in the usually rich contents of the review. This year it was Pamela Rose’s turn to be hosted in pages 3 to 12, with her presentation of “Qasr Ibrim: The last 3000 years”.

The Medieval and post-Medieval periods of the site are of course given quite some space in this necessarily brief presentation the results after 26 fieldwork seasons. The reader is granted, however, with a photo of one of the very few illuminations preserved in the manuscript fragments that have been discovered in Nubia, while for our special interest of Sai Island there is naturally a link when Rose describes the administration of the Ottoman era in the sanjak of Ibrim, where also Sai belonged.

To the Ottoman period on Sai, there is also a passing reference in the Obituary for John Alexander (written by Pamela Rose) that is hosted in pages 146-147. The late professor – to whom we have referred in the presentation of the previous Sudan & Nubia volume, HERE – among a long list of interests that he developed during his long servicing of Sudan Archaeology, he turned a bright eye onto the Ottoman presence in Nubia, inspired by the finds during his work at Qasr Ibrim and purposefully involving himself later on with the Ottoman period on Sai Island too.

The only other paper related to the periods of interest for our Internet space is a report by professor at the University of Khartoum, Intisar Soghayroun Elzein, concerning “The Archaeological and Cultural Survey of the Dongola Reach, west bank from el-Khandaq to Hannek: Survey Analysis” (pp. 142-145), where despite the brevity of the “Analysis”, it becomes clear that the project will give fruits to feed the research about the transition from Christianity to Islam at the end of the Middle Ages in Northern Sudan.

Sai Island, though, is represented directly by a preliminary presentation of the pottery studies conducted by Julia Budka on the material of Florence Doyen’s dig in the Pharaonic town (“The early New Kingdom at Sai Island: preliminary results based on the pottery analysis”, pp. 23-33). We are looking forward to meeting them both from close on the island in January and discussing matters of academic interest but also of logistic sustenance for the future of the projects on Sai.

Two more sets of papers with indirect interest to the Medieval Sai Project are the reports of Claude Rilly and Vincent Francigny on “The Late  Meroitic Cemetery at Sediegna. Campaign 2010” (pp. 72-79), as well as those of Mahmoud el-Tayed and Ewa Czyzewska on “Excavations at ez-Zuma. The Third Season, Jan.-Feb. 2009” (pp. 108-118) and of Katarzyna Juszczyk on “Report on burial architecture of tumuli T.11 and T.13” (pp. 119-123) – both presenting results from the “Early Makuria Research Project”. These papers advance our understanding of the other end of the medieval era, namely the transition of the Meroitic world to the Nobadian and Makuritan societies. The fact that they are focusing on funerary archaeology does not undermine their contribution to the topic.

There are 10 more papers on cultures ranging from Pre-history to Late Antiquity:

–       Anna Longa, “Neolithic Beakers from North-Eastern Africa”, pp. 13-17;

–       Howeida M. Adam & Abdelrahim M. Khabir, “Pottery from the Sites Surveyed in Sodari District, Kordofan Province. An Interim Report 2008-2009”, pp. 18-22;

–       Kate Spence e.a., “Sesebi 2011”, pp. 34-38;

–       Michaela Binder, “The 10th-9th century BC – New Evidence from the Cemetery C of Amara West”, pp. 39-53;

–       D.A. Welsby, “Excavations at Kawa, 2009-10”, pp. 54-63;

–       Isabella Welsby-Sjöström & Ross Thomas, “The Kushite Pottery Sequence at Kawa”, pp. 64-71;

–       J.R. Anderson & Salah eldin Mohamed Ahmed, “Dangeil 2010: Meroitic Wall Paintings Unearthed and Conservation Strategies Considered”, pp. 80-89;

–       Karla Kroeper, “Rediscovery of the Kushite site – Naga, 15 years of excavation (1995-2010). Surprises and Innovations”, pp. 90-104;

–       M.F. Abd el-Rahman, “A preliminary report on mortuary practices and social hierarchy in Akad cemetery”, pp. 124-128.

