Sudan & Nubia volume 19

A good friend of ours and dedicated reader of our blog said a couple of weeks ago that he is expecting the annual presentation of the Sudan & Nubia volume, because this is one of the markers in his calendar that Christmas is approaching! And indeed, we received recently volume 19 of one of the most influential Sudanological publications.

Sudan & Nubia 19

The cover of Sudan & Nubia 19 is illustrated with a photo of part of the granite columns from the church at the site of Ganati between ed-Debba and Korti. The picture is obviously very attractive from the point of view informed by the experience of the Medieval Sai Project: the four columns marking on the ground the most important church ruin from the Christian period on Sai Island are of symbolic value. One of them is tilted and in the end of the excavations, it would be great if we manage to erect it once more. Fawzi’s team managed to achieve this task in record-time. More on that shortly.

Further interest with the Ganati church lies in the fact that there are not many Christian monuments in the Middle Nile region that have preserved such stone work. Unless they are reusing ancient material, churches with granite columns were constructions of the Makuritan state, and it seems that they were all destined to become episcopal seats. Among those sites recorded in the written sources as the bishoprics of Nubia, some still remain unidentified. Perhaps, after the revisiting by Robin Seignobos of the case study of the list of Nubian bishoprics published in the second volume of Nubian Voices (supplement of Journal of Juristic Papyrology), one should return to the possibility of identifying Ganati with one of these siteless names in the respective lists.

There are more points of interest that derive from a careful and informed reading of the report by Dr. Fawzi Hassan: to my knowledge, there is no other church that shows a similar distribution of columns as at Ganati. The plan of the excavations around the columns show two parallel rows of three columns each, with two more columns placed at equal distance from both sides of the central column of each row.

plan of ganati

Indeed, the shape appears as a cross, just like Dr. Fawzi remarks, but in the cases where a cross is formed on the ground by the columns of a church the lateral nave is defined by two columns, not one. Although an innovative attempt might have been at play in the case of the Ganati church, it should be noted that from the plan and the photos on pp. 150 & 151 it is not really certain that the excavation uncovered the full possible extent of the church building, and therefore it is possible that answers to architectural questions might remain hidden under the soil covering the floor (?) of the church. In any case, if the layout was unearthed completely, then the closest parallel to this distribution of columns can be seen in the Pillar Church from Old Dongola (see W.Y. Adams, Churches of Nobadia, vol. II, p. 418); but there, the single side columns were not standing free but have been parts of the walls of the nave.

pillar church

The monument will attract much attention in the future and the works done on the site (both conservation and security) will surely help to this direction. To appreciate the importance of the monument though, work should extend to the remains of the eventual settlement and cemeteries, which have already produced two epigraphic finds (see Tsakos 2009) underlying the impression that Ganati (registered as Ganetti in the SNM) was one of the centres of authority in Christian Makuria. A fragment of a terracotta funerary stela in Greek situates Ganati among the sites that have produced this epigraphic tradition that is almost diagnostic for Makuria (see Tsakos 2010); and a fragment of a marble stela among those few sites where such luxurious objects were produced. In the DBMNT, 69 inscriptions carved in marble objects are registered (61 being funerary stelae). These inscriptions come from 20 different sites, but Old Dongola has produced 28 inscriptions on marble (26 securely identified as epitaphs), Faras 10 (8 epitaphs), Soba 4 (2 epitaphs), Derr 3 (all epitaphs) , Sai 3 (2 epitaphs) and Qasr Ibrim 2 (both epitaphs). Single finds of inscriptions on marble have been found at the following sites (from North to South): Wadi Natrun, Gindinarri, Kalabsha, Ukma, El Khandaq, Hambukol, Nawi, Khalewa, Sheikh Arab Hag, Debeiba, Banganarti, Ganetti, Tangasi island and el Koro. Thus, half of the marble stelae come from the region of Dongola. Perhaps it is worth noting moreover that the marble epitaphs from Derr and a marble foundation inscription from Dongola are in Arabic.

