Neuchâtel – day 4

The last presentation referred to in last night’s entry was Adam Lajtar’s paper on the Greek and Latin papyri from the short period of Roman occupation of Qasr Ibrim. This occupation has taken place as a result of the famous (at least in Nubian Studies) war between the Roman and the Meroitic Empires. So, it is very fitting to start tonight’s reporting from the fourth day at Neuchâtel with the brilliant recapitulation of our knowledge on this war with which Claude Rilly began his talk this morning. The core of the data that he used to re-discuss this moment in the history of confrontations between the Egyptian north and the Sudanese south in the Nile Valley was, however, the Meroitic sources. And the most important texts he used to present his case study are the two Hamadab stelae, the one hosted at the British Museum and the other at the Sudan National Museum.


With his unique way of analyzing Meroitic texts, Rilly proved that the two stelae refer to the same war but narrate it in two different versions, both, however, stressing the role of prince Akinidad. The purpose of the erection of these two stelae and their localization at Hamadab could thus be seen as part of the personal political agenda of the prince in the frame of dynastic controversies inside the Meroitic royal circles.

In any case, the war against Rome, and the subsequent treaty of Samos, belong to these rare cases of turning points in history which define the periodization of a given historical phenomenon. The periods of Kushite History was precisely the topic of László Török’s plenary paper in the first half of the morning session that was opened with the discussion by Dietrich Wildung On the Autonomy of Art in Ancient Sudan. Both are presentations that like Gabolde’s one from yesterday are better appreciated and commented after read on paper and analyzed in depth. But we guess that we will have to wait a couple of years for the publication of such rich proceedings.

The plenary session was closed with the talk by Irene Vincentelli who presented some thoughts on long distance trade in the Kushite world based on evidence from her team’s excavations at Sanam.


The networks she detected are indeed impressive.

Similar diagrams of the trade networks on a map we saw in an afternoon presentation too.

L. Smith

It was from the talk of Laurence Smith on the Suakin project that focused on the role of the Red Sea port in trade and pilgrimage during the post-medieval era.

Another talk from the same period that attracted our attention was David Edwards’s discussion of the Ottomans and the Historical Archaeology of a Nubian Landscape, where the importance of Sai Island was naturally stressed (although once again Edwards did not wish to refer to the Medieval Sai Project and our related to his topic finds from two seasons of fieldwork we conducted on the island), and where a first public reference was made to the Attiri manuscripts that Alexandros identified in collaboration with Edwards in the SNM storerooms and are now under preparation for publication by a group of students of the Old Nubian language, a collaboration that has never before taken place in the study of textual finds from the Christian literacy of medieval Nubia, but which may show the path for the future of the discipline.

This wish was also stressed by Alexandros in his talk earlier in the afternoon. This spirit was applauded by professor Ali Osman, who was chairing the entire session, and who saluted the efforts of those “dedicated young scholars”, who stand behind the journal Dotawo. He exclaimed that for him, as the first to suggest this term in 1978, and as a Nubian, to see a Nubiological journal bearing a Nubian name was a most pleasant development in the field that he has been serving for half a century now.

In fact, the close relation that the Nubians uphold with their past was eloquently presented in Marcus Jaeger’s paper on Dongolawi and Kenzi Perceptions of their Own History. This was one of the studies that brought to Session 6 on “Cultural Heritage” heated discussions. Moawia Salih’s report on The Future of New Dams in Sudan also caused much debate, since on the contrary to an approach like that of Jaeger it rather aimed at denuding the Nubians from any role in the decision-making leading to projects that may drown under the waters of dam reservoirs their ancestral lands. Somewhere in between, those who try to reconstruct historical truth by studying material remains of past human societies and expressions of a given group’s identity, i.e. the archaeologists, they are exposed to the hardest questions, decisions, and actions, when they try to save the cultural heritage that is constantly under threat in the frame of development projects. The talk by Cornelia Kleinitz and Stefania Merlo offered a suggestion for an excellent alternative approach to local community reaching in the frame of salvage archaeology as they experience it on Mograt Island (Participatory GIS in mapping ‘living heritage’). This paper was indeed the most wonderful conclusion to another long day at the 13th International Conference for Nubian Studies…

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