Sudan Week in Bergen, Day 2: Cultural heritage: The politics of remembering, redefining, and forgetting the meaning of past cultural products

While yesterday’s event concerned social anthropology, today’s seminar was about archaeology. Both disciplines have long tradition for cooperation between researchers from Sudan and from the University of Bergen. The ambitious topic of the seminar was The politics of remembering, redefining and forgetting the meaning of past cultural products.

The first presentation was by Intisar el-Zein Soughayroun, Department of Archaeology, Khartoum University, and it was titled Islam in the Sudan: between history and archaeology. Professor Intisar is a good friend of the Sudan researchers at the University of Bergen, and we have had the pleasure to see her presentations on Islam in the Sudan on several occasions. Intisar has always new material to show, and this demonstrates her tireless work in the field. The archaeology of Islam in Sudan is a new research topic, but Intisar has already showed that there is a huge variety of forms that have potential to enlighten the knowledge of the more recent history of the Sudan. She linked her presentation to the topic of the seminar by showing that ignorance of the cultural heritage can cause an unintentional destruction of remains from the past and that some of the recent past is still remembered and so the treasures of this memory should be recorded before it is forgotten.

The next presentation was by Abdel Rahman Ali Ahmed, Director General of the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums in Sudan, and it was titled Salvage archaeology related to dams in Sudan: an overview. Dr. Abdel Rahman guided us through the history of archaeological research in Nubia and the Sudan from Reisner’s first archaeological salvage mission in the early 20th century before the heightening of the old Aswan Dam to the archaeological salvage projects lead by the National Corporation of Antiquities and Museums before the building of the Merowe Dam, the Setit-Atbara Dam and the heightening of the Roseires Dam that have all been undertaken since 2000. The Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project was by far the most extensive, and involved numerous teams from both Europe and America. For a detailed review of the ethical implications of this archaeological salvage project, see for instance this article. Abdel Rahman also included a list of researchers based at University of Bergen that have undertaken or participated in fieldwork in the Sudan, including our own work on Sai Island. Sudan has plans to build more dams on the Nile, and these are naturally in conflict with the preservation of the cultural heritage – to mention the controversial aspect of these plans referred to in the presentation today. We were, however, relieved to hear that the plans for the Kajbar Dam seem to be aborted due to the opposition of the local people there, while also the other plans are far from being implemented due to the financial situation of the country.

The third presentation was by Salah ed-Din Mohammed Ahmed, National Museum of Sudan, Co-ordinator, Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project, and it was titled Archaeology and nation building. Doctor Salah started with a presentation of the background of the Qatar-Sudan Archaeological Project (QSAP) in a meeting between the Emir of Qatar and the President of the Sudan. The initiative was thereafter established in 2009. By 2015, QSAP funds 40 archaeological missions in the Sudan, and Salah gave us a presentation of all of them. How QSAP contributes to the nation building in Sudan, as was the topic of the presentation, is best seen through the funding of museums and the establishment of field schools to train Sudanese archaeologists.

The last presentation was by Randi Haaland, University of Bergen, professor emerita, and it was titled Cultural heritage in an ideological context. She discussed how the past can affect identities in the present and how this can cause conflict. With her wide experience, Randi made a journey through Norway, Zimbabwe and Israel/Palestine in order to demonstrate pitfalls that archaeologists can stumble in if cultural heritage is used in ideological contexts. She stressed that it is important with competence building for the archaeologists to withstand such pressures. She furthermore urged the Sudanese archaeologists to look to Sub-Saharan Africa for collaborations and inspirations, and not only to the north.

A very interesting panel indeed, creating expectations for what we’ll see tomorrow when the anthropologists will speak about the past and surely makes plans for a better future in Sudan and for Sudan Studies in Bergen!

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