…it so happened that we finished a book that we had long been reading in its various sections that are of our interest. The book was printed in 1962 in the United States of America, the author was the late archaeologist Walter Ashlin Fairservis, and the title of the book is “The Ancient Kingdoms of the Nile and the Doomed Monuments of Nubia“.
The first obvious point of interest for the Medieval Sai Project has to do with the references in the book concerning the island of Sai itself. They are only two: in the footnote of page 123 there is an indirect expression of the idea that the Kerma necropolis of Sai proves somehow the Egyptian penetration into Kush and thus the Egyptian origins of the Kerma culture; and in page 135, Sai is granted another mention since it is in the vicinity of the Thutmosian temple at Soleb…
One would say that the half the century that passed since the publication of the book by Fairservis constitutes an excuse for the modern reader for the expression of such opinions, but it is perhaps a worrying sign that since 2010 the International Society for Nubian Studies (I.S.N.S.) is being presided by an Egyptologist again.
Thus, the second interesting point of the little book links with the first public addressing of the I.S.N.S. president to the Society’s members when on the 2nd of February he announced the endorsement of the Sudan Dams Appeal. Although it was not at all made in such lyrical overtones like those used by Fairservis, still, allow us a bit longer quote from the 1962 perspective upon the coming Aswan High Dam, as a critical – if not cynical – parallelism with today’s attitude from many of our colleagues:
“Nubia represents a neutral field for international co-operation on a huge scale; it represents a mirror of history in which men can see themselves as they actually are and take heed; it represents a chance for men to prove that humanness means so much more than feelings of the flesh alone. For such a purpose a trickle of funds should become a torrent. The devoted few should be inundated with material help comparable in every way to the rising waters of the High Dam.” (p. 16)
Well, we felt like that in our inexperienced state during the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project. But we can not and should not feel like that any more. The Nubian people are of flesh; and the Nile river who gives so much more than a trickle of life is not neutral; neither can accept such positions; Nubia – and its monuments – need not be doomed!!!
…now, if we just broke our promise not to write about dams in Medieval Sai Project, the only excuse is that the 14th of March is the International Day of Action for Rivers, and to write about this topic is the least of the action that we can contribute to the cause…
But let us return to the “serenity” of book reading and the coincidence of having completed it today: the last point of interest concerns the long perspective in the narrative that Fairservis constructed. The book is rich with ethnographic references, photographs from tribes, places, and … colonial history; an aura of praising the British Empire is dispersed all through the little book. Wadi Halfa and Khartoum, the railway and Port Sudan, are set aside the monuments of the ancient and medieval past of Sudan – they “mark a period in the history of civilization” (p. 224). Setting aside any idea of colonial reappraisal, we cannot but agree! And the lecture by Jacqueline Phillips today at the SOAS about “The Archaeology of Suakin”, the coral port on the Red Sea, should confirm the impression that there is so much more in the material remains in North Sudan than just the monuments of the pharaohs and their African imitators. The acute view of Phillips upon things may perhaps contribute from the “serenity” of the Red Sea fieldwork, alternative patterns and manners to the more turbulent life and archaeology of the Nubian Nile Valley.