Among these, two stand out in our opinion for various reasons:

1. The paper by M.F. Abd el-Rahman, both for reasons of personal interest, since we have been cooperating with M.F. on this important project and are still working on the other end of the cultural reality that he is studying, that is the transition from the post-Meroitic to the Christian burial customs, and because of the quality of the paper. The results achieved already by M.F. during his stay in the U.S.A. (UCSB under the supervision of Stuart Tyson Smith) is tremendous and he has already become a most valuable asset for Sudan Archaeology both back home and abroad.

2. The paper by Howeida M. Ahmed and Abdelrahim M. Khabir is another important contribution by Sudanese University staff, actually a cooperation between the Khartoum and the Bahri Universities respectively (cfr.presentation of the Authors in pages 151-152; always a helpful feedback in Sudan & Nubia). Moreover, it introduces the reader to rather terrae incognitae, far away from the Nile, in the Province of Kordofan.

And it allows us to conclude this presentation of volume 15 of Sudan & Nubia by the most welcome surprise of this publication: the opening of the scope to include research on the Darfur region that until now had only occurred in volume 11 (2007), with the paper by journalist Pieter Tesch on “The Sultan Ali Dinar Museum, el Fasher. A window on Darfur’s history” (pp. 119-121). Interestingly, the same volume hosted also the only presentation of archaeology in the Nuba Mountains, perhaps proving the exceptional character of such inclusions in the contents of a journal like Sudan & Nubia; we would be happy to see the horizons of archaeological fieldwork and research in Sudan being broadened. The paper hosted in volume 15, now, is a much more substantial contribution, for Andrew McGregor wrote about the “Palaces in the Mountains: An Introduction to the Archeological Heritage of the Sultanate of Darfur” (pp. 129-141). The appearance of this paper is a fine coincidence with our life in Bergen where we have been active with the digitalization of the archive of Sean O’Fahey, leading researcher of Darfur’s history and quoted – inevitably – in McGregor’s paper.

Perhaps the turn of Sudan & Nubia’s interest to such topics has something to do with a sense of political correctness towards the new realities of the (Northern) Sudanese state, after the separation from South Sudan since the 9th of July 2011, a fact already indicated in the very helpful opening map of the journal.

The journal is completed by two book reviews, one on the book by Elisabeth G. Crowfoot, Qasr Ibrim: The Textiles from the Cathedral Cemetery (reviewed by John P. Wild, p. 147); and one on Jane Roy’s, The Politics of Trade: Egypt and Lower Nubia in the 4th millennium BC (reviewed by Maria C. Gatto, pp. 148-150).

It must only be book reviews submitted to the journal that appear, since the editors only choose to host these two reviews among the various publications that appeared in the last year. We would also have liked to see reviews of:

– J. van der Vliet & A. Lajtar, Qasr Ibrim: The Greek and Coptic Inscriptions (JJP suppl. XIII), Warsaw 2010;

– R. Cockett, Sudan: Darfur and the Failure of an African State, New Haven and London 2010;

– W.Y. Adams, Kulubnarti I: The Architectural Remains, London 2011;

– D.A. Welsby, Sudan’s First Railway. The Gordon Relief Expedition and The Dongola Campaign, London 2011;

– J. Ryle, J. Willis, S. Baldo, J.M. Jok (eds.), The Sudan Handbook, Suffolk and Rochester 2011.

As a closing note, in the last publication, D.A. Welsby, the editor of Sudan & Nubia, has co-authored with the Director of the Sudan National Museum in Khartoum, Dr. Abdelrahman Ali Mohammed, the Third Chapter of the book, titled “Early States on the Nile”, pp. 23-30. The quality of the narrative is excellent and the ideas of continuity and change finely depicted, despite the little space given to such a large span of time covered by the chapter. Unfortunately, this restriction of space in such a publication affects more gravely the medieval period (titled “The Christian Kingdoms of Nubia”, p. 29), which is, in our opinion, disproportionately brief in comparison to the rest of the culture-historical periods presented. A very interesting and rather original map helps the reader (p. 27) and the “Recommended Reading” (p. 30) confirms the leading role of specific scholars in the study of the ancient and medieval cultures of the Middle Nile Valley.

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