Only a couple of days have passed, since I repeated an invitation to feel free to send for posting in this blog your texts with Nubiological interest, and already I have the honor to host a short report from a most productive trip to Berlin by Vincent van Gerven Oei. Thanks Vincent and, ontrakagoueke, enjoy!
On a chilly Friday morning I arrived at a non-descript commercial zone in the outskirts of Berlin, close to Schönefeld airport. I was supposed to meet Frank Marohn, a conservator from the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, who would show me an object with archival number ÄM 2262.
Only a few months ago, through the intercession of Alexandros, did we discover that this object found in Soba and containing a Nubian (but definitely not Old Nubian) text, still existed in the archive. I was now going to meet it in real life.
Frank kindly allowed me all the space and time to inspect the object and the large depot, which, he said, was supposed to be temporary but will most probably be in use until 2023 – much longer than expected. The shelves go up several meters above the floor, making it impossible to take out any object above the second shelf. A moving company needs to be called in advance to take out anything higher – an annoying and unpractical situation for any conservator (and scholar!).
I was lucky that the object of my affection lied on the second shelf, so could take it out himself.
The object, a “marble inscription from Soba,” was heretofore only know to me through a drawing by Lepsius, showing two separated pieces joined together, with writing on both the back and the front.
When Frank took the inscription out its confines in a wooden crate, which it shared with a Meroitic object, it however appeared that a third piece of the inscription, unknown to Lepsius, had been attached at a later point, extending the lower three lines of text.
A fourth piece, catalogued under another number, also had writing on both sides, but further inspection showed that the ductus was significantly different on one of the sides, and that perhaps the marble was from a different stone. We couldn’t find a way to fit the piece with the rest.
All pieces had sustained some degree of fire damage from the Second World War. According to Frank they had been stored to protect them from the effects of the war at the Sophienhof Castle north of Berlin. Unfortunately, the castle burned down in the last months of the war. The Soba inscription, got saved!
Autoptic inspection revealed quite a few new details and solved a number of uncertainties left by the Lepsius drawing. About the nature of the language, however, we are still none the wiser. It is a Nubian language for sure, and several words and names are recognizable, but several of the characters, and most words and morphemes are heretofore unattested. This should also not surprise us. Soba, the capital of Alwa, was a long way up the Nile from the kingdoms of Makuria and Nobadia, so a different (Nubian-related) language seems logical.
I am planning to prepare an edition of this text, together with a few other “pre-” and “non-Nubian” Nubian inscriptions for the ISNS conference in Paris, hoping to connect a few more dots about the Medieval Nubian languages we haven’t really talked about yet.