It would have been surprising if in such a preliminary report, all these “details” of former research results were included, but it seems that the attention was focused on the achievement of re-erecting the shafts and the capitals on the bases, which were found in situ. Unfortunately, it is precisely in this point that a striking inaccuracy appears, namely a difference between the description of the columns in the author’s text compared with the table (probably) produced by Tracey Sweek, the conservator from the British Museum who collaborated with the NCAM team working at Ganati. Whereas the report informs the reader that column F was missing both shaft and capital, and that column C was missing its capital, the table shows shaft and capital missing from column A, the capital only missing over the shaft of column H! Moreover, the obvious difference in the type of capital on top of the southeasternmost column (A or B in the report’s plan) that is depicted in Plates 7 and 8, is neither referred to in the main text nor given any dimensions in the table where it is registered as column D. Furthermore, this very rudimentary capital is also cropped away from the cover photo…

In any case, from both the photos and the dimensions of shafts given by Dr. Fawzi (2.5-2.6 m in length and 500-860 mm in diameter), we can note that the columns on Sai were slimmer and taller than those at Ganati. Unfortunately, it is not possible on the basis of the new photos published this year to make any comments about the decoration of the capitals, beyond the use of crosses on each side (?) of the abacus of each capital (the best photo of the cross used appears in Plate 11 of Mahmoud Suleiman’s report from the previous issue of Sudan & Nubia, p. 160).

If we turn the attention to the survey itself, which covers a very large stretch of the Nile, we find sites interesting for the medieval era, like the Christian period at the fortress of site DS74 (a b&w photo of which found its place in the publication thanks to the generosity of Jamal El-Sheikh Abd Elhafez from Hussienarti, a local man with interest in local history and ethnography); but also one more interesting similarity with the Medieval Sai project: as in our 2009 survey, the Dam-Debba survey located most medieval sites near the banks of the river. We are witnessing a further indication of a general characteristic of the medieval occupation pattern in the Middle Nile region, one which is worth analyzing further in another venue.

Such analyses do not have place in a report, whereas the list of new sites discovered in 2014-2015 appearing in appendix form is very fitting. And again such a list leaves always one in want for more info, either these concern sites of a given archaeological interest, or the situation with the management of cultural heritage in areas like those reported as threatened by gold mining (8 out of 72 sites). The move to set guards in some sites is very welcome, and it adds to the value of a project which already dominates the achievements of this year in Sudan Archaeology with the erection of the columns of the church at Ganati. We are also looking very much forward to seeing the movie that Dr. Fawzi informed his readers that was produced on the project!

Despite the important contributions on the medieval period of Sudan and Nubia, as seen right above through the report on the “QSAP Dam-Debba Archaeological Survey Project (DDASP). Preliminary results of the second season” (pp. 149-160), very little from the remaining 175 pages concerns Christian Nubia. We have gleaned the following:

1. In Andrew Ginns’ report on “The 2015 Season of Excavations at Kurgus” (pp. 132-142), a couple of very interesing points are raised relating to the results from research at Cemetery KRG3: on the one hand there is perhaps no surprise that the box-graves show conformity in their shapes and sizes; but on the other hand graves F163 & F178 concealed Christian-like burials inside pre-Christian superstructures. Therefore, the site may offer valuable insights into the Christianization process during the post-Meroitic/Early Medieval periods in this part of the Middle Nile region that appears  remote from the centers of the Christian states formed subsequently in Nubia. The report deals also with the excavations of the fortress site KRG2 and is completed by a note on the ceramics from both sites prepared by Petra Weschenfelder. Petra managed to link the fortress and the cemetery by identifying monograms on vessels from both sites as names of the Archangel Michael whose cult in Nubia is perhaps one of the most visible manifestations of Christian faith and cult from the region, and whose name appeared (written complete) on another vessel from the previous year’s digs. However, when the name “Michael” is written complete, the possibility of discerning a cultic devotion behind the use of the name is no different than the use of the name of any religious figure at a given place and inside the context of that same religion. The monogramatic rendering of the Archangel’s name though seems as more direct evidence of the cult of the Archangel and even of the character that this cult was entertaining (magic, apotropaic, prophylactic etc.). These things said, I doubt that the carvings on figure 2.n & 2.o are indeed/necessarily monograms of the Archangel’s name. In my opinion, they lack some basic elements (mainly the vertical parallel bars), but since no study on the topic has been produced yet, I refrain from further comments until a better opportunity arises.

monograms kurgus

There is a third paper dedicated to the medieval era and this time exclusively so: “Plant Macro-remains Recovered from El-Hamra Christian Complex Excavation in El-Ga’ab Depression, Sudan” by Ikram Madani, Yahia F. Tahir and Hamad M. Hamdeen (pp. 143-148). The importance of the contribution is threefold:

First, it includes a list of archaeobotanical studies conducted in Sudan, where no more than two studies/reports have been published on material from the medieval era (i.e. the article from 2001 by Fuller D.Q. & D.N. Edwards on “Medieval Plant Economy in Middle Nubia: Preliminary Archaeobotanical Evidence from Nauri”, Sudan & Nubia 5, pp. 79-103; and Nussbaum S. & F. Darius on site 04/57 on Boni, published in 2012 in the “First Archaeology Results from Boni Island”, in H.-P. Wotzka (ed.), Proceedings of the Third International Conference of the Fourth Nile Cataract, Cologne, July 2006. African Prehistorica 22, pp. 177-185).

Second, it is important that this paper is the result of a project run by the University of Khartoum (UoK), Department of Archaeology. It shows the potential of research projects in this academic milieu of the UoK and gives a good example for all those who work in Sudan, but do not necessarily extend their research to the field of archaebotany. We know for a fact that at least one mission, the one at Ghazali headed by Artur Obluski conducts such surveys and prepares their study and publication. But who else does?

Third, and most intriguing perhaps: in the last field season the expedition excavated a site that was dated to the medieval era. From an archaeological context that is not further defined in the report than as a room that seemed to function like a kitchen, “carbonized seeds were recovered”. Among those, “the chickpea (Cicer arietinum) and common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) legumes were recovered for the first time from Sudanese archaeological sites”. Given that “it is now agreed that cultivated species of Phaseolus originated in Latin America”, the medieval context of this find cannot be dated before the 1500s. Waiting for further reports and results from the dig, suffice to say here that such discoveries enlarge the manner of apprehending the medieval era in the Middle Nile region and show the potential of such assemblages and their careful study.

Finally, Early and Classic Christian phases were identified in the ancient building of Selima Oasis (Beit Es-Selima), which was one of the focal points in the works conducted in the area by Frederike Jesse, Coralie Gradel and Franck Derrien who reported on “Archaeology at Selima Oasis, Northern Sudan – recent research” (pp. 161-169). Interestingly among the many engravings and inscriptions on walls of Beit Es-Selima, neither Greek nor Coptic nor Old Nubian were recorded; but both Arabic and Lybico-Berber were identified! A very eloquent testimony of the interregional exchanges taking place at this important point for controlling the traffic on Darb el-Arba’in.

The last paper in Sudan & Nubia 19, is authored by Michael Brass and is titled “Results from the re-investigation of Henry Wellcome’s 1911-1914 excavations at Jebel Moya”, pp. 170-180. Being “a concise summary of some of the main findings in Brass’ doctoral dissertation”, it is far from being a “report” on an ongoing work like the surveys and excavations discussed right above.

It is one of the most peculiar choices of the editorial team of Sudan & Nubia to divide the journal’s contents in mainly three parts: The Kirwan Memorial Lecture (this year by Janice W. Yellin on “Meroitic royal chronology: the conlict with Rome and its aftermath”, pp. 2-15); the Miscellaneous, which consist more often than not in obituaries (this year by Romuald Schild on Fred Wendorf’s passing away on July 15th, 2015); and the Reports. But just like the paper by Brass, there are also other works which have more the character of a study, like the contribution by Marc Maillot on “The Meroitic Palace and Royal City” (pp. 80-87). Interestingly, both Brass and Maillot have recently presented very similar works in other venues:

– Michael Brass published “Interactions and Pastoralism Along the Southern and Southeastern Frontiers of the Meroitic State, Sudan” in the Journal of World Prehistory 28.4 (2015), pp. 255-288, which can be downloaded HERE.

– And Marc Maillot was among the main agents in the publication of the 78th volume of the French periodical Égypte, Afrique et Orient, which was dedicated to “Ancient Sudan. An urban world” (Soudan ancien. Un monde urbain), where he contributed with a paper on “Architecture and Urbanism in the Kingdom of Meroë”. For more details on this very interesting publication, see HERE.

The cases of Maillot and Brass show that there are more and more venues presenting research on the Sudanese past, and thus the focus of Sudan & Nubia on reports must be linked with the pivotal role their milieu plays in the new era of Sudan Archaeology under the aegis of the Qatar-Sudan Arcaheological Project, which dominates the funding of archaeological works conducted in the Middle Nile region today. In that context, it is a most welcome contribution by the SARS that already 16 volumes have appeared online in open access!

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